Alternate Reality - The Dungeon

Reviewed by John Sweeney


Issue 31

Jan/Feb 88

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Datasoft US Gold

48k Diskette
Price £19.99

About eighteen months ago I got a copy of a new game called Alternate Reality – The City. It looked very good at first, but in-depth playing of it highlighted many faults and shortcomings. Despite having excellent sound and graphics, and a good basic concept, it wasn't much of a game – just lots of mapping. The documentation did, however, hint at future scenarios and in my review of it back in Issue 21 of Page 6 I expressed high hopes for Alternate Reality if they actually developed it into a game. I have since learnt that The City was actually bought in by Datasoft and hurriedly finished off to meet a deadline –that explains a lot of things.

The Dungeon, on the other hand, was written by Datasoft and properly developed and tested – both as a program and as a game. The result is that they have removed every single shortcoming I found in the City and have produced a superb Role Playing Fantasy Game. It is without doubt the game I have enjoyed most so far this year.

The game starts with your abduction to another reality. You stand before an archway surmounted with ever-changing numbers. You step forward through the archway and the numbers freeze to determine your Stamina, Charm, Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom , Skill, Wealth and Hit Points, plus various other characteristics such as Speed about which you are not given full information.

You find yourself in a Dungeon corridor. The top of the screen has colourful bars displaying your Name, Level, Statistics, Experience Level, Hit Points and Current Location. There is also a small cross spinning to indicate the passage of time. Press P immediately to Pause or time will keep passing and eventually you will be attacked by something nasty! The bottom of the screen contains details of what is going on, all in very readable archaic-looking script. If you are in an encounter with someone it shows a list of your actions –Waylay, Snatch, Leave, Attack, Charge, Aim, Transact ( = Talk), Offer, Bluff, Trick, Hail, Switch Weapons, Turn and Run and so on. These are always presented in easy To use lists – just press the corresponding number to choose your action. Anything which a denizen of the dungeon says also appears down here –and some of them have quite a lot to say! As well as the numbered lists of actions, you also have available to you the commands C(ast spell), D(rop Item), E(xamine spells or items = Inventory), U(se an item), P(ause the game), G(et an item), S(ave the current game position), and Q(uit). These are always active where relevant and many of them display lists through which you may scroll F(orwards) or B(ackwards). You can also scroll back or forth through your status screens, using the SELECT and START keys, to view your wealth, current armour and weapons, your apparel, active spells, current curses and diseases.

All of this information appears instantaneously on request and overlays, without destroying it, the current screen contents – all this makes the user interfaces extremely easy to use so that you can concentrate on playing the game rather than trying to fight the programming!

In the centre of the screen is a graphics window which shows your view down the corridor. This is a three-dimensional view of the corridors, chambers, archways and doors ahead of you. As you move, using either the arrow keys on the keyboard, or the joystick, your view of the dungeon scrolls smoothly by. Your compass if you have one appears to the left of this and is updated instantaneously as you turn corners. The details of the stonework make the dungeon most realistic, and this is further enhanced by the clever use of colour to differentiate between various parts of the dungeon. Furthermore many parts of the dungeon, such as the Crystal Caverns and Acrinimiril's Tomb have completely different walls.

The 3-D scrolling was the main feature of the City, in the Dungeon it is far better – smoother, better looking in the distance and more varied.

As you head down the corridors of the dungeon you will undoubtedly encounter various of the inhabitants. It does take about 15 seconds to load an encounter (this is the only pause in the game, apart from a similar load as you enter a new area of the dungeon – all other responses are sub-second). You will then be presented by a picture of the character facing you in the corridor and a list of possible actions.

Your moral behaviour is important in The Dungeon. You will never get far unless you join some of the Guilds and learn their spells. But there are good-guy Guilds and bad-guy Guilds and they will only have you if you conform to their view of morality. Giving food to paupers, not stealing from people you meet, and going to chapel regularly are an absolute must if you want the Guild of Light to have you. On the other hand, if you do do those things there is no way that the Dark Wizard's Guild will touch you with a barge pole! The instructions say that being a good guy is harder in the short term, but brings benefits later. I only tried being a good guy so I don't know what kind of problems you may face later if you are evil, but I can assure you life is not easy for a low level good guy!

