Defender Of The Crown

Reviewed by John Sweeney


Issue 32

Mar/Apr 88

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Is Mindscape's 'Interactive fiction' as good as they claim? John Sweeney checks it out

Defender of the Crown is billed as a "Cinemaware Interactive Movie". The box claims it is a "unique blend of role playing and strategy combined with dazzling arcade-style sequences". First impressions are certainly excellent. Without any doubt the graphics are superb, and as the game progresses and new pictures are displayed one is always suitably impressed by them. There is also lots of stirring music which is of a very high standard.

The main screen of the game is a map of England in 1149. This is divided into 19 territories which can provide you with income for your treasury and vassals for your army. You and two other Saxon Lords hold three of the northern territories. Three Normans hold three of the Southern territories. On each turn you may choose from a number of options, such as spending money on soldiers, knights, siege catapults or castles for newly conquered territories; holding a joust; raiding an enemy castle or attacking an adjacent territory. Further sub menus provide you with such options as examining the various territories and lords or moving men between garrisons and armies. All this is achieved with the mouse, as indeed is everything in the game (the box refers to a joystick option but it doesn't appear to exist!). The computer resolves your moves and takes the turns for the other five Lords as you try and defeat the Norman invaders and make England safe again under your rule.

You and the other Lords each have three characteristics measured: Leadership, Swordsmanship, and Jousting Ability. These affect your chances in most stages of the game, and are in turn affected by how well you do, for example, Leadership goes down if you lose a joust, but if it is high can have a significant affect on the outcome of a battle.

As described so far the game is a fairly simplified strategic war game with the computer playing the part of games master and rolling lots of 'dice' behind the scenes, however, certain actions by either you or one of the computer players result in 'arcade style sequences'. There are four of these Jousting, Raiding, Catapult Sieges, and Battles.

When Jousting, you must aim at your opponent's shield as he gallops towards you and press the button exactly when you hear a clang. Raiding requires you to win two sword fights during which you can move your character left or right and thrust or parry. With Catapult Seiges your main objective is to knock down as much of the wall as possible in 7 attempts to fire you just press the button when you think the catapult is wound down far enough. Finally, in the Battles you select options such as Defensive Hold or Outflank Enemy while soldiers stand and wave swords at each other in the middle of the screen.

Apart from various random events causing a few other pictures and messages to appear, and your ability to ask Robin Hood for help three times that's about it. Unfortunately, most of the arcade sections are, in my opinion, somewhat lacking. The only one which comes close to being an arcade game is the Raiding, but the options are too limited to make it worthwhile. Indeed, the only strategy which I or my sons had any success with at all was to hit the Thrust button as fast as possible.

Also, once you have seen the fairly limited range of pictures that make up the game, you very quickly get extremely bored with the loading time waiting eight seconds to view a picture you have already seen and which is completely superfluous to the game is not my idea of "heart pounding action"!

The Jousting is extremely difficult (I still haven't got anywhere near mastering it), and the built in delays make it, as far as I am concerned, unplayable you get about two seconds to aim and hit, then well over thirty seconds waiting for the next attempt while it shows you two pictures you have seen before and then has to reload the jousting scene. Even worse, if you fail you are out of that joust and have to wait for a few turns before you can call another, or if you accidentally hit the opponent's horse you are banned from jousts forever and have to restart the game if you want to practice jousts. I took the advice given in the instructions and tried to spend a game practicing jousts on average I got two seconds practice every two minutes! What a waste of time!

Why, oh, why did they not provide either an option to turn off the pictures you have already seen or to practise jousts without interruption or preferably both? The game is also lacking in any form of Pause or Save, or even the ability to turn the music off (no matter how good it is I don't want to hear it yet again and I can't turn the volume down or I won't be able to hear the clang in the jousting!).

The ability to suppress the numerous pictures which it insists on loading just to accompany a two line message or a sound effect MIGHT have made the game playable, but even then I don't believe it is actually a very good game. The 'blend' of different types of game just doesn't work well. None of the components is fully satisfying in its own right but together they tend to detract from each other rather than help each other. Too much of your success in the strategical game depends on your success in the various 'arcade' bits or is affected by random events. As such it doesn't make a very good strategy game, the 'arcade' parts are too limited, and the 'role-playing' element is practically non-existent.

By all means marvel at the graphics if you get the chance, but unless you don't mind it being a little shallow, and you have lots of patience, you might want to look elsewhere for your "heart pounding action" and "heroic battles"!

Defender of the Crown is published by Mindscape and distributed by Mirrorsoft at 29.95