By Infocom
Commodore 64/128

Published in Zzap #52


What's this? Arguably the world's greatest rock group on your Amiga? No, in fact it's another prime American export - an Infocom adventure set in a mythical, Tolkienesque land, populated by dwarves, elves and even stranger creatures than those found in Zzap! Towers.

As ever, this is a time of crisis; the land's once prosperous people have suffered the ravages of disease and famine for five long years. The cause of this misery is known as the Evil One, or Dread Lord. And the only change of vanquishing him is to find the last of the great wizards, Astrix (sounds familiar). But he lives in solitude in a tower on the summit of the distant Sunrise mountain. So four brave villagers are set to take on this most difficult of journeys through unknown lands: Praxix the wizard, Bergon the carpenter, Esher the physician and last but not least apprentice food merchant and the narrator of this tale, Tag. Minar, the optional fifth member of the party may be recruited at the local pub.

In yet another adventure requiring no typed input, commands are issued by using the mouse to point to them. Each character has up to three options depending on the location. Some of these are duplicated by other characters but the result of, say, Esher (the physician) examining an injured person is more useful than if Bergon carries out the examination. Therefore, each character's particular skills are needed for different tasks. In addition to the usual adventuring commands, characters will occasionally be willing to tell a legend or story, giving a detailed history of a currently relevant place or people. Praxix (the wizard) also has the unique ability to cast spells, using the magical essences inside his leather pouch (more of these essences can be found during the journey). Among the numerous spells available are levitation, tremor and wind.

As well as individual actions, the whole party may be directed to follow the current route, turn left or right at a junction, or enter buildings. If hostile creatures are encountered, a simple combat routine comes into operation. Just before fighting takes place, the option is given to send one of two characters down the flanks to get behind the enemy. From then on, combat is automatic, the only options being to continue fighting or retreat (if possible). Praxix can also cast a spell at the enemy, although it takes him some time to prepare. There are no hit points as such - characters can either be wounded or killed.

Screen layout is neat, consists of three windows for commands (along the bottom), detailed text (on the right) and beautifully-drawn pictures (on the left), although there isn't always a new picture for each location.

The story itself takes much inspiration from Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings - here, instead of nine magic rings, there are seven coloured stones to find in order to defeat The Evil One. But there is a wealth of interesting background information built into the game, especially in the legends and stories. In fact, the sheer volume and quality of text soon has you totally absorbed in a marvellous, magical tale.

The input system works so well that the only problems encountered are intentional ones in this challenging quest. With persistence (especially at finding the only route up Sunrise Mountain from 64 possible ones), reaching Astrix doesn't prove that difficult. However, finding the seven magical stones is a considerably more difficult task, requiring many hours of thoughtful play. The fact that progress becomes harder the further you get makes it that much more compelling - you're hardly likely to give up after travelling such a long way. And if you get completely stuck, the musings feature (where Tag looks back at possible mistakes along the journey) is a useful last resort.

The only real flaw in the game is the lack of exploratory freedom due to the somewhat fixed storyline from which you can't stray too far. But if you're a fan of Infocom's 'interactive fiction' style, this is a highly polished and engrossing example.