Fetch me a shrubbery

Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail logo

OVER the years Sierra has established a reputation for itself as a quality programming house, producing graphic adventuers in its own unique style.
Game content aside, users have a love/hate relationship with the Sierra style - cinematic opening sequences and scene setting, occasional use of animation, mouse controlled character movement. But love it or hate it, you cannot deny it is one of the elements that makes a Sierra product something distinctive and special.

Sierra's latest offering, Conquest of Camelot, involves you taking on the role of the legendary King Arthur in his quest for the equally legendary Holy Grail. The games designer, Christy Marx, tells us that the King Arthur story is an unfathomable mixture of myths, legends and truth, and that her own interpretation draws on a number of these not strictly within the traditional Arthurian set.
In practical terms, this makes for a game which feels more rounded than the usual myth/legend based adventure, providing a fuller background against which to set the all important task of Grailhunting (it also means it is not too easy for anyone who knows their Mallory).

The game comes of a hefty six disks - the whole of the first disk being used for the usual Sierra-style scene setting. And so, without further ado...
As king of all you survey, life can never be problem free. In your case, the problems are close to home and start with the forbidden love between Gwenhyvver your Queen and that famed knight of the round table, Lancelot. Your forgiving and tolerant nature meant that you have turned a blind eye to their shenanegins, but their love has cast blight on your soul and caused a curse to fall on your kingdom.

Fruit has withered on the vine, grain dies of disease and springs and wells turn foul. Your people are unable to farm, and are hungy - they cry out to you for a miracle.

Meanwhile, a vision of the Holy Grail appears to you one day, and you send a trio of knights after it. They fail to return and, after a time, you set off yourself in search of both them and the Grail. Needless to say, the fate of the entire kingdom rests on your success (or failure).

Your quest begins in Camelot Castle, but soon extends to the South of England and later throughout Europe and the Middle East. That is a lot of locations (17 in England alone) and a lot of action - hence the six disks. The first step is to successfully consult Merlin who will furnish you with the map you need to make start on the English part of the search.

You will need to prove your skills with the trusty Excalibur if you are to succeed in your quest, but brute force alone will not be enough. You will also need to understand matters like herbalims and the language of flowers to help you along the way.

Many adventures look very pretty, but have appealing story lines, but it is the parser that really makes or breaks an adventure. The authors of Conquests of Camelot are to be praised for their efforts in this department.

Consider the following: There I was, in Camelot castle, trying for a quick pray for spiritual guidance before starting the Quest. I saw a couple of bowls on the altar, and decided to "Examine bowls". I was very helpfully informed, though I got the distinct impression that someone, somewhere was having a joke on me, that "They are not bowls. They are altar candles". Oops!

Scoring operates a little differently to usual in this game. You score three different types of points - for Skill (max 368), Wisdom (max of 293) and Soul (max of 358). This system works quite well, except that unlike in previous games, scores are not continuously displayed on the work screen.
Instead you have to call up the menu bar and access scores from there. And as if to add insult to injury, scores are the bottom option on the furthest right menu. Remember that handy invention, "Keystroke alternative"? Well, for most of the menu options, there is a keystroke alternative, but, you have guessed it, not for getting a peek at your score. This makes life very tedious for those of us who want to keep track of the increments we gain from particular actions.

Conquest of Camelot will be a long time a-solving, even for the most hardened adventurer. It is a mighty game, and one whch yet again reaffirms Sierra's positiion at the top of the adventuring tree.

Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail logo

PRICE: £34.99

Once a flourishing and peaceful kingdom, the forbidden love between queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot has put a curse on your land. Crops are diseased, and springs and wells have turned foul. In a vision, you see that the Holy Grail is the miracle your people seek, and so you despatch three brave knights, Lancelot, Galahad and Gawaine, to find it and bring it back.

However, months have passed, and not a word has come from any of them. Troubles, you decide that you alone can now fetch the grail and rescue the brave knights. Before departing, you learn that Lancelot is improsened by the Ice Maiden, Galahad was last heard of leaving the country, whilst Gawaine is a prisoner of the Mad Monk of Glastonbury. And so you set off, guided by the wisdom of Merlin, and protected by the spell of Guinevere's rose.

Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail is based on heavily researched Arthurian legend and, whilst in the main following the normal Sierra format, it has one or two new features. Movement from place to place is speeded up considerable by the use of 'click-on' maps, one of the castle, and one of the south of England. Thus, to walk from one end of the castle to another does not involve the loading of half a dozen pictures - the arrow keys simply move an animated mini King Arthur over the plan, and provide a caption describing the location. To enter it is simply a matter of pressing RETURN, whilst to move on requires another arrow key depression. Major distances are coverd by clicking on defined spots on the map, whilst within each area movement is of the normal animated character type.

