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Adventure: Graphic
ZX Spectrum 48K

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Derek Brewster
Chris Bourne

There is one thing which troubles me about writing this column. I have to weigh up how much I should go over the same old points I've made in the past and balance this with my rather low boredom threshold. However, to say 'for my views on this subject see CRASH blah blah issue pages x to e, seems too reminiscent of those pompous, stuffy academic reports so I think I'll settle for a little rehashing of old thoughts.

The point I'd like to make here is that publishing companies should be careful when producing computer software. This little industry has quickly come of age and the matching of what the public wants to see on a computer to what the public gets has come a long way some outstanding software has been produced. Programming skills on the Spectrum have improved to the point where there ' s little room for programming innovation; just about everything the Spectrum can possibly do, it now does.

If programming expertise is near its zenith then program design and implementation aren't far behind. It is in these fields that software producers must be very careful. When designing a board game, the questions at the end of the day are: can someone actually play it, given the instructions; and if they can play it, is it any good? The same must go for computer software. Can the games player play the computer game and if the player can, what does he/ she think about it? With this game The Rats, I can barely answer the question 'what did I think about it' because I could hardly play the darn thing and, after an (unfortunately) long while, I didn't much care one way or the other. No doubt many of you will buy it because of its interesting theme and slick presentation. It looks great. As a programmer, though, reviewing the game was disappointing as it drops too many own goals.

The way the game loads is clumsy and downright unfriendly. The instructions are all over the place and have that far from endearing quality that has even the most clear-headed reading paragraphs time and again. It interleaves garbled loading instructions with details on game play which don't fully explain exactly what you have to do. Playing the game does not make light of these instructions. For example, the system for deploying troops is clumsy and once they are deployed it's difficult to keep track of them. I'll admit you could direct many of these comments at other prominent pieces of software it's just that The Rats seems to embody all the worst aspects of clumsy design and implementation.

The problem of sensible input has been successfully tackled in the game by reducing the number of options available to the player at any one point to, at most, two or three. The result of this system is sensible input sure enough - the program always understands what you want to do as it itself offers the options - but sometimes the actions you are channelled into do not make much sense. It is a game for much to-ing and froing and exploration as new avenues can appear almost unnoticed.

The Rats is based on the chilling bestseller by James Herbert. Although it is not necessary to read the book to enjoy the software I would guess reading it would greatly enhance the player 's understanding and sense of purpose. The game details your struggles with oversized rodents, which you attack through the eyes of minor characters such as Paula Blakely, and major characters like Harris, Howard and Foskins; a resourceful and courageous hero, a young rat scientist, and an Under-Secretary of State respectively. These characters are introduced in a similar way to films eg Close Encounters. The game might cut away from Paula Blakely struggling with the rats on a very personal scale to Foskins whose job is to coordinate London's Emergency Forces from General Headquarters.

Rat-Kill, Police, Fire and Military forces can be deployed against the rodents along with equipment such as protective suits, chemical gas, flamethrowers, electric stun pods and Anti-Rattus gas. Marked on the screen map of London (which, unlike the rest of the presentation, is scruffy) is GHQ, Harris' flat, and the Research and Development Centre where the important work on the origin, nature and vulnerability of the super-rats takes place at the greatest possible speed as the security forces seem ill-equipped to quash the rodents' surge across London.


Difficulty: may take some time to halt the rats
Graphics: average
Presentation: good
Input facility: option-driven
Response: good
General Rating: Looks nice (apart from scruffy London map).


Screenshot Text

If this rotund fluffy thing reminds you of your hamster then you've got problems. One of the not so friendly RATS.