Author: Sentient Software
Memory: 128K (48K cut-down)
Reviewer: Graham Taylor
With the exception of the odd decent soundtrack or two, there has been no reason, so far as commercially available software is concerned, to buy a 128K Spectrum.
Despite reasonably positive noises when the 128K machines came out, mostly the software house have done nothing to put their words into practice.
Yet now we have Taipan, supposedly a real 128K game - developed and conceived as 128K to make use of all the memory and extra sound. The idea is the process works exactly backwards - the 48K version is a stripped down version of the original instead of the 128K edition being a marginally souped up 48K. So, is Taipan anything special?
Taipan is big, that's one sign of the its 128K-ness - and it has a continuous oriental soundtrack. It isn't easy to describe - that's another. Call it an arcade, strategy, buying and selling game and you're halfway there. Playing techniques veer sharply between carefully considered wheeler-dealer financial planning as you allot money to different bits of equipment and the fast-reaction combat part of the game that can only be described as Gauntlet on the high seas.
The object is become the Taipan - head honcho merchant prince of the high China seas - that means making a lot of money. And that means trading - buying goods cheap in one port and selling them expensive in another. This is partly a matter of sound capitalist judgement - one aspect of the game - but also depends of all kinds of arcade skills as you forcibly recruit sailors (by press-ganging them, ie, hitting them over the head) or even offering them money to work for you (wimp) and then try to sail the China seas to another port. The sailing bit is where things really get rough - you are likely to be blown in the wrong direction, or you have to choose your route carefully depending on the time of year, or be attacked by pirates - some inland routes are safer (but slower) than others. On the other hand you may even want to do a little boarding and pillaging of your own.
Actually stealing other people's ships is the best way of making money in Taipan (this is Thatcher's Britain after all). If you capture a ship (by killing the captain) and leave enough members of its crew alive you can control it as your own, thereby adding to your fleet and dramatically increasing the amount of freight you can carry.
On arrival at a port you must find a warehouse, sell off the ship's cargo, reload all your ships with new cargo and send them off again (an idle ship just drains cash in the form of crews wages and food).
There are other features to the game as well - in the first instance your adventuring is financed by a loan - a loan from the kind of people who chop your head off if you don't make the repayments.
You can also earn extra money (in the 128K version) by doing a spot of gambling on a series of rotating tiles representing mythical Chinese animals: Deer, Horse, Fish, Cow, Sheep and Dragon. It works like a cross between horse racing and a fruit machine and you bet cash on the likelihood of one or another tile turning up. It is possible to make or lose absolute fortunes at this game and if therefore not to be recommended except to those who live dangerously.
So there is a lot to Taipan, but how does it actually play and what does it look like? The opening section is in port, and you get to run around and. In the first instance, look for the money to buy a ship and then a ship to buy.
Apart from the odd fact that I was offered a ship by the bank and money in the back of a restaurant I guess you could say this bit worked well. My biggest disappointment was in press-ganging - although I successfully thumped hundreds of drunks over the head I still couldn't knock them out - eventually I decided I needed a ship first.
Until you manage to get a ship, one of the other places you visit will let you buy anything - armoury, supplies etc - on the grounds, I suppose, that you've got nowhere to put what you buy.
When you do finally get a ship, supplies, arms and a crew it's time to quit the port.
Next up is to choose your route - choices are niftily presented on an area map. The choice you make is matter of safe but long routes vs short but very dodgy routes.
At some point in the game, on purpose or by accident you will be involved in a shipboard attack, or as it's usually known, Gauntlet. In this sequence the good guys and bad guys race around the ship deck (which looks astonishingly like a Gaunlet maze) biffing each other over the head. Your objective is to get to the captain and win the ship before you end up killing too many sailors, (you need them to man the ship). It doesn't look quite as good as Gauntlet - for one thing the sailors all seem to have either afro haircuts or fish bowls on their heads but it's fast and furious and a nice change from the rather sedate pace of the other parts of the game.
That's about it really.
I think it adds up to a game which is greater than the sum of its parts.
Despite being divided into very distinct playing sections the whole thing hangs together as well as (though in a completely different way from) Elite in its mixture of trading and arcade.
No individual element is mind blowing - mostly each bit is pretty good.
Taipan is very entertaining and moderately original. At last a 128K game to be proud of.
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