Joust when you thought it was safe...

Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur logo

NO, it's nohting to do with Dudley Moore, this is Arthur as in the ancient Saxon King. No, not Arthur Negus. Look I'll start from the beginning, shall I?
There are many versions of the Arthurian legends, but all of them have one or two things in common - Lancelot, jousting, a round table, Camelot, and, of course, a magical sword called Excalibur.

But here the tales begin to differ. For instance, one school of thought talks of the "sword in the stone" being Excalibur, whereas Geoff of Monmouth insists that the magical sword was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake at a later date.
In actual historical fact there was no jousting. Camelot was probably a collection of tents rather than a stone castle, and the table? - yes, it was more probably square.

As for Arthur himself, much mystery and debate surrounds the legend, as it does the life of Christ, and it is contested with an almost religious fervour.

In its version of the legend, Infocom has compromised, weaving most of these stories into the plot. Some of the other mythical figures and places that emerged from this period are drawn into the story. This is quite pleasing as it gives the player the real feel of this most magical of times without giving the answers away. If he or she already knows the mythology. In fact, this adventure concentrates on the period leading up to Arthur becoming king, of which not very much is known, historically or otherwise.

The story opens in the churchyard where the sword in the stone is being kept. The local bad guy, King Lot, is determined that he will be High King of England, so he half-inches the stone and pretends he has pulled the sword out. He plans to be crowned High King on Christmas Day, in 72 hours' time. With the help of Merlin, Arthur must find some way to stop him.

Unfortunately Merlin reckons that Arthur isn't yet ready to be King. First he must prove that he is wise, brave, chivalrous and experienced enough to be leader of all England. He also must find a way into Lot's castle to find out what the evil person is up to.

Various mini-quests will take Arthur into the surrounding countryside to face magical knights, wild animals, mythical beasts and enchanted forests.
The usual Infocom Help menu is included, probably the best help system in the world. Clues are revealed ranging from the so obscure that the other didn't really know what was going on, to the thunderingly obvious which everyone's pet hamster, or even mother, would twig to.

Some problems are merely a question of having the correct objects or having previously completed some other part of the adventure, others require a great deal of logic and, I venture to say, at least one peek at the hints.

There is a variety of screen modes, incorporating text only, graphics or a rather useful mapping mode which allows you to use the mouse on any adjacent location or to choose a direction from the on-screen compass. This is a great aid to rapid travel, especially in later stages where you may find yourself rushing backwards and forwards a bit.

Parsing is very good throughout, with the exception of the "say" command, which is a bit strange in its usage. But it's seldom needed, anyway. Graphics are pleasing throughout, although I belong to the school of thought that you only look at the picture once, so it is a bit of a waste of space.

Infocom is quite good about this since there are only three full-frame pictures, the rest being confined to a small, but nevertheless attractive, graphic in the top centre. They do say, after all, that size doesn't matter - it's where you put it that counts.

Arthur, like most games from Infocom, is a highly polished example of the state of the art in adventures. Yet unless one is very careful with the hints, it can be over far too quickly.

Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur logo

The legend of the Sword in the Stone is brought to life by Infocom/Activision.

The land and times of King Arthur have always been a popular basis for computer adventure games, going right back to the Spectrum's heyday. And why not? They have always proved extremely popular and it seemed only a matter of time before those masters of the genre, Infocom, got involved.

Fortunately, Arthur isn't one of the communal everyday quests for the Holy Grail or a happy 'big lads chat' around a Round Table. In this version of the perennial favourite, you play the part of Arthur (as the title suggests) before he is invested King or, indeed, before Excalibur is even drawn from the stone.

The aim of Arthur, therefore, is to claim your birthright as King of England by drawing the sword, and challenging the possible usurper, King Lot. Of course, life tends to be a touch more difficult: troublesome creatures, swamps and riddles of te usual Infocom devious nature. All in order to gain various kingly virtues of Wisdom, Experience and Chivalry to prove to Merlin that you are ready and able to be once and future King.

Arthur isn't completely alone in his quest. Merlin has given him certain powers to transform into several creatures - an Owl, a Salamander, a Turtle, a Badger, and an Eel - all of which have their respective powers which are easy to apply to the situations you're likely to come across. Also you have a magical torc which oh-so-handily shows a hint menu. This can come in useful if you're in a dire situation, but the temptation is always there for you to take a peek at a problem you could have solved normally in a few seconds.

Graphically, Arthur is the most impressive of the Infocom 'Graphic range' with pretty, if small, still pictures in every location. These aren't the ultimate, but they certainly enhance the game's feel: and if you're a die-hard text only fan, these can be switched off. On-screen mapping is an extra bonus if, like me, you'd prefer to play the game rather than put pen to paper at every move.

Arthur isn't one of the toughest Infocom adventures, but then it has its moments. A few puzzles are quite brain-tickling, but these are few and aren't especially devlish. Other problems are quite tough, but most are blatantly obvious.

