Game Of The Month: September 1984
Before reading this review, take a look at the screenshots on this page. Not really sensational, are they? Glance at the graphics and sound ratings. Pretty ordinary. Now scratch your head and ask yourself why on earth Quo Vadis is PCG's Game of the Month.
The answer's simple: size. This game will have you exploring a system of underground caverns no less than 1,012 screens big. That makes it the largest arcade-adventure yet seen on a micro.
Softek have some interesting statistics on it. They say that the biggest of the game's 118 caverns is larger than the entire playing area of Alligata's extensive Son Of Blagger. And if the knight who carries out the quest is scaled up to six feet tall, the total distance he would have to travel to solve the game works out at over two miles.
The tape version of the game uses a turbo loader to load in about four minutes, but on our pre-production copy this was not yet working reliably. Softek are also printing a glossy booklet offering a few hints and tips, and the start of a map of the caverns.
Making a map is probably the only chance of solving the game - I doubt anyone could remember the details of an underground network which is 46 screens deep and 22 wide. Especially as these aren't separate screens which you jump in and out of. What happens is that you move, the picture scrolls (smoothly), revealing a little more of the nearby landscape - a moving window on a mysterious underground world.
Although your first impression of the graphics may be unfavourable (most of the time only two colours are used), they seem to improve with playing. Blazing torches, flickering candles, large wall-mounted shields, staircases, carved pillars, rough-hewn rock walls and dark passages: all these add up to create just the right atmosphere of musty Roman catacombs.The aim of your journey is to try to locate a sceptre, and then get back to the surface. The first person who does this successfully will win a special prize from Softek, a real gold and silver sceptre which is currently being made. However, even if you know the way, the quest is apparently still likely to take you several hours!
That's because movement through the caverns is by no means easy. Each one is filled with a large number of 'rock ledges' and you make progress by leaping from one to another, as well as by occasionally climbing up and down ropes. Meanwhile, you have to watch out for lava pits. Normally you can drop any distance without hurting yourself, but falling in the lava kills you outright. Yes, Quo Vadis is a platform game.
It's also a shoot-'em-up. Each cavern is populated by one of 38 different species of monster, and as soon as you step through the cavern door, they swarm into the attack. You have to use the joystick to fire in any of eight directions - and you'd better be a mean shot, because cacti time you get hit you lose power points. Once these have fallen from 100 to zero, you're dead and the game ends.
You can restore your power supply by discovering treasure chests at certain fixed locations. You will also occasionally discover riddles written on the cavern walls. Answering these will provide clues to the location of the sceptre.
One slight disappointment is the knight himself. For something which is on-screen the whole time, he's not very interesting to look at, and his animation is simple. Similarly the sound, although effective, is not quite up to the standard of some recent C64 games - it consists of an eerie tune and muffled explosions when you destroy monsters.
But sound and graphics aren't the point. The appeal of Quo Vadis is the incredible challenge it offers. So far, Commodore 64 owners have been starved of the hugely popular exploration games such as Atic Atac, Sabre Wulf and Jet Set Willy. Now the tables are turned. They have at their disposal a game which a Spectrum's memory probably couldn't hold.
Meet the author of Quo Vadis, 19-year old Steven Chapman from Buxton in Derbyshire. Incredibly, he began programming on the Commodore 64 only last Christmas, although he previously had titles released by Softek on the Oric, including Acheron's Rage and Dracula's Revenge.
His first C64 game was Revelation (reviewed in this issue), but Quo Vadis is a vastly more ambitious project. It took him two months, often working late into the night.
One of his biggest fans is his father; he's already spent many hours fighting through the caverns of Quo Vadis. "I beat my record last night," Mr Chapman Senior told PCG. "I've reached 220,000 points."
Steven pulled out of a university course last autumn to do programming full time. At the time it was a big risk but now it's beginning to look like an extremely smart move.