Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep logo AGA

Reviewed by Tina Hackett

Sequel time again and it's one that die-hard fans of role-playing games have been wetting themselves in anticipation for for years. Particularly Neil, our coverdisk editor - we've literally been swimming around the office with Neil shouting "It's nearly here, it's near here." Personally, I wondered what the attraction was, but nevertheless I donned my trusty green RPG tights, wizards, wand, and magic potions and teleported myself into RPG land.

Apparently, the original game came out around 1987 as far as anyone in the office can remember, so those who enjoyed the original have been waiting a long, long time for this sequel. But their patience has finally paid off and the game is here, packed with enhancements and new challenges.

The original apparently sold in excess of a quarter of a million copies and if this is anything to go by, its successor should attract a huge amount of interest. But we have to remember that this was nine years ago and demands of today's gamesplayers have altered dramatically.


Thrill seekers won't find the ultimate adrenaline rush here but a bit of patience pays dividends and you do feel well rewarded for your troubles.

You start your travels in a dingy dungeon (surprise) and your task is to prevent Dragoth's minions creating the Zo gate that will allow him to enter Skulldeep (eh?). First of all you will have to check out the Cryochambers. In each one there is a potential Champion - someone you can select to be on your team. Each has particular strengths and weaknesses and you will need to choose carefully because you are stuck with them for the rest of the adventure.

Setting off along the dimly lit corridors, you must look carefully for anything that may help you on your travels. There are the usual problems to solve like finding a key to get through doors. You also need to collect and more importantly, read, scrolls which impart vital clues.

When you find your way out of there, watch out because no sooner you have set off then you are attacked by hideous monsters which you'll have to destroy. Don't fear, though, if one of your characters gets destroyed because you can always bring them back to life in the resurrection alter - but use with caution because every time you do this, the Champion will be weaker than before.

And that's just a small slice of the game. There is absolutely tons to it and will keep the most hardened of adventurers happy for a good while. On top of this, you also have your magic spells to cast and the many monsters to deal with - which, incidentally, are different from last time in that you can employ tactics, particularly of the running away kind (my own favourite when dealing with such foes).


You'll like it... but not a lot...

Magic (sorry, magick) plays a huge part in the game and you'll have to put some effort into learning its ways. First of all, you will need Mana. Each adventurer has a different amount and it is a good indication of their overall spellcasting skills. Then, as they say, practice makes perfect and before you can go off casting your large spells you need to practice their weaker forms.

Magick Maps are also available and lets wizards and priests check out their surrounding environments. A basic map shows stationary objects but the more advanced can show hostile creatures or mana-laden items.

Collectables

The Scroll - this can provide hints and instructions for spells.
Keys - hidden in all cunning places, the key is needed to get beyond the doors.
Weapons - extra arms can be picked up and can be used later on the tougher foes.
Coins - money makes the world go round so the more you can get, the better.

Final word

I must admit, the game did pleasantly surprise me and it wasn't as bland as I'd at first feared. Thrill seekers won't find the ultimate adrenaline rush here but a bit of patience pays dividends and you do feel well rewarded for your troubles. Some of the battles can be a bit tedious but you can run away should you want to.

The graphics have kept the original style but this does leave it all looking rather dated and some of the monsters are quite laughable. Saying that, though, the improved atmospherics do something to increase realism (I'm not sure what exactly, because no matter how hard I try I can't convince myself that I'm a muscle-bound warrior called Torham). Sounds and graphics work well in portraying the surreal world and the overall look is effective.

The game is rather more expensive than usual so you may want to take this into account. Put it this way - if you're a fan of the genre and have waited for this for a long time then you won't be disappointed, but on the other hand, if you're little more than a casual admirer, then think carefully - it's not a modern game, it takes patience and appears quite dated. All the same, it's nice to see an old concept revived.



Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep logo AGA

Finally coming back to the surface, Nick Veitch gives his assessment of this heir apparent to the RPG crown.

