Conan the Cimmerian – PC Review

The principle behind games based on licensed characters
such as Conan is that they give players a chance to inhabit
the world and the life of those characters. So, for instance,
Batman lets players “be” Batman, with all his skills, gadgets and
enemies, just as Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis allows
players to “become” Steven Spielberg’s famous archaeologist. Interestingly enough, Conan the Cimmerian is unusual in that
Conan starts the game not as the proficient, sword-wielding barbarian
of novel, comic book and movie renown, but as a peaceful
blacksmith living in domestic tranquility with his wife. This is
not the Conan one is accustomed to seeing — and though that
Conan develops in due course, it is only with the player’s assistance
that he does so. This betrays the designers’ interest in
doing something slightly different with the material than has been
done until now.
The game tells a lengthy origin story in an animated sequence
at the start of the game. Conan and his wife are leading an innocent
existence, he at the forge, she doing something on the
ground. (It looks as though she is doing the laundry, but since
Mrs. Conan wears the skimpiest of brass g-strings and her
husband a loincloth, there would not seem to be much
laundry to do.)
Suddenly, a band of marauders descends upon the village!
One of them shoots lightning bolts at Mrs. Conan, leaving
her sprawled, dead, on the ground. Another lays Conan out
flat with a blow from his mace. When Conan recovers and
finds the town in ruins, he resolves to carry out a vendetta
against the man responsible for the destruction of all he held
dear: Thoth Amon. Ominous drum roll, please.
So, as astute readers have already surmised, one spends
the first half of the game bringing Conan up to speed. This involves
finding a mentor to hone Conan’s combat skills, tracking
down weapons and magic items suitable to his new life
as a mercenary and amassing forces to lead against the
nefarious Thoth Amon (James Earl Jones, in the movie).
The second half of the game consists of a collection of
quests on which Conan is sent from the central city of
Shadizar. Once Conan has completed these quests, he is
ready to face Thoth Amon himself in a climactic showdown.
The use of a big chunk of the game for “creating” Conan is
an interesting device. It permits a certain amount of plot and
character development in what might otherwise be a static
series of mini-adventures. Granted that much of this development
will be familiar to players from Conan’s previous incarnations;
but if it is familiar, at least it is also faithful, visually
and in spirit, to its sources.

Conan the Geographer
Conan takes place across the entire continent of Hyborea.
A world map gives an overview of the quest sites; as one progres
ses in the game, the map fills in with new locations. Thoth
Amon’s city, Tarantia, is on the map from the start, but cannot
be entered until the end of the game. This provides a nice goad
for the player and a constant reminder of the overriding mission
that ties all of Conan’s disparate agendas together.
Actual gameplay takes place both on Ultima-style street and
wilderness maps and on Karateka-style combat and interaction
screens. A very basic menu of commands is available at each of
these levels, as well as a point-and-click interface that calls up uni
que sub-menus for different types of interactions.
The choices available in any encounter are extremely limited.
The only permanent commands are Inventory, Status and the
generic “Action.” Most sub-menus have only two or three choices
(Converse/Attack/Done, Yes/No), and combat consists of the following
commands: Left, Right and Attack.
By the end, one can use a grand total of three different attacks
Swing, Thrust and Chop — but Conan starts the game only
able to Swing. (Stop smirking.)
The result is a game caught somewhere in the middle between
action and role-playing. It is perhaps the most rudimentary roleplaying
game ever made, cutting down to the bare bones the
complexities of a Might and Magic or an Ultima. (There are
magic items, but no spells; there are a variety of weapons, but
most seem to be swords.) On the other hand, Conan clearly is
not primarily an action game, for two reasons: first, because the
game has plenty of CRPG-style puzzles to solve, some of which
are quite ingenious (how to kill an undead king who cannot be
harmed by Conan’s weapons, for instance), and second, because
the action is not very good.
In fact, the game’s major drawback is not its lack of complexity
in the role-playing area — Conan is not a difficult game (it is,
simply put, “fun”), but features endless, repetitive and poorly
animated action sequences that detract from the overall entertainment
value. Unfortunately, every street and path in the game
teems with enemies who will attack Conan at the drop of a helm.
Then, each such encounter is played out as a side-view struggle,
with Conan and his foe raining blows on each other with all their
might. The characters are well-drawn, but since they are so large
(usually seen as a “plus” in the videogame world), there is little
room for maneuvering.
As combat continues, “life-meters” at the base of the screen indicate
each character’s declining stamina in conventional
arcade-game fashion. Thus, combat
tends to be a matter of finding an attack that
will penetrate a given character’s defenses
(“Thrust” seems to work well in most cases)
and letting him have it over and over again.
Worst of all, the graphics do not reflect the action
that is going on. None of the characters
react to being hit, except for collapsing when
dead, and hits are sometimes scored even
when little or no on-screen contact has been
made. So, after the first dozen battles, one gets
tired of going through the motions, even though the game does
offer a variety of enemies and, once, an interesting ally (a Norse
god).
The quests get gradually more difficult as one goes on, mainly
by taking place in larger areas populated by increasingly
dangerous foes. Whenever Conan dies, the game offers tips on
how he might have done better and resurrects him. This gives
players plenty of chances to finish the game. Needless to say,
there is also a Save Game feature so that armchair barbarians
can take a rest between bouts of hacking and slashing.
Despite this, however, many players will not be able to finish
Conan — not because of Hyborea’s evil-doers or because they
will tire of the game (it is rather addictive, actually), but because
of some serious bugs in the program. In the end, it is not the impregnability
of Tarantia but plain old programming flaws that
present Conan with his greatest challenge.
Conan the Bughunter
One does not want to make too much of these bugs since they
will presumably be fixed in future releases of the game. (Virgin
is aware of them and claims to have corrected replacement disks
available.) However, for the record, players of the original version
should be prepared for some difficulty moving Conan around.
At the start of the game, in Shadizar, the problem is limited to
Conan getting “stuck” against corners of buildings. The top-down
perspective is such that when Conan tries to walk behind or past
a building, he sometimes cannot, because the part of his body
that the building should obscure bumps up against it instead.
This leads to a lot of backtracking after getting Conan stuck in
spots which one does not expect to present any navigational
problem.
Later in the game, however, the problem gets really bad, with
Conan getting stuck on outstretched tree branches and the like.
It gets to the point where one periodically navigates Conan into
positions he simply cannot get out of, at which point there is no
choice but to re-boot. Even if one manages to avoid such unintentional
traps (a matter of luck, really), the constant backtracking
and retracing of one’s steps becomes unbearable.
These are not the only problems in the game, either. Perhaps
the most embarrassing involves the copy-protection scheme — a
set of runes printed at the top of each page of the instruction
manual — which is snafu’d by not one but two blunders. Not
only is an incorrect set of runes printed on the very first page of
the manual, but the errata sheet correcting this mistake itself contains
an error!
Obviously, more care was needed prior to this package’s
release. However, Virgin is supposed to be correcting the
problems now, so that future players will be spared the frustration
this reviewer had to deal with.
Conan the Aesthete
Unlike the player, whom the game could treat
better, the character of Conan himself is wellserved
by Conan the Cimmerian. The game’s
graphics portray him as hale, tanned and
strong-thewed, nearly living up to the magnificent
Boris Vallejo painting on the package.
Hyborea is richly detailed and well laid out, with
rooftops and underground caverns to explore in
addition to “street-level” locations. In fact, some
of the graphics are as grim and violent as anything
put into a computer game in order to
portray the dark universe of the late Robert E. Howard as authentically
as possible. For example, the opening frame includes a
severed head, so gamers should be fairly warned or tantalized, as
the case may be. Further, the music in the game, full of brooding
melodies and stirring war cries, is both satisfying and appropriate
to the dark fantasy milieu, as well.
Fans of Conan will find a great deal to like about this game. It
is clever enough to challenge the wit without being a hardcore
CRPG, and it offers all the sweat and blood a devoted Robert E.
Howard reader could ask for. Though the characters’ motivations
are never even two-dimensional — Thoth Amon kills Conan’s wife
because he is the villain and that is what villains do — this is a
weakness in the Conan canon in general, not just this game.
(Not just Conan, either. See also Tarzan, Gor, and John Jakes’
Brak the Barbarian.)
If barbarian adventuring is what one seeks, Conan the Cimmerian
provides a refreshingly uncomplicated, unrefined and
vigorous example. This is steaming, juicy violence at its most
basic, with all of that genre’s redeeming and unredeeming
qualities.
At least, unlike most games of this ilk, Virgin has taken a stab
at making Conan a creature of flesh and blood, rather than just
another bunch of testosterone-tinted pixels. By letting players participate
in the birth of their hero, an added layer of interest, if not
actual depth, takes shape. Nietzsche it ain’t, but Howard it is!

