Melbourne House did itself no favours when it released the first part of Lord Of The Rings, and although it was inevitably going to sell well the game was also criticised for its slowness, strange and lengthy loading, an excessive number of bugs and some graphics which were totally out of character for Tolkein's world. Thankfully Melbourne House has learned from its mistakes, and Shadows Of Mordor, which follows the second book in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, The Two Towers, is an improvement.
The adventure's only in one part this time, and 128K owners have their own special enhanced graphics version, while 48K owners will have to settle for a text-only game with a file of the illustrations on t'other side of the tape. In this one you only get to be Sam or Frodo (or both) as you continue the quest to kill the Dark Lord Sauron, hopefully this time taking the story as far as an encounter with the spider, Shelob. You're advised to keep a map, but "Be warned," the instructions tell you, "maps cannot entirely be relied upon."
At the start Sam's equipped with a sword, matchbox, backpack, cloak, little box, rope and a supply of elven bread, while Frodo's lugging around a sword, cloak, the infamous ring and a small phial of clear crystal. At least I think that's what they're carrying, as I started to have my doubts when I came across a gnarled twisted old tree. I thought it might be worth trying to get Sam and Frodo to hit it for me with their swords. Unfortunately neither of them could see a sword to hit the tree with. An inventory confirmed they were indeed both carrying a sword. Maybe my description wasn't exact enough, as Sam was carrying a beautiful small sword. HIT TREE WITH BEAUTIFUL SMALL SWORD. "Sam doesn't see any beautiful small sword." Aaargh! Even more frustrating when you discover that it's the verb in the command that's causing the problem. BREAK TREE WITH SWORD is what works.
Initially there are just seven locations to explore, and your next move seems to be to somehow get down the cliff face, which requires a complex bit of problem-solving. All very logical and you should get there eventually - but be prepared to keep experimenting... and to save games regularly and methodically. At some point, too, you'll have to deal with Smeagol, who seems to be wandering round at the start of the game under the control of the program. Here, to me, the solution to the problem seems to be a little unfair as you have to do two acts in quick succession - the real time nature of the program sees to it that Smeagol runs away if the second one isn't instantly typed in, and despite my hanging around for a few dozen inputs, Smeagol didn't return so I had to resume an earlier game (long re-load) and have another go at him.
Despite these moans (and you know I like a good moan now and again) I thought Shadows Of Mordor was very much better than Lord Of The Rings. Response was pretty quick in the 48K version and for once death doesn't seem to lurk round every corner and require constant re-loads of the whole program.
The vocabulary has been extended, it seems, and you can now issue lengthy commands to another character rather than just single commands as before. You can switch from one character to the other if you've elected to play both parts, though I'd have thought one command rather than the three options given would have been enough (FRODO/ BECOME FRODO/I AM FRODO all work.)
Shadows Of Mordor reminded me of the pleasure of playing The Hobbit for the first time, but with added complexity. Problems can be solved in several different ways, there are various blind alleys and red herrings, and even if you solve the game I think you'll find yourself going back to play it again and trying different tactics. I know many of you, like me, were disappointed with Lord Of The Rings, but do give this one a try as Melbourne House has got rid of most of its bad hobbits.