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Reviews

Ultima: Runes of Virtue (Game Boy)

By Pix on September 6, 2008

Wing Commander: The Secret Missions 2 - Crusade (DOS)

By Pix on September 6, 2008

Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi (DOS)

By Pix on September 6, 2008

Tangled Tales (Apple II)

By Pix on September 6, 2008

Omega (DOS)

By Pix on September 6, 2008

Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire (DOS)

Journey to the center of the earth - Ultima style

The Good
Origin had a state of the art game engine with Ultima 6 complete with an editor. This would have been a little wasted on just the one game which is where the World Of Ultima series comes in. The premise of the series was that the black moonstone you got at the start of Ultima 6 could be used to send you to anywhere in space and time opening up limitless possibilities for new standalone RPG's. Despite drawing on the Ultima heritage, the series was more aimed towards new RPG players and Savage Empire is a lot simpler and shorter than Ultima 6.

Savage Empire was the first in the series and the story sends you to a lost valley somewhere on earth along with a reporter and your stereotypical scientist/professor friend. Apart from a plethora of dinosaurs, the valley also contains about a dozen tribes picked from various locations and times from history. If you think of something along the lines of Journey to the Center of the Earth then you won't be far off. Finally there is a race of giant ants called the Myrmidex who are the main enemy in the game. The game centers around your attempts to unite all the tribes against the Myrmidex. The plot is fairly typical B-movie stuff and very different to anything in the main Ultima series. Each of the tribes wants something or other from you and you have to complete this quest before they will join the union. Despite the repetitive structure things never get dull as the quests are very varied and range from putting a bell on a T-Rex's neck to crossing a lava flow using a fire extinguisher to fetch a sacred hide.

The interface for the game is instantly familiar to anyone who played Ultima 6. Its been given a visual overhall and there are a new set of tile graphics which give the game a different feel and there is an excellent original soundtrack by the Fat Man. The Origin FX engine first used in Wing Commander has also been bolted onto the front of the game to do the introduction but this doesn't seem to be used at any other point.

The interactivity of the world that you expect in an Ultima is here in spades. To give a couple of examples you can make gunpowder by gathering sulphur from volcanic sulphur pools using a metal cage, get branches from trees and burn them in a fire pit to make charcoal, get your scientist to gather saltpeter from crystals and grind the lot together to make gunpowder. You can gather flax from Yucca plants, weave this into cloth at a loom, cut it into strips, impregnate it with tar and wrap it around a stick to make a torch. The world itself is a bit smaller than Ultima 6 but any larger and there would be too much walking between locations.

The Bad
Although its an Ultima by name and some familiar characters turn up (without explanation or good reason), this game doesn't have any real ties to the series other than the engine. You go through the game taking anything that isn't nailed down right out of the natives houses and the virtues play no part whatsoever.

Every RPG aspect has been toned down from Ultima 6. For example you start the game at Level 6, Triolo (one of your starting companions) is Level 7 with a maximum of 8 leaving little scope for improvement. The spellcasting system is hugely simplified with just 9 different spells, all available from the start of the game. The heal spell for example heals all your party and cures from poison at the same time. Spellcasting is also unlimited by magic points - the only limit is how many of the reagents you can carry.

In Ultima you could talk to pretty much anyone in the world and get a unique conversation. In this game each of the tribes will have a couple of special characters (usually the shaman and chief) who have their own conversation trees but all the other tribe members will say exactly the same things. It makes the whole thing quite formulaic as you just go to each village, talk to the chief, complete their quest and repeat.

I wouldn't say the game had a great storyline. It's moderately interesting but the nearest thing to a twist or turn is where you find out how all the tribes ended up in the valley. Otherwise it works its way predictably towards an obvious conclusion. It left me a bit underwhelmed by the time I finished the game.

The Bottom Line
This is a worthy RPG but not in the same league as either Ultima 6 or its sequel Martian Dreams. If you consider it an introductory RPG for people who never played an Ultima, it does the job pretty well as the game is always quite easy and goals clear cut. It didn't sell too well and I think Origin would have been better served not trying to tie it into the Ultima line if they were aiming it at new players.

