Sinclair User5th October 1986
Published in Sinclair User #57
The Great Escape
The year is 1942 and the place is Germany. You're at war and whilst out on a secret hush-hush mission (probably to locate Hitler and photograph him for the family album) something goes wrong and before you can say jackboots, you are incarcerated within a high security POW camp.
Being a pretty modest fellow, you casually let slip that no POW camp has ever kept you prisoner (in fact as Rambo in a previous Ocean game, you single-handedly freed a POW camp, stole a helicopter and destroyed as much of the enemy as you could lay our bazooka on).
Quite simply, The Great Escape by Denton Designs (who did Shadowfire amongst other things) is brilliant in both concept and design. It has a wonderful action-packed story, some very clever routines and is graphically superb.
The aim of the game is to escape - not an easy task obviously.
Camp life is a series of routines: an alarm bell signifies when to get up. when to have breakfast, go to roll call and when to exercise, etc. Left alone, you, as our hero, will dutifully follow everyone else at their tasks. However, you can take over the controls at any time, thereby galvanising our hero into action.
Letting your man just fall in with everyone else at first is best as you can monitor each guard's moves. Once familiar with all this you can quietly slip away and explore the various huts and offices, being careful to return to the pack on the alarm bell call.
The layout of The Great Escape is very similar in design to Fairlight with its black and white diagonal presentation, which scrolls beautifully as you move your little figure around the camp disappearing behind buildings and walking behind barbed wire. No attribute problems here. The movement is lifelike: guard dogs jump up at you if you venture too close to the perimeter wire and sentries in the control towers march up and down in sequence - don't move when they're looking your way.
The Great Escape is all about finding objects, (keys, torches, tools, etc), locating a safe place to stash them, and working out a decent escape route. There are various routes to choose, each needing its own type of equipment, and once you've got everything you wait for night to fall and away you go. At night powerful searchlights constantly scour the camp and it goes without saying that if you're caught in the glare, the alarms go off and you're sent into solitary confinement for a while and all your equipment is confiscated. This is also true if you happen to bump into the commandant on his rounds - so be warned.
In my hut, I discovered the entrance to a tunnel (obviously a previous guest didn't like the cooking or took exception to the sleeping arrangements), and I found a labyrinth of old drains under the camp. These are fun to explore and a torch is a must here due to the lack of any electrics.
The whole game generates a very real atmosphere of actually being there, and you do get very nervous if you're stuck in an office when the roll-call bell sounds - what to do, miss roll call and have everyone searching for you, or leave the office you've tried so hard to find and scurry back to the pack? Not an easy choice.
Morale is the key to success and you can monitor your morale level by a flag on the left of the screen. When you're performing like a model prisoner, the flag is green - once you start misbehaving it turns red. If you do get caught the flag drops down the pole, and if it reaches rock bottom you become a mindless POW - all thought of escape is now the furthest thing from your mind. Your score is monitored on a list of ribbon-held medals and it is the medals themselves which display the score. Very clever!
Ocean has made a few boo boos lately, with some very average releases like Knight Rider and particularly Street Hawk, but with Escape, they have a sure winner.
The fascinating part about it is once you've escaped it's not the end, 'cos you can always try a different route and see what happens.
The Great Escape is terrific fun to play, highly original and for once isn't just an exercise for wholesale slaughter (in fact there's not one dead body in the game).
A future No. 1, I'd say.
The best thing Ocean's done for ages. Highly imaginative plot, gameplay and graphics. Miss it at your peril.