Darkmere logo Amiga Computing Gold Award

Fit to die for a cause? Ready to take on an army of darkness? Sharpen your blade and enter the domain of the Darkmere.


In development for the best part of three years, Darkmere is the first in a line of RPG-style titles from Derby-based Core Design. Due to the time it took to complete, Darkstone (the sequel) will follow very shortly after its older brother.



Set in times of olde, Darkmere is a sad tale of unrequited love. Its plot follows the fortunes of King Goldorn and his son Ebryn. As a young man, Gildorn killed an evil dragon, but was ousted from his homeland for interfering in human destiny. Back in his own land, Gildorn was proclaimed King and a time of great prosperity and order began. Sometime later a young female elf was found wandering the outskirts of the surrounding forest. Remembering nothing but her name, Berengaria was given shelter by the King. Over the following months, King Gildorn grew closer to Berengaria, eventually falling in lover with her. The romance blossomed and a wedding soon followed. Glad tidings continued with the news that Berengaria was pregnant, and following tradition, Berengaria disappeared into the forest to give birth.

Time passed, and wwhen the queen did not reappear, Gildorn became anxious and decided to go searching for her. For days he rode, then in despair he came across a leafy glade and found a new born child, his son.

Years passed and the son grew stronger, but the queen never returned. The King grew more and more melancholy as still she didn't return. Instead he took to gazing into his crystal, staring for hours and hours upon time in a vain search for his beloved Berengaria. The more he gazed, the more the land became a magnet for evil. The orcs returned, thieves and cut-throats every one of them. They ravaged the land and went undetected by the King as he withdrew further into the crystal.

Greater evils were rumoured to be spreading around the surrounding lands and forest. Eventually Ebryn approached his distressed father and told him he was going to restore the kingdom to its former glory. Agreeing that his sorrow has caused neglect, Gildorn tells Ebryn to find his old friend, Malthar the Mage. To aid Ebryn, Gildorn gives him his Elven Blade that is bestowed with Elven power, and a crystal that will allow Ebryn to call for help from him.

With that Ebryn leaves the castle and sets off to uncover the malodorous evil that curses the land.



Darkmere: Cover art

Questing for good has been a talent the Anglo Saxons have relished in for many centuries. Perhaps our most religious liberator is Richard I (the Lion-Heart), King of England from 1189, he spent all but six months of his reign abroad fighting for Christianity in the Middle East.

Richard and his knights believed that Saladin and his Muslim followers were in dire need of religious instructions through fource. This is regardless of the fact that the Muslims tolerated gentiles, and lived side by side until the Christian invasion.

In the third crusade of 1191-92, Richard won victories at Cyprus, Acre and Arsuf, but failed to recover Jerusalem from Saladin. Saladin was sultan of Egypt, and born of Kurdish blood, He was renown for his knightly courtesy, and made peace with Richard in 1192. Following this, Richard returned home to claim his throne from his brother John. Unhappy with peace, Richard looked closer to home and duly went to war with the French. In 1199 he died fighting in France.

Darkmere: Cover art



Classic isometric action, Darkmere is best compared with titles like Cadaver (if anyone remembers it), and very recently Gremlin's Legacy of Sorasil (Amiga Computing No 73, Silver Award winner).



Consisting of three different levels, Darkmere uses a richly stylised technique. Each level is brimming with detail. For example, as you approach the tavern the signpost above the door is swinging in the wind and the lights that illuminate the paths flicker in the half light as a breeze passes..

The landscape is also extremely detailed with masses of graphical objects to examine, search and interact with. The animation of your muscle-bound Ebryn, and indeed all of the characters within Darkmere, is extremely well executed. The character sprites are fairly large and move and fight extremely smoothly.

As you journey around the many varied locations you'll encounter many little extra animations that, although unrelated to the plot, add that extra dimension of realism. For instance, as you make your way around the town you'll encounter rats, and during a forage through the forest, rabbits hop by.

Darkmere is probably the most detailed isometric title ever to emerge for this genre. The graphics are extremely well suited and are cleverly crafted to give a very atmospheric feel.




During play, Darkmere concentrates its efforts on effects, and uses mood music during loading sequences. The sound effects within each level are crisp and amplify the mood of the play to great effect.

