Darklands. (computer adventure game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Alfred C. Giovetti
The setting is medieval Germany in the 1400s, where witches, alchemists, religious fanatics, dragons, demons, myths, and superstitions fill the popular consciousness. Darklands, a new adventure game from MicroProse, takes you there,
In Darklands magic, or alchemy, is based on the mixing of 19 potions of three distinct quality levels from 19 special substances and four bases. They're mixed in glass flasks which are thrown at, applied to, or imbibed by the intended target.
Clerics call to 140 saints for individualized intervention in worldly events. These saints not only have a personality but they also have a sense of humor, which makes selecting different saints in various situations an entertaining game within itself.
Parties can be created via a selection of heritage, training, and professions, which will mold the six attributes and 19 skills into a group of four adventurers. A fifth member can join the group for specific quests, or you can choose a predetermined party. Characters appear in paper-doll fashion on the comprehensive character information screen, which shows the item inventory (holding up to 45 items), known saints, and known alchemic formulas.
An overhead oblique display of realtime combat shows the invoking of saints, use of alchemic formulas, and ranged melee weapons, which become effective automatically when you select various actions. Combat can be with city street thugs and roving bandits, and can occur in robber knights' castles, Templar monasteries, witches' Sabbaths, dragons' lairs, and dwarven mines. I'd advise directing the play in realtime rather than allowing the rather limited and flawed artificial intelligence routing to direct the action. But for easy battles, autocombat will do.
Attention to detail is exemplary in Darklands. It's filled with appealing details, such as the relative destructive power of brass versus iron handguns, which were engineered and used in the fifteenth century. All details are as they were--or as they would've been, had the myths and stories been true.
The interiors of mines, monasteries, and the final citadel are all in the same overhead oblique display. Currently, games cannot be saved from these interiors, making gameplay more of a marathon realtime arcade game than most role players are used to. Microprose has plans to eliminate the problem. The interior maps can be scrolled, allowing the map to serve as its own automapping routine.
Movement through the cities is achieved by making selections from lists of choices that are overlaid by watercolor background representations of the events at each area. These drawings evoke the original Samurai game engine on which Darklands has been hung. You get many such choices throughout the game, and the decisions made from these choices determine not only where the character goes and his or her success or failure, but also the plot's texture, flavor, and nuances.
The real beauty of the Darklands epic is the multitude of choices you get, which surpass the complexity and historical accuracy seen in any other contemporary computer game. The true role-playing enthusiast will be dazzled by the game's sheer volume of choices and historically accurate situations. Even after you've explored the central plot and many subplots, you can continue the quest indefinitely.
In spite of the initial trouble with bugs, this newly revised game should give you hours of pleasure. Micro-Prose should be congratulated for a truly heroic effort in creating a game for sword, sorcery, and history buffs.
IBM PC or compatible (80386 compatible), 2MB RAM, VGA, hard disk with 20MB free, mouse; supports Sound Blaster, Ad Lib, Pro Audio-Spectrum, Roland--$69.95
MICROPROSE ENTERTAINMENT SOFTWARE 180 Lakefront Dr. Hunt Valley, MD 21030 (410) 771-1151
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