He screams when he falls. A nerve-jarring scream that makes you want to turn down the volume or turn off your computer. You'll hear his scream when you play Final Assault, Epyx's new game of mountaineering.
Final Assault isn't a simulation, though it has elements that make it seem so, such as selecting your gear and using it correctly. Instead, this is a deceptively complex action game that depends heavily on your joystick reflexes, your coordination and concentration, and your ability to make instant decisions. The game has enough realism to make you feel the agony of failure, even as it dangles the climber's ultimate reward before your eyes-the summit.
Final Assault puts you at the base of an intimidating two-peak mountain face and gives you six different routes to choose from. Each of the three difficulty levels-beginner, intermediate, and advanced-are represented by two routes. Once you've picked your poison, you get to pack your rucksack, adding or removing gear to get just the right mix. Pack carefully-don't wait till you're glued to the face of a rock wall to discover you've forgotten the rope. You also get to select your starting time (default is 9:00 a.m.; you may want to start earlier) and choose between summer and winter climbing.
Every climb has three parts. You first cross a glacier, which may or may not include dangerous crevasses. Walking rhythmically takes a bit of practice, as you must rock the joystick back and forth to simulate your climber's leg movements. Once across the glacier, you'll tackle an ice cliff with your ice axes and crampons (you remembered to bring them, didn't you?). Again, dexterity and rhythm are important, as you move the joystick and press its button in the required pattern. A slip here and you'll likely hear that nasty scream. Once past the ice cliff, the climb's third stage looms before you-a rock wall. Switching gear-getting rid of the crampons, donning soft shoes, and rubbing chalk on your hands-sets you up for this, the toughest part of the climb.
On the wall, your climber must move hands and feet and, most importantly, hold on. Four icons show your holds-if an icon flashes, that hold is unsteady. Select the limb you want to move by repeatedly pressing the joystick button. Move the hand or foot to a more secure hold, and then hope your climber can hang on. Cracks in the rock give you the best holds. Joystick agility and fast decisions are important here. The longer you hesitate, the weaker your hand- and footholds become. Climbing with confidence means climbing quickly, something Final Assault usually rewards. Pinning yourself to the wall with your rope is absolutely necessary if you want to stay alive for long.
At various times during the assault, your climber will make demands. Perhaps he's hungry or tired, too cold or too hot. You must feed him, let him rest or sleep, and dress him for the weather. Ignore his messages, and you could be faced with a fall.
Reaching the top is its own reward, but to spice it up you'll also hear the national anthem and watch a small flag wave from the summit. Soul-stirring stuff. If you fall before you reach the top, you'll see and hear something else-a tumbling, sliding body and that all-too-familiar scream.
Final Assault is probably the only mountaineering game you'll ever see. After all, climbing isn't an Olympic event (but synchronized swimming is-go figure). But that doesn't stop it from being an excellent game. It may, as one writer has claimed, be a contrived game, but it's still a game-a good game.
Some may think the game's action repetitious and monotonous, especially the ice and rock climbing. The pattern of ice ax, ice ax, foot, and foot does get familiar, but that's part and parcel of climbing. Climbing on rock is another matter. It may be frustrating, but, on any level other than beginner, you'll find plenty of challenges.
A more serious problem is that the six climbs lack variety. Although you can group them in pairs or trios, much of the thrill is gone once you've conquered a route. Additional routes or, even better, routes based on actual mountains would be a worthwhile enhancement-can you imagine conquering Everest or the Matterhorn? A more minor change would alter the progress display to show exactly what lies ahead. The display does show how far you have to go to reach the summit, but it gives no information about how much more ice is in front of you or how much farther you must climb until you reach a level spot where you can pitch your tent.
Final Assault is a breath of life in a genre packed with baseball, football, and golf games. Why play Final Assault? Because it's there.
- Gregg Keizer
Apple IIGS-$44.95 Atari ST-$49.95
IBM PC and compatibles-$39.95
600 Galveston Dr.
Redwood City, CA 94063
There are separate IBM PC-version packages for 3½- and 5¼-inch disks.