This adventure represents a return to old values when size, tremendous involvement on behalf of the player, and a cracking set of intricate puzzles ruled the day. An enormous amount of effort has gone into this project, far more than is normal for a new software house, whose motto is 'Adventures for Connoisseurs'. The cover and instructions are of a very professional standard, and when I saw the quality of the poster, depicting all manner of prehistoric nasties and not-so-nasties, I was most surprised to see it was copyright of Crusader and not the Natural History Museum! All of the creatures you are likely to meet are presented in a most informative fashion, with the poster dominated by the largest group of animals ever to wander the face of the Earth - the Dinosaurs.
These developed into beings of widely varying shapes and sizes during the Jurassic Period, 150 million years ago. Some are Instantly recognizable: the Stegosaurus with its rows of plates along the length of its back, now thought to be an adaptation for controlling its body temperature, Tyrannosaurus Rex, a scavenger with tiny forelimbs, and Brachiosaurus, the largest of the whole bunch, thought to have wallowed around 'in swamps. It's a nice poster - it really is.
In the sensibility stakes the storyline doesn't win any prizes for lucidity, but perhaps a complex game can be forgiven an involved introduction. You begin at Stonehenge, you being a chap named Ohio, listening to some old man tell you about the secret of eternal youth. Ignoring the fact that this man is old for a moment, you listen attentively while he informs you of this great elixir of life which bestows eternal youth (we'll have to assume his age has crept up on him due to his supply of the elixir running dry!).
The man divulges the secret ingredients: a fruit which grows on a tall arrow-leafed tree found on but one island. This Amaranth fruit covers the island and is the staple diet of a bunch of renegades that should have died out ages ago - thorn very same dinosaurs as so nicely depicted on the poster. The reason for these creatures staying way over their allotted place in history is attributed to the same elixir qualities which keep men young. Getting to the island is no walkover either, but there is some help in the form of the old man's map which, for reasons best kept to himself, he has secreted beneath a plain (a maze to you and me) by an underground stream On other words when you find it, you'll know it).
As you might expect from a traditional adventure which resembles the classics of the past, this game is no walk-over and will take quite a concerted effort to complete. Traditional in its general feel perhaps, but in many details the game has quirks very much its own. First of these curios is its insistence on full word entry with no abbreviations, so commands even as long and common as INVENTORY must be spelled out. (The program does offer relief with some of the dinosaur names where shortened nicknames can be used, like Ally for Allosaurus). Keeping to the out and out eccentricities for a moment, a certain amount of imagination has gone into the location descriptions, but in a way which has locations seeming to change name, eg a pool of water is simply described as a spring on subsequent visits, not a totally distracting influence, but some cause a series of double checks to see if you are indeed in the right location shown by your map.
The game does feature a fast RAM SAVE but the quit routine can catch you on the hop if you haven't saved first; there is no option to return to a new game, a previously saved position offering the only route back. The inconvenience is much lessened, though, by the authors kindly supplying the start position load immediately after the game on the tape. There seems to be a total lack of an EXAMINE command. Set against some of these eccentricities is the very useful input-error handling which can point out words the program doesn't understand and also supply hints or very direct prompts towards what the program might understand.
Lastly, the Crusader team provides a very good set of hint sheets which, far from just dumping the solutions in your lap, still make you work for your progress. Hints lead onto easier clues if needed, followed by the problem solutions for those who really are flummoxed. Even with these, on some occasions direct solutions are still left to the adventurer.
Prehistoric is a most professional adventure game which is a much better bet than the reams of Quilled games on offer at the moment. Although expensive, the game is all machine code and sports many sophisticated features.
The game is available from Crusader at 18 Henley Wood Rd, Reading RG6 2EE.
: minimal, redesigned character setInput facility
: fastGeneral Rating:
Solid, fascinating adventure.