A sort of a yellowy astronomical body

Amberstar logo

THALION * 1 meg * £29.99 * Keyboard and mouse * Out October

Adventure games are one thing I am not normally a fan of. I invariably find them tedious slow, moving and infuriating but thankfully Amberstar isn't like the rest - it has a certain "hmmm" to it.

It's a sort of hybrid of Dungeon Master and Megatraveller. Your character is moved by the mouse and is quite quick so it doesn't get boring clicking to the left, clicking to the right and so on. However, your views do change from a plan position to a character's eye view when walking round the city.

Details of what you are supposed to be after in Amberstar are a bit hazy but it's nice anyway. The first location you start off is in a graveyard - spooky, huh? Well no not really, one thing this game does lack is atmosphere - no spooky noises or dark and dank pictures of beasties lurking in the corner.

From here you can wander round the city, and a very bizarre city it is too - everything looks the same, mainly because it's all walls and a couple of doors dotted here and there. This is another downfall of the game - almost all the doors cannot be unlocked unless you have a key, a key which is found on the other side of the map unless you have another member of your group who can pick locks.

Unlike Dungeon Master, you have to go round adding members of your group instead of starting with a full posse. When you travel round the city you can find your own house, crash in, make a brew, have a kip - well no quite, but there is a chestful of goodies to make your journey a little easier.

I found a temple which was in the name of, wait for it, St Marillion. Now this means this game was programmed either by very said Magnum and Marillion listeners or somebody with a bad sense of humour.

When you need to do something other than bimble around aimlessly you have a number of icon-driven menus. You can hold conversions with other characters which are either incredibly friendly, i.e. "let me give you all my money and show you where you are to go, stranger" or incredibly unfriendly, i.e. "sling yer hook y' nosey bugger and let me drink another 40 points". The menus also let you pick things up, drop things and a myriad of other run-of-the-mill adventure gamey things.

Amberstar isn't one of the best adventure games I've seen but it is accessible enough to be enjoyed by a wide range of people. However, it is advisable to have the game hard drive installed or else it's a case of painful swap city. A must for your average adventure-gaming glasses wearer who lives in cupboards full of old newspapers and well-thumbed copies of Escort repair manuals.

Amberstar logo

Fantasy role-playing games are certainly not thin on the ground. Can this latest quest by Thalion stand head and shoulders above the rest?

Thalion's latest and utterly ginormous role-playing outing Amberstar plonks you into yet another variation on the fantasy-fiction theme - an ancient evil threatens to escape its prison and plunge the world of Lyramion into all manner of bother. That means magicians, heroies, orks (sic), oh, all the usual malarkey that drives fantasists into frenzies of dodgy novella writing.

And yes, you get a novella and a very nice map with the game, both of which add a welcome distraction to the tedious business of installing this three-disker. Handily, Amberstar cannot be played from the original disks and must be installed either to hard disk or to three formatted floppies. It therefore renders impossible the silly practice of playing from the original disks and possibly running the risk of corrupting them.

So what have we? A character who, once firtled to your taste via the comprehensive 18-attribute character editor, is immediately informed that his parents were slaughtered by a bunch of orks and that he's a bit miffed really. Having handily disposed of meddling relatives, and given our chappie a damned good reason to have a downer on the forces of evil, darkness and particular unpleasantness, he's all set up for a trash through a billed 150 maps covering the wider world and its numerous dungeons and cities.

Things that go bump
The idea is to find the 13 pieces of the Amberstar - a magical jewel used a fair while back to banish the evil demon chap, Tarbos, from Lyramion - and assemble them in a special place, the location of which is a mystery until, presumably, the game figures you've got far enough through to tell you where it is. That little exercise should stop Tarbos in his tracks.

Along the way you acquire extra peeps to help you out and, through bashing monsters and solving puzzles, develop your character's abilities in true fantasy role-playing style.

First off, we find ourselves looking at a plan view of the graveyard without the walls of Twinlake city with our hero, who for the sake of convenience we'll call Biff, represented as scalp and shoulders. Moving him about is simple enough - either guide him with the mouse or use the direction keys - but it's a tad annoying in that he's all too inclined to bump into things and go 'ouch'. At least he doesn't lose hit points when he walks into a tree.

Moving into the city, the view switches to 3D in the style of Eye of the Beholder, but with more 'ouches' as Biff continues to walk into walls - the control system is a tad on the twitchy side. It's here that all manner of clues can be found; in particular, the incompetent nature of Twinlake's architect.

