From the first moment when the jaunty tones of Colonel Bogey and other war toons waft from your Speccy, you know you're onto a winner. With The Great Escape, Ocean has come up with a Chrimbletide cracker. If not, you can spike me to the nearest barbed wire fence for my foolishness. (It's a deal! Ed).
It's a 3D escape strategy game that looks a little like Fairlight at first. It has a touch of the maze about it but you'll also need all your arcade skills - you have to be pretty nippy whizzing round camp avoiding the Jerry guards. Your task, in true Tommy style, is to make good your escape from the Colditz camp. Fortunately, there's more than one way to walk the wire - you can try tunnelling, snipping through the perimeter fence or just plain bribery and corruption.
But the real skills are in preparing for your big breakout. Camp life follows certain set routines: day break, roll call, breakfast, exercise. If you're not in attendance or you're caught out of bounds, your morale takes a tumble. The flag on the side of the screen shows how healthy it is. It's your job literally to keep that flag flying. Exploring new parts of the camp, finding and hiding objects, such as money, poison, your passport and so on, will ensure you're not flying at half-mast for most of the game.
Finding the objects that are crucial to your completion of the game is best done in the times between the daily routines. So, it's worth studying the pattern of camp life so you know where and when to sneak off. If you leave your man to his own devices, he just melts back into the crowd and follows the flow of the other POWs. Of course, you haven't got a whole war to while away, but it's more patient gamesplayers who'll win out in the end.
Trouble is, even when you think you've sussed the guards' movements, those of the Commandant seem to be completely random. Just when you think you're on top and on your way to Blighty, it's Hande hoch, Englander and you're marched off to the cooler.
As for the objects, it's vital that you have the right articles for your chosen tactic. It's no good tunnelling without the torch or confronting the guard dogs without the poison. They don't respond to cries of "Walkies".
The action all takes place on a smoothly scrolling screen that takes you round the perimeter wire, the grounds, huts, exercise yard, tunnels and castle. And although the main screen area is black and white to get round programming limitations, this is cunningly turned into a bonus. At night, it gives the camp an eerie moonlit gloom, broken only by the violent splash of a roaming searchlight. And when you're tunnelling it's positively claustrophobic - remember Bronson in the film?
My merest quibbles are that all the prisoners, including our hero, look identical. Must confuse Fritz at roll call, what? No wonder Albert R.N. got away with it! Plus there's no team work option - no vaulting horse tactics possible here. Mind you, a few of your fellow prisoners are open to a bit of bribery if you want them to set up a diversion.
The Great Escape is a well presented, gently humorous, tense and brain teasing winner. Don't let this scorcher escape your clutches.