By Pix on August 22, 2008

Wing Commander: The Secret Missions (DOS)

Improves on Wing Commander but without adding anything new

The Good
Secret Missions was originally intended as a bonus for a special edition of Wing Commander that came with a baseball cap among other things. Origin decided to also release it as an add-on pack directly available from them mail-order and finally made it available at retail at Chris Roberts' request. It adds a new slightly smaller campaign of 16 missions to the original. Wing Commander was a great game so more of it could never be a bad thing.

Despite the slightly smaller number of missions, there is more gameplay here than the original Wing Commander. Assuming you were using a joystick, the original game was really a little too easy. I played through the whole thing in little over two hours. This took twice as long and the difficulty level was pitched about right. The missions here often require some sort of tactical approach above blowing everything up as quickly as possible and you may find yourself avoiding some combat or maybe just destroying your objective and retreating. For the most part, the missions tread the fine line between challenge and annoyance.

It would be a stretch to say that the original game had a running storyline. You talked to pilots between missions who maybe shared tactics or told you about some Kilrathi ace who just happens to appear in the next mission every time. There were minor themes that might cover a couple of missions but even the cutscenes showing the progress of the war didn't really have a direct relation to what you had been doing. Secret Missions definitely improves on this with a clear final goal throughout the game. In Secret Missions, you are chasing a Kilrathi super weapon (which destroys a colony at the start of the game) into Kilrathi space. With a bit of sidetracking here and there the game moves towards the destruction of this, with missions to stop it being resupplied and the like and it just comes across as a better told story.

The Bad
The branching mission structure from the original game is gone. Here you just have the 16 missions and have to beat every one. If you fail there is a two mission retreat but you cannot win the game. From my point of view, this isn't much of a problem. For the most part I would expect players to keep trying a mission until they beat it, that's certainly how I play the game. This means I never get to see any of the other missions and they are pretty much wasted effort. They do add some replay value, however, if you go back and deliberately lose missions which is missing in this add-on.

There isn't really anything new here. Given the origins of the game this isn't too surprising but it is very much a case of more of the same. You start from the games worst ship and gradually work your way up to the best one just like in Wing Commander swapping between all the same wingmen on the way. All the enemies have been seen before with the exception of the final capital ship. Your wingmen are just as useless as ever and the opposition not really any better. To increase the difficulty level, the game resorts to throwing ludicrous numbers of enemies at you and you will frequently end up taking on 6 at a time in the final few missions. This shouldn't really be possible - I'd prefer to have seen fewer enemies with better A.I.

The Bottom Line
If you want more Wing Commander this fits the bill perfectly. No one who enjoyed the original game would be disappointed with this unless they expect something new along the way.

By Pix on August 19, 2008

Windwalker (DOS)

Poor sequel to an average game

The Good
This is a sequel to Greg Malone's earlier game Moebius. I didn't especially like Moebius but there were a lot of good things about the game and I hoped this sequel would take the chance to sort out some of the problems. The plot is standard RPG fare. An evil warlord and his alchemist have deposed the emperor and enslaved the kingdom. You have to get the emperor back on the throne. More unusually, the game borrows heavily from Asian history and the manual lists a whole bibliography of books on the topic that were used as research. The game was obviously something of a labour of love for its author. It plays like a standard RPG except for the combat sections which use side on kung-fu fighting.

Windwalker uses a fairly unique perspective to show the world. It is still tile based, just like all Origins other RPG's but the tiles overlap for tall objects. i.e. the top of a tree appears before the rest of it at the top of the screen, giving a sort of curved world effect. Behind this the sky is animated to show sunrises, the passage of the moon, etc.. The whole effect is a little odd and made more so by the fact that, once again, all the characters are represented by disembodied heads.

There is some early soundblaster support with an adlib soundtrack. The music is limited to the intro and the end of fights, it would have been nice to see a bit more of it. Digital samples are used almost exclusively for effects in fights. The general impression is that the sound was added late into the project but its nice to see it being used at all.

The conversation system is greatly improved. The game remembers what you have learned from elsewhere and you just choose a conversation topic from a list. The cast of characters is small, however, and the dialog below average.

