PUBLICATION of Professor JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit in 1937 and The Lord of the Rings in 1965 were two of the most important events in adventure history. Two books like no othes.
The Hobbit game from Melbourne House shook the adventuring world, a Spectrum game with recognisable graphics, a game which had us puzzled over for weeks and months.
The sequels, Lord of the Rings and Shadows of Mordor, were buggy disappointments. Perhaps smarting under the criticisms, Melbourne House has pursued the theme of The Lord of the Rings. War in Middle Earth is a mixture of adventure, role playing and strategic wargame. It encompasses all three parts of the Lord of the Rings and for those who do not know the story a synopsis is given in the instruction booklet.
There are three main screen displays - full map, campaign and animation levels. The full map shows the entire area of Middle Earth involved in the game. Characters under your command are shown as blinking blue dots, evil forces as red dots and neutral forces as green. Time is halted while you look at it.
The campaign level gives a detailed scrolling view. Characters are shown as small figures and forces as a shield, its design in telling you who it represents. Clicking on characters, armies, towns or any other point of interest, will bring up a window telling you what or who is there.
The animation level presents a moving display. Messages passed to your characters are shown in a window. Characters walk or ride in from one side and move out to the other, occasionally sitting down for a rest or kip. Graphics are superb. Keep this level activated and the scene will change as your party moves to a new location.
In each display there are icons that enable other options to be actioned. You may look at the health of a character, see what forces are doing and their status, change the rate at which time passes, get a character to pick something up or use an item already held, change from one level to another, instruct a character or group to move to a place or in a specified direction and save the game position.
When opposing forces face up to one another you have the choice for each main character - and for groups such as 400 light infantry - of four actions: Charge, engage, withdraw and retreat. Fighting can make or mar the rest of the game, here the system used works quite well and is believable.
At the start you can only control three groups; Frod, Sam and Pippin, Eomer with a small group of cavalry in Rohan, Faramir with a group of rangers in North Ithilien.
SAURON has sent the Nazgul to the Shire because he believes that the Ring is somewhere in that area. Nazgul are deathless ancient kings who were given, and came under the spell of, the rings Sauran made for mortal men.
To get more allies you must meet characters or groups. As Frodo and his companions travel, they meet folk who offer advice. Read carefully, for some messages do not stay on the screen for very long. They usually indicated where useful objects may be found.
In the book, Frodo goes to Buckland, where he is joined by Merry. The four hobbits then travel east and meet Tom Bombadil (more advice) and then on to the small town of Bree where they meet a tall ranger, Aragorn. He takes them to Rivendell, where it is decided that the Ring must be destroyed and that the party to attempt this will be nine strong.
This Fellowship of the Ring is made up of Frodo and the three hobbits, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas (an Elf), Gimli (a drawf) and Boromir (a man).
Unlike the book, where you only meet Eomer and Faramir much later on, the game enables you to make use of their services and friendship right from the beginning.
It is possible to get the Ring to the Cracks of Doom by several different methods. There is also the question of finding treasures tha are hinted at. Who is to find them and when?
Combined might may be able to make a frontal assault on Mordor and get the Ring to Mount Doom.
Alternatively, as in the book, a mighty display of force may cause Sauron to overlook a small band creeping silently through a back door.
Your options are wide open. There are healing draughts in the Grey Havens, in a ravine north of the White Towers or in Tuckborough. There is mithril armour in Belegost and an ancient golden sceptre to the west of Amnumias. There is a valuable hammer lost to the dwarves and a silver orb that will have the elves following you like the Pied Piper.
There is a wood prized by the wise, elven shards, a red arrow and Thrain's ring. All these things could be useful, but do you have the time to find them?
INITIALLY the evil forces of Sauron remain quiescent - some slight movement but nothing openly aggressive. At a moment probably triggered off by the approach of the Ring, Sauron unleashes his armies. It's obviously useful to distract Sauron from looking too close to home.
It is possible to finish the game within an hour by getting Eomer to ride north to the Shire and escorting Frodo and friends into Mordor from the east. But apart from proving it can be done, this provides little or no real gameplay. None of the useful objects are found or used and the Fellowship of the Ring is never formed.
The time to feel good about this game is when you can do it as it was written in the book.
The operating system works well, but disc access when changing levels is a little slow. My version crashed a couple of times.
For those addicted to The Lord of the Rings, this is a must. You will meet many of the characters who make the trilogy so remarkable. This game is very much what yo make of it. It definitely does not lose interest, you simply take a different path. What music and sound effects there are, are quite good, and the graphics are excellent, you can sit and watch Frodo and Co wandering for hours.