Konami’s Riders of Rohan – PC Review

An intriguing quality of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the
Rings trilogy is that it refuses to be confined. That is, it
cannot be summarized, adapted, reworked or otherwise
carried from print to some other medium without first having certain
plot branches either pruned or altogether removed.
Konami’s Riders of Rohan (Riders) very likely represents the
first time in Middle Earth that the tree has been pruned away in
order to display a single branch. It portrays the story of King
Theoden and his struggle with the traitorous wizard Saruman.
Hence, it represents the most lengthy passage of The Lord of
the Rings which does not deal directly with the more spiritual
and weighty matter of the evil ring.
The graphic touches in Riders of Rohan are simple, yet pleasing.
Both the animated and still screens are presented using the
same soft watercolor hues with which J.R.R. Tolkien enjoyed
painting. Unfortunately, from a gamer’s perspective, the minuscule
figures that occupy the battlefield during some sequences
and the master map of Rohan in others are very difficult to locate
and select when the player needs to act quickly. Overall,
however, the game has a satisfying look.
Rider’s creators have produced a most faithful recreation of a
scene from Middle Earth, although its value as a game is another
matter to consider. Essentially, Riders is a lightweight strategy
game that includes several action sequences and some very
limited character interaction. Those who have not read the trilogy
will probably have a difficult time understanding the events which
have led up to those in the game. However, the events that unfold
within the game are simple enough to follow.
Libretto
In the game, the kingdom of Rohan is under attack from the
west by the wizard Saruman. The player directs the forces opposed
to Saruman, although not all of these are available to the
player as the game begins. Several bands of “Riders” patrol the
River Isen, across which Saruman’s armies of Orcs and Dunlendings
are marching. At the fortress of Helm’s Deep, groups of soldiers
prepare for a siege. King Theoden remains at his home in
Edoras, under the spell of the vile Grima Wormtongue, refusing
to mobilize the remaining Riders. In Fangorn Forest, Ents —
those mighty personified trees of Middle Earth — need only be
pointed in the proper direction to vent their anger against the evil
wizard. Finally, the remaining members of the broken Fellowship
— Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Merry and Pippin — are each
about to take part in the approaching confrontation.
So, the majority of Riders of Rohan is concerned with individual
battles between the game’s title characters and
Saruman’s armies. In each case, the Riders are greatly outnumbered
and the player must use strategy to survive. This strategy,
as suggested by both the classic trilogy and the game’s
documentation, involves using light cavalry and infantry to distract
the enemy while the heavy cavalry gets ready to charge.
For these battles, the screen switches from its normal view of the
map of Rohan to a close-up of the battlefield. The battles take
place in real time, although the action will freeze long enough for
the player to input his commands to each unit. Using either
mouse or keyboard, the player places the pointer on the tiny onscreen
figure representing the unit he/she wishes to address.
Clicking on that figure gives access to a menu of commands.
This means that the player has to click on units incessantly
throughout the battle in order to monitor their progress. The battle
ends when either the player or the enemy issues the retreat
command.
Battle may sometimes be preceded by one of the game’s arcade
sequences, in which leaders of
the two forces agree to a duel to the
death. Using mouse or keyboard, the
player controls the full-screen figure in
both attack and defensive moves. The
army belonging to the deceased leader
will then suffer from low morale during
the ensuing battle. The player also has
a “quick battle” option in which the
computer automatically generates the
results of the confrontation without any
input from the player.
Cast of Characters
In combat, there exist no more intimidating
fighters than the Ents, who
handle their enemies much as a
modern-day lawnmower treats grass. It
is important that the Ents become active early in the game because
they move very slowly and unless they are on the battlefield,
their movements are not under the player’s control. The
hobbits Merry and Pippin may activate the Ents if they have
been freed from the Orcs, or the job may fall to Gandalf — the
renowned wizard who has returned fresh from the bowels of a
mountain, wearing a new set of clothes.
Any army which has Gandalf as part of its company will enjoy
the benefit of having a list of spells at its disposal. The player
controls which spells will be cast, but will quickly discover that
overuse of the good wizard’s magical prowess will not only exhaust
the wizard, but will also attract the attention of the dread
Sauron in Mordor. Upon discovering Gandalf’s potent intervention
on behalf of the forces of good, Sauron will promptly dispatch
one of his demonic Nazgul, mounted on a flying serpent,
to investigate. This, in turn, leads to Gandalf fighting the hellish
creature in the game’s second arcade sequence. Floating in the
air like a medieval version of the “Rocketeer,” the wizard trades
lightning bolts with his foe until one of the two manages to
microwave the other.
Aragorn’s purpose in Rohan is to remove King Theoden from
the paralyzing influence of Grima Wormtongue. There is some
brief character interaction in which the player has only a small
part in deciding how Aragorn responds to certain questions at
Theoden’s home. On the road, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas will
frequently be ambushed by Orcs, leading to the same arcade
dueling sequence as the one which occasionally precedes the
army battles. Fortunately, Aragorn is a master swordsman and
any orc challenging him might just as well challenge Michael
Jackson to a moon-walk competition.
The final arcade sequence involves archery, and frequently occurs
as the enemy gathers at the fortress of Helm’s Deep. The
player directs an archer shooting at oncoming enemies who
must be hit as they come into range. The enemy will be throwing
spears as they approach and the archer must duck down or be
impaled. Legolas the elf may also engage in a similar sequence
while traveling through Rohan, although his shafts are apparently
AIM-9M “Sidewinder” arrows of elven manufacture.
Rohan will eventually receive a message from Gondor requesting
the assistance which the Riders are pledged to give. If the
player has been defeated by Saruman, if too few of the Riders
remain alive to assist Gondor or if any of the powerful members
of the Fellowship have been killed, the game is lost. If the Riders
are able to fulfil their commitment, the player will win.
Opening Night Notices
In a very real sense, then, a player’s
performance is judged by how closely
he or she has followed events from the
Tolkien canon. Thus, seasoned
strategists and wargamers may find
themselves unhappy with the restrictions
under which they must achieve
victory. Likewise, many will find the battle
sequences repetitious, since they
constantly feature similar units facing
similar enemies under similar disadvantages.
So, oddly enough, the arcade
sequences in Riders of Rohan end up
being the most interesting parts of the
game, even though the game appears
to have been designed primarily as a
strategy game.
Perhaps, there is a limit to how many different game products
Tolkien’s famous trilogy should be expected to inspire. One cannot
help but survey the large number of software titles which are
based on The Lord of the Rings and wonder if they are, in actuality,
a tribute to the diversity of Tolkien’s work or simply a
reflection of the power of a successful license? Are such games a
recognition that Tolkien’s Middle Earth touched archetypal symbols
and emotions (such that gamers are continually drawn back
to Tolkien’s vision) or are they an indictment of the repetitious
nature of current game design?
Such questions may be as unanswerable as whether books
should be made into films, films into television series or films,
television series, books or comic books into computer games. Ultimately,
it depends upon the artistic implementation in each
product.
As for Riders of Rohan, there is little to hold the interest of experienced
strategy players and wargamers and too few of the arcade
sequences to challenge the dedicated action gamer. However,
it is likely that many devotees of Tolkien will enjoy this faithful
approach to one of Middle Earth’s most memorable battles
and the characters who participated in it.

