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Abstract Concepts
1988
Adventure: Text
£14.99
English
ZX Spectrum 48K/128K
None

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74
The Pilgrim
Chris Bourne

An Abstract Concept from Activision.

Fergus McNeill, the man who brought you Delta 4, The Boggit and (soon) Smirking Horror is a collaborator in this latest venture from Abstract Concepts, a new adventure design house run by Anna Popkess. Mindfighter is the first game from the label, previously previewed by the Pilgrim and now on general release.

The game runs under a new adventure authoring system called SWAN (apparently short for System Without A Name). Most large adventure houses use their own systems, but until recently writers like Fergus and Anna have relied on clever programming of more widely available utilities such as The Quill. Having their own in-house programming system is a big step forward.

However, the small print reveals that SWAN is actually produced by, amongst others, Tim Gilberts of Gilsoft/Quill fame. This explains why the new system is something of a three steps forward, one step back affair - but more of that in a minute...

The game concerns a psychic child, Robin, who has somehow materialised in a post-holocaust Southampton where life is made even more miserable by Chinese militia. You have to find out what's going on, return to the present day, and prevent the disaster from taking place. At least I THINK that's what you're supposed to do! The game packaging doesn't help much, preferring to gloat over the horror of your situation.

This vagueness, plus other quirks, induces a good deal of frustration. The landscape is extremely difficult to map, with seemingly illogical geographical relationships between locations.

The parser features TAKE ALL... EXCEPT as well as RAM SAVE and LOAD, IT, and OOPS but still retains certain archaic features. In particular, it will say THAT WAS'NT POSSIBLE when what it really means is I DONT UNDERSTAND which can be very misleading when trying to work out the solution to a puzzle. Even when you completely flummox it, and it admits I CANT UNDERSTAND, it doesn't say which word it's having difficulty with. It seems a long time since I've had to make these criticisms about the parser of a premium-priced product.

Similarly awkward is the method of conversation with other interactive characters - you still have to SAY TO person MESSAGE, rather than just NAME, MESSAGE. Other rough edges include occasional inappropriate responses as in:

>FILL JERRY CAN WITH WATER
ROBIN FILLS THE WATER

...after which episode I found I was carrying WATER without a container.

What saves this game, however, is the drama of the setting, some excellent if rather sombre graphics; tough puzzles; and a useful icon-dnven command system. These features do help to maintain interest, but let's hope that with Abstract Concepts' next game they're riding the lasting interest wagon rather than having to keep it going.

Reviewer: The Pilgrim

RELEASE BOX
C64/128, £14 99cs, £19.99dk, Out Now
Spec, £14 99cs, Out Now
Ams, £14.99cs, £19.99dk, Out Now
Amiga, £24.99dk, Out Now
Atari ST, £24.99dk, Out Now
IBM PC, £24 99dk, Out Now

880/10
910/10
680/10
650/10
820/1000