Computers are useful things. They have (with arguable consequences) relieved mankind's burden with their speed, efficiency and accuracy, and this isn't just true in banks, libraries, offices, ships, aircraft and nuclear power stations.

Computers have successfully separated the fun, thrill and excitement of Roleplaying from the tedium of looking up charts, throwing 20-sided dice and trying to explain to your mother that Gary Gygax is not a disciple of Beelzebub (probably).

Although there were others, it was the original Dungeon Master which built on this and created a true, real-time atmosphere for the game. This is no turn-based, 'sit back and think of what to do' game - fast sword-work is just as important, if not more so, than strategic planning.

THE GAME REMAINS THE SAME
Dungeon Master 2 does not try to change any of these base elements. It is still, recognisably, of the same genus. In fact, visually there is little difference at all.

The screen area is still surrounded with little gadgets and display panels, the whole can is still totally mouse driven (you can use the keyboard if you want) and you still get a little hand icon to move around the screen and interact with objects.

In fact, even the beginning is almost identical. You pick your three travelling companions by wandering around a labyrinth scattered with suspended animation tubes. To add someone to your party, you merely have to defrost them.

The real thing that set DM apart from the others (before it spawned a series of imitators) were the clever tricks and traps. Noticing a slightly discoloured stone on a wall (don't play this game in black and white) you press it in, activating a secret panel, behind which you find a key - that sort of thing. Things hav more scope to be fiendish in DM2. You can now push, pull or slide many objects around (lamps, tables and even big boulders if you are strong enough).

There are also a lot more open spaces (especially in the beginning) and there is more scope for the monsters to apply some sort of tactics. Instead of being stuck in a narrow corridor, where you just had to slug it out toe to toe, you can now run away. So can the monsters, or if they are particularly nasty, they'll gang up on you.


Slick, cinematic, absorbing, huge, lots to get stuck into and a bit expensive.

MONSTER? WHERE MONSTER?
The monsters have far more character in DM2. I don't mean that they are easier to engage in polite conversation, or that you would like to take them home for a cup or tea of anything, but instead of just being monsters with different attacks and stamina points, they have their little foibles too. Wolves like to attack in packs and are easily distracted by bones (or a dead member of your party).

The dinosaur things are slow movers, and you can easily run around them and attack from behind all the time - they lose interest if you get far enough away too. Trees (the animated kind) are vicious, but they don't like fireballs and will run away if they are getting a hammering.

As you progress through the game, your characters will gain experience. Not in the tedious way you get experience in the usual RPGs, where everyone gets so many points every time a monster is killed.

In DM2, experience is gained through practice. The more times you swish your sword, the better at it you become. The more you try to cast spells, the better at waving your arms around you become. If you like, you could just spend hours attacking the bushes (and there are plenty of suitable ones in the first part of the game) and become a Craftsman Fighter. But it would be very tedious.

DULL, DULL, DULL
Which brings us nicely on to gripe time. On the whole, tediousness is reduced in this version. You are not, on the whole, forced to travel back through half the game levels just to get some food, and the teleporter is very handy indeed. There is still some level of tedium, though, manily to do with the shops.

Yes, it is very realistic, yes it does give you the scope to barter (vaguely). But it's most certainly dull. I challenge anyone to find it thrilling to spend 18 minutes (count 'em) buying basic equipment for their team, only to step outside and be killed. Save as you go.

But the atmospherics have been improved, as has the presentation. The graphics are slick, the animations pleasant, the sound and music atmospheric. It's like all that stuff Scottie was going on about in his Enhanced Games feature a while back. The experience is almost cinematic and certainly absorbing.

There are some improvements that maybe should have been made, but it is heartening to see a tried and tested formula being improved on and brought up-to-date. There is certainly lots to get stuck into too.