Konami’s Mission: Impossible – PC Review

Mission: Impossible was not the best show on television, nor was
it the worst. At its best it was ingenious and suspenseful, though
implausible and politically naive. At its worst, it still filled an hour
better than, say, Starsky and Hutch. More often than not, it fell somewhere
in the middle. Despite its general mediocrity, however, Mission: Impossible
was one of the best-known and most-loved shows of its day,
and few would deny that it is remembered today as an important piece of
our pop-culture heritage. There may not be annual IMF get-togethers the
way there are Star Trek conventions and the Franklin Mint may not be
knocking down anyone’s door to solicit orders for an IMF chess set, but
ask the average Joe what show “Your mission, should you decide to accept
it” comes from and chances are he’ll be able to tell you. Granted,
the word “mission” is something of a giveaway there — but test the man
on the street with “This message will self-destruct in five seconds” or a bit
of Lalo Schifrin’s famous theme music from the show and the results
won’t be much different.
The same generation that can name all the Brady kids and recite lines
from Get Smart — the same people who saw the recent Addams Family
movie primarily as a reference to a TV series rather than as a cinematic
tribute to a series of Hew Yorker cartoons — feel toward Mission: Impossible
the way an earlier generation felt toward Robert Stack’s The Untouchables
and a later generation feels toward The A-Team. These were
entertaining television shows, not great ones. People remember them
fondly.
It is clear, therefore, that Konami has not gone off the deep end in digging
up this old series, currently seen only in off-network, off-hour re-runs,
for a computer game revival. (It doesn’t hurt that the series was briefly
revived on television a few
seasons back when a writers’
strike made it impossible to
get new scripts in Hollywood.)
There is bound to be more
of an audience for a Mission:
Impossible game than for,
say, a Welcome Back, Kotter
or a Man From Atlantis
game, though Konami may still find a certain age group scratching its
head in puzzlement at what is to them an unfamiliar title. The series format
— a team of undercover agents using gadgets and deception to infiltrate
and foil criminal enterprises — also has the advantage of lending itself
naturally to game design.
With everything going for it from name recognition and nostalgia to
ready-made game scenarios, Mission: Impossible is as close to a sure
thing as any software company could ask for. All that Konami had to do
in designing the game was stick close to their source material… which
they did.
Unfortunately, Konami stuck so close to their model that along with the
original’s trademark gimmicks and devices, they seem to have duplicated
the show’s mediocrity. Mission: Impossible, the game, is very much like
an episode of Mission: Impossible, the series — only not a very good
one. More unfortunate still, even the worst episode of the television series
was over in an hour and was followed a week later by a better episode
(or at least a different one), and cost nothing to watch. Mission: Impossible,
the game, goes on and on, tells only one story, and retails for a
suggested $49.95.
Your Mission, Should You Choose…
The game opens with an exciting VGA/MCGA shot of Peter Graves lighting
a sputtering fuse, which then burns along the bottom of the screen to
the accompaniment of the digitized series theme music. This opening
gets players in an appropriate mood, as does a passable VGA slide-show
prologue in which Jim Phelps gets his self-destructing assignment (this
time from a tiny computer screen rather than a tape recorder). One immediately
misses the spoken-word audio that the scene deserves, as well
as some real animation (rapidly switched still pictures are used instead).
Nevertheless, the scene is effective.
However, the extra mile that the designers do not go in the prologue
should make players suspicious about what they are going to get in the
rest of the game. Sure enough, immediately after the opening, the program
sinks into a sixteen-color, EGA-quality play mode, at which level it remains for the duration of the game. (Actually, the EGA graphics the
game offers are worse than those in the VGA/EGA-quality mode, but
only marginally.) The feeling of having been duped by a false front —
how appropriate for Mission: Impossible — is inescapable.
Before starting to play, one is asked to choose a team of four agents
from a roster of twenty. That none of the original series characters are
available, including Jim Phelps, will be most players’ first disappointment.
(Imagine a Star Trek game in which one has to select one’s crew from a
roster of nobodies.)
The characters who are available have digitized portraits which appear
at the start of the game and which double as a truly annoying anti-piracy
scheme. The scheme is annoying mainly because the software doesn’t explain
what it wants the player to do. A certain amount of trial and error,
as well as flipping through the “Agent Procedure Manual,” is necessary
before one figures out how to get into the game. There is no reason a
player should have to go through this. One sentence either on-screen or
in the manual would have eliminated the problem.
Once one is allowed into the game, one gets to review the team’s statistics.
As a tip of the hat to the sort of role-playing game Mission: Impossible
clearly wants to be, each agent has an extensive dossier of skills
and abilities. Some of these come into play — lockpicking, for example —
while others are just window dressing as far as this reviewer could tell.
After one’s team is selected and activated, one begins the game itself.
A scrolling overhead city plan gives a general view of the locations in
which the story unfolds. The city contains some residential houses, estates,
hotels, docks, eateries, a library, a park and a golf course. Though
the playing field seems big at first glance, one quickly hits the edges and
becomes familiar with all its contents. As soon as this happens, the game
suddenly starts to feel small. Part of the fun of the television series was
the feeling that the agents were traveling all over the world (though not
necessarily in any single episode). The fact that the game is limited to
one fairly ordinary suburban scene removes a good deal of the romance
and adventure from the plot.