Atmospherically speaking, however, Arthur is supreme. You feel drawn deep within the story and have a deep desire to return to the computer. The final drawing of the sword will leave you elated, yet with a tinge of loss. You don't want the game to finish - and why should you? Arthur would have many more adventures ahead of him. It's a shame ours ends as Arthur becomes King.

Live the legend, become the boy Arthur and claim your birthright. I can guarantee you hours of pure enjoyment.

Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur logo

Price: £24.99

The rumours are that Infocom is folding - but out of the blue comes Arthur, their Interactive Fiction game. That means it plays like an adventure as opposed to an RPG, yet its scoring system has definite RPG overtones. As you progress through the adventure, certain actions cause you to be awarded points for chivalry, wisdom, experience, and for the quest itself.

You play Arthur, but you are too young and not yet wise enough to become king. The local chieftain, King Lot, has secretly plundered Excalibur, and dropped it in the lake. Flourishing a replica of the sword before his people, he proclaims himself king.

What a rip off! Never mind, Merlin is keeping a fatherly eye on your interests, but before you can claim your birthright, you must prove yourself worthy. Merlin is prepared to help you but stops short of giving you full range of magic powers. However, you are granted the power to give yourself the form of five different creatures. But this power is limited. You have to change from creature to creature via human form; you can be killed for practising sorcery if you are caught, and it is difficult to carry objects when you are not human. All of this leads to some nicely constructed logic puzzles.

And it leads to humour, too! All too often, quest games take themselves a trifle too seriously. But Infocom;s humour shows through, and there are many funny moments.

Zork Zero and Shogun gave the world the first Infocom graphics, the latter with pictures that scrolled off the screen with the text, the former with an occasional full-screen picture. Both games set the text under a graphics "arch". Here, the ever-flexible formula is once again varied, with the screen split dead across the middle, text under it, and above is a banner containing a cameo picture for each location. On-screen mapping is also provided, but here the text is not hidden as in Zork Zero; it simply replaces the graphics part of the screen. So, movement by clicking on the map is very slick, as you can read your way through the text without having to switch between the two, which is really handy.

Written by Bob Bates, author of Sherlock: The Riddle Of The Crown Jewels, Arthur is an original story in its own right, very loosely based on the legend. The game itself is another example of the highly professional products we have come to expect from the world's masters of adventure.

Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur logo Zzap! Sizzler

Infocom, Amiga £29.99

You are Arthur. Not Arthur Fowler, Arthur Scargill or even Arthur I'vegotakipperstuckupmyassortedsocks. No, as just plain 'Arthur' you are the rightful heir to the English throne, and the hero in Infocom's interpretation of the famous legend.

It has been many years since King Uther has died and so far no-one has been able to pull the famous sword from the stone to become his rightful heir. It has even got to the point where the people are willing to let a usurper, King Lot, take the throne.

As Arthur, you start the adventure at night in the churchyard where the sword in the stone is located. You know that King Lot has imposed a curfew and you will be thrown in jail if caught, but you were compelled to try to remove the sword.

Of course, being the rightful heir, you succeed in pulling it out (no oo-ers here please) whereupon Merlin materialises and, before disappearing again, tells you that you are not yet worthy to claim the throne and must first gain a hundred chivalry, experience, wisdom, and quest points.

But no sooner than Merlin disappears than King Lot's soldiers march into the church to remove the sword and stone. In the morning King Lot shows a copy of the sword to the gathered villagers, claiming it is the magic sword and that he must now be crowned High King.

You must work quickly if you are to stop him - his coronation is in three days time.

A visit to Merlin's cave results in him giving you the ability to transform yourself into an owl, badger, salamander, eel or turtle. You might have preferred a nice, shiny suit or armour and a good horse, but Merlin is Merlin and it would not be wise to argue. You can change into an animal as often as you like, but never directly from one animal to another (you must become human again first) and never in public - it would freak people out!

Exploring the surrounding countryside reveals a great many locations ranging from the village taverns to bogs, woods, a lake (as a turtle or eel you can swim beneath the surface), and King Lot's castle. Plenty of characters, both friendly and hostile, can be spoken to and asked questions. The village idiot is not too helpful - though he says he can peak into the game's machine code when you are gone!

Most of the problems encountered revolve around transforming into different creatures - for instance, to go down a hole in the ground you must be the badger, while as the owl you can fly high above the land. Surprisingly, as an eel you can even talk to a kraken in the lake. However, you are not allowed to carry objects when in animal form and this obviously causes more than a few problems. It can also be frustrating finding somewhere to change, there is never an empty phone box when you want one!

As in other recent Infocom releases, there is an in-built hints facility, accessed by looking into a magical crystal. The typically polished Infocom presentation also includes various display modes: graphics, map, inventory, score, and text.

With the great puzzles, some attractive graphics and superb vocabulary and parser, plus the odd touch of humour, Arthur has all the ingredients to make a first-class adventure. A must for all Infocom fans.