Hippies on the starboard now...

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ENTERTAINMENT INTERNATIONAL * £29.99 * 1 meg * Mouse/Keyboard * Out now

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-pencil-and-crate-of-lager-in-the-small-hours game. The original was one of last year's best RPGs, so the sequel has a lot to live up to. Does it succeed?

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-fights with shady characters and drunken Jimmy Hill supporters. The action unfolds in similar fashion to MT1, which means gradually over a long period of time.

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-hunting player to practice murder on, hundreds of named individual NPC's, many of whom are vital to the plot, and absolutely no risk whatsoever of bumping into Jimmy Hill.

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.


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Boldly travelling where no alien has gone before, the sequel to Empire's flawed RPG sci-fi adventure has finally arrived. Forget fisticuffs and get thinking.

Imagine living 5,000 years in the future. Try to get your head around the concepts of travelling from star to star, planet to planet. Think of all this as commonplace and a huge Imperial government overseeing the situation. That's the setting for MegaTraveller. These ideas are not particularly novel - the Traveller role playing game was born in the late sixties and early seventies. It has influence many parts of the science fiction world. The mind behind it was Marc W Miller. After the lukewarm reception of the first computer version of his system (The Zhodani Conspiracy) the inventor was called in to help with the design of this follow up.

The Quest for the Ancients takes a lot of its background details and plots from very early Traveller books. These have been enjoyed many times by pen and paper Travellers, and so were thoroughly play-tested for the computer version.

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, an exotic race called the Ancients flourished for a very short time. They did lots of amazing things: like build starships, transport aliens (including humans) around the galaxy, move planets and suns around, and had a technology so advanced that even 5,000 years from now, people cannot fully fathom it.

Then, for reasons unknown, they left. Did a runner, blew town - they vanished. They left a lot of artefacts and ruins for archaeologists to ponder over. It is one such site that the game beings. For no apparent reason, one of the Ancient machines begins to work, producing corrosive slime. And it doesn't stop.

The planet where it all begins (Rhylanor) is doomed within seven years unless your party can find a means of turning off the machine. Of course, a reward commensurate with saving a planet is offered - but you aren't in it for the money, are you?

Play the role
RPGs are about assuming the identity and viewpoint of an individual, and making decisions from their viewpoint. They usually have little to do with rocket-propelled grenades. Step one is to invent a group or 'party' of such individuals. MT2 lets you play with a party of up to five characters. There are some ready made, but it's more fun to make your own.

The first decision is the race of your character. As well as humans, evolved canines can also be selected - Vagr characters. Human Imperials refer to Vagr as "doggies" for obvious reasons, but Vagr have certain advantages. Gender is determined next.

After that comes the important question of statistics - how strong, dextrous, enduring, intelligent, knowledgeable and affluent a character starts out. It is very easy to keep 'rolling the dice' until a decent set of statistics shows up. A character has to start at age 18, and progress through a pre-game career before being able to adventure.

These pre-game careers vary from being an ex-member of the armed services, a professional (bureaucrat, diplomat, doctor and so on), a criminal (common rogue or space-going pirate), a law enforcer, or for those who like fantasy role playing - a barbarian, ignorant of high technology. Each class has its uses, and a good mixture is important to success.

Daunting at first glance, the character generation is quite simple to work through with a mouse - and it will produce as good a variation in characters as the real RPG. You also get a good, atmospheric piece of music too. All of the MegaTraveller rules are in there, including the Advanced Character generation (overly detailed - definitely not recommended except on wet Sunday afternoons.

Save the planet
You can play nearly the whole game with a mouse. To move, point at where you want to go - and the characters walk there. A nice touch is that they don't stay in a rigid group, but tag along in a random, realistic fashion. Some of the common functions are mapped onto keys. This saves time when you get used to the game.

The main viewpoint is sited directly above the characters. Most of the action takes place in settlements, although the occasional excursion to an Ancient site is necessary too. This view can be zoomed out, which is handy when trying to spot people you have to meet - 'Non Playing Characters' or NPCs for short.

Success is achieved by meeting the right people with the right objects in your possession. Included in the box is a clue book, which details the full plot, all minor plots, all objects and all NPCs. This sort of thing costs a few quid more in the average role-playing game - but not with this one!