ON THE CONVEYER BELT TONIGHT...
These are some of the items you will stumble across on your travels:
Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep
POTIONS
These have many different effects and you can even make your own (if you have a spare flask).
Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep
FOOD
A man's got to eat. You shouldn't run out of food, as you can eat many of the monsters you kill.
Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep
MAGIC MAP
Shows a limited area around the party. Some have the option to display monsters and marker points too.
Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep
POTIONS
You will need lots of these. And some gold ones, some copper ones and few gems too.
Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep
KEY
You need these to get into various parts of Skullkeep and the surrounding area.
Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep
NECKLACE
Some of these have special attributes. Put it on and see which characteristics are affected.
Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep
BOTHA
Not made from the skin of former South African leaders, but indispensible for carrying water.
Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep
SHIELD
Useful for hiding behind. Some have special abilities, as this one which can teleport the party.
Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep
BOMB
Throw at baddies. It explodes and upsets them. Several types exist - this one is your standard fireball.
Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep
HELM
Helm. You wear it on your head. It keeps your hair dry.
Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep

01. Click on this to see your character's vital statistics, or to view particular items.
02. What are you wearing on your head. A helm or some sort is sensible.
03. Use this to scoff your fallen prey, or to imbibe revitalising potions.
04. The contents of your backpack. It isn't very big, but you can get bags and chests to put things in.
05. Sound menu. Change the volume of the effects, or turn the music on and off.
06. Save a game. You can save up to nine different games; unfortunately, you cannot give them particular names.
07. Beddy-bytes. Sleep, that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care. In other words, you regain magic points and strength while asleep.
08. Close this window (or use the right mouse button).
09. Your current food level. If this goes red you are in trouble. Steak is most satisfying.
10. Ditto water. This will last longer (conversely to real life).
11. Your current load for this character. You can always stash non-essential items somewhere - theft is not a big problem here.
12. Your scabbard. Tuck an extra weapon in here to be safe.
13. The most important stats are your health and mana. Mana is basically the amount of magic the character can perform.
14. The pouch area is useful, mostly for carrying water.
15. The hands are obviously where you keep the main weapons or items. Some weapons are better than others.
16. Not entirely decorative, some jewellery or capes enhance your abilities.



Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep logo AGA Amiga Joker Hit

FTL steht nicht umsonst für "Faster Than Light": Zusammen mit Interplay haben die englischen Programmierer kaum sechs Jahre für den AGA-Nachfolger des großen Rollenspiel-Klassikers benötigt! Für unseren bösen Sarkasmus wandern wir jetzt mit Lichtgeschwindigkeit in den Kerker...

Stellen wir spaßehalber mal das Fazit dieses Tests an den Anfang: Obwohl der zweite Kerkermeister im PC Joker mit modrigen 67 Prozent Gesamtwertung abgefertigt wurde, können wir ihm am Amiga den Hit nicht verweigern - und das nicht nur aus Gründen der hier weit stärkeren Tradition dieses Rollenspiels (siehe Info-Box), sondern halt auch mangels aktueller Konkurrenz.

Tatsächlich sieht das Game seine Vorgänger trotz der vielen Jahre und der vielen Umstrukturierungen während der Produktion nämlich verdächtig ähnlich: Nach wie vor tritt man mit einer vierköpfigen Heldentruppe zum Kampf gegen das Böse im Lande Zalk an, diesmal verkörpert durch den Magier Dragoth und seine Schergen.

Diese wilden Tiere, fiesen Zauberer und untoten Kreaturen trifft man hier aber nicht nur in 3D-Grüften an, denn neben weitverzweigten Dungeons verfügt Dungeon Master II neuerdings auch über stürmische Wälder, alte Ruinen sowie einen schaurigen Friedhof. Gesucht wird da wie dort zunächst mal nach vier Schlüsseln, um in die Ruinenfestung "Skullkeep" zu gelangen, wo eine alte Maschine namens "Zo Link" vor sich hin rostet - und allein mit ihrer Hilfe kann man zum großen Finale in Dragoths Dimension überwechseln.

Richter und Henker des Endgegners ist in Personalunion der magisch begabte Soldat Torham Zed, in der Folge auch Spieler genannt. Er sucht sich in der Abenteuerhalle zunächst drei Begleiter aus den 15 Helden aus, die dort seit 1989 gefangen sind. Okay, das stimmt nicht ganz, denn in den Schneewittchensärgen mit Frischegarantie finden sich nun andere Kämpen, als sie das Original zu bieten hatte.

