Final Odyssey logo CD32

Vulcan's latest combines ancient Greek mythology with plasma rifles. Andy Smith was confused before, and storylines like that don't help...

Legend has it that Nick Veitch actually got a round in on a Friday night at Hatchetts pub once. Unfortunately, nobody’s alive to substantiate this rumour so it remains a myth. Legend also has it that back in the old days (we’re talking way, way back here, pre-Spice Girls days…) the ol’ King of Minos used to ship a half-dozen virgins off to Crete to be fed to the half-man, half-bull beast there called the Minotaur.

The legend goes on to tell us that Nick also offered his fags round the table. Oh, sorry, wrong myth. The legend goes on to tell us that a fine, upstanding young chap called Theseus thought this was a bit rum so he had a pop at the Minotaur and freed the girls (anything for a snog, eh Theseus?).

That’s where you come in. You are Nick Veitch and must get your wallet… sorry. Off again. No, you’re Theseus and must battle your way through the Minotaur’s labyrinthian maze and rescue the girls.

Enough of legends, and onto the game. Of course, the five huge levels that make up the maze are populated by all manner of baddies who are looking to give you a smack. Thankfully you’re armed with a crossbow to start with and can pick up other weapons along the way (that’s where the plasma rifle comes in you see) so the baddies aren’t too much of a problem. They do have a tendency to re-appear quite a lot though, so you’re never going to be left in peace for long.

Of course, the five huge levels that make up the maze are populated by all manner of baddies...

As well as the baddies wandering around, there are also numerous traps to catch you out and some of them are wholly unfair because there’s absolutely no way you can avoid them. A case in point is one chap who pops up out of the ground and fires a fireball at you. There’s no way of telling that he’s there until you’ve been hit by him a few times and remember to dodge when you go round that particular corner.

Most of the traps can be avoided by solving simple switch-pulling puzzles. Trip a switch here and a trap’s avoided there, or a corridor to a new area of the maze opens. Most of the gameplay hangs around these puzzles, which is good because the majority of them are really enjoyable to solve.

Sure, you’ve going to get stuck at times and find yourself wandering around the same bit of maze wondering what you’re supposed to be doing, but then you’ll notice something you hadn’t spotted before and you’re off again.

The forced 3D perspective of the game works well because everything you need to interact with is in plain view – that great big gold key on the ground is easy to spot and as the only locked door you’ve come across is down to the left, you know it’s going to used town there (once you’ve worked out how to get rid of the statue that’s barring your access to the door itself).

Most of the gameplay hangs around these puzzles, which is good because the majority of them are reallly enjoyable...

The game’s life structure is well thought out too. Although you’ve got four lives, every contact with an enemy or trap causes a bit of life energy to disappear from your meter (you get a half-dozen or so ‘bits’ of life energy per life). This means you have to be careful as you wander around but it doesn’t mean that one little mistake sends you all the way back to the start, though you’ll still be doing that quite a few times if you’re as impatient as me.

It’s large, it’s enjoyable but it’s not a classic. The puzzles and things are sometimes bordering on the tedious and it can be a pain having to re-start from a long way back when you lose a life, although it does force you to be more careful next time, so that’s only a minor gripe.

Even so, it looks and sounds great and is a quality release. Vulcan have even included a bonus two-player hi-res game in there for you to play if you manage to complete the game in one player mode, so there’s a bit of extra VFM. Very nice too.

Well worth taking a good look at and definitely one to go for if you fancy a bit of maze puzzlin’. Put it this way, you’re more likely to get heaps of fun from this than to get Nick Veitch to open his wallet...

Final Odyssey logo CD32

█ Price: £29.99 █ Publisher: Vulcan Software 01705 670269

After a short stack of mediocre floppy releases and the announcement of a formidable stack of new games, Vulcan's shipping department went rather quiet... until now.

The company restructured a bit and tapped Weird Science to handle their distribution and some advertising, freeing them up to have more time to pursue and prod their programmers to finish games.

Some of the promised titles were dropped, some more added, and now Vulcan seems to be on a roll again. Vulcan Software’s Australian brain drain continues. Following the recent Uropa2 from Austex Software, they’ve turned their sights again to the southern hemisphere and picked up Ozlander Peter Spinaze’s Final Odyssey, the next entry in Vulcan’s CD game series.

Come sail away
In Final Odyssey, you take on the role of Theseus. For years, your people have had to send young girls to their doom at the hands of the evil Minotaur in order to placate him. But after a time, you get fed up with the senseless waste of so many virgins, and set out not to placate, but to pummel the Minotaur.

To do that, you’ll need to make your way through his insidious Labyrinth. You start armed only with a reliable but unimpressive crossbow, and must collect more weaponry, avoid traps, solve puzzles, collect money and rescue the aforementioned maidens. At the end lies the Minotaur.

Final Odyssey could be considered "Alien Breed Goes to Valhalla", although the action is more reminiscent of the former, right down to the baddies that jump out of the floor at you.

The action is a little less non-stop than a top-down Breed game – it’s actually possible to get a breather.

After all, the Minotaur is on the defensive, he’s perfectly willing to let you wear yourself out scrambling around shooting at goblins and pulling switches. On the other hand, there’s a very Breed-inspired "Defuse the bombs before time expires or lose a life" subgame to contend with.

As you travel along, you’ll also encounter scrolls left behind by those who have tried and failed to end the Minotaur’s reign of terror. They usually give you clues to puzzles, although some are warning or other bits of detail.