Space travel is handled entirely through menus. Reference to the star charts in the manual is heavily recommend - but once you know where you are going, getting from A to B is a doddle. If your characters didn't have a ship to start with, no problem - there are space tickets available in most cities.

What makes this game so much better than the original is the scale - the original coped with around a dozen star systems, MT2 has 117. This means that it's no longer a hop, skip and jump to get to where you want - your route to save Rhylanor has to be carefully planned in advance.

Seven years to save a planet may sound like a long time, but every jump from one planet to another takes a week. Even when you have completed the game, there's still a lot of detail that you will have missed - which makes playing it more than once much more fun than it was with the original.

My complaints are minor - some of the text messages don't get erased (which means that further messages are corrupted) and the point and click system can leave you jammed in a corner sometimes. Neither of these are major problems, and did not stop me from enjoying the game.

The sound effects are sparse, as are the opportunities for combat - but role-playing is about solving problems with brains, not with brawn. There is some fighting to be done (and some of the futuristic technology is awesome), but violence plays second fiddle in MegaTraveller 2. Recommended!


INDIVIDUAL PLAYER CHARACTERS: HOW MEGATRAVELLER 2 MEASURES PEOPLE
Megatraveller 2: User statistics
  1. This shows the former career of a character (Vargr can have more than one) and name of the character.
  2. The race and sex of the character appear here. Hits is a measure of how tough they are. Financial status matters; retired characters get an annual pension to boost this.
  3. The vital statistics: These vary from zero to 15 - the higher they are the better. Psychical statistics go down with age.
  4. Skills are used to measure success or failure at tasks in the game. As a retired doctor, she has impressive skills at Medical - but her combat skills are very limited. Streetwise is used to communicate with persons of low social status (criminals). Dr Shannon Amore has been around!
  5. This character has very little in the way of goods and chattels. Her sub-machine gun has been confiscated at the star port (Stealth skill helps to conceal weapons) but at least she has a low passage space ticket in case she needs to get off the planet quickly.

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Digi-Varianten bekannter Pen und Paper-Rollis produziert Empire ja reichlich - man denke nur an "Space 1889" oder eben "MegaTraveller". Bloß überzeugen konnten die Briten damit bislang nicht so recht...

Ein Hoffnungsschimmer zeichnete sich Anfang des Jahres mit der recht ordentlichen PC-Urversion dieser SF-Arie ab, deren Story für den Amiga 1:1 übernommen wurden. Demnach geht es also nach wie vor um die sogenannten "Alten", die vor immerhin 300.000 Jährchen den Weltraum unsicher machten. Das heißt, eigentlich sind uns diese längst ausgestorbenen Kosmonauten mindestens so schnuppe wie ein vermoderter Saurier-Schinken, wären da nicht ihre ebenso vielfältigen wie undurchschaubaren Hinterlassenschaften, mit denen sie die Oberfläche so mancher Welt gepflaster haben. Auch auf Rhylanor stehen derlei Objekte in der Pampa herum, was dem örtlichen Tourismus-Minister auch durchaus gefällt - bis eines von den Teilen plötzlich verrückt spielt und den hübschen Planeten mit tödlichem Schleim überflutet!

Tja, da hilft kein Hustensaft, da muß schon eine fünfköpfige Helden-Party her, die Rhylanor und dessen Nachbarwelten bereist bzw. erforscht. Könnte ja sein, daß irgendwo ein Schalter zu finden ist, mit dem sich die Glibber-Antiquität abwürgen läßt, oder? Das Charakter-Bastelmenü (ebenfalls tadellos vom PC rübergezogen) sollte man hingegen keinesfalls abwürden, denn obwohl die Veteranen des ersten Teils leider draußenbleiben müssen, gibt es wohl nirgends sonst ein so ausgefeiltes Verfahren, mit dem für jeden einzelnen Abenteuer ein eigener Lebenslauf samt Heimatwelt, Karriere und speziellen Fähigkeiten gestrickt werden kann.

Weniger akribisch veranlagte Schleimtöter dürfen freilich auch mit einem vorgefertigten Team auf Reisen gehen, um Städte und Landschaften (2D-Vogelperspektive) zu durchwandern, Passanten zu befragen, mit High-Tech-Waren zu handeln oder sich in (Raum-) Gefechten zu beweisen. Kennern des ersten Teils sei an dieser Stelle übrigens versichert, daß dessen haarsträubendes Kampfsystem gründlich überarbeitet wurde und nunmehr durchaus spielbar ist.

