The Shadows Of Mordor is the second game in the Lord Of The Rings series, and is based on Tolkien's epic The Two Towers. This time the book will not be included in the package. Instead of the jumbo-sized pack of its predecessor, Shadows Or Mordor will be presented in a standard double-sized cassette case.
After an uneventful trip down the River Anduin, where the last game finished, Sam and Frodo must journey from the edge of lake Nen-Hithoel, cross the desolate wastelands, and get to the other side of the evil mountains below.
The screen format for this game is different from that of its predecessor. The player's commands are entered in a four-line window across the bottom of the screen, and odd messages appear here, too. The action resulting from the command is displayed in the main text window above. This occupies all of the rest of the screen save one line at the top, which tells you which character you are playing,
At the beginning of play, you have the choice of taking the part of either Frodo or Sam, or both. If you choose BOTH, you are able to swap your identity between the two within the game, using the BECOME command.
There are a few pictures in the cassette version, but these are not displayed on the text screen. They consist of square frames of about half the width of the screen. On moving to a 'graphic' location, the picture has the unnerving habit of appearing suddenly whilst new text is still being written, completely interrupting the threat of what you have started reading. And you are bound to have started reading it, as it displays so slowly.
Graphics would have earned a higher ratng, but for this annoyance factor - their sudden appearance really is obtrusive. They are much better than those in Lord Of The Rings (they couldn't have been any worse though) yet on the other hand they are nowhere near up to the standard of those in The Hobbit.
Beam Software, the people who brought you The Hobbit, Sherlock, and Lord Of The Rings have also produced this game. Thus, it features 'Inglish', the parser which is claimed to be "...one of the most sophisticated language-recognition programs ever developed for micro-computers". I would dispute that claim - I can think of at least four others that are streets ahead: Infocom, Magnetic Scrolls, Level 9 and Adventure Soft.
Inglish really is looking very long in the tooth now. Why?
Because it's abysmally slow. The typical response time of 8-10 seconds is simply not good enough for an adventure program held completely in memory. The delay is disguised by a considerable amount of the processing being carried out after the screen has completely been updated. This is only an optical illusion as far as response time is concerned - but just watch and wait for the appearance of that prompt! Its delay makes play clumsy, for it is so natural to stary typing in the next command before the program is ready to accept it.
Inglish is stupid too. As Frodo, I decided I wanted the box that Sam was carrying. SAY TO SAM "GIVE ME THE BOX" brought the response: SAM DOESN'T SEE ANY ME TO GIVE TO THE BOX.
Inglish crashes too. Or at least the program does. Admittedly I was playing a pre-production tape that was still under test at Melbourne House in the UK, but I assume that local testing was a routine matter, and that the game wouldn't have been released from Australia unless it was considered to be the final version of the program.
How easy is it to crash? After the Lord Of The Rings fiasco, you'd have thought Beam would have drastically overhauled their system. But I managed to crash the program after my fifth move - without even trying!
I am an awkward sod! I never follow the special play-hints sometimes supplied to reviewers, until I have played a game for at least a couple of hours my own way. The character Smeagol follows Sam and Frodo throughout their journey, and every couple of moves he sneaks off into the bushes. Intrigued as to whether he was suffering from a weak bladder, I decided to go after him. FOLOW SMEAGOL locked the computer up solid, and it had to be turned off and the program reloaded in order to continue. FOLLOW is mentioned as a valid command in the manual!
I checked this out with Melbourne House who, somewhat horrified, immediately rectified it - so that all versions old will not have this bug.
Whilst no doubt Tolkien fans will derive enjoyment from The Shadows Of Mordor, as an adventure, the plot is rather unexciting, the puzzles lack interest, and the whole is devoid of humour. The map is illogical too. There seems little point in making a N-S-N sequence return you to any place other than that from which you started, unless you are in a maze.
I stress that I was playing a pre-production version, but from the bugs I found early on in playing, I don't hold out much hope that this will prove any more robust a program than its predecessors.