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Review by
Philippa Irving
   

 

 
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!
Wasteland
1988 Electronic Arts/Interplay Productions
Programmed by Alan Pavlish
 
Most text of the present article comes from the review published in the fortieth issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (street date: July 14th, 1988).
 


Philippa's sorties into the field this month have brought her into the realm of SF fantasy with Wasteland and, on a more practical level, into DIY wargame construction, courtesy of SSI.
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WASTELAND
Electronic Arts, 19.99 disk


Computer roleplaying games are often reviewed in 'Manoeuvres', and from the sceptical standpoint of a live roleplaying purist -- convinced that a form of entertainment that relies on human interaction and is practically a kind of improvised theatre couldn't possibly be reproduced on a computer -- I have come to enjoy this sub-genre of the strategy gaming world greatly. A good computer RPG can offer hours of continuous absorption, being less frustrating than text adventures (which, like cryptic crosswords, stop being fun when you get stuck) and less serious and technical than straightforward wargames. But having had a fair number pass through my disk drive, I have also got tired of the cliched, unimaginative and humourless settings and plotlines offered as standard. Far too many RPGs use scenarios that would have seemed antiquated even in the early days of D&D.

Having complained about this loud and long in recent issues. I'm delighted this month to have received Wasteland for review. Wasteland comes from EA, who also publish the more conventional Bard's Tale series, and is an RPG set not in the orc-infested pastures at Fantasia, but the irradiated wastelands of post-holocaust America.

In a few explanatory paragraphs, the game designers boldly root their scenario in the immediate future. Ten years from now, in 1998, America is to have completed a space station which the Russians insist is a military launching platform. Tensions grow, and the nations of the world line themselves up behind the two superpowers. But two weeks before it is due to go into operation, the space station transmits a distress signal and, mysteriously, all the satellites orbiting the planet disappear. The response of the superpowers is carefully considered and rational: they discharge their nuclear arsenals at each other. Civilisation As We Know It is neatly destroyed, though convenient pockets remain here and there in a state of anarchy most conducive to adventurers.

The player takes on control of a party of Desert Rangers. The Desert Rangers follow in the great tradition of the Texas and Arizona Rangers, and were formed to help survivors of the holocaust rebuild their communities. They come from the strongest and most successful of the surviving settlements, descended from a group of Army Engineers who were working in the southwestern deserts when the nuclear attack began. Seeking shelter, they turfed out the inhabitants of a newly-constructed federal prison and invited the surrounding survivalist communities to join them. This prison is now known as the Ranger Centre.

There have been disturbances in the desert recently, and it is the duty of the Desert Rangers to go out and investigate them. The player is given no more information than this in the introduction to the rulebook, which lets down the atmosphere just a bit; surely the real Desert Rangers would know the nature of the 'disturbances', and have some theories about who or what might be causing them and how serious they were? The brief is really 'explore the desert and its scattered pockets of civilisation, and discover what you're supposed to be doing as you go along'. Fair enough. Many games of this type insist that the player has a blank formatted disk to hand to use as 'character disk' and very often an extra one is required to save the game. I always find this irritating, for blank disks, like safety pins and policemen, are never around when you need them. Wasteland absolutely requires you to have four disks. Four! And unless you have them, you can't play the game at all. The reason for this lies in the nature of the gameplay, which constantly alters the state of the map and the position of objects and the lives at NPCs -- and at least the requirement is clearly advertised on the front cover. The first two hours after purchase are spent copying four sides of data onto the disks, and silently vowing to be very cross indeed if the game itself turns out not to be worth the wait.

Once you finished you do at least have the comfort of knowing that the original two disks spend most of their time safely in the packet, and you're working with back-up copies. And if anything goes disastrously wrong in the course of play, you can repeat the process and go right back to the beginning.

Initially, the player commands a party of four Desert Rangers. The party can be expanded to seven by the recruitment of three NPCs met in the course of play. For the player who wants to get straight on with the game, four pregenerated characters are provided. New characters can be created in the Ranger Centre. Characters have a standard set of RPG attributes: strength, intelligence, luck, speed, agility, dexterity and charisma. Most of these affect the character's, ability in play in some way or another, and they can all be used directly in situations whore the player thinks they might be of some advantage; using strength, for instance, can force open a locked door, and charisma can charm an NPC into talking. Attributes are generated at random, and you can 'roll' continuously until you get a set you want. Hardened RPGists might regard this is as cheating, but it seems unimportant in a computer game. The character has a number of skill points initially equal to his intelligence rating, and the player uses these to buy a variety of skills from a generous selection detailed in the rulebook. The skills are an important part of the game. Their availability is restricted by the characters' IQ. While someone with an IQ of 3 can learn to swim or fire a rifle, an IQ of 16 is required to learn cryptology. The most advanced subject is metallurgy. Skills are all fairly cheap to buy at level one, and it's possible to get the entire range between the four characters. Raising the level of the skill costs double what the previous level cost.

Once the party is assembled, exploration can begin. The wilderness map is conventional and reasonably attractive, showing an overhead view of a landscape that conspicuously fails to look threatening or irradiated. The party crunches across plains and desert, heading for interesting-looking features in the horizon. The three neatest settlements to the Ranger Centre are Highpool, the Agricultural Centre and the Rail Nomad's Camp -- these are mentioned in the introduction as places to search for clues -- but there are plenty of other mysterious and dangerous locations to get killed in. Wandering too far into the radiation zones is fatal, but I suspect that equipment as yet undiscovered by me will enable the party to survive such trips. Random encounters with belligerent inhabitants of the wasteland such as Nuke Pooches and Wasteland Warriors hamper progress, but not irritatingly so.

