Dungeon Master meets Dynorod

Eye of the Beholder 1 logo

Publisher: US Gold Price: £29.95

Isn't it strange how popular sewers are amongst monsters? Whilst the average human would rather eat his best friend's toenails than take a trip below ground, monsters seem to view all those dark and damp (not to mention smelly) tunnels as a prime hang-out. You'll find werewolves, crazed opera ghosts, giant alligators and even mutant ninja turtles living happily below our feet, feeding on the occasional human that is stupid enough to venture below ground.

In this game, you control a band of four brave adventurers who must journey into the sewers below the city of Waterdeep to investigate the source of evil that lurks there. In true fantasy style, you can choose between a variety of different races, each of which has its own particular strengths and inevitable weaknesses. Negotiating the labyrinth-like sewer complex is a hefty enough task in itself, but you'll also encounter a variety of different obstacles along the way.
There's the usual assortment of traps to avoid, puzzles to solve and of course a fair helping of sewer demons (and mutant turtles?) that must be dispatched if you are to succeed in your quest.

At first appearance, Eye of the Beholder bears more than a striking resemblance to a game that should be more than familiar to anyone who has even the slightest idea of what's hot in the Amiga games scene, namely FTL's Dungeon Master.
The similarities are not just cosmetic either - much of the gameplay is very similar, but that's not necessarily a bad thing when you consider what a cracking good game Dungeon Master was.

A blatant Dungeon Master rip-off it may be, but there's no escaping the fact that Eye of the Beholder is still one hell of a game. If you only intend buying one game this month, then this has got to be it. In short, Eye of the Beholder is an absolute corker.


Eye of the Beholder 1 logo Amiga Format Gold

US GOLD/STRATEGIC SIMULATIONS INC * £39 Mouse and Keyboard

Before you say it - yes! Eye of the Beholder does look stunningly like a reworked version of Dungeon Master, FTL's role-playing masterpiece. But that's no bad thing at all. DM set standards which any self-respecting RPG ought to use. Eye of the Beholder abides by many of them, and for this they cannot be faulted. But what of the important stuff, like plot and atmosphere? Read on.

Strength of character
Eye of the Beholder begins with a very long intro sequence which talks of evil assassins and magical nastiness underneath the city of Waterdeep. It's up to you to sort it all out.

First you generate a party of four adventurers to take into the sewers. You do this by selecting each character's race and sex (human, dwarf, elf, etc.), occupation (thief, fighter, mage, etc.) and alignment (the way that character behaves). You then choose the portrait which you feel is most appropriate for your new alter ego. A random set of statistics is then generated for your character.
This is simply a rating out of 18 for a whole bundle of characteristics which include strength, wisdom, intelligence, charisma, dexterity and so on. Certain occupations require higher scores for specific characteristics, so if you're not satisfied with your character's abilities you can 're-roll the dice' for another set of random statistics. When you've got a set you think you can build on, you name your character and that's it! Only three more to do.

Once you're finished you have a team that you already feel some affiliation (and possibly even affection) for. Unlike Dungeon Master , where you picked pre-set characters from a Hall of Champions, Eye of the Beholder is just that bit more personal.

Going underground
When you enter the sewer your first job is to check every member of your party, to see what they carry and how they'd use it. Items can be picked up and swapped around using the mouse. Each party member has a backpack, a beltpouch (for ammo and a reserve weapon) and various places to wear things.

The abilities sub-screen is where the all-important experience and level figures are found, along with your character's stats. Experience and level are important because they increase during the game as your character meets (and either greets or beats) other characters. Each encounter is worth experience points, and a specific amount of experience is required to progress to the next skill level in your chosen occupation. The better-skilled you become the more spells, fighting power or weapons accuracy you can rely on.

Trudging into trouble
Moving deeper into the sewer is relatively easy - you just click in the appropriate direction on the movement panel below the main-view window. It's remembering where you are and how you got there that's the difficult bit.

Eye of the Beholder's many corridors and rooms all look vaguely similar for much of the time. They vary greatly from level-to-level, as you progress through to the deeper catacombs and dwarven ruins, but on any level it's still easy for you to get hopelessly lost. Careful attention, though, must be paid to the compass if you are not to end up like Tod Uphill, the Halfling thief whose remains are to be found near the entrance to the sewers.

