Amstrad Action


Published in Amstrad Action #35


Very interesting, very interesting indeed. First off, it's produced by Fergus McNeill and Anna Popkess, with whom many readers - especially those who enjoyed the Delta 4 satirical adventures - are already familiar. Anna is a new recruit to the Delta 4 entourage and has formed her own company, Abstract Concepts, who in turn have produced Mindfighter.

Second, the game is programmed using a new authoring system called SWAN. Delta 4 rose to fame by making clever use of The Quill in their games Robin Of Sherlock, The Boggit and others. So it may come as no surprise to hear that SWAN was produced with not a little help from Tim Gilbers of Gilsoft.

SWAN does indeed have several "Quill-like" features, which we'll discuss later, but it adds a whole lot more including interactive characters and an improved parser. It also features an icon-driven system menu for loading, saving, and so on. There's also an Oops! command to go back one move but... Oops! It doesn't work on the 464 due to memory limitations. RAM save and restore are also featured, thank goodness!


Finally, the game is of interest because it shows how committed Activision is to supporting the adventure side of the market. At a recent press conference, the company affirmed its commitment to "story telling", so let's hope that the Abstract Concepts collaboration is successful and produces many another package. So, a significant release. But - and here comes the cruel and crucial question - is it any good?

Mindfighter has some disappointing features but does emerge as a challenging game with a powerful scenario despite its drawbacks. Let's grit our teeth and deal with the drawbacks first as we take the part of Robin, a boy with psychic powers stranded in post-holocaust Southampton.

SWAN, although a new system, is still rather primitive compared to the Level 9 and Magnetic Scrolls programming environments. For example, you're told about a window in a ruined building and enter EXAMINE WINDOW, whereupon the program replies "Robin can't examine that". Nor can he examine the building, or indeed many of the other objects you encounter during your travels.

These objects are, of course, part of the scenery. Level 9 gets round this by saying something like "Window - That's just scenery" and Magnetic Scrolls might say "Really, it's pointless messing around with the scenery", but SWAN just puts its foot down. The truth dawns if you enter EXAMINE QWRT, whereupon the program replies "Robin can't examine that" again. Of course he can't, because it doesn't exist. The sad truth is that the program, like many other older systems, doesn't tell you which words it doesn't understand.

This may seem like a niggling point, but it's not at all. To start with, it can make certain puzzles very difficult to approach because there is always a doubt as to whether "Robin couldn't do that" refers to the fact that you're tackling the problem in the wrong way, or whether the program doesn't understand the words used. The only time SWAN admits to ignorance is if you completely baffle it with unrecognisable words.

Secondly, the "You can't do that" sort of message is absolute death to atmosphere in a good adventure. Suddenly you're dragged out of the world of make-believe and having your face slapped by the parser. That we can do without. Let's hope SWAN gets updated and made a little friendlier in future.

The other drawback about Mindfighter is the map. Relationships between locations are often illogical in real world terms - it's very difficult to go round in a circle by continually moving east in real life (unless you're circumnavigating the world), but you can do it in Mindfighter. Actually, the mapping gets quite enjoyable, but at first you can get confused and frustrated unless you get the pencils out - and even then you end up with a very strange looking map indeed!

Yellow Peril

So what about the plot? Robin the boy wonder falls into a trance and finds himself in a world falling apart. Ruined buildings, poisonous gas, desperate, starving people - he has to deal with all of these to find out what happened to reduce one of Britain's proudest civic centres to dust and ashes.

Robin's a bit of a weed, actually. He starts the game in a terrible stale and dies easily from such minor things as a sword through the heart, radiation sickness and hordes of rabid foxes. He even has to sleep occasionally, whereupon time passes as in the real world.

Sooner or later you realise that these Chinese-looking people are better off than you and your fellow citizens. Dig up the truth and you may be able to return to the present day and take remedial action. Fail, and - well, as usual the consequences are globally unhealthy.

Mindfighter has a strong scenario and despite the drawbacks remains a challenging and enjoyable game, if a little frustrating at times. Since the Infocoms and Magnetic Scrolls of this world are abandoning the Amstrad market (the 464 market in particular), games like this on SWAN-type systems may represent the future of the 8-bit - and particularly the Amstrad 8-bit - adventure market.

If that's the case, the future looks OK to me...

The Pilgrim