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.