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  Preview and
review by
Steve Cooke
(The White Wizard)


Welcome to Game of the Week! Each week there will be a new featured game on this page. The game may be good, average or diabolically bad, it really doesn't matter! Just look at the pics, read the text and enjoy the nostalgia! :-) Game of the Week! is open to contributions so if you would like to contribute a game article for this page you're more than welcome to! Every article we receive will be considered!

The Shadows of Mordor
1987 Melbourne House/Beam Software
By Philip Mitchell

Most text of the present article comes from the preview published in the twenty sixth issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (street date: May 14th, 1987) and the review published in the twenty seventh issue (street date: June 11th, 1987).


Melbourne House, 9.95 cassette, 14.95 disk


t seems a little harsh that the C64 versions of this game should be 2.00 more expensive than their Spectrum counterparts (and 1.00 more than the Amstrad) but the Wiz has to reserve judgement at this stage because he hasn't actually SEEN the 64 version. However, I understand it will have improved graphics (in quality and quantity), so perhaps that will make up for the loss of spondoolies.

Meanwhile, the Bearded One has dallied awhile with another eight bit version -- a pre-production copy running on an Amstrad -- and couldn't resist spilling the beans for the benefit of those of us sensible enough to have bought a . . . well . . . better computer!

As we all know (but I'll tell you anyway), the original Tolkien masterpiece Lord Of The Rings comprised three books -- The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return Of The King. Melbourne House's first program -- Lord Of The Rings -- covers the essential storyline contained in Book One and this latest effort, Shadows Of Mordor, sticks fairly closely to the plot of Book Two.

That means in essence that you must stay out of the way of the Black Riders (as always), and carry the ring to the borders of Mordor in the company of your faithful companion Sam Gamgee. To begin, you and Sam have been separated from your companions (as in the original book) and must continue alone. Help comes from unlikely quarters, including the odious Smeagol (otherwise known as Gollum) who has already put in an appearance in the first Melbourne House game The Hobbit.

So -- forget the blurb -- what's the game like? Lord Of The Rings was, after all, rather a disappointment for most of us. The response times were dreadfully slow, the bugs most uncommonly large, and . . . well, that's enough to put most people off. Shadows, however, appears to be a rather more polished affair.

The game 'shell' seems to be remarkable similar to LOR. The screen format is pretty well identical and the input syntax is the same. You start the adventure by choosing whether you wish to control Sam or Frodo or both during play. Once in the game you can't change your mind, so it's best to choose both - even if you think you may only wish to control one. If you hit RETURN at this stage, the game defaults to Frodo-control only.

The programmers say that if you choose to play both characters then the computer will 'animate' whichever hobbit you're not controlling. If you only choose one, then the other hobbit will be 'more fully animated'. I tried both options but it wasn't immediately clear how much difference this 'more-full-animation' actually made.

During play you enter your inputs in a small scrolling window at the bottom of the screen. On the version I saw you could only see three lines of input, which means that old inputs get rapidly scrolled out of sight. I find this rather annoying -- especially in mazes and the like where it helps to see what you entered, say, four moves ago.

As in most adventures nowadays, the good ol' interactive character raises his head in Shadows. It's hardly surprising, as this is a technique that Melbourne House pioneered with The Hobbit. What is surprising is how little the technique has developed. Every so often the input cursor disappears while the program manipulated the various 'mobiles' -- a rather better technique than constant tme-slicing, reckons the Wiz, because at least you know when the cursor is absent that the program is busy and won't be able to respond to your inputs.

I don't know for sure, but I suspect that one of the reasons Lord Of The Rings was so slow in operation is that there were too many characters to handle effectively without compromising on response times. Shadows has fewer major characters (effectively only three -- Frodo, Sam and Smeagol) and that could be one reason why the response times are so much better.

Playing Shadows is certainly a far more pleasurable experience than playing LOR. On the other hand, one has the feeling that the actual substance of the game is slightly more limited. Having only two characters to control may be the reason for this.

As with Lord Of The Rings, Melbourne House make a great play out of there being 800 words in the vocabulary. The Wiz tends to dismiss these claims as being unimportant -- there are some excellent home-brew adventures written using GAC which amply demonstrate that there is little connection between size of vocabulary and quality of game. Shadows does, however, allow some reasonably complex inputs, such as DROP THE SHORT AND THE LONG SWORDS or KILL ALL BUT FRODO.

You can also communicate with those you meet, but as usual the conversations tend to be rather stilted, and frequently you will receive quite incongruous replies. Nevertheless the feature seems to be better implemented here than it is in most cassette-based games.

The Wiz quite enjoyed playing Shadows, but the fact is that it's not a game of stunning innovation. I think that part of the trouble is that the adventure market is polarising to a greater extent between more expensive disk-based games with huge amounts of data and complex character interactions, and budget software like Aztec Gold and SubSunk.

By releasing Shadows at 9.95 Melbourne House gave, I think, taken the right decision. After all, that's only 2.00 more expensive than the Gold Medallion GAC home-brew series from Incentive -- and there's certainly a lot more meaty programming here. A year or so ago the going rate for a Melbourne House Tolkien game was about fifteen quid, so prices have dropped as quality has improved. A final judgement must await the release of the finished C64 version, but despite some reservations about the size of the game and hence its lasting interest, I reckon that it deserves to sell rather better than some of Melbourne House's recent disappointments.

Melbourne House, 9.95 cass, 14.95 disk


hadows Of Mordor was one of the new titles previewed last month by Ol' Whitey. When I had the pre-production demo in my hands, I felt that there was hope yet for Melbourne House. However, one or two things have happened to give me cause for doubt. Is it really worth following on from Lord Of The Rings for 9.95?

Well, on the 64 the game is still very slow. It's not just that the program itself is often updating the other characters, it also gives itself so much to do. Do we really want to know everything that Sam is carrying as move about the map? That, surely, is what the INVENTORY command is for. Why bother to print out such long inventories (and there's a lot to carry in this game) unless we ask for them.

Similarly, the parser seems to make very heavy weather of even the simplest inputs. For example, on the east bank of the river, EXAMINE BANK gets you FRODO DOESN'T SEE ANY BANK TO EXAMINE -- and this blindness is often repeated. In fact, I could give you a short but amusing list of inputs and responses -- here we go, playing Frodo:

(no response -- not even an error message)
Frodo attacks Frodo. Frodo has given Frodo a vicious scratch.
Frodo doesn't see anything to lever over the cliff (!!) >SWIM
Frodo doesn't see anything to drown in

. . . more's the pity, say I. At any rate, we obviously have a viciously masochistic Frodo who is obsessed with cliffs.

As for the graphics -- well, they're a great disappointment. On my version they loaded from disk, but didn't seem to be any the better for that. Certainly not a patch on The Big Sleaze.

Really the only good news is that unlike LOR, the game didn't crash while I was playing it and that the puzzles are okay -- I quite enjoyed solving them and they do offer some variety. However, I thought that one or two were just a little obscure -- especially the one near the beginning of the game where you have to make Smeagol promise to be good. I don't see many people getting that one for a while (unless they read this). I also can't see many people putting this game on the front of their shelves -- the rear for reference, perhaps, but it doesn't seem destined to share the fame (either for good or ill) of its predecessors.

Atmosphere 50%
Interaction 58%
Lasting Interest 68%






The tape version is also worthy of a look.

If you want a walkthrough, visit
Jacob Gunness
' Classic Adventures Solution Archive or
Martin Brunner's C64 Adventure Game Solutions Site

Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (25 Jun 2005)
There were no screenshots in the original preview.

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