Alternate Reality (Datasoft) Review | Zzap - Everygamegoing

Zzap


Alternate Reality
By Datasoft
Commodore 64/128

 
Published in Zzap #11

Alternate Reality

Alternate Reality - The City is the title of Datasoft's 'ultimate role playing game' if you are to believe the immodest label on the front of the package. It certainly is big. Two double-sided disks contain all the data necessary to play. If that isn't enough, another disk (yours, of course) can be used to store a character permanently. Once beyond the packaging and the disks, there are other goodies to whet your appetite. Apart from an excellently printed guidebook to the game, there's a four page summary sheet of available commands and a map of the city. The latter has been left largely blank so that you can add to it information gathered whilst adventuring.

Loading up the game is rather like watching the opening credits for a major film. The impression is one of zooming through a starfield at incredible speeds while the titles (and full credits) laboriously go where none have gone before. The character set is superb, starfield effective and silence imposing, but there should really have been an option to get past this section rather than be forced to sit through the pretentious sequence over and over again. Once the title sequence has finished, there's a feast for the eyes in the form of some very detailed and immaculately drawn opening graphics. Finally you stand before the gateway to The City of Xebec's Demise. The view is really stunning. Above the doorway, a series of counters spin numbers at varying speeds. These correspond to the physical and mental characteristics that will determine your limitations and strengths in the game to come. The moment you pass through the doorway, the numbers freeze and you're stuck with what you've got.

The idea is that you have been kidnapped by an alien spaceship and left to fend for yourself in this mysterious city. The safest areas of this city are those closest to the gateway, but of course if you risk more distant travels the rewards will he greater. A few areas will be inaccessible no matter how hard you try to enter. This is because Datasoft intend to release future expansions to the game. I'm dubious about the wisdom of this. The nature of the game is evidently complex right from the beginning. If there is a plot to get into, rather than just a setting for free form adventuring, then it's going to be hard to find. This means that there's really very little way of telling whether there is a complete scenario or only a beginning to a bigger adventure. Only time will tell, as they say.

To begin with, you have a little money. This should be used wisely to equip yourself for likely adventures. The city has been well designed and there are good and bad dealers, so shopping around and haggling are useful. If and when success comes your way, new attire could be bought to fit your station, as the rule book suggests. It won't help you complete the game, but it's an atmospheric touch. Currency is handled in gold silver and copper. It's also the only form of treasure which cannot be cursed or magical. There are gems and other treasures to be found but they could either be worth more than they seem or be fatal lures.

Encounters are frequent also. The rules booklet lists the different type of characters and creatures likely to be encountered. These range from different classes of citizen who may be benign or otherwise, or even legendary creatures of the night who are best avoided.

Taverns and inns also abound. They have more uses than supplying refreshments. Clues to potential adventures may lie hidden in the lyrics of an overheard song, for instance. On the other hand, it is possible to get merrily drunk, and this does actually have an adverse affect on the character's abilities whilst he is under the influence. Another place to go for help and clues is a Guild building. The city has various guilds to support the varying adventurers' professions. For a fee, you could be rid of an unwanted, cursed weapon. Healers are also useful. Many of the claws and teeth of more vicious creatures are coated in strong poisons which only Healers can cure.

As far as exploration goes, the city is riddled with secret passages and 'one way walls' leading to unknown locations. When (or if) the expansions are added, there will be dungeon complexes, a palace, an arena and a wilderness to explore.

Earning money is going to be necessary for a character to survive, and this is possible in several ways. Money may be found as the result of a fight, the result of an adventure, or by placing money already possessed into a bank account. There is plenty of variation in the interest rates offered by different banks. However, the higher the interest rate, the more dangerous it is to invest the money. The choice is yours.

Many of the best role playing conventions are employed in this game, but it definitely has drawbacks. The frequency of disk changes whilst playing, and the waiting they cause, make the whole process longwinded and frustratingly slow. Sometimes the reasons for these disk changes cannot be fathomed out, leaving you to wonder whether the program is as well designed as it could have been. The disk changes cripple the atmosphere and playability severely. Otherwise this could have been a fascinating game. It's as if presentation took precedence over game design - it shows.

Verdict

Presentation 88%
The opening is totally OTT - but beautifully designed nonetheless.

Graphics 86%
The graphics too have been thoughtfully designed and exquisitely drawn.

Instructions 59%
Look wonderful but supply little more than the most basic information.

Authenticity 66%
Would have made an excellent RPG if it were not for the fact that most of the game's true strong points lie in the aesthetics rather than in good gameplay.

Playability 33%
Crippled by the inefficient layout of the game over the disks.

Value For Money 77%
Reasonably priced for the size of the game - the quality is questionable.

Overall 48%
Despite initial attractions, the game is ultimately unplayable.