Marlin Games continues to ring the changes with its releases, and this time it's a massive 128K text-only tape-based game, giving you a mystery to solve in a real-time framework with lots of character interaction too. And it's every bit as good as previous games from author Linda Wright, like The Jade Stone and Cloud 99.
The Beast is a fictionalised version of the story of The Beast Of Exmoor the wild cat that is said to be loose on Exmoor but which hasn't yet been caught or identified for certain. At least I think that's the case - local readers can correct me if I'm wrong. In The Beast you're a reporter on a local paper, and one morning your mail's brightened up by a letter from a Miss Myrtle in Myrtle Cottage, Puddlecombe, which tells you about sightings of a large black animal on Torrack Moor outside the village, where a sheep has been killed. The vet says it's not the work of a fox or a dog...
Just the thing for a good front page story and your editor, C. D. Slime, thinks so too. Go about it the right way and he may even dig deep into his pockets for some expenses. Well, deep for an editor as he hands you a fiver - just about enough for the bus fare to Puddlecombe. Inspect your office thoroughly first, though, and keep an eye on the clock at the top of the screen. The command TAKE ALL FROM DRAWER worked, and provided me with a timetable which showed that the only bus to Puddlecombe left at 9.48 - and it was already 9.33. Yikes!
Graphics in the game are limited to some of the objects that you EXAMINE (X for short), such as the letter the timetable, a jumble sale notice and a few other things. Reasonably done, but I think Linda Wright would admit that she's no Picasso. She's a dab-hand with PAW, however, as you discover when you get to the village. The time element is very well handled. The church bell rings on the hour and half-hour, which serves as a useful reminder to you because certain places are only open at certain times. If you're outside the pub at 11 o'clock you'll hear the clock strike, see the landlord open the doors and watch the first customer of the day walk in, but bear in mind that The Puddle Arms hasn't yet taken advantage of the new all-day opening hours!
Down the road the mobile library has arrived but only for a couple of hours, so here's one problem you have to solve before it goes away again. Most other places kindly display their opening hours, but even when the vet's open you can't get past his receptionist unless you've got a sick animal - and can you find a sick animal when you want one?!
There's plenty of chatting with other characters (and plenty of them to chat with), and this works more effectively than in some adventures. At least you usually get some kind of response, and you soon learn the subjects you can talk about. This provides you with several clues along the way, but I'd make very frequent use of the SAVE command (not just RAMSAVE) as you'll often find that the place you want to visit has just shut for the day!
The Beast is a very 'user-friendly' adventure too, which you can afford to be if you've got 128K to play with. If you find something useful you'll frequently pick it up automatically, doors will open if you've got the right key, and there are handy containers of various sizes: your wallet, your pocket and a rucksack. I'd advise finding the rucksack ASAP as one time I bumped into the vicar who asked me to do him a favour and handed me a key, but my hands were full, the vicar disappeared, and so did the key! I did manage to track him down again later, though.
There's definitely a lot of pleasure to be had out of this game. Beginners should find themselves slowly piecing together the clues, and working out the right order for solving the problems, while old hands will admire many of the features as well as the depth of the game. In other words a thoroughly good adventure with something for everyone - that the beauty of The Beast!