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It's a cult thing this Dungeons and Dragons lark. Pretending to be some muscle bound axe-wielding bod or a berobed caster of spells and joining like-minded idiots in a group bonding session and riddling middle earth of slimy things and other ethnic groups you disagree with. Pools of Darkness is the fourth instalment of such shenanigans and uses the official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rule system.

You create and guide six player-characters around Moonsea getting beaten up by strange new monsters. It's a vast game on three disks that needs one meg and is a definite pain in the wrist from all the disk swaps if you haven't got a hard drive to install it on.

The plot from hell
The plot? Well, you'd never guess but some evil, nasty, really very mean guy is hell bent on a bit of subjugation and revenge because well, he's just that kind of guy. Luckily there's a group of hardy brave adventurers for whom the idea of a body-mangling match with the forces of darkness holds no fear.

The first step is creating your party. You can import characters from the previous Secret of the Silver Blades or generate new ones. They start off tough with heaps of magic weapons. This is high level adventuring - not a Kobold in sight. You can adjust the character graphics, however they all end up looking crap.

You start off in this peaceful city of Phlan. Where you can wander around the town in terrible 3D graphics. If these get too much you can swap to a map mode that thoughtfully leaves out the location of the doors making it pointless. After a spot of spell memorising and shopping the adventure proper begins.

The ultimate goal is to defeat the three henchmen of Lord Bane, by teaming up with other characters, finding objects and killing - there's a lot of this. In fact the game soon turns into a constant round of battles. The puzzle solving and character interaction is very limited. It's just bash-hack-slash, collect goodies, recuperate and wander off in search of more bashings.

Heroic failure
The game is fought in a series of rounds, you give orders to each of your chaps in turn. They can fire bows, cast spells or just slash about with the old cold steel. The results are figured out and your fighter collapses in a hap or not as the case may be. These sections don't exactly inspire, which is a great pity since it's the largest part of the game. There are no sound effects at all- not even the odd sampled gurgle to add a little something.

It's not easy either, great mobs of assorted nasties attack from all sides, so be prepared for a few embarrassing 'party wipe out' situations. Luckily you can save your progress in-between levels.

The world of middle earth, with its gods, legends and magic is a rich and imaginative one. But this game manages to miss out all that goes straight in for a boring marathon session of fiddly fights. It's a game format as old as the hills and it really should stay there.

A few years ago you might have got away with it, now it just looks very amateur. The graphics add nothing to the atmosphere either. The characters are simply blocky affairs, some of the still pictures are good but otherwise it's not much to look at. Nothing much to listen to either, the whole game is played in silence. Unless you are an AD&D nut and relish the idea of anything that uses the official rules then this effort is a poor introduction to role-player games. Will Lord Bane bring evil and destruction to the land or will the brave adventurers prevail? Couldn't really care less.

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Dieser Tage muss es bei den AD&D-Spezialisten von SSI hoch hergegangen sein, denn gleich vier Ihrer Computer-Umsetzungen haben es in die Mai-Ausgabe geschafft!
Andererseits kennt man alle schon vom PC, und bis auf "Eye of the Beholder 2" handelt es sich auch nur um die üblichen Baukasten-Rollis...

Entsprechend wenig Innovation darf man sich am Amiga von dem "Dunkelpfützen" erwarten, jedoch bot dieser vierte Teil der Forgotten Realms-Reihe auf der MS-Dose ja immerhin deutlich mehr Spieltiefe als die meisten seiner Geschwister. Und wie wir ja schon bei einem kleinen Vorausblick im Sonderheft "Rollenspiele" feststellen durften, stimmt die Story auch die Freunde der "Freundin" freundlich:

Seit unsere Recken in "Pool of Radiance" erstmalig gegen den Super-duper-Dämon Thyrantraxus antraten, sind in den Vergessenen Reichen satte zehn Jahre vergangen. Inzwischen könnten sich die Helden über Arbeitsmangel kaum beschweren, und selbst nach zehnjähriger Berufslaufbahn ist die Rente noch nicht in Sicht - das gilt übrigens auch für den dämonischen Tyrannosaurus Rex! Endlich mal wieder in Phlan, dem Ausgangspunkt ihrer Wanderjahre, werden die tapferen Abenteurer postwendend in den allesentscheidender Endkampf mit ihrem Lieblingsgegner verstrickt...

