Frederick Forsythe has enjoyed great success as a novelist of political fiction and many films have been adapted, with mixed success, from his books. The Fourth Protocol is the first to become a game.
At the outset it is important to say that this is an adventure, or rather three adventures in one, that is played using icons with some text input.
The plot follows that of the book quite closely. You play a medium level MI5 investigator, John Preston, a man who is more of a detective than a spy. From the highest levels of the Kremlin, Plan Aurora is being executed. Using Russian agents in Britain, 'sleepers', 'illegals' and the unfortunate Ministerial victims of blackmail, a crack Soviet agent is putting together the pieces of the jigsaw that will blast the Fourth Protocol wide open. This piece of diplomatic etiquette is supposedly the fourth secret agreement which forbids a signatory country smuggling a nuclear device onto another's territory; it was appended to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Now the Soviets are breaking the protocol by smuggling into Britain the unassembled parts of a bomb and technicians working 'blind' to put it together. The aim is to detonate it in the proximity of an American Air Force base just before a general election, thus stirring public opinion (already being subtly helped towards confrontation with the Americans) to have them thrown out at the same time as ushering in a strongly co-operative communist-inspired Labour Government, which will withdraw the UK from NATO.
John Preston in the book uncovers a variety of apparently unrelated leads; but leads to what and where? He is also thwarted by his own promotion-conscious bosses, as well as the mind-boggling proportions of the plot that begins to emerge. These elements are reflected in the game as well, but the player Preston starts with foreknowledge of what is about to happen - it is the how and whom that form the substance of the games.
The three parts to The Fourth Protocol are actually individual games: part one is called The NATO Documents, part two is The Bomb and part three is The SAS Assault. You can only reach the conclusion by succeeding first at each part in turn. Part one follows the book's plot: a highly placed man in the Ministry of Defence has some famous diamonds stolen from the secret safe of his central London flat. He can't report the burglary because along with the diamonds went some NATO documents that shouldn't have been there. The burglar, however, who is no ordinary thief, recognises the importance of the documents and being a patriotic criminal, sends them anonymously to the MoD Mandarins to alert them to the leak. The investigation is on. The object is to discover who is leaking the documents, to whom, and for what purpose. But MI5 investigator Preston has more on his plate - dead-end leads, false leads, irrelevant leads and several that may link up are being thrown at him continually.
In The Bomb, the action moves outside Preston's office, as finding the device becomes the most important aspect. The third section involves Preston in the dash to the bomb's location with the SAS. These men must be sensibly armed and directed, and while the assault takes place and the bullets fly, Preston must defuse the nuclear device.
Mandarin interference throughout is reflected in Preston's progress reports, effectively a scoring system, for the more successful he is, the more help he will be offered by the powers that be. The reverse is true, and should the rating fall too dramatically, the Mandarins may well lose all confidence and the end of the game is only seconds away.
The Fourth Protocol is a complex adventure which relies heavily for its feeling and general atmosphere on creating believable characters and situations, and which follows Frederick Forsythe's usual attention to minute, and even if fictitious then highly authentic, accurate detail. It is, therefore, essential to know something about the British Intelligence Community into whose world you have been thrown.
Inside the large game box there is a set of instructions that describe the basic gameplay and the icons and their use. Additionally, there is a 12-page 'MI5 Investigator's Handbook' - a complete intelligence service glossary and 3 'one time' decoding pads.
The one-time pads are vital: throughout the game you will receive coded messages in the form of groups of up to three figures. These are decoded by using the one-time pads. The glossary informs that one time pads are 'now the vogue as an unbreakable code...' Even spying has its fashions! Sender and receiver each have identical pads, each page of the pad being used once only to send or to decode a message. As they rely on long arrays of figures and letters and are unique to that message, the code is unbreakable. What happens if the two spies get out of synchronisation with each other's pads, the glossary conveniently skips over! In the game there are three pads, which for convenience are used over and over again.
The glossary is almost frighteningly detailed. Whilst we are pleased to learn that Capstick, Bertie is the Brigadier in charge of MoD Security, Thatcher, Margaret is the Prime Minister of the UK, and indeed even that K7 is a liaison office between MI5 (K Branch) and MI6, for what can we possibly to know that Skinheads are a youth cult noted for shaven heads and associated with gang violence, or that ASLEF is the train drivers' union?
Well, play the game and find out...
The icons used in The Fourth Protocol are what make the game. They resemble those used in smart machines like the Macintosh. Each command is represented by a sensible picture, and by simply selecting the appropriate picture that command is invoked. For example, the use of the phone icon; when the pointing hand icon is moved to the phone a sub menu appears that in turn displays three more icons. The first allows you to pick up and answer it, the second lets you make a call (type in the phone number), and the third returns you to the main display. All the other icons work in the same way.
The sub icons allow for great flexibility and ease of use - all told, it's a lot better and more fun than typing in instructions.