A few minutes wandering is very likely to get you into trouble, but you can be prepared if you know what to look for. Or rather, what to listen for. In another DM-beating manoeuvre, Eye of the Beholder has incredibly eerie, spine-chilling sounds for each 'thing' you encounter. Sounds which you can hear echoing around the tunnels, getting louder and softer as the 'thing' walks around. Are those footsteps? Perhaps it's a man? What was that buzzing noise? Creepy times are certain to be with you as you get deeper and deeper, where it gets darker and darker.

Then you'll turn a corner and meet 'it'. If you don't panic, drop all your weapons and just press your way into an early battering, you're doing well. Eye of the Beholder's combat mode uses complex dice-rolling to resolve the battles.
This causes the mouse-commands to the buffered, and you can get hopelessly ahead of yourself. Take things slowly (you won't get totally annihilated, just a bit bloody) and you'll find you can thump your way to victory and an early bath quite easily. All fighting moves are summoned simply by pressing the right mouse button on the appropriate weapon on the main party display. You party members will then use the weapon in the best way they know how.

If you're lucky, the 'it' that you meet may be one of EOB's many non-player characters (NPC's). They all have their own story to tell and you will meet plenty of them. Some will help you, while others will attempt to destroy you. If you can sweet talk them they ma even join you, enabling you to make up a party of six people. But still it's no easy feat. NPC's can be relied upon to do one thing only - whatever they want to do, which won't always coincide with your many demands!

State of the heart?
Eye of the Beholder is an intense, taxing experience. It combines all the accepted methods of modern role-players and adds a far helping of spooky sounds, twisted puzzles and plenty of traps for the unwary.

You can expect to spend much of your time roaming the sewers, searching for the Beholder - a giant eyeball with immense magical attacking powers. As you go your characters grow, learning new skills and improving their old ones. It's one of those games which you can't stop, no matter how hard you try - even though it has plenty of save options, you will want to carry on playing to the bitter end. But be prepared to be frightened, confused and at a loss for tactical ideas as you get further embroiled in the plot. It's a totally unmissable game which will appeal to anyone who has a sense of adventure and an even slightly vivid imagination. But don't expect to sleep that well after playing it!


WIZARDS, WARS AND WATERDEEP - THE WHOLE STORY

Long ago, before men mastered the measuring of time, Waterdeep was a resting place for ships in the Northern seas. Gradually a settlement formed. As it grew it became a feuding ground where people fought for their share of the new homeland. Wars raged until a chieftain known as Nimoar seized control and ordered the strengthening of the settlement. Log walls and earth embankments turned Waterdeep into a fortified city.

Everything was peace ad harmony, until Orc tribes started to get restless. Their ensuing push drove more folk in the Waterdeep area. The worst of these were Trolls, who threatened the security of the city. The demise of Waterdeep was prevented by a youthful wizard, Aghairon who repelled the trolls and rallied the locals imploring them to strengthen the city even further.

After these wars, the free city was ruled by War Lords. Aghairon grew in power by discovering the secret of eternal youth. His great wisdom served Waterdeep well and he became a respected member of its political scene for hundreds of years.

A brief hiccup in the tranquillity of Waterdeep occurred when a War Lord decreed the city's power would be used to conquer other lands. To stop this, Aghairon turned the War Lord's sword into a snake. After this, Aghairon declared himself first Lord of Waterdeep and set up a system led by Lords of wisdom, not strength.

This worked perfectly until Aghairon died. Then the tradesmen's Guilds decided to take power and they slew the remaining Lords who had led benevolently for so long. Aghairon's apprentice and a carpenter called Baeron escaped to plot the Guildmen's downfall. They returned, fire-balled the Guildsmen, and set up the current system of Lords of Waterdeep. Baeron led in the style of Aghairon and peace again returned.
It was still there until very recently, when today's Lord, Piergeiron summoned you, the adventurers, to sort out a bit of a problem, in the sewers under Waterdeep...


Eye of the Beholder 1 logo Amiga Joker Hit

Im Lager der PC-Abenteuer brach helle Begeisterung aus, als SSI diesen ersten Teil der brandneuen Legend-Serie vorstellte - ob die verwöhnten Amiga-Kämpfen auch so leicht beeindrucken sind? Nun, von leicht kann eigentlich keine Rede sein: Auch und gerade in "Amigavision" sind die Äuglein des Beholders eine echte Sehenswürdigkeit!

