A YEN FOR ADVENTURING
'The consoles are coming! The consoles are coming!' From every rooftop the cry can be heard, and it's getting louder. Marching westwards from the Land of the Rising Yen, a mighty army of cheap, super-fast game consoles is bearing down on the Amiga, threatening to drown in under a tide of leaping, beeping, multi-coloured sprites. And what secret weapon do we have to resist the likes of Mario and the rest of his wily Orientals? A seemingly dated role-playing game which, despite being two-years old, is only now makings its official appearance in the U.K. But wait! Can it be true that despite the later arrival, this box of tricks can prevent us all being turned into finger-twitching zombies and save the Amiga? Who can tell, but it's sure going to have a go!
How can a role-playing game save us from the curse of the consoles? Basically, because its five disks come crammed with features and it also has a depth which cannot be matched by a cartridge. Bane allows the player to create a team of six heroes/heroines and mould them to your satisfaction. You can name them, select their portraits, choose their race, profession, and sex. You then train them, nurture them, and eventually lead them through endless battles and cunning plots.
This is the 'hook' which RPGs have - the ability to get the player involved with their own creations. If you think an arcade player looks angry when he looses his last life on level six, try sitting next to someone playing Wizardry when his Thief takes a fatal blow from a vampire Bat.
You may not be aware of it, but the Cosmic Forge is, in fact, the forerunner to a humble Biro. Scribble a few lines with this magical pen and whatever was written with it would eventually come true. However, it grew to be so powerful that, just as things started to get interesting, some do-gooders locked it up in a bottomless dungeon and threw away the key. They then decided that perhaps they were being a little hasty and consequently needed someone to get it back for them. This is where you come into play, along with a freshly-picked party of six heroes.
Obviously it's going to be a far from easy task, and the Dungeon is full of monsters with bad attitudes, and also equally full of mazes and traps. Luckily, not everything is against you, though. Just in case you are feeling underwhelmed about the honour of being first to step into the darkness, the game is furnished with an arsenal of 400 useful items to help you beat soe respect into the overfanged dungeon denizens. There are also a mind-numbing number of spells with which to conjure up both soothing balms and blasts.
Although the main screen looks like that other golden-oldie - Dungeon Master - during combat, Bane isn't played in real time. Each encounter with the enemy takes place over a number of combat rounds, and these continue until someone emerges victorious.
Prior to each round, you are given all the time you need to decide which course of action each of your team will take in the next clash: Thieves can hide, Wizards cast spells, and Fighters slash. Having issued your orders, the round plays automatically with the battles displayed within the main screen. The animation is a little jerky, but monsters bob and weave, and the fireballs explode in digitised splendour.
As the enemy can be made up of a number of different monsters your team can be ordered to attack individual monsters which you deem to the most dangerous - let's face it, you don't swat flies when you are up to your waist in crocodiles! Although the idea of planning each round seems dated compared with the real-time hack 'n' slash action of say, Eye Of The Beholder, it is equally exciting.
Having made your decisions, you are then a helpless spectator to the results of your action, much like a general commanding his troops form the hills above a battlefield. If your whole strategy rested on your Bard singing a magical song which would immobilise the large-fanged beast in the corner while your other troops beat up his little brother., it comes as a bit of a sickener when you are told that your magical Pavarotti hit a wrong note and screwed up. All you can do then is bit your lip and hope that those fangs are not as sharp as they look.
In addition to the combat sequences, the game contains puzzles which must be solved, too. On entering some areas, a paragraph of text will appear with a description of anything magical within the room. You may also be informed of any possible traps of exits. Additionally, it's not only monsters which prowl these dank corridors, wandering peddlers with packs of goodies wander aimlessly and will sell you a new sword or a nugget of information - in addition, this system also doubles up as the game's password protection and slots in incongruously.
POINTS MAKE PRIZES
The mysteries of Armour Class and Charisma points are something of an anathema to the mainstream game player. Try using a table of statistics to illustrate how interesting a role playing game can be, and the average punter's eyes will glaze over immediately - and rightfully so.
Anyone whose soul craves excitement deserves stronger meat than columns of numbers to inflame his imagination. Happily, Bane keeps such important, but initially boring, detail in the background. It's only when you have succeeded in beating a number of monsters, and you're feeling quite pleased with yourself, that you are informed that you are now in a position to distribute any freshly-accrued bonus points amongst your victorious band.
The easily manipulated menu allows you to flip through a few tables and then increase a few of your party's individual skills - more magic for a Wizard, for example. As time and victorious battles pass, you'll start to appreciate the finer detail of the game and distribute your largess to the people who will benefit the mission best. Under your growing awareness, your men's skills grow and your knowledge of the capabilities duly expands.
When creating your part of si heroes you have over 11 races of characters to choose from and more than 100 spells awaiting your perusal. Compare that with Dungeon Master's 23 incarnations. Whilst hardened RPG fanatics will spend valuable time building a balanced party, the novice player can ignore a lot of the 126-page booklet included with the game and choose some of the more obvious team players.
However, time will show that a carefully-chosen Bard can also progress to being a clever Thief and a hard-hitting Lord may look just like a simple fighter, but with a push in the right direction can become an essential backup to your Priest when things get tough.
Apparently, the game's ending features a nice touch where there are multiple exits from the dungeon. Needless to say I haven't seen them yet as I'm still hacking my way through the monster's Kindergarten section on the upper levels, but I am reliably informed that one of the ways out involves a flight on a space-ship! So now you know what to do if your sleep is troubled with dreams of consoles. Stick a Wizardry disk into its game port and say: 'Suck on that!'