Actual gameplay takes place on side-view screens which are available
for each location and which allow one to “zoom in” from the map screen,
as long as at least one of the player’s agents is present in a given location.
Some locations have multiple levels and multiple rooms to explore;
others do not.
In the center of town, a nondescript house conceals the headquarters of
the IMF (Impossible Mission Force, for those not in the know). From this
computerized nerve center, agents can equip themselves with weapons
and espionage tools, set and monitor phone taps, recuperate from their
exertions (in other words, take a nap), and prepare those famous Mission:
Impossible disguises which make an agent look just like a captured
criminal.
One’s progress through the game is non-linear in a loose sense — one
can go anywhere at any time, with or without a reason — but there is a
fairly clear order of operations to follow based on the leads one gets from
each encounter. A name dropped by one criminal suggests a new phone
tap that might be worthwhile; tailing one suspect typically leads an agent
to another.
The player’s four agents can work independently and, in fact, the best
element of the game is the need to have several operations underway at
once. Everything happens in real time in Mission: Impossible, including
travel from one location to another, and a single missed appointment or
encounter can mean the failure of one’s mission. (The game kindly offers
a save/restore function for such emergencies, which the manual
euphemistically refers to as “[times when] you’ve gotten off track with
your investigation.”)
You Call This Impossible?
The storyline one has to uncover, bit by bit, involves a shady plot by
unidentified bad guys to kill leaders of industry and government and
replace them with crooks. (A cynic might ask, “Who’d notice?”) Several
hits have already been carried out and in each case the killer has been
released by a sympathetic judge. The IMF has to prevent further murders
and get to the bottom of the plot.
If this sounds as memorable as yesterday’s horoscope and as spicy as
chipped beef, it is partly because the story is not one likely to inspire en
thusiasm either in ordinary players or in game reviewers … especially
not in game reviewers, who see every game that comes out and, therefore,
have to digest generic plots like this one by the dozen. To be fair,
the presentation of the story in the game is slightly more enthusiastic
than its in-a-nutshell presentation above. On the other hand, it’s also
longer and consequently duller.
Furthermore, the plot lacks the element of heightened suspense that
made the best episodes of the television series work so well. There was a
sense in those episodes that no one on Earth except Jim Phelps and his
team had the necessary combination of wit, technology, intellect, and ingenuity
to bring about a subtle and happy resolution to the problem of
the week, which was always fraught with grave dangers. Hence, the title
of the show, Mission: Impossible — like Captain Kirk in Star Trek II, who
found a way to win the no-win Kobayashi Maru simulation — the IMF
team is supposed to do the impossible. In the game, their job seems
much too tame, the results they achieve too readily accessible to anyone
with a good computer, a parabolic mike, an accurate wristwatch, and half
a brain.
As one plays Mission: Impossible, one is constantly reminded of
similar games such as Microprose’s Covert Action; yet Covert Action is
a much better game, if only because it offers dozens of different stories
for players to investigate. If one story is dull, the player can switch to
another. That is not possible in Mission: Impossible.
The sad fact is that one gets to a point with this game at which one
simply doesn’t want to go any further. It will be a different point for different
players, but it will come all the same. It’s the point at which one
knows the proper “moves” to make, but feels that there’s no reason to
make them.
As with a tedious movie or play, the temptation is to walk out in the
middle. The temptation is doubly strong with a game like this, since one
can quickly survey most of the locations, hear all the music there is to
hear, whiz through a couple of encounters, and then sit back and ask,
“Now what?”
Without a compelling story to hold the player’s interest, there is no
answer to that question. If this game really were the TV re-run it so often
feels like, most viewers would just change the channel.
In Re: Mission
Despite all its weaknesses, though, Mission: Impossible is not the
worst game on the market any more than Mission: Impossible was the
worst TV series. The graphics are not what one might hope for (which
would be something closer to Dynamix’s Heart of China or, at least, a
Sierra “Quest” game), but for their mid-range standard look they aren’t
bad. Despite some embarrassing flubs (houses are red on the map
screen but yellow and green in close-up) and weird animations (when an
agent turns, it looks like Leslie Nielsen breakdancing in The Naked
Gun), most of the scenes are crisp and attractive. The sound effects are
good, as is the music, and when either or both get irritating, they can be
disabled.
The controls are a combination of point-and-click and menu-driven and,
for the most part, work well. The system for moving agents from place to
place and estimating distances on the map screen is somewhat
over-complex (click on this, then that, the other, in a set order), but one gets
used to it. The system of alternating, in close-up sequences, between
using the mouse/joystick/keyboard to control an agent’s movements and
using them to control an on-screen crosshair (which can itself control the
agent’s movements) is as cumbersome here as it was in Access’
Countdown, the last game that used it; but one can just set the controls
to the crosshair and ignore the rest.
If there is one good thing to be said on behalf of Mission: Impossible,
it is that it does succeed in evoking the look and feel of the TV series —
in some respects superficially, perhaps, but it does it. Fans of the series
will have their share of cavils, but the game should be a treat for them
nevertheless.
For the wider audience, however, this game cannot be recommended.
A player looking for a good thriller or espionage game would do better to
get Countdown or Covert Action instead. A player looking for a good
Mission: Impossible adventure is directed, with regret, to the late-night
listings of the current TV Guide.

