The biggest software releases in adventure gaming are those based on the works of JRR Tolkien, for their source material is derived from the greatest set of fantasy books ever written.
The Hobbit told the story of Bilbo Baggins and how he was unwittingly thrown into the world of darkness and danger far from the cosy tunnel he had known in Hobbiton. Bilbo eventually began to enjoy his exotic sojourns, along with the treasures and skills he had amassed, and this enthusiasm for adventure, peculiar among home-loving Hobbits, transferred itself to his young and impressionable cousin, Frodo. The Lord of the Rings trilogy of books tells Frodo's story, and this game being the second computer instalment, it follows the theme of the second book, The Two Towers.
The computer game is titled Shadows of Mordor which probably reflects the adventure's desire not to be thought a rerun of the book, but a game more loosely based on that work and only keeping to the essential atmosphere of Middle Earth. They take another chance to distance themselves from the awe-inspiring and critical task of transposing Tolkien's masterpiece to the microcomputer in the style of the instructions, which have taken on a whimsical and self-deprecatory air. Have a look at this line from the introduction: 'The Shadows of Mordor is a brilliant piece of fantasy software thanks to the reworking of many of the game's systems by a highly trained team of idiots'.
If the intention is to show the reader that this adventure is, after all, only a game, they can rest assured this style certainly lowers expectations.
Although there are instances of idiocy to be found, let's not dwell here and instead consider the many fine aspects to this great game.
Gameplay is similar to Lord of the Rings Part One, perhaps too similar for those who weren't altogether struck by that program's performance. The programming team saw in that first game advantages in offering complex character interaction and vocabulary handling. Here the characters again are marvellously independent with their own personalities, strengths and allegiances. These characteristics may well influence the kind of response you achieve when conversing with your colleagues and acquaintances using the important SAY TO (GANDALF) construction. The two examples given go some way to indicating the possibilities of interacting with the chief players in the plot: SAY TO SAM 'KILL THE ORC WITH THE SWORD' and SAY TO SMEAGOL 'TAKE THE GOLD FROM THE ORC' (Smeagol is a creature, who like Thorin in The Hobbit, seems to be the total imbecile, forever sneaking off and returning from the bushes). With Sam, you can choose to have him controlled automatically by the computer, in which case he can be asked to perform specific actions by way of the SAY TO SAM construction. Alternatively you can take a more active role by BECOMEing SAM. (note the full stop), which may be of more use when the Hobbits go their separate ways. As with LOR Part One, you must take up this option at the very start of the game, but unlike that first adventure, there appears to be only the two Hobbits available for this scheme, as opposed to the four (Merry and Pippin were the others) in the first game. This necessarily changes the look of the adventure with the layers of pages effect gone, leaving just a band across the top bearing either the name of Sam or Frodo (the default character).
Vocabulary handling has always been a strong point to the big Melbourne House games. Here there's an 800-word vocabulary of Inglish, the English subset first seen in The Hobbit. Adjectives and prepositions are dealt with as efficiently as the verbs and nouns which form the basis of all mainstream adventure communication. Punctuation and the word AND can allow many instructions to be strung together, and this game boasts the opportunity for the player to give a character a string of commands to act upon immediately. ALL allows an action to affect everyone, including your own character, so KILL ALL should be tempered with BUT FRODO unless things are going particularly badly!
Due to the complexity of the vocabulary your input may have to become quite specific in order to achieve the desired result. In a game which seems to have something for rolling stones you must specify which direction you wish to roll it, otherwise the program assumes north. In another case the program selects a small sword for a task for which it is most unsuited given no alternative specific instructions by the player on which item to employ.
Beam Software have again penned this game, and it has got to be said that the face this adventure presents to the player isn't that tidy. When you consider the lengths even small software concerns are going to in order to improve colouring and readability of the screen, Beam might be said to be a little Luddite in their attitudes. Thankfully, the classic rounded, compact print famous from The Hobbit is retained (probably the prettiest character set ever to grace the Spectrum screen) and your input is tidily tucked away at the bottom in distinctive capitals, but above is a stark whiteness punctuated by an untidily-scrolling list of happenings. Technically, the game is very slow, with pregnant pauses imposed after just about every decision. And on the bug front, the extremely colourful graphics on the 128K (at least on the copy I was sent) are too fast even to form subliminal images. They're on and off in a literal flash.
The two major concerns (or shocks) from Part One are still here. The strange non-loading appearance to the loading sequence is retained, as is the need to repeatedly save, because a QUIT or a death requires the whole program to be loaded in again, not something one relishes with a 128K program. It might be worth mentioning here that the 48K version does not have sufficient memory to support graphics.