Die Auswahl sollte aber einmal mehr mit besonderer Sorgfalt getroffen werden, denn jeder hier schlummernden Ninjas, Kämpfer, Priester und Magier verfügt über unterschiedliche Fähigkeiten in neun Bereichen wie Stärke, Lebensenergie oder Zauberpotential. Und eine ausgewogene Zusammenstellung der Party steigert die Erfolgsaussichten beim Bestehen der teils ultraschweren Kämpfe ungemein! Zudem wäre darauf zu achten, daß die einzelnen Recken die Erfahrungsstufen der Beförderungsleiter unterschiedlich schnell erklimmen.

Ihre Meriten sammeln die Damen und Herren wie gehabt in dreidimensionaler Umgebung, die mittels Maus oder Tastatur und sechs Richtungspfeilen schrittweise durchwandert wird. Doch während es beim Vorgänger ausschließlich durch enge Gänge ging, sind die Räumlichkeiten nun weitaus breiter, wodurch sich die Gegner buchstäblich von allen Seiten anschleichen können - um unliebsame Überraschungen zu vermeiden, kann jeder der Heroen in eine andere Richung schauen und hauen. Zu sehen bzw. Finden gibt es allerorten nützliche Heilkräuter, Wurfsteine, Schlüssel etc, die per Mausklick eingesackt werden.

Wer (durch die genreübliche Leichenfledderei) bereits über eine ausreichende Barschaft verfügt, kann sich zudem in vier Ladentypen mit Rüstungen, Waffen, Nahrungsmitteln und Kräuteren zu variabel erfeilschten Preisen eindecken. Jedenfalls verfügen alle vier Recken über ein eigenes Inventory mit je 16 freien Plätzen, können aber stets nur so viel Gepäck mit sich herumschleppen, wie es ihre vom erfahrungslevel abhängige Tragkraft zuläßt.

Kommt es zum Kampf, geht es in Echtzeit und icongestuert zur Sache, wobei die auberkundigen Kollegen erst dann helfend eingreifen können, wenn sie einen Spell parat haben. Die 34 Sprüche für Feuerbälle, Unsichtbarkeit, Telekinese usw. müssen nämlich erst recht umständlich mit einem ganzen Schwung von Bild-Icons bezüglich ihrer Stärke, Elemente Form und Ausrichtung zusammengerührt werden - wie das geht, erfährt man etweder durch schlichtes Ausprobieren oder durch das Studium der in manchen magischen Relikten eingewobenen Runen.

Auf alle Fälle sind Hexenmeister in der Gruppe bei den überaus happigen Anfangsgefechten keine große Hilfe, später jedoch unabdingbar.

Während der zahlreichen Rangeleien muß zudem darauf geachtet werden, die zumeist recht beweglichen Feinde stets im Visier, sprich in der Bildmitte zu halten, da sie dazu neigen, sich aus dem Sichtfeld des Spielers zu schleichen.

Der Lohn der Mühe sind natürlich gesteigerte Charakterwerte bis hin zum 14. Level ("Mon-Meister"), man darf die Hinterlassenschaften wie Waffen, Gold, Futter oder Rüstungsteile einbehalten und eventuell erlittene Wunden mit Heltränken oder einem Gesundheitsschlaf lindern. Sollte ein Mitstreiter gar den Tod finden, kann man seine Gebeine wie gewohnt an einem speziellen Altar wiederbeleben, wobei der Digi-Lazarus dann aber ohne sein zuvor gehortetes Hab und Gut aufersteht.

Zum Trost hier noch ein kleiner Tip: Da an den bereits besuchten Orten die schon abgemurksten Monster (und auch die aufgeklaubten Gegenstände) zumeist wiederholt auftauchen, kann man immer wieder dieselben Gegner zum Kampf fordern und so den Erfahrungslevel recht schnell in die Höhe schrauben. Aber die schlagkräftigen Saurier, Skelette oder Wirbelwinde, denen man oft auch durch eine schnelle Flucht entgehen kann, sind ja nicht die einzigen Gefahren in Zalk.

