CHOOSING software is increasingly difficult, whether you are looking for games or serious applications. There is so much on the market that new users, in particular, may often miss the best buys altogether. If you read magazines such as Sinclair User regularly you can keep up with the new releases, but what about all the old stuff which was reviewed long before you bought a micro?
The Which? Software Guide, published by Hodder and Stoughton with the prestigious Consumers' Association, attempts to remedy the situation with reviews and ratings of more than 1000 programs. The software is for the BBC, Spectrum and Commodore computers, and grouped in categories by alphabetical order.
Written by John Walker, the reviews tend to be on the kind side, and you will probably spot many favourite turkeys among them. As a comparative guide to the quality of programs the ratings are generally acceptable, but although the book refers to the launch of the Spectrum Plus in October 1984, most of the software released after May of that year does not appear.
The bulk of reviews are for games, with the Spectrum badly represented in the business sections. The style is solid and readable. Walker has clearly played some games rather more thoroughly than others, and a few inconsistancies emerge. There seem to be remarkably few errors of fact for so many reviews, and those we spotted are fairly trivial.
Walker says he has not included products from 'firms which may only be in business a month or so'. Oddly enough, he includes several games from Imagine and Rabbit, companies no longer in business at all and which went down long before the book was published.
For Spectrum owners a more serious factor is the inclusion of games for more than one machine. The rating may well reflect the quality of graphics or sound on the Commodore version with the Spectrum game much less impressive. Occasionally that is pointed out; more often than not it is ignored. It would help if the book pointed out which version was the original.
On the plus side, there are a number of illuminating paragraphs on the origins of various types of game. A list of software houses and their addresses is an extra bonus.
At £7.95, the Guide is expensive. The introduction snipes at magazine reviewers for giving little detail about games; we disagree, naturally, but do not believe you will get a great deal more information from the reviews in the book. As a means of obtaining reliable information on what has already been published, however, the book can be recommended. It is certainly the sort of publication that newcomers will want if they intend to build up a library of commercial games software.
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Price: £7.95 (Paperback)