Der Sound (Titelmusik, Intro-Untermalung und FX) klingt vielleicht sogar etwas schöner als auf den MS-Dosen, doch will das letzten Endes nicht allzuviel heißen. Die solide Handhabung mit Maus, Menüs und Icons stammt gleichfalls ohne Abstriche vom Original; ein paar "Zustriche" in dem einen oder anderen Punkt hätten wir allerdings durchaus begrüßt. Wirklich auf den Hund gekommen ist aber trotz Intro und einiger (ruckeliger) Animationen die Optik: Halbwegs nette Raumschiff-Szenen können nicht über weitgehend graue Städte oder Portraits auf PD-Niveau hinwegtäuschen - umso unverständlicher, daß wegen der uferlosen Nachladezeiten eine Festplatte fast unumgänglich ist!

Und weil sich schließlich die prinzipiell löblichen deutschen Screentexte so holprig wie ein verwilderter Steinbruch lesen, erklären wir das Game hiermit aufgrund erheblicher Sicherheitsmängel zum Risiko auf eigen Gefahr... (jn)


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Can Betty Boo lead Cliff, Jimmy, Liz and Phil to interstellar victory? Read on...

Gah, typical! Five seconds into the adventure and my crack team of interstellar space mercenaries (Cliff Richard, Jimmy Greaves, Liz McColgan and Philip Schofield, under the astute leadership of Marine Captain Betty Boo) have had all their grenade launchers confiscated by an over-zealous customs office. We're left to face the baying hordes on the planet Rhylandor with only a bobbins body pistol to hand. Sigh.

Not that this really matters. There's none of that wandering-around-killing-everything-you-see nonsense that has blighted computer role-playing for so long. This is a game that has more in common with Indiana Jones than Space Crusade.
The plot is suitably obtuse. Something to do with purple goo oozing out of some pipes and a couple of shadowy figures running off into the night.

Well it's all about ancient sites really. You've got to travel round exploring them and collecting coynes (coins). This is the main scenario, but some of the smaller scenarios are more interesting. They mainly involve your party acting as either hit-people or a galactic courier service.

Before the game begins, you are given the option to create some characters. This is a detailed process, as you get to select skills and choices for your adventurer as they develop from the age of 18, whether in the navy, the army or a whole host of other businesses/forces/mobs. This means that the characters that eventually form your squad are all completely unique (not just a little bit unique), moulded and shaped by your own judgment.

A tedious graphics introduction leads you into the adventure. Your characters stumble around, following their leader following your mouse cursor. Group options are selected from the menus that pop up when you click on the relevant icons, and there are detailed character sheets you can pull up for options for the individual characters. A combination of the characters' skills, tactical judgment and having the cluebook open at the right page is the key here.

And now the big question: how does it compare to MegaTraveller 1? In the same way as most sequels, really. The graphics are a vast improvement, and incredibly varied and detailed exploitation of the Amiga's potential, rather than the 8-bit fare we got last time. The game zone is also much bigger - in this case there are a whopping 177 planets and 231 cities that can be visited. A lot of extra features have been included and the original features have been greatly developed.


Everything including the kitchen sink

All of these, taking individually, are probably 'Good Things'. As is so often the case there is a 'Bad Thing' on the horizon, as a development team tries to capitalise on the success of the original by throwing everything including the kitchen sink into the sequel. The end result is often an over-ambitious, unfocused and confusing mess, full of extraneous elements. Sadly, this is true of MegaTraveller 2.

The first game allowed a great degree of tactical freedom, without losing the plot in the process. There was a sensibly-sized universe (28 planets), with plenty to do on each planet. Though players could spin off at their own tangents, the main mission always seemed within their grasp.

MegaTraveller 2 is a totally different state of affairs. The main scenario is so arcane, the sub-plots are spread across too large an area, and most of the cities hold nothing of interest other than a galactic Mrs Honeymoon ready to reveal which airline they believe to be behind the who shebang.

