Strike it rich in California

Gold Rush logo

DOES the idea of getting money for nothing appeal to you? Of literally picking your living off the ground? To the population of North America in 1848-49 it did. And it began one of the largest mass migrations in history.

Gold Rush from Sierra On-Line is one of the latest offereings in the 3D Animated Adventure series. These take the form of a sort of film in which you play the leading role, moving your character around a 3D landscape and interacting with other animated characters and objects.

Movement is via keyboard, joystick or mouse. The mouse control si good because all you have to do is position the pointer where you want to go, hold down the right button, and Jerrod will walk towards it. It can be a little difficult getting in and out of doors this way, a joystick is better there.

The game opens with a well animated and quite humorous title sequence which can give you a few useful hints if you watch closely. The sequence leaves you, Jerrod Wilson, on a bridge in Brooklyn circa 1848. The rest is up to you.

Everyone you meet seems to be talking about the gold strike in California and of all the people heading out that way. You must make preparations for your departure and stock up on things you think you might need for your trek.

And decide how to get there, because - without giving too much away - there are three ways to get to the gold country, two by ship and one overland. This is an adventure with a multiple-route solution. It would be nice to see more.

One of the first problems you may face is being desperately short of cash, although your credit is still good in a few stores. Perhaps your bank manager would be sympathetic, or you could try to sell your house before the market collapses again.

Points are gained for making correct decisions. Some are given just for being a nice guy, like if you put flowers on your parents' grave. This means you always have something to aim for. Even if you successfully complete the first stage of the adventure, you may have missed something that would have given you a perfect score.

The animation is fairly smooth but in a rather slow resolution, which shows its PC ancestry. There is generally quite a lot going on in each scene. Some of the animations are entertaining, although they can be slow.

One annoying problem is that on an unexpanded Amiga most screens have to be loaded in from disc each time and although a 1 meg machine will cache several screens, there is still a second or two delay between them because they have to be decompressed.

The sound effects are terrible. Despite a few nice musical jokes it is imperative for your sanity that you turn the sound off.

The game comes on two discs and you certainly get your money's worth with all the booklets, maps and expensively printed instruction cards.

One of the books is a short history - more than 80 pages - of the gold rush era. This is also used as a novel way of security (pun intended). Instead of asking you for a specific word from the book it asks you a question from the text. It gives you a hint as to which page to look on.

One last point: Gold Rush multitasks, so if you have the inclination, the memory and a multi-tasking brain you can run other programs at the same time. Or even play two games of Gold Rush at once. Or three. Or four. Or...

Gold Rush logo

"Go West, young man!" is the cry from Sierra On-Line.

"GO WEST YOUNG MAN!" was the cry in this 'true to life historical simulation' and '3-D animated adventure game'. Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? So warily I set off, trekking as a famous 49er, or even a 48er as in this game.

You start the game after an irritating prologue in Brooklyn as a 'young city slicker' looking for excitement and Big Money by striking it lucky in the Gold Rush Country. Deciding how you are going to travel I sone of the choices which will enhance the adventure - you can go cross-country on wagons and steamers, cross over at Panama or sail around Cape Horn. This choice is actually the highlight of the game - playing each individual expedition hoping it will be better than the previous one.

The graphics are crude, the animation is not particularly smooth and the gameplay is tediously slow, even in 'fast' mode. It is obvious, however that the game's authors had researched the game, and planned each graphics screen (which have to be individually loaded) which would be fine if it worked. The game's control interface is unhelpful and confusing at best, and the written descriptions are a nonentity. Puzzles are few and general common sense can reach through these - else you face an inglorious death. The non-player characters appear solely to be information givers, inept to do anything else except, perhaps, ignore you.

In reality, it seems a travesty to release such a slow, crude and basic game to Amiga owners who should rightly expect something better - in either graphics or gameplay. The game looks like it was created for a 12-year-old American kid studying American history - it even feels like educational software and not something to play for sheer enjoyment. Go West Youn... No thanks, I think I will remain a city slicker, I won't have to go through all that again.

Gold Rush logo

Activision/Sierra On-Line
Price: £24.99

Gold Rush is software's equivalent to television's faction, which means that an assortment of fictional characters are used to illustrate what is more or less an historical truth. Sierra's latest game is based in the California of the mid nineteenth century, when the route to the gold mines meant a mule-bound trek across parched and hostile territory.

New York journalist Jerrod Wilson - that is you - heads West to join the gold rush and his fugitive brother who is the victim of a frame up.