The scene is Preston's office and the icons deal with the input and sorting of information. The Cencom icon offers access to your personal files (throughout the game you will be storing information for collation at a later time and this is where you do it).
The Assessment icon gives you an idea of your progress, it tells you how much of the first stage you have solved and what the MI5 bigwigs think of your performance. If you make a bad decision then your rating will plummet, but you may be able to backtrack and make good again. Using Surveilance you can assign 'watchers' to targets, these are snoopers who provide valuable information all of which will be brought to your attention via the Sitreps icon on the main menu - it tells you when a watcher has something to report. The Calendar icon lets you know how much time has passed. The Telephone icon is pretty neat - answer it before the caller rings off, otherwise you will never know what you have missed. Utilities takes you to the game save feature.
The information gleaned from these different sources provides you with the means to solve your first problem and thus progress to the next stage.
By now you are on the trail of the bomb. You have an idea about the plot and even who could be responsible. The gameplay is similar to the first except Preston is mostly out of his office, which requires additional icons for movement orders and a Manipulate icon for Search, Examine and Use objects. The Communicate icon allows you to talk to others, via the phone if need be.
At this stage you have discovered the bomb's location. Using the information gleaned from the two previous games, you must work out how to use your SAS force to get rid of the KGB agents and defuse the device. This is the only part of the trilogy that requires word input, but at least all of the accepted commands can be viewed when required.
The Fourth Protocol is a thinking man's Shadowfire, but you mustn't think that makes it boring, this is a really involving adventure with some arcade overtones, and using the icons makes it all so simple to get into. It kicks off with an amazingly crisp-looking title screen and fantastic music, just about the best I've heard on the C64 yet.
What can I say about the game itself? Well, imagine yourself in a busy office, surrounded by filing cabinets, computers and phones, with the resources of the Intelligence Community behind you and a fearsome problem to sort out. The excitement starts immediately as the puzzles mount up in your filing cabinet and the 'bin' begins to overflow with discarded leads. I think the best thing to say about this game is BUY IT!
To be honest, I have never considered myself as an adventure freak; I find the whole business just too upsetting and frustrating. However, The Fourth Protocol removes the excuse so gracefully that even arcade fans can't say, 'Oh I just can't cope with the text input and all that'. The icons make it an absolute joy to play.
I found the hardest task of the game was sorting out the good information from the bad, for instance, I often assigned watchers to FO staff who were acting a little strange, only to find, in one case, that the chap was only having a liaison of the non-espionage sort. My progress through the game to date has been slow - there is a deal to learn and some of the clues are very subtle.
I am still excited by The Fourth Protocol even after long evenings of play. The thrill as I think up a new lead to pursue, the despondency when it leads nowhere, the nail biting anticipation as I wait for the Sitreps that may, or may not, confirm a hunch. All of these go to build up an almost unbelievable atmosphere. Last night I was Preston trying to find the little creeps responsible for the leaks. Only when I stood up to assume a more threatening pose after getting yet another unpleasant memo from Plum and tripped over a defunct C64 left by the reckless Rignall did I come down to Earth.
This is such a polished game that words fail. Only playing it can adequately express how effective it is! The screen display of the icons is excellent, all the details are clear and virtually all of them graphically indicate their use immediately. More importantly, though, the icons remove all of the often tedious typing in common to most adventures, leaving you to do only the things you would do in real life, like typing names for filing or tapping out phone numbers.
The Fourth Protocol could be compared to a stage play - the action mostly happens off stage, you just hear about it, but so much information keeps coming in, all of which must be sifted through, filed, pulled out again and reconsidered, that this is every bit as involving and exciting as playing an arcade game. I also liked the way it can involve several players who can 'pool' their brains to solve the mysteries and avoid the red herrings.
Why is an important civil servant suddenly taking too much sick leave? On later hearing from a watcher that he has a new 'girl friend', do you accept that as the reason for his sly absences and write him out of surveillance? Or are the two quite unconnected? When Warburton flees the country leaving his wife behind and you assign watchers to her (you can't type in MRS WARBURTON, only WARBURTON will fit), does their silence mean the program thinks they are watching Mr Warburton (who having vanished is invisible), or is it that Mrs Warburton is lying doggo before making a suspicious move, or indeed has she anything to do with it at all? The Fourth Protocol is quite simply an amazingly good, involved game that is worth every penny you *must* pay for it.
Immaculate packaging and instructions, detailed glossary, great on-screen appearance.
Although colour and animation play little part, the icons are excellent and instantly identifiable - it looks exciting.
To date, state-of-the-art music, eat your heart out Bernstein.
Icons make it a dream to get into...
...and the atmosphere makes it hard to get out.
Value For Money 91%
Three top notch games for the meagre price of one (well, nearly).
One of the most impressive programs we've seen this year.