Friendly encounters may help you gain information or enhance your moral standing in the community. Unfriendly encounters usually end in a fight! The fights are fast and deadly. Although you can pause them if you need to think, or speed them up by pressing the space bar, you basically have four seconds to determine your next action before the other guy gets in his next blow or spell. There are a tremendous range of weapons to buy, acquire after fights, or find as treasures in The Dungeon. Choosing the right one to use against a particular enemy may mean the difference between life and death. You must also choose how vicious your attack is - a Charge can do lots of damage but leave you open to attack, an Aim may do even more damage but takes longer, or you may choose to use an artifact - there are dozens listed in the manual and lots more special ones which aren't. There is the Trump Card of Death, the Hypnotic Eye, the Wand of Fear (provided you have a Crystal to power it), the Silver Horn and so on. Or you can use a scroll to enhance your weapon, or, if you have joined a Guild, you can cast a spell. There are over thirty spells listed in the manual, and others which are not! You could try and enhance your armour with a Protect from Evil spell or throw a Lightning Bolt or a Cold Blast at the enemy - again learning which spells are effective against which enemies is critical to your survival! Especially when there is a group of them and they keep summoning their friends to help!

Whoever's Hit Points last longer survives and wins the battle, and to the Victor the Spoils. This is you main way of acquiring the countless artifacts and coins which you will need to survive the game. But the really good treasures come from exploring The Dungeon thoroughly. Hidden throughout The Dungeon are over thirty special artifacts, often guarded by particularly nasty creatures. Some of these items are required to complete Quests in order to finish the game, some enhance your abilities - but you will have to watch your statistics carefully to spot what some of them do, some are superb weapons or armour, some are deadly traps! There are also over thirty special locations where you get a full colour picture of the interior. These include places such as the shop you will find just around the corner from the start, equally useful but harder to find places such as the Dwarven Smithy and the Weapon Enchantress, and numerous places you will need to visit to either learn about or complete various Quests.

The Quests form an important part of the game. You don't need to complete all of them to finish the game, but they are all worth doing - although where they conflict you will need to decide on the right course of action! For instance the Goblin King wants you to retrieve half a dwarven ring which the Trolls have stolen from him. Surprise, surprise, the Troll King want you to retrieve half a dwarven ring which the Goblins have stolen from them! Whom should you trust? Or should you get both halves for yourself? But then what would you do with the halves?

`should only take a few score hours ...'

Your final objective (although it is not actually stated in the manual!) is to reach the Doorway to Revelation on the fourth level of The Dungeon. Revelation will be a future scenario of Alternate Reality.

This is not easy. Your first task will be survival. If the monsters don't get you then the diseases, poisons, curses, and deathtraps (like going through a one way wall into a room you can't get out of without a key) will! And don't bank on finding the Fountains which heal, cure diseases and remove fatigue, or the Potion Brewery to help you in the early stages of the game. All these are well hidden where low level characters have no chance of finding them! One place which is worth locating fairly early on is the Dwarven Smithy on the second level - one of the few places you can get money from! Your second task, once you have acquired enough experience points, by destroying the monsters, so that your statistics have increased to an adequate level, is to find enough Gold to join a Guild and learn some spells. Learn Conjure Key early on - there are lots of locked doors!

From there on you are on your own. The Dungeon is vast and full of interesting problems to tax your ability to map. There are teleport rooms, rotating floors, secret doors and all the usual paraphernalia of dungeons. You will find all sorts of wondrous areas to try and find your way out of - the Taurean Maze, the Loop, Pelinor's Puzzle, the Hall of Mirrors, the Puzzle of the Three Doors, Mordred's Maze, the Room of Confusion and the final and deadly Gauntlet. The Gauntlet is a series of rooms on the third level, each guarded by a powerful denizen, leading to Death's Door - the entrance to the fourth level where you finally solve some of the mysteries of Alternate Reality!

You are provided with a map showing a few of the rooms and corridors near the starting area plus the sewers around the first level (excellent for beating a hasty retreat to the safer areas of the dungeon - but beware, the map isn't entirely accurate!). You will need to map the whole Dungeon in detail to stand any chance of success - and because of the many confusing areas and traps you should always work in pencil on a photocopy! The first level covers 64 x 64 squares - each successive level is a quarter the size of the previous one.