The graphics of this 3D animated adventure seem fairly faithfully represent the times. The streets are filled with moving buggies and wagons, and the pedestrians are all in the costume of the period. There is a lot of incidental animation, but only at a cost. The buggies which ply the streets so relentlessly cause the people to slow - including Jerrod.

The journey is partly shown in animated map form with text commentary, partly in "normal" adventure mode. That is to say, when there is a problem the pictures return.

Having previously played the ST version of this game, I was disappointed at the overall standard of the graphics on the Amiga version. They have a harsher colour rendering, making features less distinguishable. On the ST, the roads are a pleasant pink whereas they show as vivid red on the Amiga. The sky changes, too, from light blue to royal blue. Whilst the same degree of detail is there, the use of some edging colours, together with the backgrounds, gives the impression of lower definition and more jagged outlines.

As usual with Sierra games, text commands are often difficult, and the parser shows inconsistencies. As an example, typing GET ACCOUNT when discovering a bank statement puts the statement in your inventory, whereas READ ACCOUNT gives a WHAT DO YOU MEAN?. READ STATEMENT is required in this case.

But the difficulties are well worth putting up with, for here is a game that is educational as well as entertaining. The eighty-eight page paperback which accompanies the game is one informative read and a lovely little extra. That is gold in that softshop.

Gold Rush logo

Sierra, Amiga £24.99

In 1848, men from all over the world headed for California in the hope of making a fortune. As Jerrod Wilson, you are one such man. Jerrod lives a humdrum life as a newspaper reporter in Brooklyn Heights, New York. But when he hears rumours of gold, he's determined to get in on the excitement and the money. His brother Jake, disappeared some years ago and every day Jerrod visits the post office in the hope of a letter from his long lost brother.

This seems like any other ordinary day, people going about their usual business, but maybe if Jerrod takes a look inside that post office, he'll have a surprise. Brother Jake is not dead as feared but instead is in California. The letter he sends to Jerrod reveals (in not very subtle code) that he has discovered gold and wishes Jerrod to join him in the Golden State.

If you can get to California, you could get rich, but it's 2500 miles away and Concorde hasn't yet been invented. There are three main travelling options: by ship - either going round the infamous Cape Horn, or by landing in Panama and travelling through the jungle (the canal hasn't been built yet) to another ship. The third option is to take the stagecoach to Independence, Missouri, where you join a mining company travelling westward in wagons.

Before you embark on any of the dangerous journeys, you must get enough money for the ticket: Selling your house is the way to make big money, but if you wait too long the rumours of Californian gold will cause property prices to drop and ticket prices to rise. The estate agent doesn't have an office, but comes round to buy your house when you've stuck a "For Sale" sign in the front garden (achieved by typing SELL HOUSE).

A joystick, mouse or cursor keys may be used to make Jerrod walk around the 3-D landscape of Brooklyn. Talking to other characters is achieved by 'TALK TO' person, and interaction is limited to listening to their messages. Shops can be entered in order to buy useful equipment and food. Strangely, you can't pay shopkeepers any money (you decide to 'save it for a rainy day') but they will allow you to have three items on your account What you choose depends on which way you plan to reach California. For example, if you're going by ship some citrus fruit will prevent you getting scurvy.

As with most Sierra adventures, Gold Rush hardly makes use of the Amiga's graphics and sound capabilities. Some of the scenery is well drawn but the characters, although realistically animated, are blocky and have bright red faces (perhaps they're embarrassed by their appearance!). Even so, Brooklyn Heights bustles with animated people and horse-drawn carriages. The only problem is that when three or four characters are on-screen simultaneously their movement is slowed down to a snail's pace. Sound is limited to the sort of 'beepy' tunes associated with the Spectrum (Shock! Horror!). But after a while the simple presentation goes unnoticed as you get caught up in the excitement of 'gold fever'. The game manages to capture the authentic atmosphere of the time, helped by the fact it is geographically and historically correct.

After setting off for California, frequent saving of the game position is a necessity as there are many ways to die ranging from cholera and starvation to sinking (on the ship of course!). Dying frequently can become irritating (as my zombie uncle Trevor keeps telling me), but somehow the lure of all that gold makes you persevere. And if you get totally stuck, you can read the fascinating 96-page historical guide (included in the packaging) to see how the real 49ers managed. (They won the Superbowl, didn't they?! - Ed).

Ultimately, how much enjoyment you get out of Gold Rush depends on whether you love or loathe the Sierra 3-D adventure style - if you're a fan, you shouldn't be disappointed.