It doesn't help that functions such as travelling to another planet city, or even simply speaking to someone in the street, require a mass of disk-swapping, with sometimes as many as six exchanges of disk required to carry out a single action. (The message is clear: get a hard drive or lose your mind).

MegaTraveller 1 was deep. MegaTraveller 2 is even deeper, it just hasn't got much water in it. Fans of the Traveller games world will love it of course, but for the average joe/joanna who doesn't hold the rolling of 20-sided dice in religious esteem(and let's face it, that means most of us) this is a game going nowhere. Slowly.

You put the disk in the drive, a few graphics flash up and your five characters appear outside the customs office in Rhylandor Startown. And that's it. It's down to you to go and hunt out a game somewhere in it all. Sadly the one I found bored me to tears.


THYLANDOR STARTOWN: A TRAVELLER'S GUIDE
The game's loaded, so where do you start? MegaTraveller 2 allows you to tackle things anyway you choose, but here's a quick guide to what you can get up to when you're in a Startown with crdits in your pocket and time on your hands.
Megatraveller 2: Thylandar Startown viewed at lowest zoom-level
  1. RECRUITMENT CENTRE: If you're not happy with someone in your team - or a gunfight has left you short-staffed - try in here.
  2. CUSTOMS: Feel naked without your Gauss rifle and sub machine gun? Try entering the planet via the Scout Base or Naval Base, and hang on to all that firepower.
  3. CASINO: Whiles away the time, but gamblng is a laborious (and unreliable) way to earn your travelling money.
  4. LIBRARY: You're advised to check out entries to do with ancient sites on the library computer. But you won't learn anything you can't get from the cluebook (included with the package).
  5. THROW BACKETT: A dead important geezer, though what he's doing loitering around the university concourse all day is anyone's guess (can't you get arrested for that sort of thing?). Chat to him - you'll get all sorts of goodies and some info.
  6. DEV LENDREL: Dev will offer to sell you a pass to Fulacin (a restricted planet, and home to one of the three other known ancient sites). Buy it.
  7. VEHICLE HIRE: Tired of wandering round the city? Hire a car and wander round the city.
  8. THE GREAT BEYOND: Drive to one of the other cities or take a look at that gunge you've got to dispose of.
  9. TAVERN: A chance to pick up local gossip, but don't hold your breath while waiting to be served.
  10. BANK: As boring as any other bank.
  11. TRAVEL AGENT: Get your train tickets to other cities on the planet (none too exciting).
  12. HYPERMARKET: Stock up on laser weapons, radiation suits, forensic kits and anything else you need for the weekend. Circle K it ain't.

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Not content with having a cartoon animation and sporting sim on release this month, Entertainment International (Empire) have their eyes set further afield. Steven Keen takes a step into space, deep space...

THIS TIME IT'S WAR!
It's been almost a year since Entertainment International released their computer version of the Traveller board game and it's due to that games' success that we now have the sequel in our hands. Fans of the first will be pleased to know that the sequel is actually 10 times bigger and incorporates 127 new planets for adventurers to explore. However, as Danny DeVitto said to Dolly Parton, size isn't everything!

Every planet your party of five chooses to visit is a hit and miss affair. Each one possesses its own quota of cities and all differ in their degree of advancement. Some planets will be way ahead in the technical achievement stakes, whilst others will only be able to provide you with a cloudy glass of water if you ask them nicely. It's up to you to glean what information you can get from the inhabitants and acquire as many objects, gadgets and weaponry as you'll need during your mission.

THE PLOT SLOT
OK, so far so good, but why are you chasing shadows the length and breadth of the galaxy? As it happens you and your party are getting some much needed R&R after the Zhodani incident on the planet Rhylanor. Rhylanor is a densely populated world famous for its intriguing high tech artifacts and gigantic mechanical monoliths. The constructions have long since been deserted by an advanced civilization wiped out in an apocalyptic war thousands of years ago. During a tour of one of the ancient structures it erupts and you capture, on your video camera, the cataclysmic scene as the gigantic earthquake suddenly kicks one of the monstrous machines to life.

As the entire site shakes and trembles huge streams of toxic slime begin to spew out of the machines' pipes and trundle down the mountainside destroying everything in its path. The area is immediately evacuated and the authorities offer a massive reward for anyone who can stop the advancement of the gunge and save the planet. Upon close examination of your tape you notice the silhouettes of two characters running from the site just after the initial explosion. So, taking up the challenge with four other characters, you begin to track these beings down and solve the riddle of the ancients.

