"From the team," shrieks the blurb for this game, "who brought you the hugely successful Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings..."
At which point, a good number of punters will immediately look for something else to play. Melbourne House may have a hard time of it, but if those people had received half the mail I have about Lord Of The Rings, I rather think they'd hesitate before using it to advertise their latest release. It was slow, bug-ridden, and made a lot of enemies (although I personally garnered a modicum of enjoyment from it) and to call it "hugely successful" invokes, I would suggest, the old bar-of-soap-in-the-mouth routine.
So it was with some reservations that I loaded up a preview copy of Shadows Of Mordor. The game was not quite complete; there should be a few (very few) graphics in the final program, and perhaps one or two small textual changes, but otherwise this is what you'll get for your £8.95. Is it worth it?
The first feeling, if you've played Lord Of The Rings, is one of deja-vu. You can choose whether to control Sam, or Frodo, or both. The 40-column screen is tidily laid out, with your inputs in a small box at the bottom and the storyline above. The game is interrupt-driven, to allow other characters to move about and so on, as evidence of which the input prompt disappears at regular intervals for a couple of seconds - disconcerting if you were just about to enter a command. Unfortunately there does not appear to be an input buffer, so any commands typed when the prompt is absent are lost.
The location descriptions are not as detailed as Lord Of The Rings, and the feeling is definitely of a smaller-scale, but more perfectly formed, game. As a result, gameplay is quicker and the program doesn't wait hours before reacting to your commands. Although the game claims to use the same system as Lord Of The Rings, the improvement in speed seems to hint at lesser scale rather than increased efficiency.
Perhaps I'm wrong, but throughout the game I never had the feeling I was playing an "epic" adventure. This seems to be borne out by the documentation - the blurb claims a vocabulary of 800 words, but rather spoils this effect by then listing "all the verbs that the player will need to play the game...". Apart from direction commands, the list runs to a massive 55 verbs, some of which, it must be said, can be used in different ways. But still ... only 55? Perhaps that means there are 750 nouns!
Still, some of the verb forms are quite unusual and rarely seen in adventure games. I doubt whether you've often "jumped over" things, or "sprinkled on" things in a game before. Indeed, where sprinkling is concerned. I should hope not!
The plot of the game follows the storyline of the second book in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy fairly closely. At the start of the game Sam and Frodo are alone with the Ring and a few possessions. They befriend Smeagol (the reformed Gollum) who aids them in their journey towards Mount Doom, which presumably we will encounter in part three if it ever comes out.
There is a considerable degree of character interaction in the game, invoked by the old "SAY TO" command, though just using the character's name followed by a message in quotes seems to work as well. You can now give characters sequences of instructions rather than tell them what to do one at a tune, and again the speed of response is a great improvement over Lord Of The Rings.
Veteran Hobbit players, however, will recall that Thorin had a habit of saying the most inappropriate things at the wrong moment, and was wont to sit down and sing about gold while all hell was breaking loose. In Shadows Of Mordor, you get interchanges like this:
SAM "GIVE THE ROPE TO ME"
SAM SAYS "DEARIE ME, MAS'R FRODO, I DO HOPE THINGS ARE ALRIGHT AT HOME."
and sometimes rather alarmingly illogical responses like this:
THREATEN SMEAGOL WITH SWORD
FRODO DOESN'T SEE ANY THREAD SMEAGOL TO ATTACK WITH.
Yes, well... I'm sure it all seems perfectly logical to the computer, but I think I must be missing out on something there...
Still, persistence in communication usually pays off, and provided a character is friendly he will do as you ask. Don't, however, trust Smeagol to carry your possessions you may have a hard time getting them back.
So, back to the price. Is it worth £8.95? Good question. With some excellent software around at £2, and some excellent software around at £2S, what does price mean these days? All I can say is that I'm glad to see that Melbourne House hasn't gone downhill after Lord Of The Rings. Perhaps it's worth £9 to hold the evidence in your hands...