Countdown To Doom (Topologika) Review | Amstrad Action - Everygamegoing

Amstrad Action

Countdown To Doom
By Topologika
Amstrad CPC464/664/6128

Published in Amstrad Action #26

Back in days of yore, the BBC micro reigned supreme. It was the machine everybody wanted, but no-one could afford. So we all went and bought Spectrums or Commodores and, later, Arnolds. This was just as well because the old Beeb wasn't much good for games. Its limited memory and small market put off most software houses, who got on with producing games for the cheaper machines.

One exception was, naturally, Acornsoft, who distinguished themselves by producing the best version of Pac-Man for a micro (Snapper) and one or two very enjoyable adventures. In particular, since the Beeb market was disk-dominated, they produced a disk-only game called Acheton which, at the time, was a game of formidable size and complexity in a world of cassette-based adventures of more limited scope.

Now a new company Topologika are re-releasing some of the Acornsoft titles (including Acheton) for the CPC range (provided you've got a disk-drive). Countdown To Doom is one of the launch titles and crashes you down on a hostile planet, where you must retrieve both treasure and spare parts for your damaged ship, before taking off a rich man.

The game comes quite attractively packaged in a plastic case with a short booklet entitled "How To Play Adventure Games", written by the programmer of the games, and a blurb about the scenario of Doom that details your objectives and also provides a set of encrypted clues (used in conjunction with the game's "Help" function).

Nowadays we are used to doing a bit more in adventure games than simply solve puzzles - we expect to be able to meet and talk to other characters; we expect to be able to examine almost anything in a location and get a meaningful reply (even if that reply is "It's just scenery - ignore it!"), we hope for (but don't always get) RAMSAVE and RAMLOAD and, finally, we expect to pay a price ranging between £1.99 for the cheapest games, to £19.95 for the most expensive disk-based products with mega-sophisticated parsers and stunning graphics.

Anyone having these expectations is going to be seriously disappointed with Countdown To Doom. First, there are no game-specific instructions - the booklet on playing adventures contains all the information you need and you won't find anything in it about communicating with other characters. You won't even find anything in it about EXAMINEing things - because you can't. And there certainly isn't RAMSAVE or RAMLOAD available.

This starts to pose problems for today's adventurer as soon as he or she starts to play the game. You start off in your crashed spaceship and the first thing you see is a button on a ruined console and a stick of explosive with fuse attached. Your natural impulse is to examine these goodies, but no dice, chum! The game stubbornly replies "I don't understand EXAMINE FUSE" or words to that effect.

This has two main effects on the gameplay. First, it dampens the atmosphere somewhat. Arch-traditionalists will cry that this gives freer rein to the imagination, which may be true but isn't necessarily a good thing - if it was we'd never read books, just the notes the author had written outlining the plots. The second effect is that solving puzzles becomes (a) very risky and (b) more difficult.

For example, in one location near the start, there's a blob-like thing that slithers across the path towards a cliff. If you just watch it, it soon disappears over the edge (presumably forever) and since you assume that it has some significance in the game you feel reluctant to let it go. You can't EXAMINE it, so the only thing to do (on first attempt) is to GET it. This is instantly fatal. And, of course, there's no RAMLOAD to get you going without a reload and then a RESTORE from disk - always assuming you've saved the game!

On the good side, the puzzles in the game are quite original and very varied - although not always logical - and the game design isn't bad. There is no doubt that some players will enjoy getting to grips with a program where the risks are so many and the frustrations legion. For those people, the fact that the game is also text only will not be a distraction either.

But for these of us reared on more recent products - especially games like The Price Of Magik or The Pawn - these games are going to seem slightly crude and unfriendly. Worst of all. they cost £17.50 which - more than anything on the programming side - suggests very much that Topologika are living in the past.

The Pilgrim

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