The Games: Winter Challenge – PC Review

Multi-venued games have been a staple of the computer
game industry for many years. The best multi-venued
games have usually involved Olympic events (Epyx’
celebrated licensed products of the mid-1980s and Electronic
Arts’ parody of the “Games,” Caveman Ugh-lympics, immediately
come to mind). Accolade’s The Games: Winter Challenge
uses today’s faster frame rates, VGA graphics capability and
digitized sound capacity to allow players to experience competitive
skiing, sledding and skating to a more exciting degree than
in any of its distinguished predecessors. All told, there are eight
different events in the package. Add to these features the
capability for running the game under Windows 3.0 (with at
least 1 MB of RAM) and one might well expect more computer
skiers flying down the slopes in adrenaline-filled downhill runs
than ever before.
The Games: Winter Challenge uses a third-person perspective
to present the action. The player follows along right behind the
on-screen competitor and the
suspended disbelief is sometimes vivid

enough to cause him/her to duck
under the spray of simulated snow.
The action is fast and furious with
downhill events reminiscent of the
smooth-flowing Downhill Challenge,
published in the U.S. by Broderbund.
The latter was not as successful on
the IBM as it was on the Atari ST because
of the CGA color palette and
the necessity of slowing down faster
processors with a separate software
patch in order to compete on 286s
and above. Veterans of the earlier
game might also be interested in the
fact that the ski jumping in The
Games: Winter Challenge is much more forgiving than the
event was in Downhill Challenge, however.
The Agony of Defeat
Readers who are part of the television generation will probably
never forget the film footage which always accompanied the line
“agony of defeat” during the opening credits of ABC’s Wide
World of Sports. The out-of-control ski jumper crashing off the
end of the jump and tumbling to a stop reminded viewers on a
weekly basis that sports competition is no picnic. In the Accolade
version of the ski jumping competition, the player’s athlete
must fly off the ramp, keep his/her skis in a parallel position
(in order to maintain lift) and then,
land. The key is, of course, to do all of
this without eating snow. If one wipes
out on the ramp, the would-be jumper
may slide down the ramp and make
the ABC Wide World of Sports
jumper look graceful.
Garners looking for more fast-paced
challenges can opt for the luge or
bobsled competitions. In both events,
one’s athletes scream down a snakelike
course of ice-covered, polygonfilled
walls. The goal is to get maximum
speed as quickly as possible
and to keep the vehicles in the groove
so that the time keeps getting shaved
with every run. These events are not
particularly difficult when compared to others in the game.
Another fast-paced event is the giant slalom competition. The
challenge in this event requires the player to maneuver the onscreen
skier through the gates of a progressively more difficult
course. As in real life, excess speed tends to make one’s
digitized athlete go unnecessarily wide in certain turns and eventually
adds unwelcome seconds to the player’s final time.
Those who like to test their coordination may choose the giant
slalom, but those who like to “flat out” go for it will opt for the
challenge of downhill skiing. In fact, the downhill simulation is so
exhilarating that fast skiers may achieve as much air time during
this competition as they do in the ski
jump! This competition has obviously
been crafted by fans of this sport.
Ski Shooting
The biathlon event combines the
leisurely pace of cross-country skiing,
the slowest of the events depicted,
with the challenge of target shooting.
Both the cross-country skiing event
and the skiing in the biathlon require
more emphasis on timing than on
quick reflexes. The major benefit of
these events is to allow the programming
team to show off their ability to
create bitmapped scenery. The biathlon
simply allows the on-screen skier
to ski to a target area and then, enter the shooting mode. One is
given five targets to shoot at and penalized 15 seconds for each
miss. Shooting is done standing or prone.
One of the more graceful events is speed skating. The player
has the digitized skater compete against the clock by performing
laps around the 400-meter track. This is the only event where
one must wait for the starting gun. One false start is allowed, so
that the player does not become totally frustrated.
The Judges Are Ready
The user interface is a cool blue bitmapped menu system
which not only allows players to
navigate about the game with ease,
but also allows the painless use of the
installation program. The virtual world
is a clever blend of bitmapped mountains
matted in over polygon-filled
slopes and courses. There are bitmapped
grandstands, trees and even
a polygon-filled moving ski lift. Also,
the animations of video-digitized athletes
add to the realism. In addition,
there is a video feature which allows
the saving of one’s finest events to
disk-based film clips for future viewing.
In fact, about the only disturbing factor
concerning the “look” of the game
is that during the events, there is a
map window which covers some of the left-hand portion of the
screen. While this is useful in order to see where one is located
on a particular course, it is somewhat obtrusive. An option for a
full-screen, and less distracting, view would have been most welcome.
Perhaps the nicest fact about the game is that an average fullscale
Olympic competition with all eight events (depending upon
the number of participants) may be completed during a lunch
hour or during the half-time of an NFL football game. The action
is well simulated and can be very addicting. If the potential
player is the least bit interested in downhill skiing, he/she is likely
to find this game to be most playable and entertaining.

The Treehouse – PC Review

When players, aged six to 10, climb up into The
Treehouse by Broderbund, they enter a player-driven,
interactive world of exploration, learning, games, puzzles
and surprises. Like its predecessor, The Playroom, The
Treehouse is a cozy place full of neat stuff where kids can play
on their own or with another. As one of the “Awesome
‘Possums” (the male or female on-screen character), players
point-and-click their way through such topics as music, math, language
and science. Rather than the dry, predictable treatment
that was the norm in educational software in years past, i.e. “computer
flash cards,” this software package presents its subjects
with subtlety and originality, sparkle and humor.
Inside The Treehouse, players can choose to get involved in a
game, eat a piece of fruit, just look out the window (at the
variety of goings-on there) or climb down the tree and see what’s
happening outside.

Chalk it up Learning
In the main room of
the treehouse, there is
a wide assortment of
things to do. Players
can play a game, use
the mouse to “draw” on a chalkboard with colored
chalk, watch as a mother bird feeds a worm to her
nest full of chirping babies, look through a telescope
(at several different views), check for a “this date in
history” fun fact, make the clouds change their
shape, look at the clock and see the “real-life” accurate
time, have a snack or take a nap.
Outside, the player’s ‘possum can climb down the
rope ladder, peek in at some squirrels storing nuts for
the winter or just explore the back yard.

