Reviewing 9 varied ST entertainments
Infocom's most recent all-text adventures cover a wide variety of interactive fiction experiences.
Stationfall picks up five years after the popular Planetfall adventure, when you were a lowly Stellar Patrol ensign who became shipwrecked on the planet Resida. While saving it from destruction, you met and befriended Floyd, a somewhat dizzy robot who'd often go off and play hide-and-seek. Now as a reward for your heroism, you're a lieutenant- but things aren't a whole lot better.
Your new assignment is to pick up a load of forms from a nearby space station. Fortunately, you get to requisition a robot to take along. (Guess who?) You and Floyd discover the station abandoned: the crew had towed in a derelict spaceship containing a mysterious device-which affected all the machinery aboard the station. Even now, you can no longer rely upon Floyd.
The game is written with the same light-hearted tone that made Planet-fall such a delight. In-jokes and references to earlier Infocom games are commonplace. The puzzles are of average difficulty, and the one involving decoding an alien message is especially clever. Stationfall is a story full of challenge, humor and suspense.- HARVEY BERNSTEIN
You'll want to play The Lurking Horror if you prefer the creepy feeling of something not-quite-human under the bed. Infocom's first all-out horror tale is written in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. Unfortunately, it's rather disappointing.
You're working late in the computer center at G.U.E. Tech. When you accidentally access a file belonging to the Alchemy Department, you end up in the deepest recess of the school's basement. You must find your way out of a supernatural world filled with giant rats, demons and sacrificial rituals.
While well-written, Lurking Horror is as heavy as Stationfall is light, and that is its main problem. The text is dry and uninvolving. I yearned for the standard touch of Infocom humor. Rather than being a part of the story and feeling chills down my spine, I never lost the feeling that I was just interacting with words on a screen.- HARVEY BERNSTEIN
Moonmist is Infocom's first gothic romance. Your friend Tamara's letter from a castle in Cornwall was full of hope, joy and anticipation-she's engaged to marry Lord Jack Tresyllian. But the next letter, just four days later, contains none of that joy Tamara thinks someone's trying to kill her. And that someone just might be a ghost, so she wants you to come and help.
Deceased Uncle Lionel has hidden a treasure in the Cornwall castle. Any of the people currently lodging there might murder for the treasure. That, at least, would be a more down-to-earth explanation of the attempts on Tamara's life than a ghost-or would it?
The Tresyllian Castle is the perfect place for such an adventure. Secret passages, doors and rooms add to the challenge and create an aura of mystery. In some games, once the mystery has been solved, the game goes on the shelf for good. Not so with Moonmist. There are four different versions of the game on disk, each with a different guilty party-perhaps-and slightly different plot details. Which version you play depends on your answer to a question upon arriving at the castle.
Most of the riddles in Moonmist are in the form of limericks or puzzles left by good old Uncle Lionel, who wanted to make the treasure-hunters work. The riddles themselves aren't difficult, but applying them to finding the treasure is a different matter entirely. Another interesting aspect of Moon-mist is that you can play as a male or female character. Jack, Tamara and the guests in the castle react to you according to your sex. The game's parser is flexible and does a good job of letting you know what it doesn't understand. Save the game often. There aren't many dangers to your personal safety, but the blind alleys you could (and will) stumble into will waste precious time.-RICK TEVERBAUGH
$39.95 each. Infocom, 125 Cambridge Park Drive, Cambridge, MA 02140. (617) 576-3190.
CIRCLE 183 ON READER SERVICE CARD
In Vegas Gambler you can play the slots, blackjack, poker machine and roulette. Vegas Craps has just a craps table, but because the game has so many betting options, a program containing them all must be complex. However, playing Vegas Craps is actually quite simple. The game has a well-written 29-page manual and descriptive onscreen help. To place bets, just drag your chips to the correct position on the table. Then click on the dice.
Vegas Gambler isn't much different from other gambling game packages. The slot machine is just as boring- the hypnotic fascination you'd experience at a casino with one-armed bandits doesn't translate well. But the blackjack simulation is excellent and its simple rules and complex strategy are engrossing. This one is worth the price of the entire package.
The standard five-card poker machine is entertaining, but I prefer human opponents. Roulette resembles craps in some regards, most notably in the variety of bets allowed. Strategy is limited, but roulette is so much a part of the mental picture of casinos that its inclusion in the program was a must.
In Gambler you start with $500 and can carry your stake from game to game. You can also save the amount and continue later. In Craps, however, you start with $1,000, which you can't transfer to or from Vegas Gambler. At some point during either game, the program will ask for a code from the enclosed security card. This makes it easy to back up your copy, but not to provide copies for the entire neighborhood-RICK TEVERBAUGH
$34.95 each. Logical Design Works, 780 Montague Expressway #403, San Jose, CA 95131. (408) 435-1445.
CIRCLE 182 ON READER SERVICE CARD
It's the end of the 20th century and terrorists have launched a germ-warfare attack on the United States. Chaos reigns. Cities throughout North America are partly controlled by one vicious faction or another. The roads themselves are fair game, with armed, wheeled gangs attacking people for gasoline and supplies. If Roadwar 2000 smacks of "Mad Max," you've got the right idea. As a road gang leader, you must take control of as many cities as possible, manage supplies and add new members to the gang.
Eventually you're recruited by the Government Underground Biolab, which is trying fervidly to cure the disease. Your ultimate goal is to find eight missing scientists and return them to the lab, where they can continue their work. Exciting? Guess again.