The Bad
My main grievances with Moebius was that it was slow moving and repetitive. Moving around the map doesn't seem quite as painful as the previous game but it is still slower than I would have liked. You spend a lot of time in the game sailing between islands, where you run into storms. Each of these storms takes about 30 seconds all of which time you have to wait before you can move again. These storms are all too common especially in one set of islands where you can barely move before you run into another. If you are struck by lightning during these storms (and you invariably are), then you have to burn some incense to heal which again you have to watch slowly burning across the bottom of the screen. Moving around in these areas is a real chore.

Another of my grievances with Moebius was the lack of different opponents to fight. This game does nothing to improve on this with a grand total of 4 (1 of which is the warlord). This results in the game being unbalanced. As far as I'm concerned the opponents you face in an RPG should get harder as the game progresses. This game takes the opposite approach - at the start of the game you will need to hit someone 15-20 times to kill them and will die yourself in 2 or 3 hits. Once you have levelled up a bit, you kill everyone else in a couple of hits. This is simply poor design.

Speaking of levelling up, at no point in playing the game from start to end did I level up my character through combat. It was always by performing some task or other toward the main goal of the game. Again this seems highly unbalanced - you are forced at the start of the game to attempt to complete quests with a character that plainly isn't up to it making the start of the game very difficult.

Windwalker uses what is effectively a lives system. You start off with 10 karma and if you die you lose 1 of these. Lose all 10 and that's the end of your game with no option other than to restart from the very beginning. You shouldn't be expected to have to restart in a game this size and I really don't understand why this was included. You can't even get around it by restarting your game and loading the last save. If you do this the game reduces your karma by 1 when you load the game as an anti-cheating measure. This anti-cheating measure kicks in every time you leave the game without manually exiting.

The combat section of the game is quite badly animated - there are only around 3 frames of animation for example to perform a cartwheel. There are two modes to choose between for the combat, one is turn based where your opponent will not move until you do. The other plays in real time like any beat-em up. As far as I could tell combat was little more than judging how far away your opponent was and picking the right move accordingly. I didn't find it to be especially fun - in the early stages of the game it is far too difficult, in the later stages far too easy. Aside from the levelling up, you get an invulnerability talisman part way into the game. Once you have this, you should never lose another fight throughout the entire game.

Reading the manual for the game gives some insight as to the world Greg Malone was trying to recreate but little of this comes across. All the research feels more or less wasted.

The Bottom Line
I didn't think that Moebius was really a good enough game to justify a sequel. To compound this, Windwalker adds nothing much new to the formula we saw 4 years earlier and if anything is worse than its predecessor. The game-play is unbalanced, the storyline is poor and more importantly its just not much fun.

By Pix on August 11, 2008

Space Rogue (DOS)

Part space sim, part RPG.

The Good
This was Paul Neurath's first game for Origin. He would later go on to found what would become Looking Glass Studios which produced the likes of System Shock and the Ultima Underworld games. This is a much less grand game than either of those but still impressive in its own way. It's very much influenced by Elite and Origin's earlier RPG's and plays like a primitive version of Privateer with a bit of 2400AD thrown in.

The plot at the start of the game is quite open ended. You are part of the crew in a merchant vessel that comes across a scout ship floating in space. You are sent out to salvage the ship but just after you reach it your base ship and all the crew are destroyed by an attack force of Manchi aliens. They leave the scout ship alone, however, so you take the ship under the laws of salvage and set out to find out why they would attack a merchant ship. The story is expanded upon by the characters you meet and without giving anything away you eventually discover the cause of the attack and save the day.

The game is divided into 2 distinct styles of game-play. First off is the 3D spaceflight. The 3D graphics for this are extremely basic. A space station for example is simply two pyramids with a square block sandwiched inbetween. Playing this, you can see why people were blown away by Wing Commander which came out just the next year. This game did run smoothly on an 8088 PC however and is in full 3D. Once you get used to the graphics they do the job.

Flying the spaceship around is a little more complex than you might expect. There are two types of flight mode (cruise flight and Newtonian). Cruise flight is your typical flight sim style control where the ship attempts to correct your trajectory when you turn. At speed this mode is still tricky as the ship has a tendency to keep going in the same direction after you have turned. Newtonian flight removes the course correction and you can point in one direction and move in another at will. In theory this could be useful in combat but I stuck with cruise flight for the entire game without any difficulties.

