The Pawn (Magnetic Scrolls/Rainbird) Review | Zzap - Everygamegoing


The Pawn
By Rainbird
Commodore 64

Published in Zzap #20

The Pawn

Infocom have been the undisputed leaders of disk based adventures for some time, so it's strange that the first real challenge to that company's dominance should come from a previously unknown company called Magnetic Scrolls, via Rainbird.

Those of you who keep a beady aye on the general computer press can already bear witness to the great success this game has achieved on 16-bit micros. Now that The Pawn has made a reappearance in the form of an 8 bit conversion, you can see just how well it has been done.

The name most associated with the game is Anita Sinclair, a long time fan of Infocom who said she would only ever write an adventure if she thought it was of at least comparable quality. The Pawn was a result of her efforts and its appearance on the Atari ST and Amiga created a storm. Even the American market, notoriously hard to break into and spoiled by the easy availability of Infocom products, was impressed by this first effort from Magnetic Scrolls.

The game comes on two disks and is described as a text adventure with some graphics as an 'extra'. This is what is known as a gross understatement. The thirty or so graphic screens accompanying the game were drawn by artist extraordinaire Bob Stevenson, and are the best ever to appear on a game of this type. The full screen graphics 'drop down' over the text and succeed in adding to the atmosphere, despite slowing the game down somewhat with each disk access. Should this prove annoying, though, the pictures can be turned off or put into a rather clever 'brief' mode where they appear as miniature 'cameos' in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

It may be however, that you spend a couple of hours with the packaging before you even bother to boot up the game. The whole thing comes in a deep glossy A5 box, complete with a novella, cypheric clues, a gameplay guide, a poster and the two game disks. The production value of the whole package is extremely high. The novella is a lot of fun to read as well, dealing as it does with the nefarious antics of members of the court of Kerovnia and various characters with political and personal ambitions ...

And this is where you come in. You have been grabbed out of your normal world and plunged into Kerovnia in its time of deepest trouble. From here on in, you're on your own.

The first character you're likely to meet is the banished wizard, Kronos. He gives you a note and asks for it to be delivered to the king. This seems to be the quest at first, but in fact, delivering the note is an easy matter that only earns you a handful of points. After that you're free to wander around and decide what you're going to do.

During your travels you will beet a variety of strange people and circumstances, like the adventurer who rides a legless horse; Honest John the trader, who is extremely difficult to deal with; the sad uncommunicative snowman who guards the entrance to the ice tower, and the mysterious guru of the hills. Interaction with all of these characters is refreshingly detailed, but will often cause headaches when trying to figure out their cryptic clues. I would avoid combat with them as well. They're all pretty tough.

While you're wandering around, you may occasionally notice a dotted red line across the ground. There is also a series of accompanying notice boards explaining that this marks the edge of the adventure and that no objects may be taken beyond the line. Your character has a metal wristband which, apparently, cannot be removed. As it is an object, you are kept within the realms of Kerovnia. A nice touch.

Despite the presence of several high quality graphic screens, the location descriptions are exquisitely written and are on a par with many Infocom and Level 9 games; in fact, they are markedly superior in some cases. The parser too, allows horrendously complex constructions to be created by the player and the resulting freedom of expression can try the game to its limits. Responses are often tongue in cheek, but usually well thought out, and the vocabulary is absolutely huge.

A wax dummy like me rarely gets the chance to give a game a Gold Medal and I was sorely tempted to do so with The Pawn. Discretion prevailed, however, as even a wondrous work such as this can be flawed. And indeed it is. In certain locations it's possible to move in a theoretically impossible loop. In one case, I tried to move up whilst inside a room and was greeted with the same piece of text I'd had when approaching the location and told that I was outside the room. Another time, a similar occurrence happened on a mountainside. Most confusing. Also, some of the coded clues were physically too long for the input buffer, resulting in one frustrated wax dummy pulling at his wick!

One of the best features of the game is the hint section. At the back of the novella there is a series of puzzles with coded replies. Typing 'HINT' earns a response asking for the particular code from the book. These codes are horrendously long and yet, when typed, often turn out to be no more than cryptic nudges in the right direction. Worse still, a response may read: 'You need more points to find that out' - after you have spent five minutes carefully inputting codes! Well, I guess it serves you right for trying to cheat!

The game also earns a plus point from its protection routine. The game can actually be copied if the right instructions are followed, but on restoring a saved game the computer puts you to a little test that relies on the existence of the novella, to ensure that you have a bona fide copy of the game. Three chances are given before something very nasty happens ...

What is difficult to remember is that this is the first game from a new company. In parts it is a little inconsistent, in others minor bugs may be lurking, waiting to pester you. The game will be remembered as a classic, despite its faults, and rightly so. The Pawn is one of the best graphic adventures this year and will keep you hunched over your beloved keyboards for ages. Don't miss it.

The White Wizard

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