Amstrad Action1st October 1991
Published in Amstrad Action #73
Was it really five years ago that Incentive launched Driller, the first of its famed and acclaimed Freescape series? My, how time flies when you're exploring Virtual Worlds. Now Domark's compilation brings four Freescape classics together - are you ready to enter a new dimension...?
A moon called Mitral is the setting for the original Freescape romp. Explosive pockets of gas under the moon's surface are the reason for your presence there. That, and an impending collision with a meteor.
And of course, if the meteor and gas should meet, then the result isn't really going to win any awards for helping the environment. Lashings of death and destruction are what must be prevented in this volatile little game which AA rated as a "work of genius" way back in 1986.
Since telling the meteor to kindly change its collision course with Mitral is out of the question, the only viable solution is to sink mines into eighteen gas pockets, thus preventing planetary disaster...
Driller mixes puzzling, exploration and a race against time to great effect. The simple 3D Freescape graphics are ideally suited to a sci-fi setting, and the whole thing looks suitably space-like.
It's arguable whether the puzzle element fits comfortably in the space-age plot, but Driller has gained enough fans over the years to suggest otherwise. Five years on, and Driller is still impressive.
You wouldn't expect a fantasy setting to work with Freescape, but Castle Master is a riveting game which uses the central location of a mysterious castle to great effect.
There are loads of little passages, nooks and crannies to discover, and the whole thing feels genuinely spooky.
After deciding whether you want to play the part of a prince rescuing his beloved princess from the castle, or vice versa, it's straight into a tale of ghostly goings-on. The improved Freescape system works a treat, giving a real feeling of loneliness one minute, then causing you to panic when you turn a corner and bump into a ghost the next. The ability to look down into holes, and up into chimneys and the like make the most of Freescape too. The best game in the package.
The Crypt (Castle Master II) follows neatly on from Castle Master. The only problem with this is that it really is a case of more of the same. A game with an entirely new plot and setting would have given better value for money...
The story begins in a locked room. To one side you see a coffin, to the other a chest. Which one to open first? This level of spookiness continues throughout the whole game, making it a delight for those who yearned for something more when they'd finished Castle Master. A word of warning, though. The Crypt is not one to play if you're scared of mice!
The continuity from Castle Master is carried over both in the main game theme, and in the use of the same icons and screen layout. It's easy to forget that you aren't actually playing Castle Master; it looks and feels so similar.
Lumped in with the other games in this compilation, The Crypt is a bit of a let-down, really. If you've never tried Castle Master before, then you may feel a trifle miffed at the inclusion of what is basically an extension of the same game.
It's not so much four games as three and a half. Still, for Freescape fans (And let's face it, who else is going to buy this compilation), it's a must.
Time for a trip out to the land of the Sphinx and oceans of sand with a mission to lift an ancient Egyptian curse. The gist of the curse is that, if sunlight should fail to hit the Sun God's pyramid, then the moon will explode, sending a shower of meteorites crashing down on the Earth! And there's just two hours before a total eclipse...
Doesn't this sound suspiciously similar to the plot of Driller? No need to worry though. Once into the game, things look and feel quite different, with cramped rooms, steps and walkways, giving the pyramid a claustrophobic effect. Indeed, the Egyptian theme is maintained quite nicely throughout the game, the Freescape system once again working quite admirably. There aren't too many games which use the legends of ancient Egypt as a backdrop to the action, so Total Eclipse still feels quite fresh and original, even though it's actually three years old now. It could give many new games a round for their money.
It must be said though, that while Total Eclipse is never boring, it just doesn't have quite the same pull as Driller - and it's a bit lacking in original ideas, despite the unusual lot. As a game by itself, Total Eclipse is great fun But put with the other Freescape games in the Virtual Worlds collection, it just doesn't stand out enough.
Things have moved on a bit since the Freescape system was invented, and today's games players look for a bit more sophistication and excitement. Still good, but no longer great.
Three classics and one sequel, Virtual Worlds is a Freescape fan's delight. If you've never sampled any before, then go for it!