I'm reviewing this game much as a music paper reviews a single. You see, this adventure has a flip side called The Ashes of Alucard. As is often thought the case with singles, the first side of this tape is by far the more commercial as it sports graphics which are simple but effective. The B Side is a very simple text adventure. Both adventures are unusual in allowing the explorer to wander freely throughout their respective lands. Solving problems is something attempted only when almost the whole adventure is mapped out. This release represents the first in the Merlock the Mede Pilgrimage with a cassette carrying two different adventures appearing each month from now until Christmas. In their press release Terminal suggest side two of these tapes, the text-only side, will appeal to wallys and hardnuts alike. I couldn't help feeling a wally when I played side two of the tape.
So, if the games aren't up to much, what can Terminal do to arouse your interest. How about a competition? The series is linked by a competition. Each completed challenge yields part of the solution. With eight solutions and proof of purchase every adventurer can win a Terminal digital watch. I'll have to give it to Terminal, this is not a bad marketing exercise. My only complaint is that, as an adventure games reviewer, it may well have been better to send not the computer tape, but the digital watch! Right, enough of this banter, and down to the sort of stuff I copy off the cassette inlay, partly due to review burn out (chiefly caused by reviewing so much drivel) and partly due to my struggles to understand a single thing that passages like the following are on about.
During Merlock's early childhood he was initiated into the ancient rites of the Medes. After many years of Medean mental development he became Keeper of the Medean Time Sceptre. As the Keeper of the Sceptre he must complete eight challenges successfully. Merlock will then possess the power to unlock the gates of the Forbidden Temple.
Actually, reading through that stuff as I wrote it out, it seemed to make just that bit more sense than is usually the case. A little more ambiguous is the intro to Side A. A small tavern, excellent game broth and potent ale. A young man with a personal problem needs help. The young man's personal problem is not the age old one (not washing behind his ears) but a far more worldly one how to get his hands on his uncle's estate. He meets you, Merlock the Mede, in the tavern where he plys you with ale and tells you of how, although his Uncle Hamish has snuffed it after living out his days as a recluse in Glengarry Hall, the young man's attempts to find the deeds of his inheritance have come to nought. They must lie somewhere amongst the yards of corridors and acres of servant's quarters in the hall. As you play the part of Merlock you obligingly agree to help the man find his deeds and bonds in the hall. Presumably, in exchange, the young man will give you a digital watch.
Playing Deeds of Glengarry Hall, the more commercial of the two programs, you just can't help but get the feeling you are stepping back to a time when Spectrum adventures were in BASIC and response times were a subject of discussion. This adventure plods along slowly but is ridiculously slow when you're picking up objects or trying something the program has to think about. No beep accompanies your input and inputting a reasonable amount at the one location causes the picture across the top of the screen to scroll up and off. As has been pointed out in this column many times before such scrolling leads to the inevitable LOOK (to bring picture and location description up onto the screen once more) being used time and time again (REDESCRIBE is the equivalent in Quilled games).
If you are in need of a fruitless exercise try EXAMining everything in this adventure and count how many 'I see nothing special' reports you can count. EXAMINE is not error checked so EXAMINE XXX brings the same response as everything else. A more sophisticated program would tell you that you cannot see an XXX. In general, the vocabulary is unfriendly and the program unhelpful.
It isn't just the program construction which is reminiscent of programs written over a year ago; the layout, presentation and feel of the game are dated. Everything is just a bit too simple and straightforward. Having said that of course, if you are new to adventuring you may well enjoy the game's accessibility.
The Ashes of Alucard on Side B is hardly an improvement on Side A. Whereas Deeds could be described as dated, this side surely must rate as positively backward. The removal of graphics has not made room for a more comprehensive text, quite the opposite, with very terse location statements. The fast response time raised my suspicions about this being a Quilled game and so indeed it is, as quitting for good puts up the perfunctory 'Bye. Have a nice day'. Perhaps first impressions are a little misleading with this one as once you get into it the game can be surprisingly resilient to boredom. There are a great assortment of nasties to deal with including a zombie, vampire, wolf man and many rats. Fighting these adversaries involves a quick combat sequence flashing up onto the screen. Whenever I played taking on a rat resulted in a kill (which puts one onto your score) or the rat running away.
Many objects to aid you are scattered about the adventure. These are heavy-handedly pointed out in true Quilled style by residing in a position beneath the location description. When picked up and displayed in your inventory the objects are colourfully depicted along with a small token graphic. Along with the frequent sound effects and good overall presentation one thing you can say is this game at least uses the Quill to good effect.
The first part of the Merlock the Mede Pilgrimage consists of two games: The Deeds of Glengarry Hall and The Ashes of Alucard. The first is a graphic adventure which is pretty run-of-the-mill and the second is a Quilled game with some nice touches but very terse location descriptions. Although neither game is anything special they may be worth playing in order to win a digital watch.
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