While playing the game you run into various type of other spacecraft. Depending on how you want to play the game these can be largely ignored or you can raid them for cargo or bounty depending if you attack merchants or pirates. You really need a well equipped ship for either of these careers though and once your ship is well equipped you don't need the money so much. The easiest way to make money by far is trading goods. Once you have established a good trade route you can make 1000+ credits every trip. This compares to 65 credits a kill bounty hunting, or a single piece of cargo if pirating. I'd like to have seen this balanced out a bit more.

Your popularity in the game is tracked against the three factions of police, pirates and merchants. If you go around attacking ships these can change depending on who you attack. You can even raise your merchant rating by saving a merchant from a pirate attack. If you get disliked in one of these factions then ships may attack you on sight again making anything except the merchant route a tough way to play the game. If you play the game as a merchant then attacks by pirates are rare and easy to cope with even with the most basic of equipment.

Combat isn't really all that tactical. Its pretty much a case of point your ship at the enemy and keep firing until it blows up. The laser has varying levels of charge and will do more damage if you only use it at full power. Its possible to use more advanced tactics if you wish though. If you want to take on some of the bigger ships, then you can potentially sneak up to point blank range and dumb-fire a missile at them. You can use Newtonian flight to pivot your ship and shoot down the pursuing alien. Alternatively, if you want to escape combat you can fly toward a planet or star and its gravity will actually speed you up. This level of detail in a game this old is really impressive.

There are about 12 sectors of space in the game, each of which is a 32x32 grid. Your ships navigation systems can be used to move between each tile on the grid. There are different types of space. i.e. asteroids and nebulae all of which affect flight as you have to avoid collisions when manually flying. To get between sectors there are malir gates. These are giant tubes which connect 2 sectors. Flying into one puts you into a worm hole (basically a bendy tunnel) which you have to navigate through the middle of to arrive at the other sector.

Each sector has one or two places you can land. There are 4 types of thing to land on (star bases, trading stations, mining stations on asteroids + a military carrier ship). Once you land, the game transforms into one of Origin's tile based RPG's.

Every space station is different but quite small so they don't take a lot of exploring. There are numerous ship upgrades available in some stations, repairs, cargo merchants and bars. The bars often have random people in them who may give you information or missions. There are also some characters who stay put and live on the respective station, near enough all of which will be involved in one mission or another before the end of the game. Conversation is carried out largely through multiple choice options but also uses typed keywords. The cast of characters is quite small, but well developed and the quality of writing is above average.

The Bad
The two aspects of the game don't really seem to be linked together. A mission will consist of flying somewhere and doing/getting something but none of this affects the space-flight part of the game. You are never ambushed as part of a mission and ship encounters appear to be entirely random throughout the whole game. This makes things feel a little bit disconnected. Once you get further into the game, the flying through space can start to feel a bit like filling in time.

If you die the game dumps you back into DOS. At this point you have to start the game up again, skip the intro, load your game and find the word in the manual to get past the copy protection. On an 8088 PC this isn't a quick process. There is one section in the game where you have to avoid a monster on one of the stations and so much as touching this monster kills you. Restarting 10 times in a row here can get annoying.

The Bottom Line
Overall, the game feels a bit underdeveloped. The storyline is fairly brief, there aren't that many systems to explore or places to land, the number of upgrades you can make to your ship is quite limited and you can afford them in no time once you establish a trade route. Elite had been there long before this and did a better job of presenting an entire universe to explore. Elite didn't have the storyline and RPG elements of Space Rogue, however, and I like to have a goal to aim toward in a game.

I'm probably expecting too much from a 1989 game. Privateer would take this genre to a whole new level but that was still years away. Space Rogue is always entertaining, easy to get absorbed into and presents a credible 3D universe on very basic hardware.

By Pix on August 5, 2008

Tangled Tales (DOS)

An adventure game in RPG clothing

The Good
This is another of Origin's light/introductory RPG's aimed at people who would be overwhelmed by the likes of Ultima. The interface for the game is somewhat unusual and uses 3 windows. The top right shows a tile based world map, in the same manner as earlier Origin RPG's. The top left window shows what your character is seeing. This is usually a static picture although in dungeons it is a first person view in the manner of Dungeon Master. Character portraits and the like also appear here. The bottom window is for the games interface, where conversation options will appear and you have all the various icons.

