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Zenobi Software
Garry Cappuccini
Adventure: Text
ZX Spectrum 48K

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Mike Gerrard
Chris Bourne

It's taken a lo-o-o-o-ong time for this game to make it to a commercial release, as I first saw it umpteen moons ago when author Garry Cappucinni sent it in for review. Gary was planning to publish it himself under the awful title of 'Snap', the first in a proposed trilogy. The other two were to be called - you guessed it - 'Crackle' and 'Pop'. I sent it back for the unusual reason that I thought it was simply too good! Too good to be wasted by trying to sell it himself and maybe only flogging a few copies, when he ought to be getting on with writing the sequels. I suggested he get a software house to publish it - and that he change the title. So here it is, published by Zenobi Software as Crack City, the first part of the Snow Dogs Trilogy. A vast improvement on Snap!

The game takes place in the near future, with you playing the part of a secret agent in the Secret Intelligence Foundation. The setting is New Washington, a city built to support Washington's increasing administration side and the north-east USA's ever-growing population. As a result of a Mafia drugs operation which is being uncovered, you've been called back from your holiday in the Maldives. And I wish I had a fiver for every secret agent who's been called back from holiday in order to star in an adventure game! But that's the only cliché, the rest is fresh and well thought-out.

In fact, you get to choose which of three secret agents you want to be. There's Mick Hammelford, who scores well on the shooting range but will never be heavyweight champeen of the world; Louis Chorbenski, a Polish giant whose brain rattles about in his head like a pea in a whistle; and finally Ed Macpherson, who's English and a general all-round good egg.

Crack City was written using PAWS, but you'll never believe it when you see the screen layout, with its changing graphics, icons, complex status line and loads of other features. It'll give PAWS users heart attacks as they try to figure out how it's been done. In the graphics section at the top of the screen there's more information than you'll find in the average MI5 Filofax. If there had only been the 3D perspective graphic of each location that would have been impressive enough, but that takes up a small portion of the screen and is surrounded by other information.

On the left a series of icons shows the available exits in white, or grey if not currently available. This changes if you find a secret exit by searching around. The faces shown also change, as characters appear and disappear in the same location as yourself - nurses, policemen and even Dwight, your faithful assistant, who's given to wandering in and out looking lost 'til you tell him to stick with you. Oh yes, you can talk to all these characters as well, although that's subject to the usual problems that speech in an adventure throws up. A lot of people spend a lot of time saying "Hi" to each other.

On the right a section is given over to the objects you're carrying, showing how close you are to the maximum permitted in your hands, your pocket, your wallet and so on. This isn't just a gimmick, as it does help if you look at them to see if you can pick up one more object, or need to put something down first.

Below this little lot is the status line, showing the time of day, your cash, skill level, SIF rating, mortality level, score and number of turns taken. Again, they're not just put there for show, most are an integral part of the game - if it's night you'll need to sleep, if your mortality level's low and your turns are increasing, watch out.

It helps to have these things permanently visible on the screen, rather than have to keep typing separate commands for each one. You'd spend so much time checking on your status you'd never find time to do anything! And if you're worried that all this stuff is bound to slow the game down, then think again. Everything appears almost instantly, and that includes the graphics. Half a second and they're there, a testament to the programmer, to PAWS and to the good old Spectrum. If, however, you don't want all this stuff, you can just as easily switch it all off and play Crack City as a straight text adventure, with all the sophisticated commands that PAWS allows, like multiple inputs, OOPS, RAMSAVE and so on.

But what of the gameplay itself? Well, inevitably with all these memory-hungry features, it doesn't have the depth of a Dungeon Adventure, let's be honest. But the author's done his best to make the problems more complex, and that works better in a game with fewer locations. Your first task is to find something to eat, which means not being distracted by each and every problem near the start - get out there and find something to munch! I did get a bit annoyed when I kept dying of hunger, but it's a sign of how engrossing the game is that although I thought it was happening every few moves, in fact I'd taken 78 turns on one occasion and not realised it. My score slowly improved too. First a shameful 2%... then 7%... then 12%.... a reason to keep playing.

Not that you'll need much reason to keep playing Crack City - you'll play it because you want to. The game is quite simply brilliant, and puts most home-grown adventures to shame. A few years ago it would have been snapped up by someone like Mastertronic or Firebird and sold thousands, no doubt about it. Never mind, it's available, that's all that matters, and discerning adventurers will be adding it to their collections without delay.