Combat is smooth and swift. Each character starts the game in possession of a basic fire arm and a clutch of cartridges, and when a hostile group is encountered the player is given the choice of several actions for each character in the coming combat round. These orders, and the opponent's response to them, are processed in order and described in a scrolling message. Once a character loses all his hit points he is rendered unconscious, but recovers spontaneously if left alone by the enemy. Combat, particularly with large packs of unintelligent monsters, can sometimes drag on too long to be enjoyable. Once the party's weapon skills have improved, accurate and damaging firepower usually gets rid of the enemy in a couple of rounds. There are clumsy aspects to the combat system -- it's frustratingly difficult to run away, for instance -- but on the whole it's satisfying.

The real meat and interest of the game is contained in the locations, which, when entered on the main map, resolve into a smaller and much more varied map. The 'towns' of Wasteland are not the standardised cityscapes of games like Ultima, but excitingly different and unexpected. Highpool, close to the Ranger Centre, seems to be the remains of an American summer camp and is populated by a disturbing race of mutant teenagers. The Agricultural Centre lets the player's party loose on fields of giant turnips, carrots and wheat, infested by equally large and vicious bunny rabbits. The rail Nomads live in trucks and tents. Further to the northwest is the city of Quartz with streets of dangerous buildings to investigate.

There are shops in many of these places, buying and selling equipment, and healers who will cure diseases and restore hit points for a price. Often the use of skills and attributes will uncover hidden entrances to underground mines and concealed passageways, and there are many different characters to meet and converse with. The screen display is enhanced by frequent passages of text describing what the party sees, and this is supplemented by the ingenious use of a book of 'paragraphs' supplied in the packaging. When appropriate, the game prompts the player to a particular numbered paragraph in the booklet and information too wordy to be contained on the disk is imparted in the time-honoured way. The only problem with this system is the temptation to cheat and search through the paragraphs for clues!

 

The variety of different places to be explored, the generous use of text, the complexity of the interlocking clues and quests and the sheer sense of excitement and anticipation make Wasteland the best computer RPG I've seen for a long time. My favourable reaction is not entirety due to the 'originality' of the scenario (there's nothing particularly original in an absolute sense about a post-holocaust setting), but I think the background provides more scope for interesting objects, characters and situations. If you can afford it, buy it; there's hours and hours of entertainment in it.

   


Presentation 85%

On the whole excellent, though there are a few awkward moments in combat and a strange bug that sometimes doesn't require a character to have bullets in his gun when he fires it.

Graphics 81%
Above average for the game type, with stylish artwork for various monsters encountered.

Rules 87%
Every aspect of the game system is well laid out and explained in detail, and the book of paragraphs is an ingenious idea.

Playability 92%
The sense of anticipation is very great.

Overall 95%
A thoroughly absorbing game.
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TACTICS

It's about time that someone besides me did the work for 'Tactics'! Come on -- there must be hundreds of successful strategists out there eager to impart the benefit of then experience. I challenge all readers of 'Manoeuvres' -- yes, both of you -- to write in with advice on how to succeed in your favourite wargame or Strategy game. You can't all be floundering helplessly after the second turn!

Wasteland from Electronic Arts, awarded a Sizzler this month, is a complex and exciting game with many secrets to be uncovered. Those who would prefer to find them out for themselves are advised to turn the page quickly, but some of you might welcome a few clues to get you started.

When creating your party, make sure you have the complete range of skills between the four characters. This means 'cheating' and ensuring that at least one character has an Intelligence of 17 or above. I'm not sure yet what Metallurgy is used for but it must be important eventually! It is in fact best to have two characters with an intelligence of over 15, so that you can have two medics in the party. If points permit, buy one character's medical skill up to level 2. Don't forget to give every character a clip pistol and rifle skill, or it won't be easy to increase your party's firepower when the opportunity presents itself.

Highpool is the first location west of Ranger Centre, and it is equipped with a shop and a doctor. Walk around the inside walls of the buildings to discover a note pinned up. The entrance to the underground cave must be discovered by the use of the Perception skill. Enter by using the rope included in the standard adventurer's pack. If you kill Bobby's dog then be prepared to fight Bobby himself on the way out, but don't waste too much time trying to exterminate the Mutant Kids.

The shop in the Agricultural centre will open when you've killed the Bunny Master.

In the Desert Nomad's camp, Brakeman, who lives in one of the railways carriages, will give you a Visa card to deliver to Head Crusher in Quartz.

The town of Quartz is a little way to the northwest of the Agricultural Centre; follow the river upstream on the east bank, past the bridge. It's best to gather as much loot as you can before visiting there, as the shop sells lots of goodies. In Quartz you can buy a flamethrower if you have 3000 dollars, and you can certainly equip yourself with armour for the first time. Most of the buildings in the town are empty, but head for Scott's Bar where you will find Head Crusher. 'Use' the Visa card to give it to him and provoke a reaction. The answer to the first riddle is 'toast'. Use charisma to get information from the girls in the Ladies. Ignore the provocation of the dancer, and don't go onto the catwalk -- you'll only walk into a fight with several large bouncers.

The most efficient way to regenerate your party's hit points is, curiously, to wander about for a bit in the dangerous wasteland. The timescale of movement on the wilderness map is greater than in the towns, and the encounters are significantly less vicious. You must, however, resort to a healer if you contract a disease.
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Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (20 Aug 2006)
Only one of the above screenshots existed in the original review (the one about Cyborg Sam's promotion), and even that was taken from the Apple version of the game!

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