Man will es zunächst kaum glauben, dass dies immer noch die gute alte "Forgotten Realms" Welt ist, durch die wir uns schon in "Pool of Radiance" und "Curse of the Azure Bonds" geschlagen haben! Das Szenario mag ja gleichgeblieben sein, aber Gameplay und Optik erinnern hier weit eher an "Dungeon Master" als an die bisherigen SSI-Games. All die modrigen Verliese, gruseligen Gegner und vergessenen Schätze präsentieren sich nun im Glanz von 32 Farben in einem riesigen Sichtfenster; selbst bei den Kämpfen wird nicht mehr wie früher auf einen anderen Screen umgeschaltet. Stattdessen sieht man abgefeuerte Geschosse (Messer, Feuerbälle, etc.) perspektivisch richtig auf die fein animiert durch die 3D-Gänge schleichenden Monstern zusegeln!

Beim Sound hat ebenfalls eine kleine Revolution stattgefunden: Vergessen sind die Zeiten, als man sich bei SSI-Abenteuern nie sicher sein konnte, ob der Krach jetzt Schwergeklirr ist, oder ob bloß die Lautsprecher langsam ihren Geist aufgeben - hier weiß man gar nicht, was man mehr loben soll, die atmosphärischen Geräusche oder die hervorragenden Musikstücke! Und auch hinsichtlich der Handhabung gab es entscheidende Verbesserungen; statt sich mühsam durch Menüs quälen zu müssen und ständig auf der Tastatur rumzuhacken, steuert man die Geschichte jetzt ganz entspannt und sorgenfrei mit dem kleinen Amiga-Nagetier. Die Bildschirmaufteilung ist dabei nicht nur übersichtlich geraten, sondern so gut durchdacht, daß selbst das geöffnete Inventory nie die freie Sicht versperrt. Schließlich noch die letzte, wenn auch unsichtbare Neuerung: Eye of the Beholder ist das erste Computerrollenspiel, das auf den neuen AD & D-Regeln der zweiten Ausgabe beruht.

Nach diesem technischen Vorgeplänkel wollen wir nun aber endlich das Städtchen Waterdeep besuchen. Genauer gesagt die örtliche Kanalisation, denn dort hält sich das Böse diesmal verborgen und wartet darauf, aufgestöbert und erledigt zu werden. Recht viel mehr gibt's zur Vorgeschichte nicht zu sagen, und recht viel mehr darf man sich an Handlung nicht erwarten: Durch die stinkende Brühe waten, zaubern, kämpfen, Fundsachen einsammeln und hin und wieder mal ein Rätsel lösen - das sind so die hauptsächlichen Beschäftigungen, mit denen man seine Party auf Trab hält.

Am einfachsten ist das natürlich am Anfang, weil da die Gegner eher niedlich als wirklich gefährlich sind, und will man zudem für die ersten drei Kanalisationsetagen (zwölf sind es insgesamt) in der Packung einen Übersichtsplan vorfindet. Ab Level vier wird's schon etwas grimmiger, und ab hier darf dann auch fleißig gezeichnet werden, Automapping gibt's nämlich nicht. Zum Trost finden die allmählich härter werdenden Auseinandersetzungen nun in immer freundlicheren Umgebungen statt, gegen Ende zu schreitet man dann durch richtiggehende Unterweltpaläste!

Die epischen Qualitäten der Ultima"- Serie darf man sich hier also nicht erwarten, "Dungeon Master"- Fans werden hingegen bestens bedient: Einige der Puzzles sind sogar recht verzwickt (wenn man den linken Schalter umlegt, 48 Räume später eine Bodenplatte berührt und dann den Spezialschlüssel...), die ganze Chose läuft in Echtzeit ab, und das leibliche Wohlbefinden der Mannschaft sollte nicht vernachlässigt werden (Hunger!!!). Außerdem trifft man gelegentlich freundlich/neutral/undurchschaubar gesonnene Zeitgenossen: manche davon wollen sich der Abenteuergruppe anschließen, andere möchten ihr kleine Besorgungsaufträge aufhalsen, wieder andere sind schon zufrieden, wenn man sie bloß in Ruhe läßt.