Shadows of Mordor looks a very interesting game. The test of any game is how easily it entertains and I've got to say I really enjoyed reviewing this Melbourne House classic.
Difficulty: no pushover
Input facility: complex sentences
Melbourne House did itself no favours when it released the first part of Lord Of The Rings, and although it was inevitably going to sell well the game was also criticised for its slowness, strange and lengthy loading, an excessive number of bugs and some graphics which were totally out of character for Tolkein's world. Thankfully Melbourne House has learned from its mistakes, and Shadows Of Mordor, which follows the second book in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, The Two Towers, is an improvement.
The adventure's only in one part this time, and 128K owners have their own special enhanced graphics version, while 48K owners will have to settle for a text-only game with a file of the illustrations on t'other side of the tape. In this one you only get to be Sam or Frodo (or both) as you continue the quest to kill the Dark Lord Sauron, hopefully this time taking the story as far as an encounter with the spider, Shelob. You're advised to keep a map, but "Be warned," the instructions tell you, "maps cannot entirely be relied upon."
At the start Sam's equipped with a sword, matchbox, backpack, cloak, little box, rope and a supply of elven bread, while Frodo's lugging around a sword, cloak, the infamous ring and a small phial of clear crystal. At least I think that's what they're carrying, as I started to have my doubts when I came across a gnarled twisted old tree. I thought it might be worth trying to get Sam and Frodo to hit it for me with their swords. Unfortunately neither of them could see a sword to hit the tree with. An inventory confirmed they were indeed both carrying a sword. Maybe my description wasn't exact enough, as Sam was carrying a beautiful small sword. HIT TREE WITH BEAUTIFUL SMALL SWORD. "Sam doesn't see any beautiful small sword." Aaargh! Even more frustrating when you discover that it's the verb in the command that's causing the problem. BREAK TREE WITH SWORD is what works.
Initially there are just seven locations to explore, and your next move seems to be to somehow get down the cliff face, which requires a complex bit of problem-solving. All very logical and you should get there eventually - but be prepared to keep experimenting... and to save games regularly and methodically. At some point, too, you'll have to deal with Smeagol, who seems to be wandering round at the start of the game under the control of the program. Here, to me, the solution to the problem seems to be a little unfair as you have to do two acts in quick succession - the real time nature of the program sees to it that Smeagol runs away if the second one isn't instantly typed in, and despite my hanging around for a few dozen inputs, Smeagol didn't return so I had to resume an earlier game (long re-load) and have another go at him.
Despite these moans (and you know I like a good moan now and again) I thought Shadows Of Mordor was very much better than Lord Of The Rings. Response was pretty quick in the 48K version and for once death doesn't seem to lurk round every corner and require constant re-loads of the whole program.
The vocabulary has been extended, it seems, and you can now issue lengthy commands to another character rather than just single commands as before. You can switch from one character to the other if you've elected to play both parts, though I'd have thought one command rather than the three options given would have been enough (FRODO/ BECOME FRODO/I AM FRODO all work.)
Shadows Of Mordor reminded me of the pleasure of playing The Hobbit for the first time, but with added complexity. Problems can be solved in several different ways, there are various blind alleys and red herrings, and even if you solve the game I think you'll find yourself going back to play it again and trying different tactics. I know many of you, like me, were disappointed with Lord Of The Rings, but do give this one a try as Melbourne House has got rid of most of its bad hobbits.
|Value For Money||8/10|
1987 is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit, a simple tale of folk with furry feet.
Melbourne House's The Hobbit is probably the all-time most successful adventure. Its sequel, based on the first volume of the Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, was a good deal less successful. it was too complex, too ambitious and there was the odd bug or two.
Now here's Shadow of Mordor, based on events in the second volume of the trilogy, The Two Towers.
As with The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Shadow of Mordor uses the books as a basis for the plot of the game but doesn't follow it slavishly.
You can type in what are basically proper English sentences, and the program will, in most cases, understand you - assuming that the words you use are in its vocabulary. You can also string commands together so you can input two or three orders at once. And, central to this game, you can talk to the other characters, who may or may not be willing to help you.
On the 48K Shadows of Mordor is, essentially a text adventure, although you can load in the graphics from the other side separately to look at them. On a 128K the graphics screens are integrated into the game you can flip between the text and graphics screens. As for the graphics screens themselves they're quite neat - in a kind of low-res Level 9ish kind of way.
Meagre is a good word to describe the information you get about each place you visit - 'a dreamy swamp', 'a high cliff', and so on, and so on, and so on...
