The Village Underworld is another Quilled game that offers something special, not in any new or radical feature, but rather in one of the few departments of innovation left to the Quilled game, that is, the storyline. Not only is the story good but it is told over a large 150 locations. The vocabulary listed on the cover is a good start for what turns out to be a rather enjoyable game.
You are sitting at home one day reading the newspaper when a headline catches your eye: 'Great Find of Treasure at Sleepy Village'. Reading down the column you find several items of great value have been discovered at the village whose name is strangely unfamiliar. The next evening you drive there and stop outside the village hall. It is here you start your adventure with the torch from the car, and in good old adventuring tradition, it isn't long before you have to switch on. After getting it on R for Redescribe replaces 'Everything is dark' with the location description for whichever position you have stumbled into. To complete the game you should collect 20 Items of treasure and drop them into the boot of your car.
The most endearing features of this game are those subtle qualities of all well-designed adventures namely, interesting location descriptions set within a fascinating plot laid out upon a credible map. In this case the layout is exceptionally intelligent where you quickly find yourself engrossed in your surroundings because they are so believable, with no dire discrepancies to puncture the plot as in lesser games. Much as' you might expect there is a stage and a small office within the village hall, a large farm on the eastern outskirts of the village complete with fields, barns, farmhouse and meadow, and to the north a dusty track leads to an old mine with a miner's shack close by. Further into the adventure the premises of the Diehard Meat Packing Co. provide a lot of worthy puzzles, and not only is the layout credible with the small of meat leading you into the freezing, processing and grading departments (and the smell of old books and leather to the company lawyer) but it is ever so easy to get around with the ingenious lift - CL calls the lift and the numbers 1 to 6 select a floor for further investigation. This is not the only novel feature as in a hollow you meet the sign 'Danger UXB Follow the arrows 88687757578878' which somehow leads you through without the report 'You have been blown to bits by an unexploded bomb! Next time watch where you stick your big feet)!'
The distribution of items is also commendably sensible and atmosphere-creating with dynamite and a long fuse in the miner's shack, a fur coat at the back of the hall, and a heated brazier in the night-watchman's office (strangely enough, the watchman doesn't catch you - unlike the thief in the cave system). In the north end of the village hall is a small office where you find a gas mask and a filing cabinet.
Here the program shows its friendliness by accepting the first four letters of either CABINET or FILING in the construction OPEN CABINET whereupon R for Redescribe reveals a paper lying in an open filing cabinet. GET PAPER followed by READ PAPER gives a cryptic message which makes little sense but apparently could be helpful later on. In these ways this game climbs above the poorer Quilled games where too often actions are not reflected in the descriptions. These seemingly small points are vital to adventures which purport to be alive and interactive as it is this vibrancy which separates a computer game from an inanimate novel.
The vocabulary is exceptionally friendly for a Quilled game and nothing endears me more to an adventure than a friendly vocabulary. Think of any common words at any juncture and you blink in disbelief as you zip along to the next location such is the conditioning for disappointment after playing so many unfriendly adventures. This game is determined to let you through to solve the puzzles and not to waste time matching words. Super. These points, together with that list of words on the cover, makes this game the tops for friendliness.
Although the game does not have long location descriptions except the first) and its examine command can only be described as inoperative (since it always results in 'Can you be more specific') it seems surprisingly resilient to these drawbacks such is the undoubted strength of its good points. If you are having difficulty early on perhaps you've forgotten to wear some of the items you are carrying. I particularly like the differing, yet similarly cruel, deaths inflicted by the sever cold, and in one instance as in the Diehard Co. buildings. What you will find playing the game is, thankfully, that you are able to play through the branches in any order as much of the adventure is open to investigation right from the start.
Clearly the adventure has been designed with an eye on just how players might go about tackling it.
Difficulty: Relatively easy
Presentation: Black on white with little use of colour. Rather poor.
Input Facility: Verb/Noun as all Quill games
Finally, let us get back to text adventure and institutionalised burglary with Underworld: The Village produced by Orpheus. The approach is straightforward - you read a report of treasure being found in a sleepy village, drive out there and start get- ting as much of it as you can.
The game is in traditional format - you will win if you get 20 items. You will run into puzzles quickly and will find deep holes, mine shafts and fading batteries within a few moves.
The screen presentation is dull - black and white - and the response from the interpreter to valid 'Exam' queries is too limited. 'Can you be more specific?' flashed up far too often for my liking, and I would have appreciated more versatility to enliven my explorations. The writers have not really used the Quill to its full potential and I found that Underworld compared poorly with Confidential. It is not a bad game but neither is it desperately addictive or compelling.
SECRETS OF THE VILLAGE
MICRO: Spectrum 48K
SUPPLIER: Orpheus Ltd, The Smithy, Unit 1, Church Farm, Hatley St George, Nr Sandy, Beds
Another Quill'd adventure from a new software firm. On first glance, this is just another adventure, with not much about it to warrant rushing out to buy it. But, look a little closer...
You start, standing before a village hall, beside the open boot of your car, where you must return all your treasures for scoring - but before entering, try a little exploring.
Around the village hall lies the village, and you can wander around, mapping as you go. So far, so ordinary. But now, you come across an extensive farm, and eventually stumble across the opening to an underground maze. Fortunately, the route through the maze is posted right at the start, in the form of a very simple code (the directions being those on the cursor keys), so it is quite simple to get through. Unfortunately, I pressed the wrong button at one stage, and was rewarded by being blown to the great adventureland in the sky.
Starting again at the first location, go on, OPEN DOOR and then ENTER DOOR. You will be confronted with the entrance hall. Going West leads you to a stage, upon which you can see some sliding controls. Go to the back of the stage and you will find a Fur Coat. Return to the stage. Now, there must be something to do with those controls - and sure enough, after some manipulating, a hole in the stage opens. This leads to a freezing Meat Factory (ah, a Fur Coat!). Proceeding further, you will eventually come across a lift. Calling the lift and then pressing the correct button will whisk you to one of six floors (apart from the floor level where you start.) One of the floors contains the solution to a puzzle contained on the floor level, another floor holds a *TREASURE, and a couple more remain enigmas (for the moment).
The top floor holds an object which, as so often happens in this adventure, becomes useful in the very next location. Unfortunately, proceeding further requires the player to cross the boundary of the Meat Processing Factory, and blocks off your return. But the reward is another couple of *TREASURES and entry, eventually, to a Magic Castle.
This is my favourite type of game - a rather uninspiring start, full of the old cliches, gradually opening, like a lotus blossom, to reveal an inventive and imaginative test of skill.
Advanced adventurers will probably polish this one off in a couple of sittings, but someone looking for a bit of practice will welcome Village Underworld (written by Keith Parrock) and watch out for sequels.
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