Scoring is on three scales of skill, wisdom and soul - and it should be remembered that Arthur must be worthy enough to take the Grail when he finds it.

One of Arthur's quests is to Ot Moor, where the lake is frozen, and Lancelot is incarcerated in a column of ice in the Lady's palace. Unfotunately, cannot resist it, can they? Here is a fairly serious adventure, and we have to suffer an arcade sequence in crossing the ice.

And not content with one or two screens, we are forced through no less than four of them, presumably to ram the point home that Sierra games are all things to all people.

The loading instructions seem to be in error, certainly as far as an expanded Amiga 500 is concerned. My copy consistently failed to load from the Workbench (as per instructions) but usually succeeded when booted up. And Sierra still do not seem to have got a reliable SAVE routine for the Amiga. A plus is the ability to save positions directly onto the game disks (or backups if you have any sense!) but the procedure is a little fragile. My first SAVE would not load, with a message that the file had been saved using a different interpreter.

These points are relatively small niggles, but must be seen in the context of the whopping £35 price tag - for which one has a right to expect near perfection! Still, it is a big game (six disks) and once the hole it makes in your pocket is forgotten, it will make another fine addition to your Sierra collection.

Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail logo

Sierra On-Line, Amiga (1 Mb only) £39.99

Zzap! StarForsooth an' verily! Tis yet another game concerning the doings of noble Arthur, King Of The Britons. Yet this time tis an animated 3-D adventure from across the seas an' it doth detail Arthur's quest for that most alluring of prizes, the holy grail. But hold! I must away now and tackle said game, for it hath loadetheth...
Drawing upon the essence of the Arthurian legends spiced with a sprinkling of other mythologies, author Christy Marx has created a story that is a challenging, entertaining mixture of history and myth, fact and imagination... well, that's what the blurb says. Let's see shall we?

Three of your Knights Of The Round Table pushed off in search of the grail some days ago - Sirs Gawaine, Galahad and Launcelot - since which time nothing has been heard of them. As far as Launcelot is concerned this may be a blessing in disguise 'cause he's giving Guinevere, your wife, er... more attention than he should. Some friend he is! (A knight of passion?! - Ed)
Deciding that you must now join the quest for the grail before your kingdom falls on dark times you begin the game by searching Camelot for all the things you need for the journey.
Information, a lodestone, your adventuring gear (including shield and sword), money and a rose fom your wife are all important. And don't forget your horse; bunions would not benefit a king.

Before you leave Camelot in pursuit of your three knights it's a good idea to pay homage to your Gods - plural, as you're given a choice in the chapel, it's wise to praise both of them.
Once outside the walls of Camelot a map is displayed from which you choose your destination - decided upon by the information gleaned from talking to people in your castle. You can only journey to three locations - Ot Moor, Southampton or Glanstonbury Tor - which is disappointing especially as many more locations are highlighted on the map. I headed for Glastonbury Tor - the last known whereabouts of Gawaine - and adventure.

The parser is up to Sierra's usual good standard and they've incorporated lots of shortcuts for often-used phrases such as Open Purse, Ask About and Look At. Pull-down menus for adjusting game speed, saving and restoring games and certain commands are easy and quick to use.

In fact I was having a great time wandering around the forest on my horse. Then came the jousting: one location away from Gawaine I was challenged by the Black Knight, dark guardian of the forest, to a joust. I accepted his challenge - being king I had to - and entered the most frustrating, uninteresting, poorly implemented Sierra 'arcade element' I've ever had to endure.

Some of the sequences in the Manhunter series (also by Sierra) are fairly dire but this one takes the cake. The main screen section shows the position of your lance and shield, the jousting hedge and the black knight jerking his way slowly towards you, lance erect. The idea is to use eight(!) keys to move your shield and lance to both block his blow and land one of your own. I find this type of sequence frustrating to begin with but persistence and controlled breathing usually see me through - in this case they didn't and the time soon came to switch the computer off and have a cup of tea to cool down. Even the option to adjust the arcade difficulty level (hard, easy or normal) doesn't help. The jousting sequence is, at this point in the game, unavoidable. You can refuse the challenge but then the black knight kills Gawaine and Merlin refuses to talk to you ever again.

Conquest Of Camelot is more difficult than most Sierra adventures (i.e. I didn't finish it in a day!), but it features the usual attractive graphics, generally good animation, poor music, realistic FX and some painfully slow screen updates. A feeling of being there is evoked by the amount of researched detail featured and although the jousting sequence (have I mentioned that before?) is abysmal, once it's behind you Conquest Of Camelot opens up into an enjoyable search for your three friends and the holy grail.
The accompanying booklet is an interesting read also, full of fascinating facts about the legends of King Arthur.
Gosh! A whole Sierra On-Line review and I haven't mentioned the high price tag!