Diablo! sees the arrival of a brand-new adventure-writing talent in Mark Cantrell, who's tried a couple of times before to get me to review his games, but wihout success. It shows that you shouldn't give up, as he's now produced an excellent game that really gets the best out of Gilsoft's Professional Adventure Writing System. It's got features I've not seen used before, like a FOLLOW command, and the ability to control four different characters, switching from one to another whenever you like.
The price of £7.95 might seem a little high for a home-grown game when we're more used to paying £1.99, but Diablo! comes in separate 48K and 128K Versions, each in three parts and on two tapes, with a 14-page Player Guide and a 14-page Investigation Dossier. The author's taken a great deal of trouble over everything connected with the game, an object lesson to would-be adventure writers. If I've ever sent your adventure back without a review then buy Diablo! to see what you're up against.
The 128K version, naturally has more features than Level 9 or Magnetic Scrolls games with a more complex SAY TO command and a more versatile FOLLOW command - see, I told you PAW could produce the goods in the right hands. I played the 48K version though, as that's the one most people will use, but at times I had to check I hadn't loaded the 128K one by mistake! It was like playing the 48K version of a Level 9 game, when you wonder how they cram it all into the space available.
So, what's it all about, Alfie? Well, a seemingly abandoned ship called the Discovery has just been found floating in space, having been lost to Earth for several months. The crew of one of the spacecraft which found the Discovery claims he saw the Devil on board, but he's now having special treatment and you're told not to worry about that - come on, you did realise it would be your job to visit the ship and find out just what's been going on, didn't you?
You are, to be precise, Captain Payne, and you head a four-man team that includes a Doctor Russel (the obligatory shapely female) and a mysterious civil servant called Lawson... not Nigel, surely, Private Eye's own Blubba the Gut?
You see, there's something odd about Lawson. When you reach the Discovery you look around at your team only to discover that he's already boarded! Maybe he slipped past you and you missed him, but with all this talk Of the Devil on board you'd better take care.
The screen is well designed with a graphic square in the top left quarter and a picture of the character you're controlling on the other side. Not every location has a graphic, and some are merely repeated, like when you're in the various corridors, but they're quick to appear, well drawn and can also be switched off with the TEXT command. Talking of commands, there's an OOPS, RAMSAVE, FONT (choice of two) and RADIO, which is the equivalent of SAY TO if the character isn't in the same location as you are. Very handy, these radios!
The ability to switch between four characters is great fun, and a natural attraction if you get stuck in one place - just type CONTROL ERSKINE, say, and find out where Erskine has wandered off to instead. The characters do need to co-operate in places, and an early example occurs if you want to go through the airlock to examine the outside of the ship. You have to depressurise the airlock in order to open the outside hatch, but the controls to do it are inside the ship, so one character wears the special space-suit and goes out while another remains at the controls. Mind you, what you find floating outside is rather unpleasant. It's the corpse of the first mate, which almost makes you throw up. Not recommended in a sealed space helmet.
It's a tricky business for both the player and the programmer having all these characters to think about, but it's very well handled and I only came across one unconvincing note, when I got Newson to open the ship's arms locker. He immediately distributed stun guns to all members of his team - even those who were somewhere else at the time! Damn clever of Newson, that was. There are a few mistakes, mostly spelling, like 'Lieutenant' being spelt as 'Leftenant' and 'renowned' spelt 'renouned'. Also a few text layout problems, which should have been tidied up. But these don't really detract from the pleasure of the game, which starts off reasonably easily but gets trickier as it goes, like good adventures should. Each part is restricted to just one deck of the ship, and is designed so that you have to solve all the problems on Deck One before you move to Deck Two. I think it's a teensy bit over-priced, but you do get three ram-jam-full parts for your money for £2.65 each, and it's one of those games that's a sheer delight to play.