You'd expect, what with it being a city and in the open air, that there would be a certain amount of graphical finery on show; buildings, palaces, parks and the like. No, it's largely anonymous-looking stone walls with doors in them, very much like you'd get with an underground dungeon.

A very useful feature, considering the sameness of the city's design, is automapping. Clicking on an icon brings up a map of the ground you've covered which, if there was telling you where north is, would be exceedingly useful when trying to avoid getting lost. Certain buildings bring up the top-down view once more, while others put you into trading mode - levels can be gained it you've sufficient experience points and gold to spend at a number of guilds, and all manner of handy knick knacks are on sale from traders.

Out in the streets you'll chance on individuals with whom you can hold limited conversations - the pares works on a 'key word' basis; clicking on a word (you'll acquire rucks of them as time goes on) elicits either an instruction for you to go on a quick quest or the response "hmm, I can't say anything about that".

More attention to the plot could have made it immediately spicy and intriguing

Decidely offensive
My word, we're 650 words into this review and I haven't mentioned the fighting sequences - the screen switches to a face-on view of the animated attackers and you can get jolly tactical by arranging the positions of your party to best effect - or the music - continuous, situation specific and somewhat tedious - or the extensive spell system - white, grey and black magic, offering spells from the benign to the decidedly offensive.

There's no doubt that this is a big and complex game. There are numerous cities and dungeons to explore in the quest for the Amberstar, and many nasties to despatch. What the game fails to do is leap straight in there and grab you. For all the scene setting in the accompanying novella, it's hard to get straight into the experience of Amberstar. More attention to the plot could have made it immediately spicy and intriguing - finding components of quest items with which to foils demons is common fare these days.

Huge fantasy
Couple that with the numerous disk swaps when playing from floppy and you've got an RPG that demands a good deal of your commitment to get the full effect - anyone serious about it should install to hard drive.

This is all fair enough for the RPG enthusiasts, but I can't help getting the feeling that when developers create such huge fantasy games they often lose sight of casual players or beginners who need an initial 'pow' factor - be it stunning action sequences or an initially rapid development of the plot - to draw them in. But for those who enjoy the scale of such outings as EOTB2, and are prepared to put in the time and effort it will take to complete the game, Amberstar offers a pretty good deal.

In short, if you're the kind of hero who walks most quests and swats dark lords as flies, abid to salvage the Amberstar will doubtless make you break into a sweat.

Der neue Stern am Rolli-Himmel

Amberstar logo

Alle jene, die vor zwei Jahren ihre Nächte in den Dungeons von "Dragonflight" zugebracht haben, sollten schon mal vorsorglich ein paar Wochen Urlaub beantragen: Thalions zweiter Rollenspiel-Streich ist da!

Der drohende volkswirtschaftliche Schaden durch Arbeitskräftemangel ist ohnehin nichts im Vergleich zu dem, was den Ländern von Lyramion blüht - falls es dem finsteren Magier Tarbos gelingt, aus seiner Verbannung heimzukehren. Und das könnte bald sein, denn Marmion (noch so ein Fiesling) hat bereits die Festung Godsbane gestürmt, von wo aus er den Bann über Tarbos zu lösen gedenkt. Für gewöhnliche Sterbliche ist Hilfe des Amberstars zugänglich, seines Zeichens ein uralter magischer Klunker, dessen 13 Einzelteile wie üblich im Land verstreut herumliegen...

Die erste Überraschung wartet bereits bei der Charactererschaffung auf den Abenteurer: Huch, nur ein Held?! Tja, nur einer, dessen 19 Eigenschaften und Fähigkeiten zu Beginn in gewohnter Rollenspielmanier ausgewürfelt werden - die bis zu fünf Kumpane muß er sich dann auf dem ganzen Kontinent zusammensuchen. In der Heimatstadt Twinlake wird man da nur begrenzt fündig, trotzdem sollte das Örtchen nicht gleich verlassen werden, denn neben vielen nützlichen Händlern gibt es hier auch allerlei Probleme.

Diese kleinquests trugen ja bereits in "Dragonflight" wesentlich zur dichten Atmosphäre bei und verfehlen auch beim Bernsteinstern nicht ihre Wirkung - die Aufgaben reichen von Felix, dem geklauten Kader der kleinen Sunny, über den vermonsterten Weinkeller der Kneipe bis zum Lord-kanzler, der sich Sorgen über seltsame Geschehnisse in der Kanalisation macht. Und wer erst mal ein bißchen Kohle und Erfahrungspunkte hat, der kann sich und seine Leute in den diversen Gilden der Krieger, Diebe usw. einschreiben lassen, was gewissermaßen einer Berufsausbildung gleichkommt.

