The French prophet Nostradamus, way back in the 16th century, predicted that towards the end of the 20th century there would be a massive world war, beginning somewhere in the Middle East. In view of recent events between Iran and Iraq, and the fact that several of Nostradamus's prophecies appear to have been uncannily accurate, there must have been times during the writing of Mindfighter when author Anna Popkess, was more than a little worried!
Mindfighter began as a book, and this is included in the handsome packaging. It's 150 pages long, acts as copy protection, and unlike many 'books' that come with adventure games it's worth reading in its own right. Also in the inch-thick box you get a Players Guide, a poster - and of course the game itself, which stretches to four parts. There are both 48K and 128K versions - the smaller one loses a few graphics and the OOPS command, but it does have a RAM SAVE feature so that's not too bad. A +3 version is a possibility, but it hasn't been decided yet.
The hero of the adventure is an 11-year-old boy named Robin, with para-psychological powers. During experiments in present-day Southampton, he projects his mind forward in time to discover that the city has been devastated by a nuclear holocaust - some people might wonder how he was able to tell the difference! In fact, the programmers have taken photos and video images of parts of Southampton and digitised them to provide some of the graphics. The Spectrum graphics are terrific, among the best I've seen on the machine - they're done in black and white with amazing accuracy, especially when seen on a good monitor.
The game begins in this post-nuclear world, where Robin's existence is as real as if he were actually there, though in fact he's also reporting back on what he sees and what he does, to the scientists in Southampton. He must first survive the horrors in which he finds himself, gather as much information as he can, and, if possible, travel back to the present-day in an attempt to prevent the war from happening. One of the standard science-fiction stories, but this time mixed with thriller elements, para-psychology, political relevance - and all ideally suited to the adventure game.
The reality of a world shattered by a nuclear war has not been ignored in the text of the game. As you begin, 'Charred rubble wasteland stretched away all around Robin. Atop a mound of shattered concrete slabs, he gazed northwards across the distant blackened landscape. Behind and to the east of him he could just make out the fallen remains of some high-rise flats.' And later on in the game, as Robin picks his way round the city to the Bargate, he comes across a man being punished for theft by one of the System Guards who are now in control - 'Knowing what the penalty for stealing was, the accused held out his shaking hand. Slowly, with a blunt knife, the guard began to saw the man's hand off...' You can see why Anna and collaborator Fergus McNeill decided this wasn't exactly Delta 4 material!
As well as more typical adventure problems, Mindfighter also challenges you to survive the real-life problems that you would face when trying to survive as an outcast in this fascist state. You must find shelter at night, find safe food and drink to build up your strength, and avoid the guards unless you feel strong enough to attack them. Combat fans will enjoy this part of the game, and even though I don't like fight sequences, the ones in Mindfighter worked well, and in fact added to the believability of the whole story.
There are many more people wandering around the game, some of them rather friendlier than the guards! Daryl is a large man in his twenties, bulky and strong but sadly he's slightly retarded. A kind act to him might reap rewards later. There's also a teenager called Robert, though I've yet to discover how friendly or otherwise he might be - he's happy to take everything I've given him so far, but I haven't got anything out of him yet! These characters go about their own business, and a big chunk of the program is given over to controlling their actions. Just like Robin, they have their own physical and emotional states, the guards have their various strengths, but much of this is invisible to the player and goes on behind the scenes in the program.
Everything has been done to make the game as playable as possible. If you just press ENTER at the prompt, you bring up a control panel of icons in the graphic window. Use the cursor keys to flip the pointer around these and choose your options: text/graphics, printer on/off, music on/off, verbose/brief descriptions, OOPS, status, quit, SAVE to RAM/disk/tape and LOAD. A final icon returns you to the game. In no time at all you find your way round these and can switch between them and save your game in a matter of seconds.
As for that content, it seems to me to be one of the most exciting adventure releases for some time on any computer, not just the Spectrum. It's a serious thought-provoking game, which draws you into the reality of the world it tries to create so that you do feel like you're down there on the ground living it, not merely playing a game. I know I've raved about several Spectrum adventures lately, but I make no apologies for that as advances on 16-bit machines and in programming techniques are filtering down to benefit the adventures now available in the 8-bit market. It's a Golden Age for Spectrum adventuring, and anyone who says otherwise will be sentenced to playing with a Vic-20 for the rest of their days.