OK, how many of you know what a Traveller is? Is it a heavily unarmed person who roams the home countless terrorising local farmers through the despicable tactics of driving a dirty bus within visible range of a rich person, or carrying out acts of callous, premeditated camping?
Nope, hands down all you Sun readers. Traveller is the original sci-fi RPG, and MegaTraveller 2 the second computer version of that most loved and player paper-and-
Well, yes and no, though mostly yes. The player's initial impressions can be a little disappointing as the graphics aren't up to the standards of the first game and the game itself has a less tightly constructed feel to it, but there are plenty of consolation features.
More plot than a Hitchcock movie, improved gameplay, and a healthy wodge of lasting appeal make this one a winner. Sorry about the ambiguous conclusion, but I don't like to be tied down to these things.
The game opens on Rhylanor (sounds suspiciously like a certain North Welsh resort), where the local populace are threatened by a river of highly corrosive green slime pouring from the site of an ancient civilisation. Bleedin' archaeologists! They just wouldn't leave it alone,would they?
The planetary government, while assuring the people that this is merely a "blip" in their world's life expectancy, are offering huge rewards to anyone stupid enough to try to stop the slime, and that's where you come in.
You have 2,700 days(!) to find out what's going on, how to stop the slime, and why Jimmy Hill hasn't yet been melted down for scrap. As the party of brave adventurers is sort of left out on a limb, the game has a hint function which will point you in the right direction if you get lost, so a quick stab at this has you looking for the chief archaeological expert.
Trow Backett (for it is he) gives you a few pieces of equipment which I couldn't get to work (only got CSE Metalwork Grade 4, I'm afraid), and points you in the direction of the library.
This wondrous building has a computer you can access to pull up information on just about everything (though repeated entries of "Jimmy Hill" elicited no response other than "Classified").
After ten minutes here, I'd discovered where all the other ancient sites were - there are seven of them - and headed for the travel agency.
The rest of the game is a fairly deep plot involving mega crime, mega corporations, and not a few fire-
Gameplay has been developed quite a bit since the original rather limited options of talking to someone, scrounging information from them, shooting them, then pawning their possessions.. Players can now buy items from NPC's, sell to them, or interrogate them (then shoot them and pawn their possessions). Conversations remain a little one-sided (a bit like interacting with a vending machine), but that's to be expected with a computer RPG.
Combat is the one major gameplay element which has changed drastically. The original game gave the player very close control of each member of the group, which could be a bit of a drag during a long fight. In MT2, you simply tell the group to react to any situation, and when a thug starts firing on you they start firing back without waiting for the order (unlike police marksmen).
Reactions can be a bit OTT, however. I was trucking along in a grave vehicle in one city when a couple of local thugs starting firing at us. They had no price on their heads and were therefore not worth killing, so I just swerved round a corner and headed off to the bar where I was told an expert on the ancient sites could be found. As soon as I stopped the motor and opened the door, though, my bunch of loonies decided to react, and charged off across four city blocks in search of the thugs.
In the resulting fire-fight, the doc was killed, and as he had been carrying a large part of the loot from a lucrative little business arrangement we'd just gone to a lot of trouble to set up, I was understandably a little miffed.
The PAL system is a second major improvement in gameplay. Whereas in the original game the player was forced to keep checking character skills to figure out who was best at what, the PAL system means that characters volunteer to lead the party when going into a situation demanding a particular skill. This means that if one of your characters is good at gambling, he'll shoulder his way past you and swagger the lead when approaching a casino.
It also means that when you get in your spaceship, everyone scuttles off to the position they're best suited for, saving a lot of messing about.
You can turn both PAL and react off, but this is recommended only for intensely dull people who enjoy doing the same thing over and over again.
Overall, the sheer size of MT2 is a little daunting. There are over 100 planets available to land on, though some don't have cities on them, 40 wanted criminals for the bounty-
Set this against a sinister river of green slime, a planet threatened with destruction, and a plot that thickens like porridge on a window sill in January, and you've got a computer RPG to keep you going for months.