Inhaltlich hat Amberstar also nix mit dem Vorgänger zu tun, technisch umso mehr. Die Dungeons bieten das gewohnte Party-3D (nun aber in verschiedenen recht hübschen Outfits), der taktische Kampfscreen sowie einige der bequem zu bedienenden Steuericons werden dem Rolli-Veteranen bekannt vorkommen, und die Rätselmünder sind ebenso wieder an Bord wie die vielen "hippeligen" Fantasy-Musikstücke (der Titelsound erklingt sogar siebenstimmig).

Ein paar Neuigkeiten gibt es aber auch: Das Innere von Häusern kann man jetzt ähnlich wie die Wilderness aus der Vogelperspektive erforschen, es gibt nunmehr Tag und Nacht, detailliertere Gesprächsmöglichkeiten (Thema in Scrolliste anklicken), weiße, schwarze oder graue Magier mit an die 90 Spells sowie ein feines Automapping!

Okay, der eine oder andere mag sich zwei Jahre nach "Dragonflight" etwas mehr erhofft haben als "nur" eine gelungene Weiterentwicklung von Bewährtem - aber wer diesen Stern nicht ehrt, ist eines Rollenspiels nicht wert! (jn)

Amberstar logo

A classic fantasy role-playing game? Steve Prizeman strapped-on his suit of elven armour, and grabbed his magic staff - then came to the office to review Amberstar.

Amberstar, new from German software house Thalion, is a game which promises much, but delivers comparatively little. The impressively designed packaging, the assorted props and goodies within the box (poster, map of the magical world of Lyramion, and simulated parchment bearing a key for interpreting runic messages), and the substantial well-written instruction manual lead you to believe you're in for something special. You're not!

The world in which the game is set is a sub-Tolkien land containing every cliché in the fantasy fiction/Dungeons & Dragons books. For example, the game intro opens with your 18 year-old hero grieving beside the graves of his parents, murdered by orks (sic). Veiled references, and later more explicit ones, make clear the nature of the main quest in which the hero should involve himself: preventing the summoning of the evil Tarbos, God of Chaos, who ravaged the world a thousand years earlier.

For Tarbos read 'Sauron' and you'll get the picture as to why this is a BAD THING. A novella included in the back of the manual gives his origin story in grim folktale form (gifted, but unpopular boy learns magic and absorbs the spirit of a demon lord). Let's not read anything into the description of the inhabitants of the boy's village as 'blond haired and good natured', whilst his 'hair was as dark as raven feathers by night and his temper was ever darker'.

The game is controlled easily (though not without a fair amount of reference to the manual) by the icons positioned to the right of the 'window' occupying most of the screen.

Through the square window appears your view of the world. There are two ways of seeing things: a two-dimensional top-down view of your character and his immediate surroundings, and a three-dimensional eye-level view representing what is directly ahead. The latter is used when negotiating the labyrinthine alleys and tunnel without which any RPG would be incomplete.

The top-down view provides significantly greater detail (tables, chairs, pots and pans, etc) than the 3-D mode which leaves you wandering through the empty, monotonous, virtually deserted streets of Twinlake (the town where your character begins his adventures).

The computer decides which view you see, depending upon where you are. The 2-D screen is drawn so that only those objects within possible lines of sight from where your character is standing are shown. Furthermore, it it gets dark while he's wandering around only a gradually narrowing circle of ground surrounding him remains visible.

A map may be called upon, and is essential for finding your bearings, given the identical streets. Unfortunately, however, the map reveals the plan of areas your character has not yet explored. It also exposes the large number of useless dead-end streets included in the town simply to give extra mileage for wandering around, with no buildings accessible (or even visible) form them to justify their inclusion.

Graphics are not this game's trump card - many approximating to Vision On's gallery on a good day. The sound, however, is much more enjoyable. Continual music (but no sound effects that I noticed), altering in theme and mood depending on the geographical location of the hero, adds greatly to the game's atmosphere.

Whilst some of the music is reminiscent of Beatles' tunes (one is very Strawberry Field-ish), others tend towards New Age ambient and lift-music. It has to be admitted, though, that due to its constant presence some of the music become very, very tooth-grindingly irritating.

There is plenty to do in Amberstar, unfortunately most of it is very repetitive. It is a game to be played by people who enjoy spawling, to-ing and fro-ing games which take a long time to get into and get satisfaction out of.