The biggest problem with RPGs of this type and size are that they're not easily accessible. What with every game trying to out boast the competitors with incredible claims of detail, statistical tables and itineraries they often forget that the whole point of putting the game out in the first place is to have fun. Wading through scores of introduction scenes or fiddling with the level of speed that a storm trooper can tie up a loose boot lace in a tight corner is not really what it's all about. So, with Megatraveller 2 a group of preset characters come as standard which lets you get straight into the action. Great! Now your only problem is finding some.

Most of the game is viewed from above whichever planet you've surfaced on. Whereas in the original your party is reduced to a single representative blob, here they've splurged and invested in five, recognisable by colours that correspond to the character boxes at the top of the screen. The screen can be zoomed in and out of, but the closest you'll ever get is a bird's-eye from about 150 feet up.

Planetary travel is achieved by walking or by one of the numerous forms of transport available for rent. Two of these are the ATV, a fast tracked car restricted to ground travel and the Grav version that can handle the most treacherous conditions as it actually hovers above the earth's surface. By using these motorised modes of transport you'll be able to cover the cities faster, enabling you to visit all the shops, building and NPCs needed for you to collect clues and equipment. There are at least 23 of these locations including hyper-markets, banks, airports and taverns.

If you want to travel to another planet you'll have to buy your own ship or, more viable at the beginning, buy a ticket for a space shuttle. Although everything costs a lot, extra credits can be picked up pretty easily and give rise to the game's many sub plots. By interrogating the populous you soon find out where a shady deal or two can be made and most people have something for sale that can be resold for a higher price. The only difficulty is finding the elements necessary for pairing the two off with each other.

VIEWING PROBLEMS
When arriving on a strange planet you'll probably have your weapons confiscated, but a quick visit to Mr Migginin's International Arms emporium will soon set you right and you can pick up an awesome array of weapons on most worlds. Once you've become equipped you can check in at the local police station for what bargains are laying around the neighbouring planets. By tracking them down and collecting their dog tags the police force will pay you handsomely.

Combat has been vastly improved from the first game, but it's still flawed. To fire your weapons at a victim you must first go into a menu and place the cursor over all the targets you want to shoot, then press attack. You then sit back and watch the outcome. However, if one of the enemy should walk off the screen after targeting you won't be able to see what happens to him until it's too late and a huge pile of purple slush stands where one or more of your companions used to be.

HARD ON THE EYES
Control over the characters is by mouse and the combination of small sprites and scrappy graphics incorporated in the action screens produce a lot of frustrating mistakes. Building are particularly hard to enter and you are often left wandering around outside just trying to find an entrance. Once inside the scene switches to the one on one representations presented in most RPGs when coming into close contact with an interactive character. These can be very scrappy affairs as a lot of the sprites are used more than once for different locations and in some instances, when a text entry is required, the computer doesn't bother to wipe out the previous text shown and just writes over the top of it making it very difficult to read.

Another instance of frustrating play is when trying to talk to a NPC. It's necessary to corner them and bunch them in before they'll speak to you. When travelling in the car you have to go through the palaver of parking it, getting all the players out and then chasing the NPC just to see if he can be talked to, of which invariably he can't and you simply wasted your time and have to pile back in again.

Megatraveller 2 is big, and if you ask me it's too big. Although there's literally thousands of things to do, tasks to perform and sub missions to negotiate, it just didn't grab me. I need more to fuel my enthusiasm than a few miniscule sprites and the occasional flash of laser fire.

However, I'd recommend it to board game fans as it definitely brings their game to life and is superior to the first in the series. Some nice touches, like characters volunteering to perform tasks they have a particular aptitude for without being asked, add a certain amount of character, but RPGs of this detail tend to lose out on playability - and Megatraveller 2 is no exception...


SPACE RACE Until you've amassed around 3 million credits you're going to take a buss, a space buss. However, if you do succeed in getting the readies you'll have no end of intergalactic weaponry to choose from and strap to it's roof rack. The best to buy are any lasers that come in threes, as they give maximum fire power for all those space battles.