Games Possums Play
One area that The Treehouse addresses with especial
thoroughness is music. The software accomplishes this
through both its “Musical Keys” and “Musical Maze” games. The
former allows players to play or listen to any of 24 familiar tunes
(everything from nursery rhymes to short pieces of classical
music) on a variety of instruments from strings, woodwinds or
brass to animal sounds or tissue paper and comb. (For example,
“Pop goes the weasel” on the oboe or a Bach minuet on the
electric guitar.) Or kids can make up their own songs and vary
the notes, instrument used, tempo, note duration, sharps and
flats — the works. When composing, players can work by clicking
on the on-screen piano keyboard or directly on a musical
staff. Once a piece has been written, the sheet music can then
be printed for playing on “real” instruments — ideal for anyone
taking music lessons. If a sound card is not used, notes will
sound as tones only, rather than sounding like specific instruments..
The “Musical Maze” game allows players to test their
knowledge of musical notes, instruments and songs. There is a name-that-tune aspect to the game as well as a test of recognition
of note patterns, tone and duration. This kind of practice
and repetition is excellent for reinforcing music concepts.
Go Math Racer, Go
The Road Rally game can be played with either money or
chips. In this Candylandish exercise, players roll the on-screen
dice and use math and counting skills to decide how far to move
their car. For instance, which is more: one dime and one penny
or one nickel and four pennies? Players make their choices and
advance accordingly. They may play against a computer opponent
or another human player. The first player to reach his or
her goal wins the race and takes a prize back to the treehouse.
Lights, Camera, Interaction
In Treehouse Theater, players act as writer and director of a
silly production of their own play. They choose the who, what,
where and when elements necessary to create a story and then,
see it acted out on stage. This game allows players to practice
forming complete sentences that are grammatically correct and
also very funny, such as “The baby juggles at the beach every
day” or “My favorite teacher eats pickles on the moon during an
eclipse.” Props can even be added to the scene, according to its
setting. So, at the beach, a star fish, a pail and shovel and a
beach ball are provided. For the setting entitled “The middle of
nowhere,” props like a rainbow, a planet and a giant eyeball are
available. The designers have really let their imaginations run
wild here and the results are hilarious. Help! The Back Yard is Full of Invertebrates!
The “Backyard Zoo” games teach players about different
groups of familiar animals and how they are classified according
to their traits. In “Animal Album,” players choose animals of differing
descriptions (has a backbone, is cold-blooded, has wings,
has two legs, breathes with lungs, eats plants and animals, etc.)
and places them in an outdoor scene to create a picture. So,
under the heading “has a backbone” are the groups mammals,
birds, fish and reptiles. Then under “mammals,” are examples
like cottontail rabbit, dog, human, squirrel and chipmunk (pretty
distinguished company, huh?). Players can then click on the
squirrel and place it in the picture so it is sitting in a tree. (This
reviewer ended up with a garden full of ladybugs and a serious
overpopulation of hummingbirds.)
In “Guess My Animal,” players are given clues about a specific
animal’s traits and behavior (has four legs, is active during the
day, has no wings) and guess, from a sample of possible
choices, what animal it might be. In this way, players simultaneously
learn about the animal kingdom and practice the use
of deductive reasoning.
A Smart Game for Smart Alecks
If “real live” players are anything like this reviewer, the first
thing they want to do with a game is mess around with it — do
stuff they’re not supposed to do — and see if they can get it to
make a mistake or reveal some kind of flaw. The Treehouse is
up to the test. Players can try anything; they can throw apples
out the window and see what happens. (Look down on the
ground and there it is: apple mush! Then, ants come along to eat
the mush.) If they try throwing the teddy bear into the pond outside,
the bear plops into the water. Then, a fish surfaces and
spews it right back on shore with a splash. Can it be possible
that the designers were expecting players to throw the teddy
bear into the fish pond? Apparently so. They seem to have been
ready for anything. Thoroughness like that does not go unappreciated
by this reviewer; this software is well thought-out and
carefully implemented. The Treehouse is an involving, engrossing
piece of work. It is the kind of game kids can lose themselves
in for hours on end. This reviewer predicts that more than
one parental cry of “Come in to dinner!” will receive a reply of
“I’ll be there in a minute….” Avoid arguments before they start:
just go into the computer room, pick them up bodily and carry
them into the dining room.
‘Possumtainment
The Treehouse can be played with a mouse or a keyboard, but
a mouse is highly recommended. The documentation is clear
and easy to understand. It should be gone over by parents and
kids together at first. Then, once kids get the hang of the game’s
interface, they should need little help. No reading skills are necessary
in order to play the game. Frankly, although it is recommended
especially for ages six to 10, younger children who have
been exposed to computer games as well as older players (particularly
those with an interest in music) may be equally interested.
The Treehouse comes with a kids’ guide and song book full of
supplementary information and ideas for things to do like
“Science in the backyard” and “Homemade instruments.” There
is even a cassette tape of that toe-tapping Treehouse theme for
kids’ listening and dancing pleasure. The designers have created
a full package of fun here that should serve as a valuable source
of education and entertainment.

Commando Overview (NES 1986)

Commando marches from the arcades to the NES in this home conversion from Capcom. Control a soldier named “Super Joe” in a mission to rescue hostages and eliminate members of an army controlled by the evil “Gunther Brothers.” Armed with a few grenades and a machine gun offering unlimited ammo, Super Joe will advance through four outdoor stages, each divided into four sections.

The action takes place on a vertically scrolling battlefield as enemy troops appear on foot, in trenches, on motorcycles, behind mortars, and more. Super Joe can acquire temporary power-ups like super grenades and bulletproof vests to help survive the relentless onslaught. He can also take a reprieve from the action by finding secret underground shelters, whose entrances are revealed by tossing grenades or using binoculars. Find and rescue all prisoners to earn a surprise bonus.

Similar Games:
Ikari Warriors
Atari Corporation
Ikari Warriors
Data East USA, Inc.

Also Available On
Platform Publisher Developer Year
Apple II Data East USA, Inc. 1985
Arcade Data East USA, Inc. Capcom Co., Ltd. 1985
Atari 7800 Atari Corporation 1989
Atari Video Computer System Activision, Inc. Imagineering Inc. 1988
Commodore 64/128 Data East USA, Inc. 1985
IBM PC Compatible Data East USA, Inc. Capcom Co., Ltd. 1985
Intellivision INTV Corporation Realtime Associates, Inc. 1987
Mobile 2001
Wii Capcom USA, Inc. Capcom Co., Ltd. 2010

Patton Strikes Back – PC Review

“Listen my children
And you shall hear
Of the midnight ride
Of a Panzergrenadier.”

