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Graham Taylor
Chris Bourne

Deep in time Dark Sceptre featured like a dream upon the cover of last September SU. Big was its graphics and original its gameplay.

Each month a review copy was expected and there much hunting through the SU mailbag. Many young and noble warrior journalists attempted the mailbag quest but all failed and there was much disappointment.

After many months Dark Sceptre drifted into myth and legend and those who still recounted the legend of the massive animated warriors stalking the isles of the Western Sea were soon treated as halfwits and fools.

And the memory of Dark Sceptre all but died, kept alive by a tiny band of faithful followers who swore that one day Dark Sceptre would return. "That damn game will turn up sometime," they said. And lo after many eons it did...

To remind those whose memories don't go back as far as last year, Dark Sceptre is a strategy game with an adventure-type theme.

It achieves, in a totally different way, the same thing as Mike Singleton's Lords of Midnight - namely presenting what is essentially a 'think' game in a way that is both visually interesting and genuinely involving to play.

Dark Sceptre makes the mechanics of play as easy as possible - menus and cursor select systems - but the strategies you might use in playing the game are almost infinite. For reasons too fixed in the myth of cliche to bother to repeat here your brave team of warriors has to recover an all powerful thingmy called the Dark Sceptre. You control a team of good guys and there's one equivalent team of bad guys and various other teams of not-yet-decided guys. To win you need, among other things, to win some of these uncommitted people over to your cause.

Each member of your team has a different set of skills. The Thane is the leader - if he gets killed the rest of the team will probably get very depressed. Mystics have magical powers and are not surprisingly, not much good at thuggish knee-in-the-groin type stuff. Other members of your team are persuaders, messengers and killers.

Playing is like being a football coach. In each 'go' you select the members of your team and give them instructions, sometimes sets of instructions, from a vast list available. These include Kill followed by somebody's name or Bewitch (turn named person into a spy) Follow (ie track but don't attack) and various sorts of threatening or cajoling of the other team warriors into joining your side. Aside from people there are significant objects in Dark Sceptre which give import powers and commands like Take, Grabe and Use relate to these.

Having issued instructions you can sit back and see what happens - watch each warrior move across a map of the playing area and flick screens between each warrior to see them in detail - the massive sprite graphics that are the game's trademark.

Despite what you might think, it isn't boring at all. It's fascinating watching to see what happens and, anyway, different warriors accomplish their orders at different times so there are always new plans to be instigated.

Sooner or later, on purpose or by design, a good guy will meet a bad guy and there will be a fight. Swords are drawn and they fight it out. There is no luck in any battle, the outcome is the inevitable result of the relative strengths, taking into account a host of factors of the two combatants. When two fighters are closely matched fights may continue for quite some while - with the advantage constantly changing. When each 'turn' is over you take stock of where you stand - how you faired in your 'go' - and issue your next set of instructions to your team.

Dark Sceptre is in its own way. now, as original a game as Lords of Midnight was then, and technically it's very clever indeed.

And it still looks impressive, even a year after its essential details were finalised.

Don't buy it under the mistaken impression that it is some sort of Barbarian equivalent though, or you'll be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you like the sound of a stunningly impressive, highly original and dramatic strategy game, well, are you in for a treat!

Label: Beyond
Author: Mike Singleton
Price: £9.95
Memory: 48K/128K
Joystick: various
Reviewer: Graham Taylor

Worth the wait. It's Lords of Midnight with the emphasis on strategy. It's great but don't expect Barbarian.