So regnet es in der freien Natur ziemlich oft, und wenn die Truppe dann auf freiem Feld von einem Blitz getroffen wird, nimmt das Spiel ein jähes Ende.

Hinter jeder zweiten Ecke lauern zudem Diebe, tückische Gruben und unvermutet zufallende Türen oder Gitter; außerdem gilt es, einige äußerst schwierige Geschicklichkeitseinlagen in Echtzeit zu bewältigen: Beispielsweise muß ein Mechaniscus in Gang gesetzt und dann in Windeseile ein zuschnappendes Tor durchquert werden. Diesbezüglich verdienen selbst so profane Gegenstände wie Tische oder Lampen Beachtung, denn es besteht immer die Möglichkeit, daß sich dahinter geheime Schalter oder noch geheimere Geheimgänge verbergen.

Wie seit eh und je muß der Spieler auch an die Verpflegung seiner Leute denken, denn die Truppe knabbert stetig am Vorrat, und man will ja vermeiden, daß der eine oder andere aus einem Schläfchen wegen Hunger oder Durst nie wieder aufwacht.

Wer Irrwege vermeiden will, sollte sich zudem im Shop einen Kompaß zulegen und gleich zu Beginn nach dem erweiterbaren Automapping Ausschau halten - selbst wenn es nur von sehr begrenztem Nutzen ist, da es bloß einen kleinen Landschaftsausschnitt aus der Vogelperspektive zeigt und bei jedem Gebrauch das für die Zaubereien nötige Manakonto des Kartenträgers belastet.

Andererseits ist es schon eine Mühe, die abwechslungsreichen, aber verzwickten Irrgärten von Hand zu kartographieren...

Doch zurück zum Anfang: Bis auf das hier fehlende Intro und die weggelassenen Zwischenanimationen entspricht Dungeon Master II am Amiga der PC-Version aufs Haar und wartet daher mit zwar nur kleinen, aber doch feinen Verbesserungen gegenüber dem Alten Original auf. So garantieren die morbide gezeichneten und durch Fackeln oder Blitze stimmungsvoll ausgeleuchteten 3D-Locations sehr atmosphärisches Gameplay, die Monster sind Häßlicher bzw. Hübscher denn je, und die dezent verbesserte Maus/Tastatur-Bedienung ist ohnehin von zeitloser Genialität.

Die mäßigen Animationen sind jedoch alles andere als zeitgemäß, besonders wenn man an die PC-üblichen und auch am Amiga inzwischen längst nicht mehr seltenen Dungeon-Spiele mit flüßig scrollender Texture-Grafik denkt. An der Akustik gibt es wiederum wenig zu mäkeln, denn es warten schön düstere Melodien und zahllose Sound-FX.

Kurzum, wer mit einem schwachen Automapping, einem dafür exorbitanten Schwierigkeitsgrad und dem Charme der frühen Jahre leben kann, der wird hier bestens bedient - zumal Dungeon Master II am Amiga bestimmt kein reiner Lückenfüller in der Rolliflaute ist, sondern ein umfangreiches und packendes Abenteuer in klassischer Tradition! (md)


DIE KERKERREVOLUTION VON 1988: DUNGEON MASTER

Vor nunmehr sieben Jahren erblickte dieses richtungsweisende Rollenspiel am Atari ST das Licht der Monitore, ein Jahr später dann am Amiga - hier wie dort war es der Prototyp einer neuen Generation, vor allem wegen der erstmals aktiv in ein Echtzeit-Gameplay einbezogenen Grafik, die auch erstmals nach einem Megabyte unter der Rechnerhaube verlangte. Die revolutionären, weil bildschirmfüllenden 3D-Gewölbe, das ausgeklügelte Magiesystem, die schaurige Stereo-soundbegleitung und die formidable Steuerung zogen denn auch eine ganze Heerschar ähnlicher Programme nach sich: Die Klongalerie reicht von "Bloodwych" bis "Eye of the Beholder".