Praktischerweise liegen in den kanälen auch öfters mal ein paar alte Knochen herum, die man wieder zum Leben erwecken und anschließend zur Verstärkung seiner Party benutzen kann. Praktisch vor allem deshalb, weil die Gruppe anfangs nur aus vier Charaktern besteht, und die ein oder maximal zwei wiedererweckten Zusatzhelden da schon eine spürbare Verstärkung darstellen. Ebenfalls sehr günstig ist der Umstand, daß die arbeitswütigen Skelette meist gerade die passenden Berufe (es gibt sechs Rassen und sechs Klassen) haben, so dass etwaige Versäumnisse bei der anfänglichen Charaktererstellung wieder gutgemacht werden können. Apropos "Heldenbaukasten": Die Erschaffung geht locker-flockig von der Hand, es stehen viele schöne Portraits zur Auswahl, zudem dürfen die Werte noch etwas "nachgebessert" werden.

Eye of the Beholder ist optisch, akustisch und von der Bedienung her ein Traum. Schwachpunkte haben wir nur wenige gefunden. Sicher, es gibt kein Automapping, pro Disk kann nur ein Spielstand abgespeichert werden (d.h. viele, viele Disketten bereithalten!), und der Schwierigkeitsgrad ist im allgemeinen genau richtig - für Einsteiger. Kampferprobte Amigianer können den Sieg also etwas schneller als erwartet davontragen, werden dann aber mit einem Schmankerl belohnt, auf das PC-Recken verzichten mussten: Die wahrhaft grandiose Endsequenz hat nämlich einzig und allein unsere "Freundin" zu bieten! (mm)


Eye of the Beholder 1 logo

Just when the Dungeon Master games seemed to have got the FRP market cornered, SSI make a comeback and take the genre into the '90s.

Before we begin, let's get one point quite clear. Yes, Eye Of The Beholder does look remarkably similar to Dungeon Master (and Chaos Strikes Back, its latest incarnation). But it's got a very good excuse. You see, Eye Of The Beholder is actually the latest in SSI's line of official Dungeons & Dragons computer games.

Now, as any role-player worth his magic armour will tell you, Dungeons & Dragons games are by far and away the most popular and influential fantasy games money (or dragon's gold) can buy. In fact, almost every computer role-playing game ever released borrows heavily on the concepts of D&D, Dungeon Master included (let's call it DM from now on to save me typing it out each time), so it's only fair that SSI should eventually borrow from DM in return. And now they've done it, applying a 3D maze design to their D&D licence. Yes, you'd be perfectly within your rights to cry 'Just a minute, that looks very familiar', but before you do so just remember that this is as much down to DM ripping off D&D as Eye Of The Beholder ripping off Dungeon Master. Follow that? No? Oh well, on with the review.

What really hits you about this game (apart from the initial déjà-vu) is the remarkable attention to D&D detail. A quick scan of the (very helpful indeed) manual reveals a sizeable number of features ported perfectly from the original game.

This extends from the races and character classes, right through character generation and into the much more wooly territory of 'the flavour of the game as a whole'. Once you've played Eye Of The Beholder for a short period of time, you begin to realise one very important difference between it and DM - whereas Eye Of The Beholder felt like a set of puzzles with a bit of mapping and killing thrown in to make it interesting, Eye gives you a real feeling of participation. You start to believe in the city of Waterdeep, with its underground network of damp, slimy tunnels, and this add much to the game.

Instead of posing problems at every turn, Eye lets you explore quite sizeable chunks of the caverns in a free sort of manner, with only battles with the undead and other assorted cave dwellers cropping up at anything like regular intervals. This gives the game a much looser feel, and in this case that's a good thing, lending it a smooth and realistic fantasy atmosphere.


WHILE NEVER LOOKING OLD FASHIONED, IT DOESN'T REALLY PUSH THE GAME STYLE FAR ENOUGH

IT'S THE REAL THING
A couple of days into playing, and you'll realise two important things. Firstly, just how massive the game is (making mapping essential). They may say size isn't everything, but when you are a hardy, adventuring kind of guy, it's nice to know that it's there. The second thing you notice is just how bloody addicted you are. For crying out loud, why did they have to make it is so compulsive? I've lost hours on this game - more so than with anything I've played in ages. Whereas in DM my characters simply felt like ciphers to be manipulated as I saw fit, the ones created in Eye really grew on me (must be something to do with male bonding). The addition of NPC's (that's computer-controlled non-player characters) joining and leaving the party heightens the realistic effect yet further.

