RICHARD PRICE HAS FUN IN DUN DARACH AND ESCAPES FROM A SUNK SUBMARINE
ANYONE who has done some hitch-hiking or long distance travelling will know how it feels to arrive somewhere new and foreign - tired, broke, edgy and with nowhere to stay. It is always unsettling and frustrating not to know the local customs or how the natives will react to your outlandish behaviour and dress. It is ten times worse if you have no idea how you can raise some cash to survive a little bit longer.
If you have never experienced this first-hand you can still get a strong flavour of being on the road from Dun Darach - more a prequel than a sequel to Gargoyle's stunning Tir Na Nog.
Cuchulainn, Irish myth-hero, remains the central character in the new game. This time it is not the sidhe-ridden afterworld he strides through but a city of living men, more medieval than mystic with its winding, maze-like streets and busy, preoccupied citizens.
After a hard day's fighting against his traditional enemies, the men of Connacht, Cuchulainn and his charioteer Loeg stop at a wayside inn for the heroic equivalent of a long cool pint of JC.
As they wait for their drinks in comes a very beautiful woman, asking if one of them will help her with the broken axle of her carriage. Loeg is severely smitten and leaps to her assistance.
When Cuchulainn comes out to watch he finds that one of his chariot-horses has been slaughtered and his charioteer kidnapped. Further enquiries reveal that Loeg has been abducted by Skar, a good-looking but entirely evil sorceress whose base is the Secret City of Dun Darach.
Dun Darach uses the same outstanding graphic format as its predecessor and is effectively a controllable animated cartoon. Cuchulainn and the scene around him can be viewed from different angles and he can be moved left and right through the streets. He can enter houses, examine their interiors and collect objects. All actions are carried out by single key presses, with no text input.
The upper part of the screen shows the action with the remainder of the screen containing the compass indicator, list of possessions and the name of the quarter of the town you are moving through. Make no mistake, the city is large and bafflingly complex - although the streets are named, a map is essential.
You will find tradesmen of all kinds, private houses, temples, banks, gambling hells, police-like yeomen, pickpockets and honest citizens - though there don't seem to be too many of those. It is possible to get a job or make money by stealing yourself - that is difficult as the yoemen are vigilant and you will need to find an Arthur Daley figure to fence the goods before you get caught.
Gargoyle admits its debt to the works of fantasy writers like Fritz Lieber and Michael Moorcock. The company has created a city which is alive and fascinatingly complex and you will find it all too easy to neglect your true quest in favour of exploring and hustling.
The game is less abstract than Tir Na Nog - though there are plenty of enigmas to solve - and identification with Cuchulainn is easy as you wander the sleazy pleasure quarter of Iomain or the warrens of the Dispossessed.
I enjoyed every compulsive minute of Dun Darach. It is definitely not a rehash of a successful format, though it has the same technical excellence and careful programming. If anything it is a lot more interesting and eventful than the earlier game, with equally superb graphics. Get it as soon as you can and let me know quickly where I can sell a fat black pearl or stash some stolen gold bars. Absolutely recommended.
Publisher: Gargoyle Games