You play as an apprentice wizard who has just had his spell-book wiped. The game is split into 3 more or less independent quests each on their own floppy disk each of which advances you a wizarding rank. You can play through one of these in a few hours or so and they are probably about the right size for the audience the game is aimed at. The world maps are very small for an RPG but they are packed full of people and places so there is plenty to do.

You are never punished for getting something wrong in this game. If you die you are resurrected at the entrance to the world with your party healed also. The game is possibly a little too generous here as if you lose a party member it is far better to get killed off and get them resurrected for free, rather than having to pay for it. There is also no concept of food/time so you can sleep and heal after every battle if you like.

There are a huge range of spells that you must learn throughout the game. The staple spells you will use are Light and Heal spells with the occasional use of some of the others to solve puzzles.

You can pretty much control the whole game with a mouse, although a combination of keyboard/mouse works best. The icon based interface works well although it does seem to use an unreasonably large amount of the screen.

There are a huge number of odd characters to meet and talk to throughout the game. The dialog is always entertaining and reasonably well written.

The Bad
For a game intended to introduce people to RPG's, I don't think it really achieves this. There are stats, combat, money and experience but they are mostly hidden away from the player. The game plays much more like an adventure game as there are numerous puzzles where objects have to be used or given to people. Even the combat in the game pretty much comes down to whether you have managed to recruit enough party members. Finishing the game boils down to solving all the various puzzles and combat/experience doesn't really come into it. I've always been into adventure games so I quite liked this style of gameplay, but you shouldn't go into this game expecting an RPG.

The options in combat are limited to attack or cast a spell and you only control your own character. Again this limits the feeling that this is a role playing game and I usually would just click attack.

Technically, the game isn't all that impressive for 1989. Sierra were putting out the likes of Quest For Glory 1/Hero's Quest at the same time with better graphics, better game-play and a full MT-32 score. This game doesn't have any soundtrack at all and the graphics (especially the tile graphics for the world map) look quite dated.

Some of the puzzle solutions are pretty bizarre, i.e. dropping an apple on someone to sober them up. If you have the correct party members, they tend to tell you the solution at the time so it gets around this but I would still prefer things to make sense.

The Bottom Line
If you want an easy adventure game with some light RPG elements this is entertaining enough but it was probably a year or two out of date by the time it came out.

By Pix on August 4, 2008

Knights of Legend (DOS)

Gaming hell

The Good
This game was 8 years in the making in the sense that the designer came up with the idea while playing a board game RPG 8 years before the game made it to the shelves. It was created as an attempt to join the best parts of computer and paper/dice RPG's into one package and I gather was worked on independently for several years before being picked up and finished by Origin. The games roots in paper RPG's are very apparent and you feel the game is rolling dice in the background for every action you carry out.

The graphics and interface are superb for 1989. There are nicely drawn still graphics for every building in every town, every person has a unique character portrait and there are many other graphics for any major events that occur such as winning a battle. The world graphics are similarly impressive. The game uses a multi-scale world, with sumptuous scrolling isometric graphics for all the towns and battle locations with a zoomed out world map view where you move your single pixel party around. Despite the graphical splendour the locations are still quite large, especially the world map.

The conversation system used combines both keywords and standard responses to good effect. The high production standards are evident again in the unique character portraits and conversation text for each character.

The game was designed from the start to be modular with 5 expansions planned. None of these were made due to poor sales though. On its own, the game is still huge and would probably take months to finish.

The Bad
The overall plot is fairly minimal. The manual gives some back-story as to the world you are in but doesn't give you any more reason for adventuring than a brief statement about monsters starting to reappear and Knights Of Legend being needed. You do gain quests throughout the game but these don't really advance the overall plot and they all have an identical structure. This amounts to finding the keyword for a certain person by talking to everyone in town, saying this keyword to them to get a quest to retrieve some object or other, asking around town to find out where to go, going there, kill everything, walk back and return the object. These quests can lead you towards other quests by providing keywords and the like but the formula never changes. Completing the game amounts to doing all 23 of the available quests at which point the final quest become available. This formula is extremely repetitive.