There are three types of combat against rival gangs. In Tactical combat, the player has control over each vehicle's movement and firing. But Tactical battles are long and boring. In Quick battles and Abstract battles, the computer resolves everything, but the text messages scroll by too quickly to absorb. The only difference I've noticed between Quick and Abstract battle is that in Abstract, adversaries ram each other, and in Quick, they can also shoot each other-HARVEY BERNSTEIN
$39.95. Strategic Simulations, Inc., 1046 N. Rengstorff Avenue, Mountain View, CA 94043. (415) 964-1200.
CIRCLE 184 ON READER SERVICE CARD
MICRO LEAGUE BASEBALL II
Micro League II features relatively realistic ball and player movement, a waving crowd, an active scoreboard and, especially, the statistics and numerically-represented characteristics of baseball players, real or imaginary.
But for all the entertainment potential and the "What If?" possibilities- "How would Ted Williams fare against Dwight Gooden?" and "Could the '75 Reds hold their own against the '61 Yanks?"-ST Micro League is a bit disappointing. Much more could have and should have been done with the ST edition of this game.
In a way, the graphics in the ST game are so improved that its visual shortcomings stand out more. The graphics often belie the scoreboard's descriptions: 'A rocket out to center. . . Mays on his horse. . . He's got it! Holy Toledo!"-yet the center fielder stands stock-still.
Positive changes, however, include the addition of knockdown pitches (violent, dangerous-but part of the game) and brief, entertaining remonstrations, as well as rain delays. Players may have to leave the game because of injury-and managers because of ejection. And outfielders now can throw out batter-runners trying to stretch singles into doubles, etc.
In Micro League II's "Quik-Play" option, the game rapidly plays itself, sans graphics (or human participation), and displays the statistics. In fact, game stats pop up after every Micro League II game, and you can compile them for either or both teams. In short, Micro League's Box Score/Statistics disk, sold separately for the Atari 8-bit, is now "built in" to ST Micro League.
Ballpark factors are now at least partially considered. (These are crucial: some stadiums significantly increase offense potential, others decrease it.) And if the home team plays in a stadium with artificial turf, the graphics show a synthetic turf field, and the game reflects the differences between baseball played on grass and on Astroturf.
But the game should have better command of some baseball rules, especially those regarding the designated hitter and awarding saves for pitchers.-GREGG PEARIMAN
$59.95, color monitor required. Micro League Sports Association, 2201 Drummond Plaza, Newark, DE 19711. (302) 368-9990, (800) PLAYBAL.
CIRCLE 200 ON READER SERVICE CARD
221-B BAKER STREET
Sherlock Holmes has been so enduring a literary character that it was only a matter of time before a computer game appeared that would recreate the feel of 19th century London, plunging the player into the midst of Sherlockian adventure. I'd love to report that 221 B-Baker Street is that game. Unfortunately, I can't.
Baker Street, adapted from a board game, can be commended for at least being one of the few computer games that supports multi-player interaction. One to four players compete to solve one of 30 cases in a case book that accompanies the disk. Assuming the role of Holmes, Dr. Watson, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, or Irene Adler, each player races around a simulated board. Upon arrival at the Theater, Bank, Tobacconist's, etc., you're given a clue. When you think you know the solution, you must race back to Baker Street and successfully answer questions about the case before your opponents do.
There are problems. Not only are the cases easy, but there's no logic in where to find valuable clues. For example, a murder is committed at the theater. However, going to the theater first won't help any more than going to, say, the druggist. Also, there's little deduction involved. Instead, most clues are word puzzles-sometimes misspelled!-that even the youngest player can solve easily
What we have is little more than a game of luck, with an electronic roll of the dice having more bearing over who'll solve the case first than deductive prowess. There is some strategy involved, as players can make clue locations inaccessable to other players. However, when it comes to recreating the world of Sherlock Holmes, 221-B Baker Street just doesn't cut it. I will admit that the graphics are fairly good but, aside from a handful of quotes in the documentation, no attempt is made to capture the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved text. -HARVEY BERNSTEIN
$29.95. Datasoft, 19808 Nordhoff Place, Chatsworth, CA 91311. (818) 886-5922.
CIRCLE 186 ON READER SERVICE CARD
SUB BATTLE SIMULATOR
Epyx must be very high on Sub Battle Simulator to think it could compete with such excellent submarine simulations as Silent Service and Gato. Certainly the graphics are excellent-the outlines of the enemy ships are incredibly detailed-and there's a complete 32-page manual. But Sub Battle isn't a good all-around effort.
It does have more options than any other simulation I've seen. You can choose from Target Practice, Single Mission and Wartime Command. In the last two options you can play either the German or American side. The German commander begins in 1939, fighting the U.S. and British forces. The American commander starts in 1942 against the Japanese Fleet in the Pacific. A time-compression feature speeds things up, especially during Wartime Command.
On the main viewing screen, the control panel contains periscope height and remaining ammunition. Another section relays messages from crew members. Also displayed are depth, speed, heading and viewing screen direction. The menu bar across the top, among other things, lets you save a game. The viewing screen can show periscope, binocular and tower views, sonar or radar screens, map display or a side view-especially helpful if you're being hit by depth charges.
Now we come to the weaknesses. While submerged and closing in on an enemy convoy, I was told I was in shallow water so surfaced. The depth gauge showed me to be on the surface, but when I wanted to shift to diesel power and conserve batteries, I was told to wait until we surfaced. Other problems include being able to sink big enemy ships with just gunfire, and the ability of the enemy to stay directly overhead for long periods even though you aren't being picked up by their sonar. Perhaps Epyx tried too hard to get Sub Battle out before all the sub warfare fans had chosen other simulations. - RICK TEVERBAUGH
$39.95. Epyx, 600 Galveston Drive, P.O. Box 8020, Redwood City, CA 94063. (415) 366-0606.
CIRCLE 185 ON READER SERVICE CARD