Whether it be the grunt of an angry orc, or the howl of wind through the trees in the forest, they're all extremely well executred.




This must surely rate as one of the best 3D isometric adventures ever to appear on the Amiga. It possesses a haunting style that is completely unique, and seldom achieved in many computer titles.

Character interaction is extremely simple to grasp, and the menu system which helps you negotiate your character through a seemingly endless environment is the essence of simplicity to use.

However, by far the most impressive facet of Darkmere is the graphics. They pay such attention to detail and create such a mood that it gives the adventure an immediate head-start over everything else it competes against.

If I had a criticism - and it's only a minor one - it's that the majority of battles that you engage in are exactly the same and don't require any particular skill to win. For example, whenever you fight against one of the abundant supply of orcs, you just hold your Fire button down, point the joystick into one of the attack positions, and the stupid orc just keeps walking into you until it spontaneously combusts.

Nevertheless, Darkmere is a pretty classy title. It's contained in a huge playing area (be prepared to map), has interesting and very moody graphics, and contains objectives and puzzles that will hold your attention for a good while.

Darkmere logo

The orcs are rampant, the barbarians lack job satisfaction and an evil incarnation has cast an air of doom over your land. It's time to reach for your book of happy spells...

They have a rough old time of it in enchanted lands. One minute they're happily brewing potions, laughing with the fairies (like you do), and polishing their sacred orbs and the next minute some evil force toddles into town and the village elder asks for volunteers to embark on a dangerous quest of good versus evil. And we think we've got it tough with the Council Tax.

Such is the fate that has befallen the Kingdom of the Elven King Gildorn. He meets a nice lost elf, falls in love with her and then just as they're picking curtains for the Elven castle, seh up sticks and naffs off. The King (no, not Elvis), isn't too chuffed about this because they'd found some nice flowerey ready-mades and so he goes off to look for her. There's no sign of Her Majesty, but he does chance upon his newborn son who, mysteriously, has been left in the middle of the forest.

Anyway, the kid grows up to be dead hard (don't they always) and the King mourns his missing missus and doesn't notice the barbarians, orcs, Council Tax collectors and other miscreants who flock to his kingdom and hang their battle axes and clipboards above the fireplace.

Getting into prince
Eventually Kingy comes to his senses, realises that his happy kingdom looks more like Bosnia than DisneyWorld and sends his son off to sort it all out with the only a glowing sword and a crystal for company. And guess what? You're the King's son - Ebryn. Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the odd world of the role-playing game.

Darkmere is the latest in a long line of isometric RPGs. You control Ebryn with a joystick and you've got to wander around the village, the forest and orc caverns. Your progress depends on three things: combat with weirdies, problem solving and mapping.

If you prefer a nice linear game in which the only choice offered is whether to get the laser or the smart bomb, stop reading now. However if your IQ is larger than your shoe size then the odds are that you will enjoy the mental challenge of Darkmere.

Ebryn starts off in a little room on West Wall Street. This is a good time to acclimatise to the various menu options. By clicking Fire you're presented with a drop-down menu. This displays options such as: search, examine, take, drink, smell or question, although these are dependent on who or what is in the room with you.

In the start location there are human bones, a key, beer bottles, a barrel and a stocky chap. You can take the beer, drink it and feel woozy, grab the key and have a chat with the bloke. It's easy to tell if the person you're questioning is going to be of any use- the number of topic options will be larger.

Been there, bashed that
This kind of game hasn't changed a lot since Ultimate started creating them in the early Eighties. All right so the graphics have improved and games are Amiga user-friendly now, but essentially it is the same old thing time and again. You plod around a fantasy world, bashing in orcs and collecting treasure. So the only really valid question is: how well designed are the puzzles?

I'm happy to say that the problems inDarkmere are well conceived and logical. An initial search of the city will eventually bring you to the Blacksmith's shop. He'll ask you to steal some iron ingots for him from people's houses. This will lead you on a search of the village and lots of encounters with orcs, demons and deadly rats. You're warned about danger by your sword which lights up like a lightsabre when there's summat naty around the corner.

I would strongly advise you to map the zones. This not only makes navigating around the village easier, but also helps in working out the problems. Fortunately Core supplied AF with maps of the game and judging from the size of them I reckon it will take you a good week of solid playing just to visit all the places in the village.

