Written using Incentive's GAC, The Runes Of Zaobab revolves around a precious jewel belonging to Traon, a loyal guard of the old King Saire. The gem in question was stolen by the Black Priest of Zaobab and was never recovered (isn't that always the case when you get a gem that's of any worth? - Ed). However, Traon's dying wish was that you (his son) should find the stone. But this Black Priest chappie isn't as daft as he sounds (he doesn't sound very daft - Ed); he's placed plenty of evil beings in the land to stifle your brave quest. These include the strangely-titled Screedle folk.
As soon as the game loads, you realise that some effort has been made to provide originality. Before you begin your quest, a choice of four weapons is given: the staff (which is pretty useless in combat but is good for casting spells), the sword (this is an all-round weapon which can be used for both combat and magic), a dagger (it stems to be of little use) and an axe (no good for magic but the best weapon for combat).
The nameless main character starts life with zero spell power and a random amount of strength (up to one hundred units). A combination of strength units and the combat value of your weapon (given in the instruction booklet) determines how successful you are in battle. To save time the combat result occurs immediately, without any melee rounds - you either kill or die! The only clue to the outcome is gained by checking your strength level by typing SCORE. This also shows your spell power, which determines how powerful a spell you can cast, but it must be at least eight before you can cast anything at all.
One of your objectives is to gain as much spell power as possible and reach the-status of wizard. But even when you have sufficient power to cast a spell you must first find out what the spell is called! This is not as difficult as it sounds; the number of letters in each spell, plus a cryptic clue, is given in the instructions.
The GAC parser allows sophisticated sentences to be processed. These are necessary for fighting and spell-casting, which are achieved by keying in ATTACK someone WITH something, and CAST SPELL OF something ON someone.
Unfortunately the interesting combat concept is rarely used due to the scarcity of opponents. This land seems fairly dull, with clichéd locations such as dark caves and snowy mountains which contain few objects. The EXAMINE command can be abbreviated to x, but it usually brings up the irritating reply, 'Ham . . . it's nothing special'. This reply sometimes even appears when you're not even examining anything!
With little chance to examine anything, progress simply becomes a matter of trial and error. And even more frustration is created by the lack of a RAMSAVE option. Too often the only way to get any further is by fighting some ridiculously strong monster, against which you have little chance. And unless you can be bothered to keep saving the current position to tape, you're more than likely to meet a nasty end and have to start from scratch again.
Yet another irritation is caused by the program's obscure vocabulary, some of it even misspelt ('lazoo' instead of lasso), so it ' s just as well some of the words used are printed at the end of the instructions. Even then, there's little lateral thinking required - it's more a question of luck as to whether you manage to defeat the monsters, while objects are easy enough to find.
Despite the attempts at innovation and the odd colourful picture, The Runestone Of Zaobab fails completely to create any sort of atmosphere and thus cannot hold the avenge adventurer's attention for very long. Even with the free adventure on side B, there are many better home-grown adventures around than this. Initially intriguing but eventually a disappointment.
The Runestone Of Zaobab is available from Eric Stewart, 18 Vatisker, BACK, Isle Of Lewis PA86.