This dedication it engenders reaps you rewards too, for after much clashing of swords and casting of spells, your little guys gain enough experience to move up a level in their chosen profession. This means greater strength and better spells, and, believe me, you'll need them too in the later levels, where (as the traps and tests get deadlier) things get very involving and - yes - frightening indeed.
I can't think of a delicate way to put this but, well, some of the monsters really scared the crap out of me.


I'VE LOST HOURS ON THIS GAME - MORE SO THAN WITH ANYTHING I'VE PLAYED IN AGES

THE LOOKING GLASS
And there we have it really. Eye Of The Beholder may look a lot like Dungeon Master, it may nick quite a few ideas from it (especially the character inventory screens and way the user interface works), but I find it quite easy to forgive. There's a simple reason why too - in all respects it improves things, adding a truer D&D flavour to the proceedings. It's just a shame all these features weren't included in the 'real' Dungeon Master in the first place - I can't think of any real reason why they couldn't have been.

No, the only problem I can really see with Eye Of The Beholder is that, while never looking old fashioned, it doesn't really push the game style far enough. It's 1991 now, and there are a number of things which could (and should) have been given a bit more spit and polish. Smooth animation when walking through the dungeons would have been nice, for instance, as would some degree of character interaction (even if it was only on the same level of complexity as in the Ultima games). And just for once I'd like to see a monster with a little bit of intelligence crop up, perhaps one that you don't have to kill on sight. (And it can be done, most notably in an old, pre-DM Spectrum game, called Swords & Sorcery - a flawed masterpiece if ever there was one).

Still, these are minor gripes, and don't really affect the game as a whole too much. (But programmers please note - if you intend doing another role-playing game, you'll have to get your fingers out!).

It's hard to define exactly why I like this game so much. I know it can be argued that it's already been done five years ago. I know that the only reason it looks so state-of-the-art is that most role-playing games are so dodgy anyway. I know all that, and it doesn't stop this being just so classy, so involving, and so satisfying. The use of real Dungeons & Dragons rules and elements really elevates it to a new level. I just can't help being in love with it. So there.


WHAT'S IN HIS POCKETS?

Eye Of The Beholder uses an object very close to the one in Dungeon Master. Things have been refined even further however, making just about everything pretty easy to get your mind around from the word go.

Eye of the Beholder 1: User statistics
  1. You're nice 'n' healthy, which is good to see.
  2. Place rations here to bump your food level back up.
  3. This is Dude, one of your little 'chaps'.
  4. These boxes list the stuff in his bag.
  5. Here's his quiver (empty).
  6. Body armour.
  7. Space for magic bangles (or something).
  8. Dude's main weapon, a fairly standard sort of sword affair. Notice the two small boxes underneath for the placement of magic rings.
  9. Footwear is not essential (as you can see).
  10. Clicking on the next page icon will show your character's stats, experience points, and level. Click on the icon again to return.
  11. Using these arrows, it is possible to pan back and forth between characters.
  12. Helmet space.
  13. Place magic necklaces (or whatever) here.
  14. Three objects can be carried on his belt.
  15. The clerical symbol is held in his left hand, ready to cast a spell.
EYE OF THE BEHOLDER VS DUNGEON MASTER (1 & 2)

And here we have them - the two most important dungeon-based role playing epics in the world today. Putting personal prejudices aside, which comes out tops? Here's a blow-by-blow comparison:

Round One - Graphics
Visually, Eye Of The Beholder wins hands down. The dungeons are more atmospheric, the icons prettier, and the monsters are actually quite well animated. Dungeon Master does have the added attraction of clever lightning effects (i.e. things get progressively darker as torches run out), but that can actually work out more irritating than anything else.
Eye 7     DM 6

Round Two - Atmosphere
Eye Of The Beholder wins again, I'm afraid. Atmosphere can make or break a fantasy game, and decent sound is one of the most effective ways to help create it. Eye Of The Beholder manages to grab you with the volume turned right down, so imagine how engrossing it is with sampled screams and so on. (Oh dear, Dungeon Master seems to be lagging somewhat behind).
Eye 9     DM 7

Round Three - Design
Just which game has the best dungeon design is more of a subjective thing. Dungeon Master concentrates on pushing a lot of puzzles at you, making progress harder. Eye, on the other hand, offers a more spacious affair, giving the player plenty of room to roam around, hacking up the odd monster and so on.