The isometric design works well although combat can be frustrating, because unless you line yourself up correctly you will be slashing thin air and it only takes a few hits to deplete your energy. I often found myself legging it from dangerous beasties before they gave me the inevitable kicking.

Darkmere isn't linear (that's a good thing) it has a simple drop-down menu system (that's good and bad) and some frustrating action sections (that's bad). If you're desperate for a fix of fantasy land then buy Darkmere tomorrow. It isn't up to the standards of American games, but its tight design, atmospheric graphics, spooky sound and naff plot make it a must-buy for all you goblin fanciers.

Darkmere logo

Selbst die Veteranen in der Redaktion können sich nicht mehr genau erinnern, wann Core Design dieses Actionadventure zum ersten Mal angekündigt hat - durch die endlos lange Produktionszeit ist das Spiel aber auch schier endlos umfangreich geragen!

Erstaunlich, aber wahr: Das Fantasy-abenteuer ist in drei Kapittel eingeteilt, in denen jeweils ungefähr 150 Lokalitäten zu besuchen sind. Die bildweise umgeschalteten und aus der isometrischen 3D-Perspektive gezeigten Grafiken erinnern dabei massiv an Renegade's Klassiker "Cadaver", inhaltlich geht Darkmere jedoch durchaus eigene Wege.

Das fängt bereits mit dem hübschen Intro an, das weitschweifig erläutert, wie es der Elf Gildorn zum Herrscher der (Menschen-) Stadt Darkmere gebracht hat. Das unerklärliche Verschwinden seiner Gattin vermieste ihm allerdings bald die Lust am Regieren, so daß sich in Darkmere allerlei Gesindel vom Ork bis zum Drachen breitmachen konnte. Das wiederum paßte der eingesessenen Bürgerschaft nicht, die daher scharenweise aufs Land flüchtete. Um der Stadt wieder die alte Lebensqualität zu bescheren, macht sich Gildorn's Sohn Ebryn nun auf die Suche nach dem magier Malthan, der ihm dabei helfen soll, den Abschaum zu verscheuchen.

Zu Beginn der Mission dirigiert man mit einem Zauberschwert ausgerüsteten Ebryn durch die düsteren, aber sehr detailreichen Gassen und Häuser von Darkmere, später stehen auch immer wieder kurze Ausfläuge in die landschaftlich reizvolle Umgebung auf dem Programm.

Gesteuert wird mit dem Joystick, ein kurzer Druck auf den Feuerknopf führt dabei in ein umfangreiches Auswahlmenü, wo man z.B. Die mitgeführten Gegenstände begutachten oder die gerade besuchte Örtlichkeit durchsuchen kann. Als sehr angenehm erweist sich hier die automatische Auflisting sämtlicher Inventory-Objekte, welche in der aktuellen Szene anwendbar sind.

Besitzt man etwa den passenden Schlüssel zu einer der herumstehenden Truhen, so läßt er sich ohne langes Rumprobieren benutzen. Außerdem wird in Darkmere oft und gern mit Hilfe von Stichwortlisten geplaudert; dazu muß man sich nur der betreffenden person auf Schrittweite nähren, damit deren Portrait in der unteren Bildhälfte erscheint. Wenn man das gleich mal bei dem Torwáchter im ersten Bild probiert, stellt sich heraus, daß zum Verlassen der Stadt ein Paßwort nötig ist. So was gibt's hier allerdings nicht geschenkt, statt dessen darf man sich wegen der paar Buchstaben in dem weitverzweigten Kaff stundenlang die Hacken ablaufen...

Immerhin erleichtern überall angebrachte Straßenschilder dem Wanderer die Orientierung, zudem zeigen ihm Richtungspfeile am Bildrand alle gangbaren Wege an. Zur atmosphärischen Untermaling flackern alte Laternen im Wind, verstreute Knochen künden von längst verblichenen Helden, und allerorten stößt man auf (zum Teil animierte) Figuren wie Händler, Bettler oder Söldner, die ausnahmlos einer eingehenden Befragung unterzogen werden sollten - besonders informativ ist ein Besuch in der Kneipe, wo jede Menge Quartalssäufer herumlungern. Aber auch ein orstkundiger Schmied, der Besitzer des Waffenladens sowie ein Alchimist, der für bestimmte Zaubertränke einfach alles tun würde, sind ein Schwätzchen wert.

