Datasoft US Gold
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
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
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
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
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
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
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