In Patton Strikes Back, prolific designer Chris Crawford (who
has solid wargame credits dating back to the days of
mainframes) presents history as it was meant to be: entertaining.
While we can easily imagine Laugh-In’s German soldier Arte
Johnson describing this game as “veeeeeery interesting,” we
know that there is no reason for the prime-time personality to
finish that famous punchline. It is not stupid (to finish the line for
our younger readers). On the contrary, Patton Strikes Back is a
strategy game that is not only full of sound and fury, but actually
signifies something important.
Perhaps, it is best expressed by noting that it is not often this
reviewer’s six-year old son actually enjoys watching daddy play
those boring old wargames on the computer. Now, he’s giving
valid tactical advice to daddy! Truly, Patton Strikes Back’s
design team have hit the mark with one little wargaming recruit
(now nicknamed “Junior General James” thanks to playing this
game).
Everything Old Is New Again
The “Battle of the Bulge” was the German offensive through Belgium
in December of 1944. The tired American army was dispersed
and resting in the snow when the Germans unleashed a
massive surprise assault, using many of their elite divisions. As
the Germans poured through the breach in the Allied lines on
their race to the Meuse river, a counterattack was organized. Brilliant
execution of command and control by General George S.
Patton, Jr. brought relief to the besieged American 101st Airborne
division, who had been trapped for days at the crucial road
junction of Bastogne. The rest, as players will find out, is history.
Patton Strikes Back (originally, and perhaps more accurately,
entitled Patton Kicks Butt!) is a brigade- and division-level wargame
of the Battle of the Bulge. For solitaire play only as either
side, the game is played in real time (which can be altered from
arcade-fast to strategy slow and is “paused” every time a unit is
selected and pondered over). Alternately, a player may just elect
to observe a battle fought by the computer as both sides. Jaded
wargamers who have been playing paper wargames for years,
however, have seen scores of “Bulge” games come and go. So
what makes Patton Strikes Back something new?
Patton on the Glitz
Patton Strikes Back offers players an attractive map of the Ardennes
forest (which is remarkably uncluttered, considering the
nature of the terrain there). Players can envision the “square”
grid upon which the pieces maneuver (except, perhaps, along
certain twists in the roads). Units move and attack only in the
four main compass directions, never diagonally. To simplify matters
of maneuver for new wargamers, the military units are not
presented in the standard wargame symbology (rectangular
boxes with crosses, ovals and dots in them, as seen in the Computer
Wargaming World Table of Contents). Instead, each unit
is shown as one of four symbols:
For defense, there is a large, placid-looking dot with a single
parenthesis along one side facing a given compass point, indicating
the direction the defending unit is “facing” (i.e., best prepared
to defend).
For attack, there is a thick, stocky arrow. Slow to move, it
points in the direction of the attack’s thrust.
For maneuvering, there is a a thin, elegant double arrow. Fast
and sleek, it also points in the direction the unit is maneuvering
toward.
For routed units, an “X” symbol appears to indicated their shattered
status. Without any facing, these units move automatically
to the player’s rear areas and are highly vulnerable if attacked.
The combination of these unit icons in play and the single “gestalt
intake” map (which need never be “zoomed” to pick up
game details, as so many other wargames require) creates a play environment that is simplicity itself.
An important principle of war is
simplicity, and Patton Strikes Back
has kept it simple.
When You’re Odd, the
Odds Are With You
Granted, each unit, when selected,
presents such mundane wargaming information
on the screen as the unit’s
strength, fatigue and supply status,
but for the beginner who’ll just enjoy
“pushing the pieces around,” the accountancy
of wargaming can wait a
while. Combat really does take all
these matters into account, however,
and those who would like to actually win this game (particularly
at the higher of the five difficulty levels) will have to learn how to
evaluate those numbers. Pull down menus or hot keys can be
selected in order to visualize each unit’s “zones of control,” supply
status, supply lines and order status. All of these elements
function in such a clear, simple and logical way that it seems unnecessary
to comment further.
As units “bump” into each other, the arrows on-screen animate
a bit to show the clash of units. Immediately afterward, a report
of the battle will pop up, with a comment like “Von
Schmendrick’s elite 10th Panzer unit has crushed the green
troops of Smith’s 61st Infantry regiment.” Following that, units
might have their orders rescinded or changed by the computer,
pending the battle results. The worst fate of all, of course, is
seeing one’s units “x”ed into a shattered state, where only time
and rest might afford their recovery.
Finally, for the new players especially, there is a selection on
the menu called “Tactical Advice.” When selected, the German
player will see Chris Crawford, in uniform and bearing a delicious
attitude of German aristocratic arrogance, as he offers sound advice
such as “pull these troops out” or “seize that bridge.” An
equally humorous, cigar-chomping, coffee-drinking American lout
of a General will offer similar advice for Allied players. The tactical
advice is very sound and repeated requests for advice do not
give duplicate answers.
You Are There
Every wargame tries to capture some type of “you are there”
experience, such as the plain-speaking, yet detailed, battle
reports mentioned above. To help the player achieve true
“suspended disbelief” and truly feel in command of this wargame,
one need only listen. Listening, in fact, is what has drawn
a crowd around the old family computer while playing Patton
Strikes Back. The audio portion of the game has a perfect
soundtrack of bullets flying, bombs dropping, tanks squeaking
along, the thunder of marching infantry, the bugle call of
“reveille” to begin each game day and so much more. It is the
equivalent of a Hollywood soundtrack for a good war film. Everything
about the sound and opening music to the game has been
designed to hit players emotionally enough to communicate the
feel of war.
Newsreels
Adding to the “you are there” element are little “mini-movies”
which occur during play. As units engage in battle or conquer
key objectives, not only do the sounds of battle and maneuver
fill the air, but “newsreel” footage of the event also plays for a
few delightful seconds on one’s
monitor. Like the combat unit icons,
they add a friendliness and familiarity
to the game that embraces the wargaming
novice in a manner not seen
by this reviewer in his 20 years as a
wargamer. Seeing these little “reward”
movies on a computer screen makes
Patton Strikes Back actually compelling
to play.
Just Add History
So far, real wargamers (“grognards”)
are probably peering down
their noses as they read this review. A
game so full of “fluff,” no matter how
well done, cannot be for the hard-core
historical simulation enthusiast. Wrong!
As certain moments pass during the course of play, the “instant
history lesson” pops up with a dreamlike musical fanfare. The
whole screen is filled with a history lesson which is actually applicable
to one’s experiences on the gaming battlefield. After reading
the specific historical anecdote, the player can hit the “Tell
me more” button and get a second page from a more general,
military strategy perspective. Well-written by the historiphiles who
created this game, this Three Penny Opera approach (feeding
the players an enjoyable gaming experience before “preaching”
the history to them) is brilliant. Admittedly, not everyone will
want to get into the historical aspects of the game, but like the
sound and mini-movies, this instant history lessons can be toggled
off. (Additionally, the lessons can be called up at will from a
pull-down menu.)
Hickory Dickory Docs
About the only place where this reviewer minded that the game
“went a bit off the paper” was, ironically, on paper. The documentation
is certainly concise and accurate. No, that wasn’t the problem.
The classroom, conversational style of the rules was a tad
distracting. Passages like “Don’t get surrounded, and if a big
mean Panzer division approaches, turn tail and run” and
“‘Squares?’ you say. ‘What squares?’ Oops — I forgot to mention
the map is divided into invisible squares, just like a chessboard”
are certainly personable, but not everyone will be comfortable
with such casual banter in a game’s documentation.
The Fortunes of War(gaming)
This reviewer must certainly tip his hat to Patton Strikes Back.
Broderbund took a courageous publishing risk on this introductory
war/strategy game, no doubt because Chris Crawford
believed so in the idea and sold them on it. Wargame sales will
pale next to their Carmen Sandiego and Print Shop titles, but
any good game, done right, will be a hit, even if only in a niche
market.
The design team had a definitive idea in mind for what it would
take to create exactly the type of game they wanted: easy
enough for beginners, fast enough to keep the excitement level
high and rich enough in historical detail to actually teach some
enjoyable lessons. For every design goal, they clearly hit a bull’s
eye. When a professional critic like this reviewer can’t find some
chink in a game’s armor, the design and development work
must have been thoroughly executed. Now, it’s all up to the consumers,
voting with their wallets, to determine if Patton Strikes
Back sells as well as it was made.

