If you are a well cool FRPer who is more than worth his salt, skip this paragraph. If you are a computer gamer who is wise on what's going down at the moment, also skip this.
Once upon a time, not so long ago (around ten years, actually) a couple of guys headed by Gary Gygax put their heads together to try and create the ultimate game. What they came up with was the first (and to my mind, still the best) Fantasy Role Playing game, the classic Dungeons and Dragons.
So successful was this venture that they expanded the single basic set of rules and the few meagre 'ready-made' adventure modules to a huge five-set game. And it's still growing. On top of that, they created Advanced Dungeons And Dragons, for those who want a little more detail who want a little more detail in their make-believe worlds.
There have been many imitations, but it's finally here. The official AD&D computer product. Heroes Of The Lance follows the antics of a band of adventurers in search of the Discs of Mishakal, which are guarded by Khisanth, a huge black dragon, deep in the ruins of the town of Xak Tsaroth. The reason this band of seven plucky lads and one busty, blonde, bouncy bimbette (I should write for The Sun) have to get these circles of sanctuary is to stop the advancement of the Queen of Darkness into the land of Krynn (the last 'n' is silent by the way) the mystical land first brought to light in the Dragonlance chronicles. For those of you who don't know, the Dragonlance chronicles are the diary of a band of FRPers who decided to let the world know what they got up to behind closed doors. Expect 'Scrabble: The Novel' next month.
Unlike the other AD&D release this month, HOTL gives you your characters beforehand, and quite an experienced lot they are too. You've got (in order of size) Tanis the Elf. A born fighter due to his high Strength and Dexterity, a character well worth having 'up front'. Caramon Majere. A seasoned fighter, he lives for battle, and usually wins due to his almost freakish strength. Spends his time looking after his twin brother Raistlin. Raistlin, weak, though incredibly clever, the obvious profession for this puny excuse of a boy was Magic. Probably the most inexpendable of the group. Sturn Brightblade. Bearing an almost unbelievable resemblance to Derek Smalls from Spinal Tap, he was graced with Knighthood at a young age. Riverwind. Raised as a Navajo, he was almost stoned for lying to his elders. He told them a magic staff he found was magic. When asked to prove it, he couldn't. Luckily everyone saw the funny side, Tasslehoff Burrfoot. Flint Fireforge. A dwarf with a good axe throwing arm. Extremely deadly, despite his diminutive size. The girlie of the party, and the only one with a healing capability, so don't let her get killed.
Rather than have this as a true, straight RPG, USG has used the system not unlike the Windowmation system used in the Magic Knight games, Spellbound, Knight Tyme and Stormbringer. Pressing space brings up a menu with which you can manipulate all the objects and people in the game. For example, you can change the marching order by swapping the order of the photographs at the bottom of the screen. Why bother with that? Just like the Bard's Tale series, only the first four people can be involved in any combat of any description. The other four just sit on their bottoms waiting to be called to the foray. Also from this menu, you can call up selection screens for magic spells, to call up visual representations on a character's stars and much more.
One thing I haven't told you yet, even though you've probably worked it out from the screenshots on this page, is that this game is an arcade adventure, not an RPG. "Hold on a minute, isn't AD&D an RPG?" "Yes," I reply with a mischievous Irish twinkle in my eyes. "But as US Gold have made probably the best decision I've seen them make yet." They're released two AD&D games. The other one is a full RPG, and very good it is too.
Viewed akin to Dun Darach, your party is represented by a large, wonderfully animated (if a little slow) piccy of whoever is first in your marching order. This is the character you have full control over. The others are assumed to just be tagging along.
The graphics are fantastic. All the sprites are gorgeously detailed and amazingly animated, though the scrolling does tend to be a little jerky. The secret screens are amazing too. "What secret screens?" you may as well cry. When you enter various rooms around the ruins, you are presented with a large, animated picture of exactly what you can see. I could only find one, which contained a beautiful underground river. With a bit of luck there'll be a screenshot somewhere else on this page.
You get all this, plus a very big playing area, some very attractive backdrops, a wide variety of spells, plus the 'feel' of the original game. How have they done it. With one snag. There are three disks, so expect a lot of disk swapping, though the disc access is fast enough not to be frustrating. Heroes Of The Lance is the best ST game I've ever played, even beating my old favourite, Captain Blood. Any game that can keep me up to 4 o'clock in the morning has to be worth checking out.
Wouldn't you agree?