RETURN ONCE MORE TO EDEN IN THE FINAL PART OF LEVEL 9'S SILICON DREAM TRILOGY
I DOUBT whether the family Bible would normally be considered an aid to adventuring but after playing through the opening sequence of The Worm in Paradise. I found myself scanning my dusty shelves to trace an ancient and tattered copy of the Authorised Version... There it was - Genesis, chapter three - where the crafty serpent whispers into Eve's ear, urging her to taste the forbidden fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden - "Your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil".
Of course, she eats the apple and the original Eden becomes a place of toil and misery , but the action brings free choice into the world and the power of understanding to men and women. Something similar will happen to you when, as an inhabitant of a second Eden, you dream Reveline's dream.
Wandering the fragrant lawns you are bound to find the tree and stand on the bench to take the fruit. You'll eat it too and then see the worm fall from the core, growing, moving and destroying as it goes, shattering the ivied walls of the garden and showing you the harsh and bitter world beyond.
Change and decay have entered the perfect paradise... and you now know that something is wrong, not quite the way you always thought it was.
This paradise of course is Level 9's Eden, a planet of Epsilon Eridani and the destination of the ship Snowball. It was over a hundred years ago when the settlers and Kim Kimberley arrived there. The robots had already built domed cities and the humans moved in, avoiding contact with the strange, dangerous, animal and plant life of their new world.
It is now the reign of the third Kim and the domed cities are ruled by a 'benevolent bureaucracy', an elite which monitors the intentions and actions of the citizens through the plastic collars that all wear. For their own good and safety of course... but who are they, and whose safety is being protected? Eat the apple and begin to think long and hard.
The dream of the tree and the garden is quickly over and you wake to find yourself in the pleasure dome of Enoch, smallest of the cities. To the unquestioning it may seem like a Utopia, a brave new world. There is peace, no crime - the fuzbots see to that - full employment and all the entertainment you can take - provided you can pay. Check the tattoo on your wrist to find out city time or your credit rating.
Almost everything is going to cost you but don't worry too much... If you go broke or get into debt you can always sell one of your body organs to the Enoch Health Service. This highly profitable organisation will offer you a reward if you report a disease spreader or a health risk, just like the police who will pay well for hard information on malcontents or dissidents.
Let's take a stroll in the city. Dropping your dream visor you move from Reveline's palace into the central corridor of the pleasure area. Happy, healthy citizens jog past, thronging the casino and the shops. There's a museum where you can marvel at the inflatable statue of the first Kim, a clean habihall to relax in, a kiosk to buy your imitation pizza. There's also a splendid temple - but you are barred from here, only the invited elite is welcome.
If you enter the pet shop and buy a lovable little dagget you'll quickly learn one of the tougher facts of life in Enoch. Failure to consume quickly or an unhealthy urge to hold onto possessions too long is illegal. Those friendly buzzing droids who look after the smiling joggers are fuzbots - police surveillance robots who will fine you on the spot for possessing illegal objects - and just about everything is illegal.
Oh yes, the dagget... It's a doglike droid and very expensive, in fact so expensive that you'll run into deep debt and be dragged off to the hospital by the fuzbots. There you'll find to your horror that your remaining body organs won't cover your debt. Even tougher, O citizen, this means recycling, which some might call death, but is simply a manifestation of market forces, a fact of economics. It doesn't hurt so there's no need to be scared.
The central area of the city is filled with dream parks, theme parks and places for fantasy and escape. Look a little closer as you travel the expressways and pedways of the dome... is all that there just to keep you quiet? Why do armed citizens patrol the streets? Why do the police arrest earnest socialists outside the memorial to the Third World War? Why do the papers you buy all attack the government? Something is happening but you don't know what it is. Yet.
In the early stages of the adventure you will probably concentrate more on trying to find your way around the city than on politics. As your chrono-tattoo buzzes the time for curfew you may begin to wonder where you live amongst the other few million dwellers and suspect that there are other sectors to find, even tunnels beneath the city. Rumour has it that there are huge intelligent moles roaming those places and you've heard warnings of aliens and flying saucers...
Ah yes, Enoch in Eden is a fine place to be so long as you don't get the itch to pry or complain . The Level 9 team has packed the considerable amount they know about adventure programming into The Worm in Paradise - and that's quite a lot.
First off you get the choice of either a vast text-only game, with acres of leisurely description, or a snappy graphics version with pared-down detail which is essentially the same game. I like having the option of two versions to play, as the mood takes me, and it seems better than just being able to switch off the pictures. After games which use the pictures on/pictures off system still can't provide more memory when the graphics aren't used and you still play exactly the same game.
If you do play the graphic game you'll be pleased to discover that Level 9 has introduced a multi-tasking system. You do not have to wait for pictures to be drawn and you can carry on typing your commands without any break. If you move quickly through a series of locations, you won't be held up by the graphics. You feel much more in control, especially as this system also uses the type-ahead function - there's no need to wait for a cursor to appear. That really makes the game flow and allows you to soak up the atmosphere without constantly being interrupted by the computer churning through its mechanical routines.
With easy input like this you're likely to be putting in a lot of questions and commands. If you prefer you can stick to verb/noun combinations but fairly full English sentences are possible too, allowing you to string things together with 'then' or 'and'. Punctuation is also understood.
When you ask the questions you'll get straight, detailed replies. If something isn't necessary to the game you'll be told. Examine a door in the garden and you'll be told "Door: that's just scenery," or "Fountain: ignore it." You waste no time on unproductive interrogations and can get into responses like this: "Strange tattoo: looking closer, you see it's really a one piece colour LCD implanted in the back of your wrist. Its moving display shows that the time is 6.87 and that you have 87 credits left."
Full information like that engages you quickly in your role as explorer of this flawed Utopia and creates immediate interest in the way things work in Eden and why. For exploration is what the game is all about, in one sense - by discovering how to travel, how to stay out of debt, where you live and all the other little things, you will begin to understand Eden and maybe then do something about the things you see going on. Remember knowledge is power.
I haven't yet worked out quite what political stance Level 9 is taking in the game. So far it seems to be about the tyranny of centralised powers and the reduction of people to mere ciphers. It's also a warning that while we dream and play, other forces work to make us unfree. That is heady stuff but it's done well with a wry and dry humour and a massive vocabulary. Even though I don't really yet know who I am or what I believe, I'm very sure that I want to continue until I find out.
If you don't want to think about parables or hidden messages don't worry - Worm is one of the best sci-fi adventures around with 200 plus locations, whopping atmosphere and an excellent storyline.
The machinery alone will intrigue you. How do you use this transport system: "You are on a walkway around the Eden Transport System, a klom wide force grid which looks like an enormous dart target. Exits lead north-ish to the 12 ET rings. An exit leads south. The floor is colour coded..."
This is the finest of Level 9's masterly adventures. It has an intricate, exciting, intelligent plot based in an equally intricate society run by baffling futuristic machines. You become completely absorbed because of the combination of a fluid and fluent interpreter, fine detail and an open format which offers you many options for action. It's a blend of Orwell's 1984, Logan's Run and that distinctive Level 9 quirkiness. Definitely refreshes the paradises other worms cannot reach. Get it.
Publisher: Level 9
Programmers: Mike, Nick and Pete Austin