1987
Adventure: Text
£9.95
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
None

86
Loilita Taylor
Chris Bourne

People get pretty serious about The Archers. If you've found your hackles rising at the way Pat has been misrepresented and misunderstood in that patricharchal hotbead of chauvinism, Ambridge, or if your blood boils at the ruthless way Brian led Caroline astray in the cool setting of the Mont Blanc restaurant, don't give up hope - here is a chance to put the record straight on their behalf.

Welcome to The Archers - the computer game.

The idea is that you assume the role of a trainee scriptwriter on the radio series, and make plot decisions for four of the main characters - Jack Woolley, Elizabeth Archer, Eddie Grundy and Nelson Gabriel.

It's been programmed by Level 9 and the gameplay works a little like that in its earlier Adrian Mole game. Where Mole fell down was with the tedious cycling through of multiple-choice question and answers.

The Archers works basically the same way, but the multiple questions are properly integrated into the plot and the whole thing - unlike Mole - really does hang together.

Your success or failure at the game is reflected by the audience ratings which appear on the screen from time to time, together with winging memos from the Controller of Radio 4 - a hard man to please.

Understandable perhaps, since it's he who gets the flack when the delicate sensibilities of The Archers listenership are in any way offended. These people mean business. An example: irate civil rights groups inundated the BBC with threatening letters when I unwittingly got Shane fired. When I chose plotline option 'Save on wages' (part of Nelson's economy drive) it was without realising that his most important and - apart from the window cleaner whom you can opt to have drenched with water by Elizabeth Archer - seemingly his only employee, would have to go. Bad move. Shane is Glad To Be Gay and as Bortchester tends not to lead on socio-sexual issues, the last thing CR4 wants is its sole representative of an oppressed minority written out.

The 'writing out' of a character is a subtle business and all too easy for the uninitiated to do unwittingly. I thought a nice long holiday in Guernsey would do Jack Woolley the world of good. Up came CR4's angry memo complaining that, as any listener knows, nobody goes on holiday to Guernsey unless they're being written out.

It may seem as though you set out playing God in Ambridge but, as the blurb says, the plot has its own momentum, and events can easily get out of hand. At one point I felt as though the plot was going round and round in circles and, no matter what option I chose, I kept coming back to the same decision point - as Eddie Grundy, my pay rise depended on how well things went with the turkeys. To get more money, either I had to a) tout for business around the village, b) raid Martha's post office or c) raid Joe Grundy's sock drawer. There were moments when it seemed as though I had in fact a very small part in the action and I was just pressing anything to get out of this cycle.

On other occasions the storyline wasn't coherent. Again as Eddie Grundy, I saved the Bank Manager from certain death by whisking him off to hospital, at which point an audience rating came up, followed by my telling Clarrie to look in the newspaper for ideas (a reference to a totally different sub-plot involving holidays) and then a quick switch back to the bank manager.

These mysterious interruptions - by bits of stray text, bugs perhaps? - and the odd textual error detracted a little from an otherwise highly entertaining and very witty game.

My biggest criticism would be the way the text would sometimes disappear off screen before there had been time to read it. Once or twice, ten lines or so of text would just vanish - hurtling off the screen at some absolutely crucial dramatic moment.

The game was great fun though, despite the irritating bugs in the program, and I found myself laughing out loud on a number of occasions - for how many games can that be said? Just how entertaining it would be for non-Archers fans is harder to say.

It may not be demanding enough to hold the attention of a hardened adventurer indefinitely, but it's a must for anyone who only comes to life between 10.15 and 11.15 on a Sunday morning.

Label: Mosaic
Author: Level 9
Price: £9.95
Joystick: various
Memory: 48K/128K
Reviewer: Loilita Taylor

****

Great in-joke for Archers fans but managed to be funny on its own merits too. Marred a little by some curious mistakes.

4/5