The Pawn, it cannot have escaped your attention, has had some pretty good reviews. Actually on every one of its editions from the QL original, through the Amiga and Atari ST to the Commodore 64 it's had the sort of reactions that caused the prefix mega to be invented.
What is it? Well it's a graphics adventure except that on the Spectrum 128K it doesn't have any graphics.
This is a shame because the graphics on ST were staggering, even the graphics on the C64 were good. Blame the fact that the 128 doesn't have a disc.
What are you left with when you take away the graphics from The Pawn? Probably the only adventure to seriously compete with the best Infocom offerings in terms of sentence analysis (all that 'put the small frog in my pocket under the tree trunk then insert the gold key, open the box and keep all except the cuddly toy' stuff) and, let us not forget, wit. That's all.
You see there are serious adventures and there are funny adventures.
Serious adventures seriously depict serious battles between good and evil and have characters, places and objects with names that are either a) stolen from very bad fantasy novels or b) apparently based on names of kitchen cleaning materials.
Funny adventures, with the exception of most (but not all) of Fergus McNeil's stuff aren't funny. Funny adventures that aren't funny are even worse than serious adventures.
The Pawn, however, is serious and funny at the same time. That is, it maintains a constant balance between being an adventure that you can play as a serious challenge and also being an adventure that is aware of the pitfalls and cliches and avoids and/or twists them.
Take Princesses for example. Princess are for rescuing (being poor weak women and all that, facing fates worse than death). There is a Princess in The Pawn but... well ... she's a bit of a pain actually.
The plot. Well there isn't actually a plot - there's more of an overall concept. Kerovnia (as names for mystic lands go this is not too bad since it merely sounds like some Slavic state currently under Soviet control) is politically wobbly and King Erik looks to be on the way out (who can respect a king called Erik) partly because of his having made the Roobikyoub dwarfs persona non gratis.
The dwarfs are notoriously unsound but brew excellent whisky and... well... I think you get the idea. You arrive in time to steer events a number of different ways, it's just that some actions will result in your death.
The Pawn, is obviously considerably more sophisticated than the usual Go North, Eat Frog stuff. I remember Anita Sinclair (Magnetic Scroll's quazi-femme fatale) demonstrating the various ways of referring to different keys that could be either in her pocket or a tree trunk. Her enthusiasm was not so much contagious as exhausting. What it all means and why it matters is simply that you can come that little bit closer with The Pawn to actually typing normal English sentences. You are also less likely to get idiotic responses to perfectly reasonably (if incorrect) instructions.
There are a lot of ways of playing The Pawn. It is possible to wander around quite a wide area not having solved much but just enjoying the text comments and ludicrous set pieces. Try having a sensible conversation with the guru to kick off with. It can get pretty unsettling. You could go straight for the serious problem solving, or you could just opt for some of the offers you get to take on minor quests from assorted dubious characters you meet on your travels. Some of these quests sound simple (delivering the odd sealed letter), although usually there is a problem that means it isn't as simple as it seems.
What else? The Pawn has an in-built clue system where, by entering codes from the back of the manual, you can get hints on particular problems.
It's very expensive but worth it. And it is also one of the very few programs which will only work on the 128K machine, so its a nice treat if you've just invested in a 128K +2.
Author: Magnetic Scrolls
Reviewer: Graham Taylor
An essential purchase for anyone into adventures who has just upgraded to a 128 - it doesn't run on a 48K.
Long atmospheric location descriptions are a key feature of the Pawn. That and what it probably the most sophisticated text parser this side of Infocom (or even the other side for that matter!). Sad though that the fabulous graphics from the ST version could not be included.