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Red Shift Ltd
Adventure: RPG
ZX Spectrum 48K

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Derek Brewster
Chris Bourne

City of Death is an adventure game which takes place in an old city inhabited by some very unusual people. Strangers are avoided by the populace, and hunted down, jailed or killed by mercenary guards of the city. Far more dangerous still are the soul-looters, who in their bright red garb roam the streets, terrorising the inhabitants.

You start the game on the jetty of a harbour where your ship has docked. All you know about the city has been gleaned from whispered rumours. Your objective is to find the wizard Bellatrix. You will need whatever money you can get hold of, as information does not come cheap. Entering houses, you can steal, request news from the inhabitants, fight, surrender, or buy weapons, food and spells.

Many of the guards that you meet will have superior combat skills to yourself and you will therefore need to continually improve your combat skills when ever possible. This can be achieved by purchasing superior weapons from the armoury or magical abilities at the wizard's villa. Stamina can be increased by the purchase of food at one of the taverns in the city. The purchase of magical abilities also buys an increase of stamina.

Play entails using a strange combination of keys to move around; north is A, south is Z, west is X and east C. On your way around the paths that criss-cross the city your main preoccupations are the contents of the houses and taverns you pass. When confronted by a guard you will be asked if you wish to surrender. Should you be running short of stamina points, or if you feel that you are unlikely to win, it may be wise to surrender. When you enter into combat, attack options are displayed in order of difficulty of hitting that location (head, chest, body, legs, arms) and the damage inflicted by a successful hit. So a head blow is more tricky but scores greater damage if successful. However, you can choose to aim blind which gives you a better chance of a hit, but the computer randomly selects the location of inflicted damage. The severity of a wound inflicted on you is displayed in 'damage points'.

When entering a house you are given the option of either searching the house with a view to stealing anything of value, or asking the inhabitants the direction of Bellatrix's house. However, in the city where greed plays an overwhelming part, you will find that you need to bribe them for an answer. False clues can be given, but a false clue will never be given twice, whilst genuine clues can appear again and again. Displayed in the top right-hand corner is your current status. This shows your current skill level, stamina, wealth, and how many moves you have made so far.

Clearly, City of Death is a D&D style game where the idea is to build up your stamina and skills to enable you to defeat ever more powerful foes in order to complete the quest. The success of such a game relies on the accurate interpretations of actions so that their outcome can be realistically expressed in terms of numbers. So, when you glance up to the top right the increments and decrements in stamina and skills should fall in line with what you would expect from the action taking place. In this game there are one or two inconsistencies that are left unexplained. Buying four units of food for five coins gains forty units of stamina while on another occasion one unit for twenty coins gave only twenty-five increments in stamina. Further, I think it strange that continually eating results in an increase in stamina without a reasonable limit to its growth.

Once you have visited a house, a return trip gives 'you have been here before' which although unhelpful in itself does allow you to get your bearings. It might have been a sneaky plus for the game had it allowed you to return to a location where you had paid for information but this time kill the occupant and regain your money. If you choose the option 'ask stranger' at a house, and there is no-one inside, you are not allowed to search and steal. Why not is not abundantly clear apart from the saving in program complexity. Combat, once again, continues to the death with no option for surrender or run while you have no idea of the strength of your opponent until combat begins. Another example of where the program leaves you in the cold is when paying money for arms, your skill factor increases, but you are not told of the type of arms you have succeeded in purchasing. In other words, it's all numbers and no realism. Asking for information from the natives you soon discover the limitations here since to choose information valued at five coins always gives 'a skeleton rules in the city'. In all fairness the game has got some charm in places. Three options are offered on loading, easy, moderate and difficult while during each game the guards move from a snail's pace posing very little threat to a remarkable agility towards the end.

City of Death is a neat, well-presented D&D style game with colourful graphics and a curious choice of movement keys. The jerky graphics and slow response are perhaps an indication of the game's posturing toward strategy rather than arcade but as a strategy game it has many inconsistencies and omissions. The game is not such a bad attempt at bringing D&D to the computer screen, it just has too many occasions where you're left thinking 'if only it had....'


Difficulty: easy at start but gets harder
Graphics: reasonable
Presentation: would be better if only listed options available at any one given time
Response: sluggish when moving large distances
General Rating: Missed opportunities but a good effort.