Complete all the quests, join all the appropriate guilds, find all the magical artifacts, fight your way to the fourth level - that's all. Should only take a few score hours if you are good! For a final challenge you could try fighting the dragon on the third level (The Great Wyrm) - the easy way to complete the game is to fulfill the quest the dragon sets you, but he makes for a good fight - he has about 2,000 Hit Points!

You should be aware however that the initial version of the program has a number of bugs in it. If you have a copy that says V2.0 in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen while it is booting then you should immediately apply to your retailer for an upgrade. You must have V2.1 if you want to finish the game. V2.0 had two FBI agents that prevented you from bringing your character in from The City, plus a number of more devious bugs which make it impossible to continue play once you get deep into the game.

There are also a couple of areas in which I felt the game was slightly unfair. Firstly, the Gargoyle's first riddle still doesn't make sense to me so I include here the answer - if you get stuck just go three letters back in the alphabet to work out what it is: VKLSZUHFN.

The second problem is payment; currency in The Dungeon includes Copper, Silver, Gold, Crystal, Jewels, etc. For some strange reason certain inhabitants insist on being paid in a particular currency even though most can be exchanged, e.g. one silver equals ten copper. Some of the denizens are also fairly secretive about what they actually want. You may save yourself a lot of time if you are aware that no-one ever minds being paid too much, as long as it is in the correct currency.

The third problem is the Devourer. This rather nasty beast, can surprise you, suck in your most valuable artifact -without which you cannot finish the game - and when defeated ooze into a mess on the floor with no trace of your artifact. For this reason if no other you should SAVE frequently. Even worse you will eventually find yourself beset by Devourer after Devourer – hordes of them. There IS a way to get rid of them. And you can do it without moving from where you are – think about it – that's all the help I am giving you!

Finally, the River Stonz. The manual tells you you can cross only at midnight. It would have been much friendlier of them to say 'the midnight hour' – any time where the hours figure is zero.

The only complaint I have about the game is the lack of a proper SAVE routine. The City provided none (yes, you could SAVE, but that ended the game and if you died on your next attempt you couldn't restore again). Datasoft have provided a much better SAVE for The Dungeon, you can SAVE and carry on playing in under a minute, and if you die you are really only LOST and can come back to life. However they obviously don't really like providing this facility so they penalise you by taking a point off one of your statistics and putting you back at the entrance! Since they provide you with a backup utility and recommend you use it they clearly see the need for a proper SAVE. Why then do they not allow it within the game? The game is so deadly you DO need one – so here is how you do it....

Use S(ave) regularly. If you die, switch off and boot up your favorite disk sector editor (I'm sure Page 6 has one in it's library somewhere!). Find the second sector on your Dungeon Character Disk. You should see the names of your (up to) four characters in the sector. The 9th and 13th bytes refer to the first character, the 10th and 14th to the second and so on. The 9th byte will contain FF if the first character is OK, 7F means LOST, or 00 if there is no first character. Just set 7F back to FF and the corresponding byte (13th for the first character) to FF as well. That's all. You can now re-boot The Dungeon and you will find yourself back at your last SAVE position.

As an aside, if you look at the third sector you may spot all of the first character's statistics laid out neatly in hex. You may be tempted to increase them. Shame on you! But don't try it. There are lots of clever check-digit routines built into your character. If you change anything it will notice and refuse to use that character ever again. The only safe bytes to change are between the 9th and the 16th in the second sector – you have been warned!

Alternate Reality – The Dungeon can be played either from scratch, or by transferring an existing character from The City. To provide a challenge for those who bring in a strong City character Datasoft have had to make the Dungeon quite hard. You may find therefore, if you start with The Dungeon, that your first few characters die fairly quickly! Don't despair – be a little nasty, rob a few banks! Your first objective as a player is to learn how the dungeon works and where the magical artifacts are hidden. The game is very well designed in that respect. Once you have mastered enough of it you can start a new character and provide him/her very quickly with some superb weapons and armour at no cost whatsoever. In fact, because of the different increments to your statistics, I suspect you can build a far better character starting from scratch than by transferring from the City.

This is without doubt one of the best games this year and if they keep getting better at this rate then the next Scenario of Alternate Reality is going to be astounding!

So, if you enjoyed The City you'll love The Dungeon. And if you didn't you should have a look at this anyway – it really is excellent.