Wer die originalen Kämpfe und Rätsel (zumeist um verschlossene Türen und verborgene Gänge) heute noch erleben will, greift zur 50 Mark billigen Psygnosis-Compilation, wo der Oldie zusammen mit der Zusatzdisk "Chaos Strikes Back" in einer Box vereint ist. Oder zum aktuellen Nachfolger, denn sooo groß sind die Unterschiede wie gesagt nicht...



Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep logo AGA

First, there was Dungeon Master. And now here it is again.

The Gulf War. John Major. The fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, Kurt Cobain, The abolition of apartheid in South Africa. Britpop. The introduction of GCSEs. OJ Simpson. My first snog. No prize whatsoever will be delivered to the reader who realises that all these earth-shaking events happened after the release of the first Dungeon Master way back in winter of 1986.

A decade, then, since the modern RPG was invented, delivering us from text-based evil with icon-led control, first-person views and a relative accessibility. As if preparing for times to come, or possibly to preserve the macrocosmic balance of the universe, Dungeon Master also shook out of its bag monsters animated in three frames, identical walls and (bleugh) statistics.

Now walk with us through the years. Our feet slog upon the puddly road. Dozens of games from Ishar to Doom swimm pass us like so many superimposed neon signs, cannibalising Dungeon Master's ideas for their own sinister visions as Dick Powell speaks as a voice-over. At length the road ends. We have reached 1995. FTL announce Dungeon Master 2 is ready. And it's - it's - IT'S...

RUFUXRUFCUD
It's Frontier but for RPGs. It differs from its predecessor not nearly enough. The biggest change in DM2 is that it won't run on anything except an A1200 with a hard drive, which is fine by me (after all I wouldn't criticise Sensible Soccer for not running with a joystick). What's more psyche-shatteringly unbelievable is how little it's improved in any other area.

Control, for example, is, well, fairly identical. Four characters, backpacks, arrows for movement icons for slamming the odious opponents with the implements of your heroic wrath (usually swords and clubs and stuff) - the norm for this kind of party-slog.

Conserved from the original Dungeon Master is the rune-based magic system, whereby mixing together magic glyphs and energising them leads to a variety of pyrotechnic effects. In practice most players will learn a fireball and a heal spell and leave it at that but, hey, it's warmly reassuring to have the option.

The graphics are still square-based single-step pseudo-3D, with the tiny addition of a 'half-step' between squares in the manner of Death Mask and Liberation. They've lost any any remote realistic edge they ever possessed, looking now more like preliminary sketches from that ridiculous dodgy Dungeons and Dragons cartoon in the mid-'80s. (Is it just me who abhorred that abomination of a programme? Yeah? Thought so.)

However, the monsters do have more than three animation frames, which is a marginal improvement. Except they all disappear in a cloude of smoke, which just looks ridiculous in the new gore-obsessed post-Mortal Kombat world. A Gloom-style wading-through-your-enemies'-entrails mode would have added to the atmos infinitely.

And sonically it's limited, with pretty poor samples for the monsters' movement and stuff, but, flying in the face of AP's collected wisdom. I proclaim the music to be bearable - full of slow sweeps of mediaevaly keyboards which change every time you enter a new section. Go figure, but kudos for that anyway.


As Dick Powell speaks

ROCHANGRAFEL
Cheerful additions to the game formula include slow reaction speeds and a bugger for your commands. The combination of these wonderful ideas leads to your brave group jumping down holes and running into walls and bushes completely out of your control as the machine idiotically plods through your increasingly frantic mouse clicks trying to catch up.

And banging into objects makes your party lose energy. You'd've thought that someone capable of mastering the arcane parts of magic would have the brains to avoid banging his head against a wall, but no. Oh no. The clots.

