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1987
Tactical Combat
£7.95
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
Firebird BleepLoad

50
Mike Gerrard
Chris Bourne

As far as scores go it's 999 all the way down the line, and you might need to call out the emergency services to help you through this new little beauty from Mike Singleton. It even goes beyond what he did with earlier titles like Lords Of Midmght and Doomdark's Revenge as hes produced a state-of-the-art graphical tactics adventure that adds a smidgeon of Swords And Sorcery and a hint of Heavy On The Magik to those previous games. Can you imagine a Doomdark in which you're down on the ground controlling individual characters as well as deciding overall strategy?

The game is set in the Isles of the Western Sea, where the Lord of the Isles, has made a big mcCock-Up. He forged the Dark Sceptre to defeat the invading Northlanders but they seized the Sceptre and absorbed its power, becoming the Lords of the Shadow. They are now gripped by evil and ruled by the Sceptre and the forces of the Isles must find and destroy the Dark Sceptre itself.

There are seven teams of warriors roaming the Isles each indicated by a colour. Umbrarg's warriors are the Shadow Lords and are red while white marks your own team. The five sets of fighters in between should begin the game neutrally and both you and the Shadow Lords can try to beat or befriend these warriors as you think fit.

Each team is made up of men of various qualities from Thanes to Thralls. The Thane is the team commander, without whom the entire company will be more readily defeated. A Thrall is a simple underling, a pawn in comparison to other more complex characters like Mystics, Heralds Savages and Assassins.

In the top window we see the excellently animated characters going about their business, loping along in brilliant graphic detail. Below that and to the left are the five basic options through which the game is controlled. Top option is WATCH and this allows you to see at once any fights that take place when hostile characters meet. Only one fight will take place at a time, and you're alerted to it by the distant clash of sword on sword - good sound effects too. The outcome is strictly according to each character's attributes, and with evenly-matched characters then victory goes to the aggressor. The meek shall definitely not inherit the Isles of the Western Sea.

You can inspect a character's vices and virtues by choosing the CHECK option and try to match these with the tasks you set.

A small window in the lower part of the screen shows your immediate surroundings, and by selecting SCAN you can see the map of the whole Western Isles, looking remarkably like a map of the London Underground. The PLAN option is definitely where the game is won or lost, as it's through this that you give your men their commands.

As well as nifty graphics and sound, Dark Sceptre is well designed making it accessible and easy to play - in the sense that it's very quick and simple to grasp, without needing keyboard overlays, 64-page instruction manuals and seventeen fingers.

Excellent graphical detail in a complex and thoughtful game that'll test both new and old hands at adventuring.

9/10
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Screenshot Text

A fair old choice here, but only some of your characters will do quite a few of these things - for instance, you'll need a Mystic if you want to Charm, Curse or Bewitch.

Fetmil looks like a cheery chappie, and being a bit of a Thrall he's probably looking for trouble. Use the map below for immediate reference, and remember to keep your eye on anyone else in the area.