Smeagol is another annoying thing about the program, in more ways than one. Yes, he's a right pain in the ring finger, popping up all over the place and getting into places you've spent hours figuring out the route to like they were on the main line from Victoria. But at the same time he's a very shadowy character, in the sense that he's practically not got one. You're expected to know just who he is and what he does, and you're given no clues as to what he looks like or where he came from. OK, so read the book and all will be revealed - but it's still a bit lazy on someone's part. Plus, why does he have to keep disappearing into the bushes all the time? Does he have some sort of terrible bowel complaint Tolkien never mentioned?
Problem-wise, its difficult I mean really very incredibly difficult! I would have got absolutely nowhere without the special reviewers help-sheet sent out with the tape. At the start of the game you can wander around the first few locations to your heart's content, but you will have to get down to some really strenuous activity before you're going to get anywhere.
If this game had been released at the same time as The Hobbit adventure came out, then it would have been a winner. But things have moved on rather in the last five years. Simply being tough isn't enough any more, at least not by itself. Adventures have to have atmosphere, especially when they're based on books as familiar as Tolkien's. Even the disappointing Lord of the Rings had more oomph when it came to the dramatic bits.
There's no doubt it's more polished than LOTR and it works - there are no massive Melbourne House patented super style bugs - but it's still missing something.
Label: Melbourne House
Memory: 48K/128K (enhanced)
Reviewer: Gary Rook
SUPPLIER: Melbourne House
PRICE: £7.95/£14.95 (CBM cassette/Disk)
VERSIONS TESTED: Spectrum/Amstrad/CBM
Well, it's here, and I rather wish it wasn't! Shadows Of Mordor is the second Lord of The Rings adventure, based on Tolkien's epic The Two Towers.
In this game Frodo and Sam, whose roles you can play, have travelled down the river where they found themselves at the end of the first game, and are now on an island in the middle of the lake, and secretly gone on their quest, which is to cross the wastelands and the evil mountains surrounding the homeland of their enemies.
Sam is equipped with all sorts of objects, the inevitable backpack, greencloak. rope, matchbox - yes, the list is familiar. So off we set, me being Frodo, and Sam tagging along. There weren't any bus stops of signposts around, so we trudged from dreary ridge to desolate plain, until we came to the edge of a cliff.
Smeagol was a constant visitor to our location, but once there, had the habit of sneaking off into the bushes with alarming regularity. What earth he was up to in there I care not to guess - I only know that when I tried to follow him, something very blank happened on the Spectrum and Amstrad, while nothing happened on the Commodore. And I mean nothing - I had to turn the computer off to regain control of it. But I understand this has been corrected.
Yes folks, it's written in Inglish, that wonderful Australian parser that is so exciting because you never quite know what it is going to do next.
It is said to understand complex sentences, but it seems you need a keyboard with an Australian accent, for when I typed SAY TO SAM "GIVE ME THE SWORD" I got a rather deranged SAM DOESN'T SEE ANY ME TO GIVE TO THE SMALL SWORD. On the other hand, a simple GIVE SWORD got me the sword.
The screen layout has been simplified since Lord Of The Rings. On C-64 and Spectrum you get a blue single line band at the top indicating which role you are currently playing (you can swap between the two using a BECOME command), a yellow four line command and message window at the bottom, and the rest of the screen is white and carries the narrative.
On the Amstrad the categories of text are difficult to distinguish between when all lines are in use.
The locations descriptions are said to be lengthy, but in fact are rather short and drab. To make them appear verbose, they are bulked up with fairly useless information which is repeated ad nauseam.
If for example, Sam is with you, you also get 'Frodo can see Sam. Being carried by Sam are a beautiful small sword, a matchbox, a canvas backpack, a fine green cloak...' And if you open the backpack, the matchbox, or anything else that contains something, you get the contents of that thrown in, too, which makes for quite a lot of repetitive reading to make sure you don't miss an important part of the message.
The response times are better than those of the game's predecessor, but even then, the Commodore version is very sluggish, and all have an annoying delay after the reply has been screened, before control is returned to the player with the prompt. This leads the fast typist into inadvertently entering many commands which then go unrecognised because the first few words or characters were not accepted as input.
Only the Commodore version has graphics, and these are limited in number on cassette. These pictures are reasonable, although in no way exciting, and display is effected by switching over to a graphics screen whilst the text response is in mid-flow. The effect, if you are not expecting a picture, can be quite startling, and frustrating, too.
I found the game rather boring, and put an end to it all with a SAY TO SAM "KILL ME WITH SWORD. He understood that all right.
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