The characters. Yes. The fatal fault at the ageing heart of DM2, the characters have no character, existing solely as a handful of statistics and a pack mule for whatever you find. Now pull me up short if I'm wrong, but RPG characters are meant to be men and women of noble spirit who've chosen to risk everything they hold dear to their heart for a possible better future.

They're supposed to be HEROES - people for us to admire, show an interest in, become INVOLVED WITH. They're not, and here Dungeon Master 2 ad I bifurcate like an intelligent twig, supposed to be an eight-legged ass-kicking machine that you COULDN'T CARE LESS ABOUT.

At the start of the game, for instance, you have to awaken a party from a selection of odd-bods who have been frozen in a previous age. To help with his momentous, universe-defining decision you are given a glimpse at their stats. From the exact beginning, the programmers are making sure you know that you're not trying to help an imperilled alternate dimension, but are - hey, C-Monster! Look at these crazy numbers! - PLAYING A COMPUTER GAME.

Call me a dizzy loon, but how about being presented with a teasingly informative description of the warrior in question? Or even a story of their life in (hnngh) stereotypical Tolkienesque blurb? Or would any amount of original thought be too much effort? Sigh.

Another terminal flaw in the game is its confused identity, wallowing aimlessly between 'High' and 'Low' fantasy. Now before that Ed type bloke barges in (Get your hair cut. - Ed) 'Low Fantasy' is personified by gritty realism and flawed characters, and is found digitally in the superlative Legends of Valour and textually in Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books.

'High Fantasy', meanwhile, is more romanticised: paragons of virtue striding through overblown scenarios and that. Books like Lord of the Rings are good examples, as the isometric sprawl of Legend. DM2 possesses the epic situations and heroic characters of the former, but immediately plunges the player into pouring rain and never-ending battles with insignificant creatures to earn food and find keys. The clash of the mundane and the melodramatic is like a strawberry and horseradish sandwich: unpalatable.


My slug-infested house

SAWTOAD
Gallingly, there are a selection of wheaty ideas cast among the chaff of laziness. Furniture and boulders can be moved around so your can decorate the interior of the dungeon to your heart's content, as well as allowing for genius puzzles involving a strength potion and some really monolithic rocks. The shops are pretty good too with a chirpily-animated shopkeeper in the best tradition of Mr Benn, though you end up having to move items around individually as in Liberation rather than buying via a sensible many system.

And there are a couple of interesting fights, such as the one where wolves maul you as you're stuck in an adhesive swamp, and the one with the ghosts who phase in and out of existence entertainingly. The magic maps which shows you your surrounding area at the price of a steady drain of magical vitality are quite clever. And I've found no mazes so far, which shows some grasp of game design. (The only point of a maze is to map it. Mapping is stiflingly tedious. Automapping solves this. With automapping there is no point in having mazes, therefore have no mazes. Good work, kids).

The monsters' intelligence has also been improved. While in most of the Dungeon Master clones monsters merely try to walk in a straight line towards you, DM2's protagonists will attempt to outflank you before worrying you with mighty incisors like so many big terriers. But you still can't chat with them, and this is what finally crushes the last humanity from the game, leaving it hollow and soulless in comparison with the sprightly and chaotic Liberation or Legends of Valour.

For a game to possess life we must empathize with the characters contained within, ad the best way to do this is by talking. (And in real life too, you Bosnian crazies - Ed.)

While I was reviewing this, Team 4.5 comrade and sibling Cheesecake visited my slug-infested house, his sparkingly new ("CD32" - Ed) held close to his youthful breast. Everyone in my house entered into the spirit of things and played ("Shadow Fighter" - Ed) all day. It was an intelligent, forward-looking game which had pinched any decent feature from previous beat-'em-ups and then added a couple of nifty ones of its own. And as I st there I just couldn't believe that ("Shadow Fighter" - Ed) and Dungeon Master 2 could exist in the same world. Then I realised they don't.

The programmers of DM2 appear to have spent the last seven years held in stasis and a big vat. While for the rest of time strolled on, they slumbered. They failed to experience the populist charm of Sonic, the brash genocide of Doom, the 3D dungeon-delving of Ultima Underworlds, Legends of Valour's immersive world or the futurist charm of Liberation.