The combat system is very complex and detailed. This might sound like a good thing but it really isn't and ruins the rest of the game. With so many options available, it takes forever for each battle. To give an example, my first attempt at one of the quests took 2-3 hours, all of which time you cannot save the game. If your party gets killed on your way back to a town after the quest, then all that time is wasted. Bear in mind the first quest is quicker and easier than later ones. To give an example of the combat complexity, to attack someone standing next to you would involve choosing to attack, then choosing the direction to attack, then choosing what sort of attack, then choosing which part of the body to aim at, then choosing what sort of defense to adopt, then finally giving the OK. Even just moving around the map is slow, and controlling a 6 character party starts out as a chore and ends up being tortuous.

You can only save your game in towns by sleeping at a pub. With combat taking such a ludicrous amount of time this leads to mammoth play sessions. Unless you have a couple of hours to spare, you might as well not bother starting this game up. I'd recommend 3-4 hours if you want to attempt a quest.

There is no sound in the game at all after the introduction.

The Bottom Line
I've been attempting to play through all of Origin's games and had pretty much enjoyed them all up to the point I got to Knights Of Legend. I don't think my patience levels are all that low, I've played though the likes of Moebius before this, which while less than exciting was heaven by comparison.

I'd gotten through all those games without cheating but I simply had to resort to it after a few days of this. It is without doubt the single most tedious game I have ever played. I can't begin to describe how slow progress is, and the 2 hour combat sessions just to kill off a dozen monsters is insane. You can't even attempt a quest unless you have several hours spare due to the save game restrictions. This would alienate most people immediately and makes it pretty much impossible for me to actually play the game most of the week.

Hacking my save-game to get a character that kills anything in one hit definitely improved things - I now could play with a one man party which hugely increased combat speed. The game still took about another 8 hours to complete though. Finishing it properly would probably involve dedicating your life to it for a month or more.

While the game does offer a minor tactical challenge in the quest combat, the tactics required are pretty much identical every time, involving drawing creatures into ambushes by using one fast scout character to run round that map attracting creatures. The major challenge I faced was summoning the willpower to play any more of it. I know some people love this game but I simply cannot comprehend how anyone could enjoy anything this slow, dull and repetitive.

A huge amount of work was clearly put in to Knights Of Legend and it was all wasted by the most mind numbing gameplay I have ever experienced. With a streamlined combat system this game could potentially have been pretty good, but combat is where you will spend 95% of your time playing this and it requires a massive dose of patience and time.

By Pix on July 24, 2008

Omega (DOS)

An introduction to A.I. programming.

The Good
In this game, you play a tank designer who must build the ultimate tank, choosing the components and programming the A.I. the tank will use. You can get promotion by winning 7 out of 10 test battles against a pre-designed tank, which then gives you more cash to improve your tank and try for another promotion against a more advanced opponent. The tanks you come up against as you try to do this are very well designed and will punish you for different flaws in your A.I. leading you to have to improve it every time.

This might not be the only tank programming game but it's in a fairly select group with no other real competition at the time. There is no way in the world one of the world's leading game publishers would put out a game like this any more either. The manual you have to read must be about 300 pages long and you will not get anywhere in the game without using it. The programming language used is fairly easy for beginners to get into and reads like English.

The interface of the game is well done and can be driven using the mouse. You can even program the A.I. using a mouse to select the commands on screen. Sooner or later you will need to delve into the commands which are not supported this way.

The options for the tank and A.I. are endless. Developing the ultimate tank A.I. would be a serious challenge. You can even have battles with teams of tanks that can communicate with each other. As you progress in the game, special options become available which can be added to your A.I. such as a satellite link launcher to scan the whole battlefield, or a radar jammer to stop other tanks locking onto you. All this gradually increases the complexity. You can even program your tank to accept keyboard commands if you want.

You can fight other peoples tanks and the documentation mentions a BBS that could be used for this and details of a competition that was coming up. The multiplayer potential along with being able to design your own battlefields gives the game some real longevity.

