Producer: Arrow Publications
Retail Price: £7.95
Author: Joe Dever and Gary Chalk
Fire on the Water consists of a self-contained cassette (which can be bought separately through mail order) with a very instructive concertina inlay and a full roleplaying book of the same name, Book Two in the 'Lone Wolf' series (Flight from the Dark was number one, while the third will be The Caverns of Kalte). With numbered paragraphs throughout, these books create something akin to a computer adventure where the options open to you at each turn lead to different paragraphs. Action Charts, a Combat Result Table and a random number page form the machinery which drives the story along. Within the inside cover of the book lies a map of the Lastlands depicting some of the places mentioned in the inlay: the Kai Monastery, Holmgard and Durenor. Sparrow Books, the publishers, tell us something of the author and the illustrator. Joe Dever became a full-time musician and while on a business trip to Los Angeles discovered D&D, becoming so engrossed he went on to win the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Championship in America in 1982. Gary Chalk began playing war games some years ago when only fifteen and has now turned his BA in design to good design to good effect in Cry Havoc, Starship Captain and Battlecars (co-designed with Ian Livingstone).
This is how we are introduced to Book Two. The Darklords invaded Sommerlund and destroyed the Kai Monastery but you, Lone Wolf, survive the attack and travel to your King enthroned in the capital, Holmgard. Only one power can now save your people - the Sommersword, sword of the sun, bestowed upon the allies of Durenor to the east as a mark of allegiance that exists between the two kingdoms. In return the King of Durenor gave Sommerlund the golden ring known as the Seal of Hammerdal. If ever the shadow of the west should rise again, Durenor would come to the aid of Sommerlund.
On loading you see a castle courtyard with fine detail of battlements, turrets, doors and ropes. The redesigned character set is in keeping with the flavour of the adventure. The text scrolls slowly upward through the bottom half of the screen after which a characters enters stage left, making a distinctive clip clop' sound - a noise which become familiar as it accompanies all movements by characters throughout the game. (The analogy with a stage is apt, since the backgrounds are indeed backcloths with only one, two or perhaps three characters moving along the front of the stage). Lone Wolf, who appears a distinguished chap with a cloak, is offered a choice of weapons between spear, sword or hammer but when you make your choice you should note that it is difficult to swipe with a spear or thrust with a hammer. NB: if you choose to fight with your hands, it is inadvisable to parry!
The significance of the terms SWIPE, THRUST and PARRY lie in their use a keywords on the keyboard overlay supplied with the game. Another keyword, CYCLE OPTIONS, scrolls the options open to you at any one stage, one by one, so you can press CHOOSE OPTION when the most attractive one appears. At this point I chose a sword to help Lone Wolf whereupon a sword appeared on the screen in his hands. Keeping CHOOSE OPTION depressed also cycles the spear and hammer through his hands if you are curious as to how they look. Pressing OBJECTS CARRIED tells me I have a sword and thirty-two gold coins in my pouch. As I progress I can carry up to eight items in my backpack.
The next choice is straightforward enough - off to train with the King's Guard which develops Combat Skill, shown by a bar along the left side of the screen. Training is completed when Lone Wolf loses his endurance (shown by a baron the right) and the fight. Your first effort will no doubt, like my own, be ignominious because the keyword buttons STEP TOWARDS, STEP BACK, THRUST, SWIPE, CHOP etc take some getting used to. More mystical are the activities of Mind Blast which momentarily breaks the enemy's concentration and increases your Combat Skill, and Mind Shield whereby those creatures who use mind force against you find their powers curtailed.
In the bottom right of the screen is a wolf's head which bears a number. Numbers up to 350 correspond to episodes in the book. It won't take long after realising this to discover something rather fundamental governing the whole Fire on the Water project, principally, that the book develops the story to a far greater depth than does the software and in many cases provides more routes to explore the adventure to the full. Hence it can be said that not only does the book provide a more intricate plot but it also offers this for the price of £1.50. The implications are obvious to anyone with limited funds at their disposal.
Fire on the Water is something different for the adventurer. It is a precis of an accompanying role-playing book but it is not dependent upon it, and indeed the software, if need be, can be purchased separately. The quality of the graphics varies with the backdrop but they are always colourful. The first scene and many more which follow are highly detailed and well laid out. Movements of characters, and the occasional movement within the backdrops leg the bird and the ship) are slow and give the whole a plodding, laboured feel. A small graphic of a cassette appears at the side of the screen at moments opportune for saving the game - and the opportunity should be seized, as the game cannot be restarted once you have lost a life.
The combat action is good with diagrams on the cover depicting exactly what stance is represented by CHOP, SWIPE, THRUST etc. Watching fights take place and guiding your character through them is the chief advantage the software has over the book. The book, however, wins on most counts with a greater depth to its storyline and the fact that it provides more routes through which the adventure may be explored. Although it's not strictly necessary to read the book to enjoy the software, a knowledge of the book does improve your play as familiarity with the larger picture can influence your route through the program.
Difficulty: Quite easy
Graphics: On all locations, and with moving characters
Input facility: Single key input
Response: A touch slow due to character movement
Special features: Real time combat, multiple choice adventure
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