And the winner is...?

Eye 24     DM 20
And so there we have it. Dungeon Master quite clearly suffers due to its age, comparative lack of atmosphere, and sacrifice of some fantasy elements in favour of more puzzles. Thus Eye Of The Beholder quite convincingly takes the role-playing crown from the previous champion - but for how long?

LET'S ADD A LITTLE CHARACTER, SHALL WE?

Generating your party of characters in Eye Of The Beholder follows the original D&D character creation rules remarkably well. First, a character race is selected, followed by a profession. The actual professions available to you depend on the race - elves, for example, are particularly adept at multiple professions, such as fighter/cleric or fighter/thief/mage. (For the uninitiated, clerics are holy men who possess the ability to ward off undead creatures, cure wounds, and so on, while Mages are basically wizard types, who can cast some great spells, but in scraps usually turn out to be as soft as muck).

It's always handy to choose a good spread of professions when constructing your party. This gives you a thief to unlock doors, a cleric to heal the group, a magic user who can become very powerful later in the game, and a fighter to beat hell out of the monsters.

Once the race and profession have been chosen, Eye Of The Beholder allows you to choose the gender, and then a face for your character. A nice touch, as choosing a female character gives you a whole new set of faces to chose from. Finally it's time to roll your adventurer's stats (numbers representing excellence in various fields). Your race affects how these fall, and remember - certain professions need to be good at certain things.

WHAT'S WHAT IN EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
Eye of the Beholder 1: Main screen
  1. The main action screen - a 3D view of your surroundings (including any nearby uglies like this one) is presented at all time.
  2. Movement actions - they allow back-tracking and left or right slides, as well as ninety degree rotations and plain old marching forward.
  3. A quick resumé of your party's health and the things your people are carrying. It doesn't look good - three of them are unconscious!
  4. Your compass - a must-have for any serious adventurer.
  5. The message box - Eye's only real concession to text adventuring.
  6. Selecting 'Camp' allows your party to rest, heal themselves, and re-learn spells. The game can also be saved or loaded from here (though you can't do any of this when there are monsters about!)
DESPITE APPEARANCES, D&D GAMES AREN'T ALL THE SAME...

Way back in 1987m TSR (The Dungeons & Dragons people) decided that the time was right to grant a licence for the D&D games system to be transferred to computer. Effectively auctioning the rights to their name, software companies were invited to demonstrate what they could achieve with the system before any decisions were made. Having already established a reputation as one of the USA's leading strategy, wargame and role-playing companies, SSI was able to snap it up quite happily, paving the way for what has become a whole range of D&D-related software.

From fairly inauspicious beginnings (it has to be said their first efforst weren't really very good), they've continually experimented with game formats, each time looking at the D&D system from a new angle. The last two releases, Pool of Radiance and Dragon Strike, refined the style to the point where it really started to work. The former used an Ultima-style gaming system, while the latter broke from the mould entirely, offering a 3D vector combat game.

Having said that though, it's only with Eye Of The Beholder that SSI really seem to have hit the nail on the head. Excellent though this game is, it's the avenues it opens for the rest of the series that make it really exciting. SSI now have a wide range of different game engines to switch between, and you can see how keen they are to experiment by checking out the titles scheduled for this year. There's Pools of Darkness, for instance, the final chapter in the Pools saga, while the Pools game engine also makes an appearance on another D&D title entitled Gateway To The Savage Frontier, which opens up another storyline entirely.

Later games in the Gateway series are unlikely to use the same game system, however. Two possibilities are to a) to use the Dungeon Master-influenced set-up employed in Eye Of The Beholder (which would be something to look forward to, particularly if they manage to refine the style further) or b) to take the same approach as their other new D&D game.

Which is what? Well, it's called Shadow Sorcerer, and it promises several innovations, not least that there will be up to eleven characters interacting on the screen at any one time! Set in the DragonLance D&D world, Shadow Sorcerer looks more arcade than most, with 3D isometric graphics and lots of real-time combat.

Finally (for the moment), there's another 3D isometric effort (one of our favourite ways of presenting an adventure game) being developed in Europe for the company. Details are rather vague at the moment - other than telling us that it will probably bet set in the Forgotten Realms world (the one depicted in the Pools saga and Eye Of The Beholder). SSI are keeping it all a bit hush-hush.

