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Red Shift Ltd
Bill Potts
1985
Adventure: Graphic
£12.95
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
None

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102,103
Derek Brewster
Chris Bourne

How far should a reviewer let the reader progress through a review before unleashing the line that says it all; it is one of those unfathomable questions. I could begin by saying how interested I was in the game having seen the rather curious television programme that drones on in the background while you busy yourself making a large pot of tea, and as slowly as possible. Sitting drinking the tea you began to realise Tripods are harmless, it is the television that does all the fate-capping.

Well, here is that line I was on' about. The Tripods computer program is harmless and in the worst possible sense - it won't have you engrossed while you should be snoozing with a steaming cocoa in front of Sergeant Bilko hand The Weatherman (in case you don't watch TV, and haven't yet been capped, these are two separate programmes!)

It s not the packaging that is amiss, very sleek in fact, or the instructions, the stylish booklet is eminently readable, or the competition which beckons with £500 worth of software or hardware of your choice. No, you've guessed it, it is what is on that piece of brown tape revolving within that block of plastic that fits snugly into your cassette recorder which is what leaves you as sunk as a two-legged Tripod. Never mind, do read on, if only to find out what dubious projects the BBC will endorse these days.

You can choose any name you can think of for your character who, after crossing over from England having been recruited by Ozymandias, starts from one of the French ports (Dieppe, Le Havre etc.) to get to the White Mountains in SE France to help the free men defeat The Tripods. Having noted the TV series only for its remarkable plagiarism of War of the Worlds, its long silent passages interspersed by futuristic (Dr Who) music and laboured dialogue fit for a tortoise's coming-of-age party I couldn't tell you whether this is true to the television programme, but, come to think of it, there was a French geezer.

The booklet goes on to warn of the dangers posed by the terrain, weather and The Tripods. This sounds about as exciting as a trip to see Hartlepool's United v Reelection Town or a Bosworth High Parents' Evening but the sad point is the game is even more boring than it sounds. Take your battle with the terrain which transpires to be no more than the computer coming up with 'You cannot move there'. Far from having the eight compass directions from which to choose you often find yourself guided towards a choice between two directions, and sometimes tunnelled into just the one! If this represents an invasion of France then here we have a game that steps off the ferry at Dieppe only to sink in the marshes around Cherbourg.

On the journey across France you will need to eat well and to collect only those items really needed as too much weight will slow you down and you might never reach the mountains. When you begin a new game you can enter the names of up to four players. The structure proves highly elastic and allows the deletion of any players who do not wish to continue, suspension of any who can't play just at the moment or the addition of any to make up the four on restarting an old game. In areas like these - offering a team game and a sophisticated array of options - this program shows some of its class.

Apart from the black guards, who will arrest, beat and possibly report you if caught, your main adversaries are those huge metallic beasts resembling 50's decor breakfast stools. Every time a Tripod sees you, your immunity to being capped may decrease and should it fall to zero you may well be capped, thereby losing all. (Incidentally, 'capped' is something dreadful and refers to the feeling you get when you are the only one wearing his cap on the first day at the local, posh, public school). If you want to move on and there is a Tripod nearby you will always be noticed, and possibly capped, unless you first press T allowing you the options of either hiding, or disorientating The Tripod by jamming its communications with a radio or dazzling it with a strategically placed mirror.

If the screen layout resembles Lords of Midnight (or rather, Doomdark's Revenge, as the shading for the sky is very similar) then that can hardly be a bad thing given that game's universal appeal. The Tripods has a very pleasing appearance, the sort that lends itself well to colourful screen shots in glossy magazines with trees in full blossom, fields, marshes and farms, windmills and ruins, castles and small towns. When the day clock at the bottom of the screen runs out you will be forced to camp until the next day. our food then goes down while you eat and your health improves with the rest. At the end of the week the items you are carrying will be examined and the worn out or broken ones thrown away. Also, all four players receive an update. The next players then get a turn where even if they follow the same route may meet different people or experience greater success than yourself.

This is the paragraph that has our Tripod hopping on one leg. This game is so slow you become aware of grass growing and the vastness of geological time. It thus joins the burgeoning populace of the home for geriatric games and its founding member, The Wrath of Magra. After five minutes you become lethargic and disinterested as if sitting in one of those interminable college lectures where everyone falls asleep to the metronomic chantings of the ranting crony at the front. This simile is most apt as it is the feeling of non-involvement which strikes you about the game. Movement is often restricted, choices in any one frame are between picking up an item or not, or talking to a stranger or not and the results of your actions are similarly hit or miss. Arbitrariness and a deep detachment win the day, so much so that even a dedicated reviewer cannot muster the patience to check whether this game really expects three people to sit and wait all that time while one person completes his moves.

The Tripods is a real-time game but this feature is rendered almost useless since it is painfully slow due to much of its action relying on BASIC. Its complexity does not warrant the label 'strategy' and there is little left to do but choose between move, eat, pick or examine pack when the program eventually delivers a prompt for you to do something. The Tripods is somewhat similar to the strategy classic Lords of Midnight but does not offer as much flexibility in movement, as deep a perspective a landscape or reasons to choose one direction over another. To the extent Doomdark's Revenge expanded upon a tried and tested theme, The Tripods does not develop the television series to its full potential and pales in comparison.

CRITICISM

COMMENTS
Difficulty: Easy to play but will probably take a while to complete.
Graphics: Quite good 3D perspective as in Lords of Midnight
Presentation: With text on both top and bottom of graphics, rather messy
Response: Very slow, has you continually prodding keyboard for a response
General Rating: Although it takes many ideas from L of M it is a bore. Overpriced.

6/10
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