Auf diese Weise erfährt man nach und nach, daß eine alte Frau bezüglich des Paßwortes ein gewichtiges Wörtchen mitzureden hat. Leider ist ausgerechnet diese Seniorin spurlos verschwunden, ihr Haus verrammelt, und nur der Schmied weiß, wo man den Schlüssel dafür findet.

Als Gegenleistung verlangt er fünf Eisenbarren der Art, wie sie manchmal in verlassenen Häusern vor sich hin rosten.

Nun sind aber die meistern der teils mehrstöckigen Gebäude ebenfalls verschlossen, ergo darf man bei seinem Stadtbummel nicht davor zurückscheuen, sämtliche Gossen genauestens zu inspizieren: Neben Schlüsseln, auf denen praktischerweise fast immer die dazugehörige Adresse eingraviert ist, entdeckt man dort z.B. Nahrungsmittel, die den lädierten Gesundheitszustand von Ebryn nach einem Kampf wieder auffrischen.

Auch Zaubertränke bringen verbreauchte Energie sofort zurück, und das Geld liegt in Darkmere buchstäblich auf der Straße. Allerdings sollte man die Lebensmittel und Heiltränke von der Genuß gründlich untersuchen, denn etliche davon sind verdorben oder gar vergiftet. Und weil sich im Lauf der Zeit allmählich ein riesiger Berg von gehamsterten Gegenständen ansammelt, wäre es auch nicht verkehrt, den magischen Beutel zu finden, der seinem Besitzer zu unbegrenzter Tragkraft verhilft.

Natürlich halten sich in der Stadt auch allerlei Übeltäter verborgen, wobei man es wie gesagt meist mit Orks oder Drachen zu tun bekommt. Hier schlägt dann die Stunde des magischen Schwertes, welches bevorstehenden Ärger schon im voraus ankündigt. Die Zusammenstöße mit den Ungeheuern werden in Echtzeit durch fleißiges Betrommeln des Feuerknopfes bei gleichzeitigem Positionswechsel von Ebryn ausgefochten.

Sinkt die feindliche Energiesäule endlich auf Null, löst sich der Unhold in Rauch auf und läßt (manchmal) einige Gegenstände zurück. Droht das Gegenteil, hilft nur noch die Flucht in ein anderes Bild oder ein gespeicherter Spielstand.

And der stimmigen Präsentation mit gesampeltem Digi-Sound, detailverliebten Grafiken und der präzisen Joysticksteuerung gibt es außer dem gelegentlich etwas kleinen Bildausschnitt wenig auszusetzen - richtig genießen können sie wegen der nervigen Nachladezeiten von Disk allerdings bloß Festplattenbesitzer.

Warum es trotzdem nicht zu einem Hit reicht? Nun, dazu hätte es schon noch ein bißchen mehr Abwechslung beim Gameplay und die eine oder andere revolutionäre Neuerung gebraucht. Auch wenn sich das neue Core-Abenteuer in puncto Umfang und Komplexität vor niemandem zu verstecken braucht! (md)

Darkmere logo

Once upon a time, long, long ago... Oh dear, not again.

Examine a table in Darkmere and you will be told something like: "Its top is made of oak whilst the legs are carved from yew. The top bears score marks with a knife." Which is fine. Very descriptive and everything. BUT NOT EVEN REMOTELY INTERESTING.

We are meant be caught up in some preilous quest to rescue a princess or something, and the game stops to tell us what sort of wood the legs of a table are made from. Why? Why put 'table' in the list of examinable objects if that is all it is going to tell you? In fact, why stop at the furniture? Why not include 'floor', or 'right arm' or 'air'? "The floor is flat and made of a hard, igneous rock. It supports your weight with apparent ease." "Your right arm is covered in skin, and adorned with fine hairs.

A joint at its centre enables it to bend through approximately 180 degrees and further joints at either end attach it to your shoulder and right hand." "The atmosphere is composed of a mixure of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 0.03% carbon dioxide, with the remainder comprising argon, water vapour and traces of other gases. In addition, it carries many particles of dust and pollen, and its overall movement indicates a light southwesterly breeze." Tch.

