It may not be the most sophisticated of RPGs, but Gaz Penn likes it. the thing is, we're not sure why...
I hate to admit it, but I... I... But no, I can't say it. Look, the thing is, as far as I'm concerned, there's only one thing more tedious than Fantasy Role-Playing Games - the people who play them. Oh yes, and the people who play them. Oh yes, and the people who make them. Two things then. An RPG represents escapism for accountants. I've never liked them and I never will.
That said, I've still got an outside chance of coming somewhere in the Mr Objective Reviewer Of The Year Awards, so perhaps I'd better give this here one, Black Crypt, a fair crack of the whip, I'll do my best anyway. (And anyway, Mark bloody Ramshaw, who normally does this sort of stuff, seems to have disappeared off somewhere, so it's down to me.)
I guess the first requisite for an FRPG is some mystical twaddle. Black Crypt's concerns some top Cleric chap called Estoroth Paingiver who did something rotten a few years back and was chucked out of the country of Astera. He wasn't a happy chappy, and so returned with some of his mates for a revenge kicking session, which he thought was successful until the Four Guilds Of Astera got together and sent Estoroth into another dimension. But now he's threatening to escape and blah blah blah blah boring boring boring! (Why they can't think up some sort of proper storylines I just don't know!)
(I... No, I still can't.) There's an even poncier version of the story in the back of the manual, but what all it amounts to is taking a party of four brave adventurers - different characters, each with their own positive and negative traits - into the maze-like Black Crypt, collecting the objects (the most important being the four magical weapons first used to kill Estoroth - yawn) and fighting the monsters found therein. Oh, and casting a few spells and mapping the dungeon along the way. There are keys to unlock doors, clues in the form of scrolls and plaques, switches that alter the maze-like dungeon, new clothing, weapons and armour to be found, and... that's about it really.
As progress is made, the characters gain experience in the form of points which basically makes them harder and allows those capable of casting spells to use more powerful ones. Of course, this all boils down to a glorified maze exploration.
(I... Ii... ayayay!) As is the case with almost all adventures of this type, you must have a blank formatted disk before you can get anywhere. But this task has to be done aside from the Black Crypt program. Why, I don't know. It would make so much more sense to include some form of in-built format facility, especially when the program is as fussy as Black Crypt - if the disk isn't called 'GAMESAVE', the program doesn't want to know. More irritating is the fact that only two save positions are available per GAMESAVE disk.
Thankfully, there isn't a great deal of figure-fiddling required before play begins. There is however far too much disk-swapping involved before the dungeon is entered, which is even more surprising given that Black Crypt is for machines with one megabyte or more of memory. And when the adventure does begin... well, what a disappointment. Black Crypt doesn't look much different from its stablemates at all.
The mouse-driven point and click interface used to play isn't overly fluid to use, but it's far from cumbersome. It appears to be based on the ageing Dungeon Master system, which wasn't wholly original in itself but effective enough, I guess, for its time. Personally I never liked it much. I'm sure that with a little thought a more user-friendly system could be developed.
I also think that a lot more could be done to generate that all-important sense of atmosphere. Black Crypt's dungeon mainly lacks it due to its look and the way it is presented. The character portraits barely rise above functional - and, to my surprise, there are no chicks to choose. The variety of monsters is not wide and none of them seem out of the ordinary. Their animations are simple, the attacking moves being especially weak. In fact the fighting as a whole is not strong - it's essentially little more than a matter of repeated mouse-clicks.
Sound isn't put to exceptional use either. A few grunts and groans and growls accompany the fighting action. More impressive (and almost atmospheric) is the fact that the volume of any particular sound varies depending on its distance from the party.
Other faults? Well, the title sequence is dull, and the accompanying music is unsuitable rubbish. The death of the party is met with an unimaginative text message: "Sadly, your party has failed to stop the return of Estoroth. His conquest of the land of Astera is quick and brutal." I just hope there's a more impressive congratulatory end sequence.
(I... like... ridingmyredbicycle). Just to emphasise how weak much of this is, the game Black Crypt kept reminding me of more than anything as I played it was Lucasfilm Games' ancient The Eidolon, and that was much more atmospheric. It was scary, it really was. The sound of an approaching monster would grow louder as it drew near, but you couldn't quite pinpoint where it was coming from until it was almost on top of you. The fighting was no more complex then Black Crypt's but it was far more rewarding - a frantic exchange of fireballs complete with suitable sounds and lots of sparks. And yet, and yet, there's something about this new game...
To be honest, I may not be the best person to judge, as Black Crypt is the first adventure of this type I have really persevered with. Everything else has left me cold, and yet - though it didn't immediately grab me - as Black Crypt's all-round tackiness was forgotten it somehow managed to draw me in and keep me there. I quickly found myself excusing its flaws, and despite the lack of atmosphere there was a healthy feeling that progress was being made. Not one did I reach the stage where I thought "Now what?" and that impresses me. (I...) *I like Black Crypt*! There, I said it. Now that's either a reflection of how sick, twisted and sad an individual I have become or to the fact that, beneath it all, it's actually a rather absorbing and playable game.
The Bottom Line
Uppers: It doesn't take much effort to get into it, and once you have, there are a fair few (samey) locations to visit and some decent puzzles to solve. The feeling that progression has been made is strong, and there's nothing overtly frustrating encountered during play either.
Downers: It's aesthetically unremarkable, atmosphere is lacking (though not absent) and the playability and point and click interface offer nothing new. It's not so much that there's anything that dreadfully wrong with it, just that there's nothing to write home about either.
Its parts are individually ordinary and yet together they somehow manage to entertain and enthrall to a large extent. A fine Fantasy Role Playing romp which will please both novice and veteran. It may even convert a few cynics, like me.