Amstrad Action

By Melbourne House
Amstrad CPC464

Published in Amstrad Action #9


Amstrad owners may not be very familiar with Zim Sala Bim, a Melbourne House program that attempted to enhance the role of graphics in an adventure by animating them and linking them to the player's input. In Zim Sala Bim, if you typed 'Look', the hero would cautiously look from one side of the screen to the other, and if you moved location the graphics would scroll accordingly.

Zim Sala Bim was not, in my view, a terribly successful game, but now Melbourne House have come up with another new idea which hops onto the shelves this month under the name Redhawk.

Redhawk is, and I quote the blurb, "a continuous comic strip which unfolds as the game is played. The game has text input, with a unique comic-based graphics output system."

Red Hawk

Hmmm... sounds positively Marvel-lous, doesn't it? Unfortunately, this new direction in adventuring does not, in my humble opinion, actually get us anywhere very interesting.

However, it's certainly original. The screen format boasts three square windows in a row on the top half of the screen, which represent three consecutive 'frames' of a comic strip. Action takes place in the window on the extreme right and as new events occur the pictures shift along. This means that by looking at the picture on the extreme left, you can still see the events that transpired a few moments before.

The story that's sketched out on these pages concerns one Kevin, who can't remember anything except the word "Kwah" which, if he says it (or rather, if you type it) transforms him into a superhero - Redhawk. Redhawk's mission in the game is to stop a team of super-baddies (including Merlin, Fusor and The Rat) from blowing up the local power station.

You play by entering text commands as normal in a window below the comic strip, which are then either acted on or rejected by the program. The parser is rather mysterious - it appears to be impressive at first by swallowing some very complex inputs, say as SAY "HELLO" TO LESLEY but then rather spoils this impression by responding "OPEN" CONFUSES KEVIN when you enter OPEN DOOR. Other similarly basic commands are sometimes likewise rejected and the feeling after playing for a while is that the input system is somewhat frustrating and the real vocabulary rather small.

Apart from trying to stop the baddies, Redhawk/Kevin has to increase his local street credibility by nabbing the occasional baddie. There's a small meter that shows how popular you are, and the level rises when you, say, arrest a mugger and take him to the police station. Popularity is essential otherwise certain characters will not co-operate and life becomes rather difficult.

You also have to keep a close eye on your energy level. Kevin, paradoxically, appears to have unlimited energy whereas Redhawk soon runs out of steam, especially if you try 'flying' everywhere instead of walking.

At this point I cast my eyes back over the lines above and realise that it all sounds terribly impressive. Unfortunately, in practice, the game just didn't grab me at all. First, it's slow. In any normal adventure it's a drag to be told "You can't go in that direction", but in Redhawk it's a positive annoyance as you have to wait for a new picture to be drawn, with the caption "Kevin tries to go north but doesn't succeed".

The constant redrawing of the pictures would be OK if the graphics were something to write home about, but they're not. They're rather crude line drawings that seem acceptable for the first five minutes but, after you've seen them several times, become almost unbearably monotonous. The most successful comic strips nowadays tend to be well drawn - that's part of their appeal, but Redhawk misses out badly here.

Occasional speech bubbles are drawn above appropriate characters and some of these show glimmerings of humour, ARREST ME, REDDUCK shows a mugger defiantly in the park, which might raise a smile the first time, but elicits only a groan the second time, and after the third time (and the third wait while the message is printed), I felt like switching off.

I persevered however. There are some reasonable puzzles to be solved here, and the novelty of the comic strip approach holds up for a while. But in the end, the poor graphics begin to win out over the mediocre text, the slow pace becomes a major irritation, the erratic parser becomes simply a frustration, and you're left wondering what else you might have spent your £8.95 on.

...And you're also left wondering what someone like Mike Singleton of Lords Of Midnight fame could have done with an idea like this. Ah well...

The Pilgrim

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  • Time And Magik Front Cover
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  • Venom Front Cover
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