It's been 18 months since Tartan's last release, Double Agent, and looking at the programming work that's gone into this new one I'm not surprised! The result is a headache of an adventure that's totally different from anything you've ever played before, and guaranteed to keep you scratching your head for months on end. There are two modes of play, easy and hard, and as the easy one is impossible, anyone playing the hard level deserves a medal - or a medical check-up.
Gordello is a three-part, text-only adventure which tells the tale of the evil Dr Gordello and his clinic in Switzerland. It's here that he has perfected the technique of making clones of animals, and is now experimenting on humans. The actual storyline is as complicated as a piece of knotted string, but it's all explained in the optional instructions.
A few of these knots in the plot unravel in places where they shouldn't. For instance, you are an agent for the S6 secret service in London and your boss has received a video from Gordello that he claims shows you and a clone at his Swiss clinic. In other words, he claims you are a done, the original being under his control in Switzerland! Your boss disproves this by the simple technique of asking you your phone number, as the imperfect clones cannot remember numbers. But a moment later you discover your task is to unite the two present sub-standard clones in the Clonetron machine and thereby produce a super-clone, capable of speech. So if your boss already knows that the two current clones are not capable of speech, what on earth is this phone number nonsense all about? As long as you can speak, you can't be a sub-standard clone anyway. On top of that, if your boss knows that uniting the sub-standard clones in the Clonetron will produce a super-clone, how come Gordello hasn't twigged yet? I think the plot's got so convoluted it's totally out of control.
Anyway, ignore all that and get on with the game. Just do what you're told and you'll be alright. At first glance the split-screen looks identical to Double Agent, and even at second glance too, with the AB clone's half of the game on the left-hand side, and the BA clone's down the fight. You can conveniently control both clones from a keyboard in London, but only one at a time, switching between them by typing AB or BA. You can also type P to pause, and believe me you'll need to!
The BA clone has a design flaw (another one!) in that it does the opposite of what you tell it, so GET JACKET will result in the jacket being dropped. In fact this isn't fully implemented as commands like SEARCH and STEAL still work as they should - maybe the author couldn't think of convenient opposites. I know I can't.
Part One requires you to manoeuvre both clones into the ante-room of the Clonetron machine, avoiding the various guards who are wandering round the place. The clones are in different areas of the laboratory, the only joint location being the ante-room, so no co-operation between the two is needed and you can solve the problems on one half of the screen first then go on to the other, or flip between the two as you go along.
If I thought Part One was complicated (and I did) then Part Two gets even worse. The twist, as if we needed one, is that the two clones bumped their heads together when leaving the ante-room at the end of Part One, the result being that they now both respond when you type in a command, with the one you're in current contact with acting first. Don't forget, though, that clone BA still does the opposite of what you tell it, so if you type in SOUTH then AB goes south in his half of the screen while BA goes north in his half! At least they start off in the same place, and you're only faced with making one map in this part, not two separate ones. But how on earth do you get both clones to the Clonetron simultaneously when one always does the opposite to what you say, an there seems to be only one entrance to the machine? I get a headache just thinking about it.
If you get to Part Three, which I estimate should take you 'til about 1999 when the story is actually set, then you will at last have managed to create the single super-clone. So what happens to the second half of the screen? Can we kiss it goodbye? No chance. In that window you can now control any one of the 14 other characters that are moving around. Type CALL SOLDIER, for instance, and it's the soldier's view of the adventure you see on the right-hand side. My mind not only boggles it double-boggles at the programming problems there must have been. If it took 18 months to write I reckon Tom Frost must have been working a 36-hour day.
Anyway, the fourth part of this three-part adventure is a bonus program that gives you some news you definitely will not want to hear when you get to the end of the game. There's also a couple of puzzle games as a reward for finishing.
Gordello is a fascinating adventure, and in amongst all these complications of plot, screen layout, character-switching and programming there are some clever puzzles as well. The features in the game aren't just gimmicks, they are actually part of the story and part of the problems too.
The only simple thing is the fact that it's an excellent game that you ought to rush out and buy immediately. Then rush in again as you can't buy it outside and send off your money to Tartan Software the noo!