This game must take the prize for being the "most previewed adventure of 1986" - at least as far as this column is concerned. When I first saw a pre-production version I was immensely impressed and have anxiously awaited its release ever since.
Old Scores is set on London's South Bank, home of the National Theatre, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the National Film Theatre and other culture-vulture retreats. As an out-of-work Private Eye in the company of your friend Miles Archer, you endeavour to solve a series of mysterious crimes involving the theft of various objets d'art.
The title of the game is related to one of the crimes, which involves the disappearance of an original Mozart manuscript, and the game also features some very attractive music by the aforementioned composer. If all this makes you think that the game must be ridiculously high-brow and arty then don't despair - the program also has a healthy sense of humour and, beneath the veneer of culture lie the bones of an excellent adventure.
The game is very hard to map because it follows closely the layout of the real South Bank, which, as any visitor will know, is hideously complex, riddled with walkways, staircases, foot-bridges, and service roads. The action therefore takes place on several different physical levels and almost all locations present a baffling choice of exits that, while true to life, can be a bit daunting for someone intent on mapping the game.
This has an important effect on the feel of the adventure, and for a while you'll find yourself struggling to find your way around. However, I began (for once) to actually *enjoy* the feeling of being lost and then, once I settled down, the sense of achievement at getting my bearings was all the greater.
The game is extremely well-presented on-screen. There is an attractive graphic representation of the nearest landmark at the top right of the display with the its name on the left and, on the bottom half of the screen, an area for scrolling location descriptions and messages.
Typing MODE flips the bottom half between 40 and 80 column displays - a real boon for all users since 80 columns is far easier on the eye if you have a green-screen monitor, and of course 40 are best for colour screens. Why can't all adventures give us this option?
Other good points about the game are numbered SAVEs, so that you can have up to nine positions to LOAD from, and an excellent real-time element. Every so often, the message 'Time Passes' flashes up on the screen, but for once this isn't mere window-dressing. For example, at one stage of the game you need to steal something, and unless you flee the scene of the crime as quickly as possible, rushing through the adjacent locations without stopping, the police will catch you and the game ends. I don't believe I've ever seen time used in quite that fashion before in a game, and it adds to the realism of the adventure quite substantially.
The realism of the game also shows up in the detail of the plot and the logic behind it. For example, there's a photo-booth near the start which only takes 50p bits. You have eight pounds but no change, but if you do something like buy a paper you will receive the correct change for the machine. All the objects and disguises you require to solve the game are quite down-to-earth - though finding them may be difficult.
In fact, Old Scores does require considerable commitment from its player. Numerous SAVEs are necessary because it is possible to ruin your chances at various points by either doing things the wrong way or doing them in the wrong order. For the most part, however, when you land in the soup it's because you've done something which, if you were on the real South Bank, would have had the same effect. The adventure demands that you place yourself as far as is possible in the real world. I'm tempted to think that this is a very good thing, but the fact is that some adventurers prefer to dabble in unreal worlds - if you're one of them then Old Scores might not be entirely to your taste.
My only disappointment with regard to Old Scores was the parser. It is perfectly adequate and can cope with some quite complex inputs, but it isn't very tolerant of synonyms. So if you're beside a man selling the Evening Standard. BUY PAPER will not succeed - you have to BUY STANDARD and there are numerous other examples. I don't think it's that the parser is particularly poor, just that the game is otherwise of such a high standard that it leads you to expect miracles every time you press the ENTER key.
Old Scores is well-thought out, lovely to look at (and listen to), and very absorbing to play. It certainly earns an entry in my Personal Top Ten, and at £7.95 belongs in the collection of all discerning adventurers.