MAN'S WORST FEAR waits eagerly in the darkness. The scent of human blood is overwhelming and the taste of cool, moist, rubbery flesh is still remembered and savoured. The time is near for the invasion of The Rats.
The game, from Hodder and Stoughton which publishes the book of the same name, is an experience as well as being a menu-driven adventure with a touch of strategy. It loads in sections, the first being a demo program with a nice line in cellar graphics. The sound is not too hot, but the excellent and superbly fast animation sequence, in which a torch scans a watery cellar to reveal hundreds of the plague carriers, is one of the best I have seen.
Once the demo is over, or if you break out of it, the main game is loaded from random routines on the first side of the tape. Loading is confusing as the main operating system of the game chooses the sections to be included within the program at random. Therefore, some of the code on the tape does not load and, if you are a first time user, you may think that the tape is faulty. It is not an error, the tape is loading in the random encounters for the game.
Once the game is running you had better be prepared for some fast action. There are two levels of play, over which the computer has total control. The first level involves a number of scenarios which deal with minor characters. As in James Herbert's book, those people are expendable and can be sacrificed for information about the mutant rats.
Those scenarios are heralded by a warning siren. The screen then splits into three windows, the largest of which displays the action as text. The long window on the left provides command options and the one at the bottom of the screen is your command window. Making your character act is simple - just construct a command sentence at the bottom of the screen using the options provided. The effect creates a feeling of tension as you do not know what options are available until a specific menu is displayed.
If you are unlucky enough to meet a rat, it can kill you in a number of ways. First it might rip through the screen and bite you or, alternatively, it could try to rip through the text with its claws. Once an attack is made, a human face, full of terror, is shown falling from the rip in the page.
It is possible to escape your fate as one of the minor characters. For instance, the little girl doing her paper round would be better off if she did not go into the house across the road, but then you would not discover the rats' secrets.
The major characters, including Harris and Foskins, are just as vulnerable to attack as the minor characters. In some situations, Harris must be mercenary and let the rats kill friends in order to gain information about their habits. For example, when he goes to capture a rat he must make sure that his companion leads the way - the leader becomes a rat victim.
The other part of the game is a contest between the rats and Government forces. You are in charge and must allocate resources on a giant map which shows the spread of the rats through London. If they go over the boundaries you have lost the game, just as you have lost if one of the major characters is killed.
You use icon menus to allocate forces and resources. Those go into action on the part of the map which you have indicated with your cursor. At the same time you must specify the research into the rats' behaviour.
The Rats is a complex and brilliant game with above average graphics - if minimal sound. I can recommend it without reservation to those with strong stomachs.
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Joystick: Kempston, programmable