If, despite all this, you decide to carry on playing, you will discover that you have been zapped into a village, and encumbered with the task of freeing it from a Darkmere (which is some kind of spooky curse). The whole place has been over-run by orcs and dragons, and most of the inhabitants seem to be dead.

Needless to say, the world of Darkmere is one of those RPG-type ones that is full of half-timbered houses, tankards of ale, flickering torches and men with long hair, so you should know your way around pretty well. There is even a pub calld the 'Tolk Inn'. Gosh I laughed. And it is all rendered in 3D, like Shadowlands, with your stumpy-looking bloke plodding around killing orcs and generally being in an RPG.

Although the actual walking from screen to screen is done in an animated, actually-walking-around kind of way, everything else seems to be achieved by flicking through menus. Once you are standing in a room, there are menus to search it, pick things up, examine things (but don't - no, really), eat things, use things and all the rest of it. You don't actually see any of this happen - select 'pick up bread' from a menu and, when the menu disappears, the bread's picked up, just like that.

Oh, except the fighting is animated too. If you see a monster you can walk up to it and hit it with your sword. This tends to be a bit haphazard, though, with your character often turning his back on the monster for no apparent reason. And paying the consequences.

There are three levels, each one consisting of a mini-adventure which you have got to complete before proceeding to the next level. Three might not sound like many, but they are massive, consisting of hundreds of screens each with loads to do in, er, some of them.

Its green fronds seem strong with no hint of disease

So off you go, plodding through level one, with the initial task of discovering a password to get out of the town. After idly chatting to some of the few surviving locals, you will hopefully stumble into the blacksmith's, where the proprietor will offer to tell you the password - if you give him five ingots in return. Quite why he won't just tell you the password and let you get on with saving his town is not clear, and given that there is no 'hold a sword to his throat' option in any of the menus you have not got much choice. So off you go to five five ingots.

And so on. You do that for a bit, and perform a few other adventure-related tasks, and presently you will find yourself on level two. And - behold - the blighted town has been replaced by trees, ferns ("Its green fronds seem strong with no hint of disease"), mushrooms ("Its skin is smooth and seems to be slightly slimy"), rocks ("The boulder seems to be of limestone and has lichen growing on it") and bunny rabbits. But all is not well.

The forest is crawling with trolls, spiders and skeletons, and there are dead bodies ("The skull still has decaying flesh hanging loosely off [gnnngh] it. Numerous flies buzz arund it, some landing to feed and lay their eggs") lying around all over the place. And - again - so on, until you get to the third and final level. But we will leave the details of that one as a surprise, eh? And by the time you have finished that, you will have been playing the game for absolutely ages. Which cannot be a bad thing. But will it have been time well spent? In other words, is Darkmere any good?

Well, the graphics are nice. They are nothing you won't have seen before in a thousand other RPGs, but they do look pretty, especially once you get into the forest with the bunnies hopping about. The sound, too, is undeniably all right, with the 'ping' and 'click' of things being chosen from menus backed up by atmospheric middle-earthen sound effects, although the former tend to drown out the rather quietly latter.

But (and you could sense that coming, couldn't you?) Darkmere does not honestly stand out as a classic. I was never actually bored while playing it, but at the same time I was hardly on the edge of my seat. I dunno. I think it's mainly to do with the menus. you spend so much time looking at them that they, rather than your little 3D warrior and his surroundings, become the main focus of the game, and it is impossible to become truly involved in the storyline.

Although selecting 'take' and then 'bottle' from a menu is much quicker than pointing at the bottle, watching your bloke walk over to it, and getting him to pick it up, it is also less exciting, and reveals the rather clunky mechanics of the game all too clearly.

Three disks of mildly diverting, orc-slaying, door-unlocking, gold-piece-collecting RPG action then. But at the last count, the AMIGA POWER cupboard (the one marked 'Games We're Never Ever Going To Play Again Now We've Reviewed Them', in fact already contained at least 700,000 disks of orc-slaying, door-unlocking, gold-piece-collecting RPG action. Hmm.


No. 1
The best way to restore your energy in Darkmere is, oddly, getting into fights. Every time you strike a blow on an enemy, your energy gets topped up. Eating food also helps, as does, er, not getting into fights in the first place.

