This month's trail begins with the welcome debut of a new software house who're intending to cover the whole range of software, with adventures as well as arcade games. Skyslip Software (Tel: 091-565 8473) is a subsidiary of Rock City Musk, a leading UK music distributor, and their first seven releases include three adventures. Two of these star private-eye, Rick Shaw (geddit?). With seedy offices in present day New York the scenarios have a strong film noir, Thirties feel.
The first adventure, A Simple Case Of Espionage, has Mr. Shaw just moping around the office (sounds familiar) when he receives a phone call from a hysterical woman (I told you it had a Thirties atmosphere). Mrs. Kingsley tells Rick that she thinks her husband is having an affair. Rick is unimpressed; he's dealt with this sort of case time and time again and is yearning for some real action - just like the detectives in the movies. For Rick, adultery is decidedly unexciting!
The actual adventure begins with Rick at the front door of the Kingsleys' mansion, arriving for his 8pm appointment with the distraught wife. Once inside Rick finds the house expensively and tastefully furnished. After Rick takes a seat Mrs Kingsley describes the strange events which have been occurring, namely a strange man phoning the house asking where Mr Kingsley is (what's strange about that?). She has also received more sinister-sounding calls from someone who immediately puts the receiver down when she answers.
Mrs. Kingsley has already established a theory to explain these events; her husband is having an affair and has been caught by a jealous husband (quite logical really!). She wants Rick to 'do the usual', i.e. follow Mr. Kingsley to see what he's up to. No sooner than Rick agrees than he is caught up in that glamorous world of espionage which he's always dreamed of.
And is the game itself something to dream about? Well to begin with it's more of a nightmare as it appears impossible to leave the immediate area of the house. Three locations exist at the end of the gravel driveway, but none offer any way out. One contains a telephone box, which can only be used if you know the correct number. So it seems the only way forward is to wait until dark, then sneak back into the house through a dodgy window. If you try to enter in broad daylight you're in for a nasty surprise.
Once inside the house you're free to do some real exploring, but careful not to make too much noise; Mrs. Kingsley is asleep upstairs (you can even go into her room - this Rick chap's got no scruples, has he?). The house contains some interesting objects such as a Persian rug and even a closed-circuit TV monitor. But unfortunately, most can't be examined, and many of the object names aren't even recognised by the parser and thus are there purely for decoration.
Similar problems exist with verbs, of which few seem to be accepted. One verb that is allowed is CLIMB, but even this usually produces the reply 'Only monkeys climb', unless used in one or two special places. These problems all go to make Rick's task extremely difficult. Things aren't totally serious however, as removing your clothes results in your arrest by a passing policeman - even when you're behind closed doors with not a window in sight!
The small size of the vocabulary, and short text descriptions, are frustrating so it's as well the 128K version (on the flip-side) has some graphics. These consist of some beautifully-presented isometric rooms (reminiscent of the arcade adventure Movie - 93%, Issue 26). Strangely people never appear in these rooms, even if mentioned in the text which, because of the graphics, must be scrolled bit by bit below. These graphics nevertheless help create a sense of atmosphere which is quite impressive - and sadly missing from the 48K game.
The actual adventure underneath the graphics lacks the interaction and depth of some less aesthetically attractive adventures and is frustratingly difficult. Even so, Skyslip Software have produced a refreshingly different game, breaking away from clichéd adventure presentation styles. Hopefully the second Rich Shaw game, The Lost Legacy Of Xim, will have gameplay to match - look out for next month's review!