Martian Memorandum – PC Review

As I stumbled
toward the
window,
trying to regain
my bearings in the
Rembrandtesque
shadows of my office,
I realized that
I must have slept
the entire day
away in my office
chair. Almost getting
iced will take
its toll on a person
and last night was
nearly the end of
the line for yours
truly.
The view from
my window didn’t help, either. The
San Francisco skyline was
emblazoned with a psychedelic red
that seemed like a Haight-Ashbury
leftover — not the normal washed,
ruddy hue but a thick malicious deep
red, almost the color of blood. Maybe
I’m just being superstitious, but who
knows… maybe it’s a foreshadowing
of what’s about to come?
If You’re Goin’ from San Francisco
Martian Memorandum, Access Software’s latest release, takes
the player from San Francisco (in the year 2039) to the farthest
reaches of humanity’s expansion, Mars. As private investigator Tex
Murphy (who originally appeared in the 1989 release Mean Streets),
the player must question suspect after suspect and witness after witness
in order to unravel the web of intrigue, deception and murder
which the designers have crafted. Murphy will have to deal with a
“booby-trapped” safe, thwart a man-eating snake and conquer quicksand
pits.
Over the course of his investigation, it should become obvious to
Tex that he will not only have to rescue the kidnapped daughter of
his client (Alexander Marshall, the President of Terraform Corp.), but
he will also have to recover an ancient Martian artifact that is somehow
linked to the missing girl.
Adventure Noir
As one begins Martian Memorandum, the player will find his or
her character in a dingy, 1940s-style office complete with venetian
blinds and an overhead fan. Even though the game takes place in
the year 2039, the mood, characterizations and ambience (as
created by the original music score) are set in the typical style of the
classic ’40s-era Hollywood detective movie.
Martian Memorandum is a fairly straightforward adventure game.
It has a beginning, middle and an end, as well as various ways to arrive
at each juncture. The plot holds together and the story even has
a message. One can tell that the designers spent a lot of time
developing the storyline before any programming actually took place.
Unlike other games in the adventure genre, the player does not
have to be a “nursery rhyme maven” to complete this game. In fact,
the game comes complete with an on-line context-sensitive help system.
The company claims that there should be no need for a hint
book or any desperate phone calls to tech support. To obtain a hint,
the player simply selects the HELP icon from the command bar and then clicks on the object that he or she needs help with. Players will
note that hints are given at different levels from vague to specific.
The first hint is general, subsequent hints are more detailed. If a
player wants more information, he or she re-selects the object.
Access continues to make innovations, the most notable of which
(in this outing) is Brent Erickson’s technique of retrieving mass
amounts of compressed data rapidly. He actually has developed a
technique of storing more than 24 megs of data in a 7.2-meg space
while producing restorations of saved games and screen changes
(complete with digitized sounds and graphics) instantly. The game allows
the player to visit at least 50 locations and interact with more
than a dozen non-player characters. Actors were cast, videotaped,
audio-taped and digitized to create all the characters. The sets and
artwork are phenomenal. It is obvious that many man-hours went
into the design of this product.
The Plot Beckons
Warning: This portion of the article contains specific hints on
game play. Readers who prefer to solve puzzles on their own should
avoid this section.
The command bar across the bottom of the screen allows the
player to initiate ten different actions by using mouse clicks or function
keys. As the game begins, all objects found in the office should
be inspected (using the LOOK command). The player might even
want to try to use the comlink (found in the chair). It will soon become
apparent that Tex should visit his new client, Alexander Marshall.
During that visit, the circumstances surrounding the case will
be laid out; the player’s character will be given a list of suspects to investigate
and the adventure will begin.
Players should be certain to move Tex to the far left and right of
each screen. This is required, since several screens scroll right or left
and failing to do so will keep the player from seeing the entire playing
field and hence, severely limiting the player’s ability to complete
the game.
Film for the camera may be obtained from Jocques Sparrow, the
photographer. (Note: When looking through the camera, one can find references to various Alfred Hitchcock films: North By
Northwest, Rear Window and Psycho.)
Players should make sure that they give the rose from the gift shop
to Rhonda Foxworth some time during the date at the restaurant.
(She will be much nicer after dinner is finished.)
The dagger found at the murder scene should be given to Mac Malden.
(This will be needed to lead Tex to the murderer).
After Mr. Alexander’s body is found, Tex should go back to his office
and search his safe. (What he finds will be very important.)
When in the jungle, the game should be saved often, as the
hazards are very deadly. Specifically, the quicksand sequence is very
unforgiving. One should make sure that he or she is on a stone
before stepping.
Players should make sure that they complete all the puzzles on
Earth before traveling to Mars. The addresses for many of the Martian
characters will be found on Earth. Players should think carefully
about all the items they acquire and look for references to additional
locations they may need to search.
The invisible beams in Dick Castro’s safe are not impossible to get
through, but infrared glasses can be obtained from Bradley Ericson
that will make the task much easier.
The key to the game is to get a suspect or witness to answer your
questions honestly, truthfully and completely. This is accomplished
by either talking with them in a manner that befits the situation,
giving them something that they want or passing along something
that they perceive as having value. It is also advisable to return and
speak to the characters more than once. As Tex attains certain items
and clues, the answers which may be given by the NPCs will often
change. This reviewer found it helpful to set up an information sheet
with characters’ names, what they do, who they are, what object they
give, what leads they provide and what information they divulge.

This tool will help the player to follow a logical course throughout the
game. Another sound piece of advice is to take notice of the expressions
that witnesses and suspects give as they are questioned. These
expressions provide clues as to a character’s veracity.
Closing the Case
The on-line help system was really appreciated. Not having to purchase
a hint book or frantically call tech support (at the player’s expense)
to finish the game is a welcome marvel. Perhaps the onscreen
hints could be rated (i.e. first level, second level and third
level), thus more clearly providing the player with an option of how
far to pursue the hint.
The game allows the player to select sound and music devices
separately. Using the Roland MT-32 for music and RealSound for the
speech/sound effects was found to be the most consistent. Overall, it
provided a spectacular outcome. Unfortunately, this combination did
produce, on occasion, music that was so loud and overpowering that
the speech/RealSound was indecipherable. When using the AdLib as
the speech/sound device, this reviewer found unreliable results.
Some characters sounded spectacular, while others were muffled and
barely audible.
The yellow background text, used from time to time to establish
the storyline, was very difficult to read. The player is encouraged,
however, to read the text throughout the game, as the humor will provide
many a chuckle. [Note: Access is encouraged to hire a
proofreader for reasons that will become increasingly obvious to the
players as they move through the game.]
Martian Memorandum produces hours of enjoyment, provides a
tremendous challenge and even offers an important message:
“Revere life, protect the living things and recycle.” The game offers
quite a different perspective on Mars than the red planet depicted in
the fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Ray Bradbury, but it is definitely
a planet worth visiting.