Wie man das von dieser Serie kennt, verteilt sich das Abenteuer über eine Unmenge von stimmig gestylten Einselmissionen, wie man es eher nicht kennt, werden sie hier in späteren Verlauf ganz schön schwierig. Da ist es mehr als nur eine Überlegung wert, ob man nun auf die vorgefertigte Party zurückgreift, seine Jungs vom Vorgänger reaktiviert oder eine ganz neue Mannschaft zusammenbosselt - möglich ist alles.

Gekämpft wird im gewohnten 3D Überblick, der jede Menge taktischer Möglichkeiten bietet, man kann windigere Gegner aber auch vom Rechner verprügeln lassen und nur bei wirklich schwierigen Auseinandersetzungen persönlich eingreifen. Überhaupt hat die gemütliche Maus/Menüsteuerung den alten AD&D-Veteranen keine Überraschungen zu bieten, aber wer hätte auch anders erwartet?

Überrascht waren wir hingegen, daß die vergleichsweise schönen Labyrinthe der PC-Umfassung am Amiga letztlich nun doch nicht so schön aussehen, unsereins muß man sich mit dem üblichen Mager-3D bescheiden. Naja, dafür gibt es zahlreiche hübsche Zwischenbilder der verschiedenen Formate. Auch die Titelmelodie tönt recht gelungen, die Sound-FX hingegen sind schauderhaft wie eh und je.

Wem jedoch eine feine Geschichte wichtiger ist als technischer Schnickschnack, der sollte getrost mal in die Pools of Darkness hinabtauchen - ein nostalgischer Kick wird garantiert! (jn)

The last in the series (we hope)

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That Tolkien has got a lot to answer for. I don't know about you, but every time I force myself to load up the latest dull, unimaginative written-by-numbers FRP I despair - there are just too many of them, and too few of them do anything new which they type. The sorry fact is that these Advanced Dungeons and Dragons things (the Eye Of The Beholder series aside) are amongst the worst offenders too - they've got the name and the official licence and the real D&D rules, and that's enough to ensure that people will still buy these, despite the fact they're amongst the sloppiest around.

This one's a case in point. Look up dull in the OED and you almost expect the definition to tell you to check out computer role playing. When it's done well - as in Legend or Eye Of The Beholder 2, also reviewed this issue, it's great, but the rest of the time, oh dear. Let's take a closer look at some of the elements that make this so boring.

1) The plot is so thin it makes Lena Zavaroni look like Mike McShane. A band of heroes (who you can create afresh, import from previous AD&D games or use the ones supplied with the program) arrive in the city of Phlan, where their adventures began all those prequels ago, to find that the evil Lord Blane is trying to spread his wicked influence. This time has the use of 'Pools' that let him jump around dimensions. You have to stop him taking control of, well, everywhere. There are a host of new monsters to meet, and allies to seek out, and that's about it. Original or what? (Hint: 'Or what').

2) The graphics display can give four views: area, which is like an overhead map; 3D (used in the very loosest form of the term), which gives you a very rough view of what your characters can see immediately in front: 'lavish' artistic impressions of non-player characters, places and events, and combat view, for when you indulge in a bit of rough and tumble. All are bog standard at best; at worst they are as confusing as hell.

3) Combat often looks a complete mess - I defy anyone to be able to work out what's happening. Aside from the appalling graphics, the information about who hit who and inflicted what damage flashes up so quickly it's unreadable.

4) You have to keep referring to the manual all the time. This is a pet hate of mine - it totally destroys the game's atmosphere.

5) The game is controlled through a series of menus, sub-menus and sub-sub-menus. It's all pretty cumbersome and time consuming, and not very intuitive.

6) One of the most annoying omissions of the game, however, is that you can't talk to other characters. When you meet one of them they might tell you something interesting, but you can't actually engage in a proper conversation with them, which goes completely against the spirit of role playing.

The basic point, then, is that is a dull game, made almost completely worthless buy the fact that there are some many similar RPGs around, and a good number of them are much, much better.