Slaine, the psychopathic nice guy, is out with his faithful friend Ukko to lop a few heads from evil bodies in this licence based on the character from the comic 2000AD. But the first striking feature of Slaine isn't the violent, pseudoancient saga - it's the control system "Reflex", developed by Creative Reality over six months and first used here.
The rough 'n' tough boy's actions, which are reported by on-screen text rather than shown in graphics, are determined by choosing from options in a 'mind frame' on the left side of the screen. Within this window, a freely moving severed hand is used as a selection cursor, selecting an action from Slaine's thoughts as they scroll across.
Martech hopes this Reflex system, conceived after dissatisfaction with the atmosphere of the company's Nemesis The Warlock 2000AD licence (61% in Issue 40), has produced an interactive story that really captures the spirit of the comic character as Slaine and his companion move through their monstrous world.
When they enter a new area, Slaine can look around, examining his fresh surroundings as a short description of the environment is given on-screen. (Before moving to some locations, though, Slaine has to perform specific actions.) As they progress through the land of Lyonesse (the country of Arthurian myth, supposedly submerged off Cornwall), the pair encounter evil in its purest form - the Drune Lords (their powers are bark, their hearts are cold, the lamb is theirs, the inlay tells us).
And when the fierce hand-to-hand combat begins, options flow thick and fast through the mind screen - so very quick responses are necessary in this adventure. If you can get the cursor there accurately and in time, Slaine can throw a punch or aim a kick, and - if he carries one - swing an axe or throw it to cause horrific damage. (This, however, leaves Slaine unarmed and he must call Ukko to retrieve the weapon.) But while you waste time dithering and choosing, Slaine just keeps getting hit.
What Slaine can do is ultimately determined by his warp rating, a measure of his strength and power. In combat this can be reduced if opponents are too strong, but a successful fight, a period of rest, or the eating of food can push Slaine's rating to higher levels. But if the warp rating reaches its maximum, the barbarian goes berserk, slaughtering all enemies that he encounters.
In a more cerebral vein, the muscular menace can manipulate objects that he finds on his travels, picking them up, dropping them, putting one inside the other, or using one upon another (inserting a key into a chest, for instance).
For all that, nothing but quick wits will get Slaine through his day intact.
Joysticks: Cursor, Kempston, Sinclair
Graphics: distinctive icons and attractive side panels create a strong atmosphere
Sound: spot effects
Options: definable keys
Dave … 73%
To the non-playing observer, Slaine looks dull; but the thoroughly mindless fighting is enjoyable to play! The graphics, are good, albeit unimportant, and though the scrolling of the instructions is annoying at first at least it keeps you on your toes.
Mike … 73%
Slaine is probably the best adventure I've played. Detailed graphics and the Reflex system keep It more Interesting than the usual type-it-in style of text adventure.
Ben … 63%
Slaine is the best 2000AD licence yet, but I am (again) unimpressed. Why oh why did Martech use Reflex for such a brilliant subject? Perhaps the programmers thought Slaine would appeal to more people in a kind of limbo between adventure and arcade... (?) but the control system falls between two stools. It makes a simple task, like going north or picking something up difficult and over-complicated, and it would be more (and far quicker) to either type in an Instruction or press a key.
So Slaine hasn't got the sophisticated command vocabulary of a good adventure; and it doesn't work as an arcade game either, because the fight sequences are boring and unimaginative without on-screen action.
So you're left with a flat, non-atmospheric reflex test! There are good things in Slaine too - the illustrative graphics are brilliant and, if you can ignore the input system, you'll have fun. But it should have been so much better...