While to the non-D&D fan it no doubt looks as if SSI are in the business of churning out hundreds of near-identical products on a production-line basis, variety actually seems to be the name of the game, with new ideas and game engines being experimented with constantly. This can only be welcomed as a Good Thing - just take a look at the now hopelessly outmoded Bard's Tale series to see what happens when you give up trying.


Eye of the Beholder 1 logo CU Amiga Screenstar

Eye Of The Beholder is the latest in SSI's range of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons games, and marks a radical change from the rest of the series. Previously, the games had a strategic feel, interrupted by strictly-ordered combat sequences. Champions of Krynn was a good example of this, but suffered from a distinct lack of atmosphere - Beholder more than makes up for this.

The city of Waterdeep is being plagued by Assassins, Khelben, the Lord of the city, suspects that the neighbouring states of Amn and Calimsham are behind the troubles, and reasons that the safest place to hide is underneath the city in its extensive sewer system. To protect himself, he gathers together a band of adventurers to explore the underworld, destroy the source of evil and report back to him.
You are the leader of the chosen party, and the fate of Waterdeep's inhabitants is in your hands...

The game comes with a pre-generated party, but the option to create a new set of adventurers is available. These characters can be from any race: human, dwarf, elf, half-elf and Halfling. The class of the character determines the skills; for example a Ranger is a tough fighter but knows no spells. Magic users on the other hand have access to a host of spells but are useless in a brawl.

The ability to sustain damage is measured in hit points, with fighters having more than spell-users. With four heroes to start with, it's easy to have an unbalanced party. Later in the game the party meets up with waylaid adventurers, some of whom will want to join on your mission (there are slots for another two on the display).

The 3D display features some great graphics including the slime-covered sewers and the evil creatures that make it their home. The mouse controls the party's movement and the direction they are facing. A built-in compass helps prevent the more hapless player from losing his way, and makes mapping much easier.

There are secret rooms around the dungeon, light-coloured stones in the walls betraying their presence. A host of devious puzzles are also included, so a bit of brain work is needed to crack the tests and get on to the next part of the complex. Monsters vary from the weedy kobolds to the evil and deadly Drow, a form of dark elf. Some creatures cast spells at the party whereas others have poison or dangerous weapons. When a party member takes too much damage, he or she falls unconscious and needs healing quickly to avoid death. Thieves use their lock picks to get the party past seemingly unpassable doors and gates and Clerics have holy symbols to scare the life out of vampires and zombies.

The sound effects make a huge difference to the atmosphere of the game, with creaking doors and hideous screams. Perhaps the best thing about the game is its accessibility; players new to the world of roleplaying will have no trouble learning how the game works, and the rulebook is clear and comprehensive.

This game will no doubt attract a great deal of criticisms for being so similar to Dungeon Master, and it's true that Beholder owes a huge amount to the design of DM. But ultimately this argument doesn't stand up - after all, you wouldn't dismiss a type of champagne for tasting too much like Dom Perignon!

Beholder simply takes the idea of Dungeon Master, improves it, and adds the feel of AD&D role-playing with its character classes and general gameplay. The partial map of the first three levels that comes with the game helps you to get straight into the sewers and is another pointer to the effort that's gone into the product.

Beholder is not without its faults, though. Characters are far too weak at the beginning of the game, and a little more variety in the design of the dungeon would have been an improvement. However these are only tiny niggle that don't really detract from a fine game that is a must for those who've enjoyed Dungeon Master - let's hope that SSI release more in the series!


HINTS AND TIPS
Food is vital to keep the party healthy and, like the previous SSI games, a camping option rests the party giving the clerics time to heal wounded people and spellcasters the chance to relearn spells. When items are found they are put in backpacks, with the obvious exception of weapons and other vital equipment which go in the action hand of each character. Finding armour and shields for the fighter is a priority, and as monsters are defeated the characters rise in experience levels. For fighters this means more hit points and a better chance of hitting what they aim at, while wizards learn more spells, and get to learn powerful incarnations such as healing and fireballs.
CHARACTER SKETCH
Eye of the Beholder 1: User statistics
  1. Choose the mug you like the best.
  2. Armour - collect the best you can for the tough fights ahead.
  3. Backpack
  4. Action Hand
  5. Hit points - watch the total, because an unconscious character's not much use!