ZX Computing

Shadows Of Mordor

Publisher: Melbourne House
Machine: Spectrum 48K/128K

Published in ZX Computing #38

Another big adventure release this month, Lord Of The Rings Part II

Shadows Of Mordor

The good news: Shadows Of Mordor is a vast improvement on Lord Of The Rings Part 1. The bad news: it is still not as good at it should be.

The game follows the story of the second book in the Rings Trilogy, The Two Towers (so why wasn't it called that?), and is the continued quest of the hobbit Frodo, and his friend Sam, to dispose of a magic ring before the evil Sauron gets his hands on it, or rather his evil finger through it.

Screen presentation looks familiar - the same style as game one except those "margins" which housed the irritating faces have disappeared, as, thankfully, have the visages themselves. In fact the game is text only, though as a peculiar freebie, the B-side contains what amounts to a middle earth Travel Brochure; many scenes from the game are illustrated in a flick-through gallery. Though simple, some of these views are highly attractive, and it's a shame they were not included in the main game (apparently they will be on the 128 version).

Shadows Of Mordor

The descriptive text is sadly lifeless and mechanical, a typical location being "Frodo is on a cold, windswept ridge in a range of dry hills." Not really an advance on The Hobbit, is it? The text is made to look long by listing, in a clinical manner, who is there, what those people are carrying, and any objects (these are always referred to with a couple of adjectives, as in "the heavy round rock".) The text has no variety, no passion - and so lacks atmosphere, surely a vital component of Tolkien's work.

Then we have the parser, the performance of which Melbourne House expects should astound us. It's true that you can do some clever things, however when the parser does not understand one of the words in the input, it refuses to do any of it. This means if you type in a string of commands, the last of which is not understood, none of them are performed. It also means you cannot simulate natural conversation, for example saying SAM "GIVE THE BOOK TO ME PLEASE" , because words like PLEASE are not understood. In most games, the action would be performed anyway. The parser here is too clever for its own good.

The vocabulary is large, but with some curious omissions. Charter interaction is bound to be limited if the game does not understand any question words. And you are occasionally expected to enter too obscure combinations, such as POLE RAFT (a clue!).

The most endearing feature of Shadows Of Mordor is its problems, which involve complex object manipulation. I especially liked the lack of fixed solutions - there are often alternatives. For example, to descend the cliff at the start, the best way is to use some rocks, but I devised a way whereby Sam would uproot a tree, and I would go down the hole this created. This method words, though unfortunately it also causes Sam to be splatted! Few other games would allow you to vary and experiment in that way - very commendable.

So, Shadows Of Mordor is cheap, complicated and fun to play. However, I strongly feel it does not do Tolkien's work justice. I can't help thinking that someone like Level 9 could produce an equally sophisticated and far more friendly program, with more to do, and much more atmosphere and subtlety. Only a program like that would truly capture the magic of The Lord Of The Rings.