Vulcan’s trademark has always been in digitized speech, and with their dedication to CD-ROM you can expect as much of it as possible. Surprisingly, most of the speech is confined to the online manual, which shows up on the screen and is dictated to you in a rather pleasant femaile voice.

Unfortunately, it’s actually a bit distracting and only slowed me down in trying to read through the relevant instructions, but if you want to close your eyes and let the dreamy voice tell you all about the game, you’re welcome to. I was surprised that the ingame text (such as from the reading of scrolls) was not also spoken to me.

Battling it out
Final Odyssey plays in a top-down 3D view, with brightly colorful graphics which have been given a great deal of detail. As Theseus, you have to get in, arm yourself well enough to take on the Minotaur, and eventually find him, somewhere on Level 5.

In addition to the monsters that get in your way, there are a limited number of creatures you can pleasantly interact with, asking for information and getting assistance along the way. You’ll want to check out the manual before playing to get the definition of the icons used in the questioning process, as "Question 1" and "Question 2" are hardly illuminating.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Final Odyssey doesn’t get easily caught ina lot of "sameness". Maze-based games can often get simply boring when you stop caring about what’s another bland corner. The main corridors are not randomized, although there are subgames which are different every time you encounter them.

So you can plan out how to disarm the right traps in the right order and get the same results every time you play, but there’s really no such thing as a good strategy for the subgames, which involve destroying the guards in a hedge maze and disarming the time bobs they drop before the time expires.

Despite its origins in mythology, Final Odyssey pulls a lot of inspiration from magic, present technology, and even some future technology. There are hologram walls, teleporters, boulders that turn into bad guys, and a hero’s arsenal including a chain gun and bombs. Rather than seeming simply like an uninspired author reaching for lots of clichés, it all comes together nicely in this game.

The attention to detail is fairly impressive. Crossbow bolts stick in walls and stay stuck for quite some time (rather than simply disappearing when they scroll off-screen), the monsters look eerie in a campy sort of way as they ooze towards you, and brightly coloured rotating turrets shoot fireballs at you with deadly accuracy.

Giving your all
ECS and the 68000 are supported, which means even a limping A500 can handle the game. No installation to HD is required, although you‘ll want to save your games there. The game has a healthy allotment of 10 save slots.

This is good, because the real challenge in Final Odyssey is not so much the puzzles or ammunition management (although you shold treat bombs like gold), or in finding the right soul to help you out, but just in living long enough to get to the end. There are so many little traps in Final Odyssey – an arrow here, a floor spike there – that your health and eventually your extra lives get whittled away before you know it.

The maps in Final Odyssey can get expansive at times, but there is little reason to keep a pencil and paper nearby – usually you are rewarded for your explorations fairly quickly and don’t need to do an inordinate amount of backtracking. Transitions between maze screens (they scroll up to a certain point, but you enter different regions from time to time) are nice and snappy, but other changes (like altering the maze due to flipping a switch, or the nuking of the hedge maze if you fail to stop the bombs) suffer from the "extremely long fade" illness I’ve seen I other games, like the AGA conversion of Civilization. It really breaks up the rhythm of the game.

Final Odyssey is a healthy amount of fun to play. It’s visually stimulating, with adequate sound effects and enough incremental rewards as you progress through the labyrinth to keep you hunting for more. It’s a little disappointing that there isn’t a greater variety of monsters to fight or that the CD-ROM wasn’t used to greater advantage, but in all, especially considering my lack of appreciation for paper-and-pencil mazes, I had a great time. There’s enough arcade action to go around without becoming a straight shoot-em-up, but it’s by no means "cerebral".

Peter Spinaze was a one-man band as far as the creation of the game is concerned, and as far as I’m concerned he did an overall excellent job as designer, programmer, artist, and effects man. Where these one-man teams always seem to have trouble is their 3D work, and in this case if just a few shots had been cut out of the 3D intro movie, it would have put a much better face on the game as a whole.

From a general programming standpoint the game has an annoying habit of slowing down when too many monsters get on-screen at once, regardless of the speed of your machine – a different timing mechanism would have been appreciated. Aside from that, I yield to the colossal effort completing the game entirely by hand entails.

Bottom line, I’m impressed by this release It’s done a good job of balancing game quality and machine requirements – I am one of the most stalwart advocates of high-end Amigas you’ll find, but on the other hand I can appreciate a well-done, low-resource job when I see one.

After an uninspiring launch to the series (Strangers) Vulcan’s line of CD released have indicated some very good things for the future, and I hope to see Peter Spinaze share another view of another world sometime soon.

Breaking conventions

I've played a lot of games, and it's nice to see that every now and then an author will make a break with common gaming notions. In Final Odyssey, as you collect food to boost your health, you can actually go above the top level of strength and start working on another "life" worth of health.

I wish more game designers would consider this - it's hardly less realistic to think that you could start building another "life" than it is to have multiple lives in the first place, which Theseus certainly does.

Spinaze broke another rule, but one I'll have to condemn rather than compliment him for. The monsters chase you, typically with some less than stellar AI - but that's not my problem. My problem is that they chase you at exactly the same speed that you move. Its not such a bad thin if some of your enemies are your equal, but from the days of Pac Man on, it's been a well established fact that speed differentials make for more tension.

As it stands, Theseus can flee most trouble - the monsters can't gain on him, and they have to stop to fire a weapon, so unless you get outmanoeuvred, the monsters are less of a threat than they should be. (For the record, Pac Man was slower on straightways but faster on corners) I was disappointed when I realized what was going on.