The Bad
Waiting for the tanks to fight 10 times can be a long slow process when you try to advance a level. The maps the tanks fight on are quite large and sometimes they just can't seem to find each other. The game could have done with a fast forward button in these situations. This can be improved greatly by tightening up your search routines of course.

The Bottom Line
This is very different to any other game I've ever tried and still playable years later because of it. It's a bit too similar to the day job for my liking but would certainly be educational for anyone who has never done any programming.

By Pix on July 16, 2008

Times of Lore (DOS)

Plays more like Gauntlet than an RPG

The Good
This was Chris Roberts first game for Origin. He would later go on to create Wing Commander but he was obviously a talented programmer at this stage judging by the game engine here. Graphically, this isn't really comparable to the Ultima games that had gone before it. The world looks far, far more detailed and also uses an isometric tile-set to give some height to the buildings. When you walk through a door, the roof pops off a building and you see the interior. Everything also scrolls smoothly instead of the jumping a tile at a time approach we had seen before. The entire game takes place on the one world map except for a couple of underground dungeons late into the game. The conversation system remembers which keywords you have heard and you can then select them off a list. The later Ultima's clearly got ideas from this game.

The interface has been simplified hugely from every other Origin RPG to date. Whereas all the previous games seemed to want to have a separate function for every key on the keyboard this uses an icon driven interface, with just to 8 icons to control everything.

This was the first Origin game to support sound-cards on the PC, although the MT-32 is missed out in favour of adlib, CMS and tandy.

The Bad
The plot of the game is really poor and unoriginal. The game is little more than a series of 10-15 quests most of which don't really have a lot to offer towards advancing the story. The quests are the usual find/kill something/someone and are all very straightforward apart from the last couple which involve navigating through dungeons. They lead up to a completely obvious ending after you slay the bad guy who hasn't actually done anything to you at any point in the game. There are not that many NPC's who really have much to say and there is very very little conversation in the game. What there is is nearly all quest related and the people dishing out quests seem to delight in sending you to the opposite side of the map and back again every time.

There are no stats visible in the game and there is no way of increasing them if they exist anyway. As far as I'm concerned no stats mean this isn't an RPG, but more of an action adventure.

The amount of combat in the game is ludicrous. Its thankfully very quick with most monsters only needing a couple of hits to take them out, but by the time you get any distance into the game there is pretty much a monster just out of sight on the edge of the screen in every direction. The world seems to have about 100 people living in it and 20000+ monsters at any time. Avoiding combat is usually the best policy.

The monsters drop potions and scrolls. You can only carry one of each, however, and if you already have one they won't drop another. This makes little sense. You can only save by resting at inns - the hardest parts of the game (the 2 dungeons and the final temple) are lengthy walks from an inn and there is no way anyone could complete them without numerous attempts to learn the layout. Having to walk for 5 mins to get there every time is not my idea of fun and because of the item limit you can't even stockpile on potions before you start.

The music is only present in the introduction and end sequence. The intro music must be 5-10 minutes long, for a screen where you only have to select start new or return to game. Why this isn't looped during gameplay instead I have no idea.

The Bottom Line
This game is in no way an RPG. With the silly numbers of monsters it plays more like Gauntlet than anything else most of the time. It is fairly short so I didn't have time to get too bored with it but had it been longer, the long walks back from save points would have been infuriating. When the game came out, I think the fancy engine would have been enough for it to be worth a look but while its still fun there isn't all that much to recommend it now.

By Pix on July 14, 2008

2400 A.D. (DOS)

Similar to Ultima 4 but with lighter RPG elements and a completely different setting

The Good
The year is 2400. A race called the Tzorgs has enslaved your planet and turned the city of Metropolis into a prison. The Tzorgs themselves have withdrawn and the whole planet is now run by cyborgs. As a new citizen you have the opportunity to do something about this and the ultimate aim of the game is to get to the master control panel and deactivate all the robots.

This was the third game created by Chuckles for Origin. It appears to use an enhanced version of the Ultima 4 engine (although I don't know this for certain) which is no bad thing. The game uses an entirely new tile-set however so it very much has a feel of its own. It is clearly aimed at newer players than Ultima 4 as its a smaller game and the RPG elements are much lighter.

