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39 Steps
1986
Adventure: Graphic
£8.95
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
SpeedLock 2

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59
John Gilbert
Chris Bourne

Ever wondered how they'd turn a caper movie into a game? They Stole a Million from Ariolasoft is how.

They Stole a Million, on the face of it, is a highly original strategy game in two parts: Part 1 is all about planning. Part 2 is the perps (perpetrators) in action against your clock.

So far so good. The snag is, despite its obvious originality, the game lacks pace. In fact it's a bit boring. Selecting icons from the menu and setting the timings for each move of each of your team is difficult, sure. But after a while it's also tediously repetitive.

And Part 2 isn't really any more satisfactory. It cried out for really good graphics and fast action as the heist is carried out, but it has none of these things. I fear They Stole a Million will have all but the most committed strategy game player yawning after only a few heists.

You're a small scale thief, despite your ambitions to be a big Boss, so you should pick your target carefully. There are banks to rob and jewellery stores to smash but, when you're a beginner, go for easy pickings such as the coin shop. Each target also has a different security system. For instance, the coin shop has a sturdy lock on the front door - you'll need the locksmith - whole inside the safe and three display cases are wired. So, you'll need at least a three - strong team.

There's quite a choice of petty crooks on offer for your team. There are safe breakers, people who have turned their legit electrical training to more lucrative ends, and wheelmen who are hooked in the fast lane. OK. To make your plan work you'll need a balanced team made up of three or four villains.

Once you've picked your target and team, now's the chance to develop your time plan. Load in the second part of the program and the exterior of the target premises is shown. It's a simple map just a few lines describing buildings and pavement and a number one, set in a square in the road. That's your first team member Using the system's icons, at the bottom of the screen, move Number 1 through his paces. Then do the same for No 2, No 3 and so on. The general plan of action is the same for most of the robberys: get into the premises without tripping alarms, smash the cases, bust into the safe, grab the loot and scarper. Every action is timed and the computer calculates the amount of time your plan would take. You can't slow down this digital clock but you can add seconds to it so your team pauses, thinks, and doesn't make any mistakes in a rush. The clock timing makes your plan more difficult because each team member must perform their tasks without getting in each other's ways. Take a note of when Detonator D'Arcy does his stuff or Skeleton Joe could get written off if he's in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yet, a little more attention to on-screen detail and some tightening of the gameplay and They Stole a Million could have switched from interesting-but-unsatisfying to brilliant. A big pity.

Label: Ariolasoft
Price: £8.95
Memory: 48K/128K
Reviewer: John Gilbert

****

Highly original idea spoilt. Monotony at the planning stage turns into tedium at the denouement. A pity.

4/5