No. 2
All the streets in Level 1 of Darkmere have names. So you can draw a map if you want, and write them all on. In this respect, Darkmere closely resembles an old Spectrum game called Dun Darach, which was really good.

No. 3
There is no save game facility in Darkmere as such. But you will occasionally find time reverse potions lying around which will, when swallowed, save your game. So actually, there is a save game facility after all. Phew.

No. 4
Every time you use a key in Darkmere, the game feels compelled to come up with an excuse for it having become stuck in the lock and removed from your inventory - it was rusty, for example, or snapped off. This gets inexpressably annoying after a while.

No. 5
You can kill the rabbits. And eat them.

Darkmere logo

Mark Patterson discovers that Orks do not, in fact, come from the Orkney islands... and dies horribly in the process.

When I first saw Darkmere, I didn't think it was anything more than a colourful version of the old Spectrum classic Knightlore from Ultimate. But after a few minutes I started to realise that there was actually far more depth to it. As well as plenty of wandering around batting orcs and other typical fantasy demons, there is also a good deal of puzzle solving.

It looks as though the programmers might have taken some of their inspiration from JRR Tolkien books; your sword glows near orcs, for instance, which is exactly what Bilbo's sword, Sting, did in The Hobbit. Thankfully though, the plot definitely is not straight out of Lord Of The Rings. Yes, the forces of evil are running riot. Yes, there are elves and, yes, you are looking for a magician to helop you overcome them. However, when you begin the game you don't have any idea to where you should be going and what you need to take with you.

Darkmere promises lots but unfortunately does not deliver. Its biggest failing is its utterly linear puzzle system. Once you have found the right locations it is usually just a case of transporting an object between them or performing a specific task. There is very little challenge there. Still, when combined with the combat sequences and sheer number of locations to explore there is more than enough game in there to pose quite a challenge, even if it is not terribly exciting.

What does make Darkmere difficult is the awkward command interface. This interface is a series of menus which does not look very threatening until you try and get to grips with them. For instance, you call up the examine menu, which can feature as many as 15 objects at a time. There is no way of telling which ones are important, so you just have to check through them individually, which is time consuming and very dull.

Slowing the game down even further is the amount of disk access time. When a location is being loaded it not only has to retrieve the graphics but also the character information. Admittedly, the end result is a more involving game, but I'd have been able to suffer a few static characters if it meant less loading.

As they are, the characters do not have much to say. Depending on who you are talking to there are a number of topics you can inquire about. Most of the time you just get blank looks, or the same answers from the last half-dozen characters. But the only way to find things out is by asking everyone about everything, which seems to be the same principle that the objects are based on.

I also had a problem with the combat controls. To fight you have to hold down the fire button then move it in a given direction to slash or block. So far so good. What tends to happen though is that the creature you are up against will start hitting you before you get into position. All right, so all is fair in love and war, but it is very hard getting yourself in a suitable position to fight back. You end up walking in circles while a flaming orc hacks chunks out of your torso.

The one outstanding feature of Darkmere, and the main reason I persevered with it, is the graphics. They rate as some of the best I have seen on an Amiga adventure. Even on the A500 they are drawn in 32-colour mode and the detail and animation is just superb. In fact, it would seem as though that is where most of the effort has been concentrated. A map feature, for example, would have been very useful, because you are often directed to different streets without having a clue where they actually are.

Invariably this leads to lots of wandering around, rucks with orcs and frustrated banging on the joystick as you realise you have been going around in circles for 10 minutes. There are many better adventures out there, although I cannot think of one quite as nice looking. I hope Core persevere with Darkmere's engine and I would certainly like to see the follow-up; as long they sort out the problems. As it stands, Darkmere is an above average adventure, dogged by unwieldy combat and detail.


Orcs are the most numerous of your enemies. On their own they are not very dangerous but if you encounter a couple in a row they soon sap your energy.

The first indication that trouble is on its way is your sword, which absolutely hates anything evil and glows to warn you that something is coming.

In combat mode you are limited to two different attacks and one block. This is usually adequate, unless you get over-zealous and end up attacking when you should be defending...

...as you did here (tut, tut). You can take plenty of damage, but if you don't watch out you could end up getting caught short in combat (cut short, surely - Ed).