The whole game takes place in the city of Metropolis. The city is fairly huge and on 9 levels. There are no multi-scale maps as in Ultima 4 and the combat screens are also gone as you have to take on the Tzorgs on your own. To compensate, there are loads of little things not seen in Ultima. For instance, the city has moving walkways to speed you around. If you go in the underground, trains run up and down the lines and flatten you if you stand in front of them.

Underneath the city is the underground. Aside from housing the railways, this is also where the human underground has its HQ. This is where you can buy weapons & shields and eventually hunt down the passcodes you need to shut down the robots. The underground is spread over 4 levels and nearly as large as the city itself.

You have three main stats - IQ, Affinity & Energy. IQ affects whether or not you can fix things. You guns and shields randomly break and this saves you the money and effort in getting someone else to do it. This is raised by successfully fixing things or by paying 1000 credits to a guy hidden away in the underground. Affinity I gather affects whether people will talk to you but I never noticed this. It is ridiculously easy to raise as it goes up by one pretty much every time you talk to someone. Energy is your hit points. Its also used if you try to break down doors. It goes back up as time passes and the maximum can be raised through combat. You also have the option to run instead of walk (this moves you 3 squares at a time) which raises maximum energy quickly but also depletes your current level leaving you vulnerable.

Combat is relatively simple - you start the game with a basic ray gun and no shield. You can still defeat some robots fairly easily. Once you have a better weapon and shield, you can easily take out pretty much anything as long as you don't face too many at once. The games best equipment is only needed for the final assault. Although its not required, there are plenty of options and strategies that can be adopted. You can reprogram robots with the right equipment, or if you avoid their fire for a while, robots have to run back to a recharge point and you can block them off and shoot them while defenceless.

There is no food in the game, so you can heal up just by passing turns with no real penalty. The time constraint used is that you have to report in to a particular building every 2000 ticks. If you don't all robots start attacking you on sight. If you report late you also get a social demerit, 5 of these and all robots attack until you get sent to jail. Getting sent to jail is no big deal as you can easily escape, get all your stuff back (once you know where to look) and the slate is wiped clean. Once I got far enough on in the game, I stopped bothering to report back.

Some of the interactivity later seen in Ultima 5 is seen here first. You can push objects around (if you are strong enough). You can climb over certain types of scenery. Something I particularly like is that you can climb over other people if they are in the way (which they often are). There are also objects you can pick up and use for the first time in an Origin RPG, although you can't actually see them as tiles here and have to stand on an adjacent tile and search.

The Bad
The keyboard controls are needlessly complicated. As in Ultima games it uses pretty much every letter of the keyboard for one control or another, but not necessarily the same letters as in Ultima. It takes a while to learn which keys to use.

The game uses the same conversation system as in Ultima 4 but in general people have even less to say. There are no standard conversation topics (name, job) so they often say nothing unless you know what to ask. This gives more of a feeling that they are just there to get you through the game, although this isn't always the case.

I played the game through to the end but I feel like I didn't try a lot of things. This is mostly my fault but the combat is possibly a little too easy and really doesn't encourage you to try alternatives.

There is no music at all, just sound effects. The sound effect for bumping into something (which happens a lot when you are running everywhere) gets on your nerves after a while.

The Bottom Line
This is a fun little RPG for people who were either new to the genre or didn't want to dedicate weeks to a single game. The RPG elements are so light, that this in many ways plays more like an adventure game where you have to figure out what you need, where it is and where to use it. Despite the lighter RPG elements, the city is still large and detailed and this is definitely the best game Origin had published to date that wasn't an Ultima. Anyone who enjoyed exploring the towns in Ultima 4 should give it a go.

By Pix on June 23, 2008

The Dagger of Amon Ra (DOS)

By Pix on June 19, 2008

Wizkid: The Story of Wizball II (DOS)

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Mixed-Up Mother Goose (DOS)

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Ultima Trilogy: I ♦ II ♦ III (DOS)

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Code-Name: Iceman (DOS)

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Rise of the Dragon (DOS)

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Jones in the Fast Lane (DOS)

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EcoQuest: The Search for Cetus (DOS)

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Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon (DOS)

By Pix on June 19, 2008

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