Knight Orc is very different from anything you have seen before from Level 9. Their adventure system has been upgraded before, but this time it has been upgraded beyond recognition. So too have their graphics. Gone are the rather rudimentary and meaningless 'representations' replaced by 'digitised' pictures. Amiga owners get the best of the deal here, for there is more colour per picture on that machine than the others - including the Atari ST.
But it is the mode of play that has changed most dramatically. No longer do you have to make a map, and slavishly follow it move by move to return to a place you have visited earlier. No longer do you have to remember where you dropped an object that you may need later. All that is required is that you know which object you need, or which location you want to reach. If that makes playing Knight Orc sound dead simple, then forget it!
To offset the ease of operation, the adventure is endowed with more than its fair share of independent characters, with minds of their own, who get in your way, grabbing the very item you are looking for, and attack you with relentless determination.
The new commands that make this game so simple to play, are GO TO, and FIND. Type "GO TO CASTLE", and wherever you are, you will be taken there, or as near as possible if there is something obstructing your route. If the drawbridge is up, for example, then you will be halted by it, and forced to solve the problem if you want to cross it.
As you are taken on your journey, each location will be described on the screen as you pass through it. But so also, will any events occurring there. Thus, if you are waylaid en-route, and fail to respond, the chances are you could lose all your possessions or even be attacked and killed, before getting there.
Although the game is not played in real time, once you press RETURN after a GO TO, the independence of the other characters in the game make it feel very much like real time. But time can be frozen by reacting to events and hitting a key. If you do, you will be offered the option of stopping or continuing. After stopping, a quick 'OOPS' will take you back a move or three, and from there you can proceed with more caution. Similar to the command GO TO, is RUN TO, and in this case, the messages you will get will be the events, without any of the location details to clog the screen.
If you need an object, say a SPEAR, and you are not holding it, then even if you do not know where it is, or which character is carrying it, FIND SPEAR will take you, as in GO TO, to wherever to the spear happens to be, even if someone else is carrying it. More than that - you can command characters to do things for you. DENZYL, FIND SPEAR, GET SPEAR, FIND ME, GIVE SPEAR TO ME, will save you all the time and trouble of doing it yourself, and so you can set off on some other task, content in the knowledge that Denzyl will eventually catch up with you and present you with the spear.
Of course, it does not always work out as easy as that. Ask Denzyl to fetch you some gold, and the chances are he will be set upon by Odin, Boadicea, or one of the other baddies in the game. If he is not killed, he will eventually return, but will probably be empty handed when he does so.
That, broadly, is how it works, and to help you get used to this completely new way of playing an adventure, Part 1 of Knight Orc is designed to give you some practice. You are Grindleguts, a cowardly orc abandoned by his fellows and left tied to a horse, to fight in a joust on their behalf, whilst they make good their getaway.
Reaching the bridge across the chasm that leads to Orc Tower, they see the Orc's Head Tavern Ladies Bowling Team after their blood, and not far behind at that. As soon as they are over the bridge, they demolish it, cutting off the dreaded female task force.
Your objective is to return to the Tower, and to do that, you must make a piece of rope long enough to span the chasm. Thus you are not collecting gold, but are on the lookout for anything long and flexible, like a hawser, a belt, or perhaps a simple piece of cord.
Some of the problems are relatively simple - others are not quite so straightforward. You must keep all the other characters out of your hair whilst you get on with the rope job. They wander about all over the place - indeed, one wonders if they have a master plan going on in the background. They seem to have a great determination to recover any possession which you might have 'borrowed' from them.
Part 1 must be completed before you can enter either of the other parts. Instead of only being able to command one character, Denzyl, as in the first part, more of them are now at your disposal. Their characteristics are designed to complement your own, and it will be necessary to recruit a few to successfully complete the adventure. Some of your old friends come through from the first part, but something quite strange happens both to them, and to your whole world, when you remove your newly acquired plastic visor...
As well as an advanced parser, Knight Orc sports an OOPS command which takes you back a number of moves if you make an error of judgement. There is also a RAMSAVE and RAMLOAD, very useful for play during a single session without having to resort to changing disks or finding a blank tape.
"The Sign Of The Orc" is the novella that takes up much of the instruction manual. It gets you in the right frame of mind to take the part of an Orc - greedy, cowardly, and disgusting.
As for the new fangled character interaction it is very cleverly implemented.
Level 9 are to be complimented on a system which effectively bridges the gap between disk and tape technology. They are looking to the future, without dropping their loyal tape fans.