Consequently, when they were revived last year they proceeded to make a straight sequel to the game which they believed they had only that moment finished. They succeeded, it's just that the wrld in which Dungeon Master 2 should have existed doesn't exist anymore. And neither should Dungeon Master 2.


TRICKY BLIGHTER, JOHNNY FOREIGNER

It's become traditional in these sort of games to have wimpy monsters wander up and 'borrow' the weapons your heroes are wielding. Such things are spurned by Dungeon Master. Instead, near the start of the game, some fast and hard monsters rush up, nab your stuff and beat you into an inedible pulp before you have a chance to retaliate. Thanks guys.

THE BEAUTIFUL DEBBIE MCGEE
Hola, readers. I am the great Soprendo. Join me as I mix up a batch of fireballs to help my magician chum and his friends.

Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep
I start by selecting the power level. Here I must exercise caution, as too much will melt my dungeon counterpart's brain. Probably.

Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep
Now we need something flammable. This Fire rune will do nicely.

Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep
But - mon Dieu - how to propel the chap? Hola - a Wing rune, Peef Paff Poof - un fireball! And now a comic song from my wife Victoria Wood.


Dungeon Master 2: The Legend of Skulldeep logo AGA

Price: £29.99 Publisher: Audiogenic 081 424 2244

Many years after leaving the eerie half-light that was Dungeon Master, the first true classic RPG returns in a new guise. Or does it?

Has time slipped by that quickly? Can it really be that long since the original Dungeon Master emerged from its labyrinthian manhole cover? Well, actually it is. It first arrived on the Amiga in 1988 and I remember sprinting down to my local house of games with a view to buying it.

The devastating news on arrival was that to run it on an A500 you needed to expand an extra 512k to give you 1Mb. However, some bright spark decided that boxing a half meg expansion with a copy of the game for £44.99 would do the trick. They were right and DM's huge popularity was the reason most punters upgraded.

That was then
Dungeon Master was a veritable revolution in games engineering with its point-and-click control and animated creatures. At the time no one had seen a title where you could actually draw a throwing star, or some other nasty sharp object from your backpack and then simultaneously throw it at the poor wandering beast that just happened to get in your team's way. Mouths gaped, electricity bills mounted and insomniacs discussed tactics during the few hours they allowed themselves to interact with normal humanity.

DM's impact on the industry can never be understated. Look at the quantity of Dungeon Master clones which followed in its footprints, unashamedly copying every technique employed in the game.

This is now
When I saw this game, it was like going back in time. It was a totally retro experience because despite the years that have slipped by, nothing seemed different. In fact, I had to check myself in the mirror to make sure I hadn't fallen through some bizarre hole in the time-space continuum and regressed my teens!

So OK, joking aside, why wasn't I impressed? Well, there is no real point moaning about the plot because apart from the point of the quest there's little difference betwixt DM2 and any other RPG. The overall object is to assemble a team of adventurers, find the bits to this Zo-link machine and use it on some nasty bloke with megalomaniacal intentions.

My main bone of contention, on first examination, was how similar the graphics are between the old and the new. The adage 'if it ain't broken don't fix it' normally applies, but this has been about eight years.

OK, some of the game features 'up-top' sections that allow adventurers to quest overland. Oh, it rains too and the odd flash of lightening illuminates the night sky, but basically everything looks a trifle samey in the graphics department.

The big selling point of Skulldeep is the implementation of intelligent monsters that respond and act upon your decisions and your level of force. Good idea, you'd think, but you never really get to interact to a much higher level with them than to try and orphan their slimy offspring with your axe of sterility.

Summing up, I'm very sad that Dungeon Master 2 is a let-down and the rationale behind why it's a let-down is simple: it's too dated. Diehards of the genre (or DM fan club members) might still get a slight movement in their scabbards because of the new puzzles and the extensions to the magic system, but to us normal mortals, you might as well hack your way around the original.