The city is a futuristic Los Angeles, full of high-tech hardware and low-life street scrum from an assortment of cultures. One man is trying to keep this city clean and his name is Blade Hunter. He is a private eye from the Marlowe school of charm: tough and methodical, he always solves his cases and he always stands his girlfriend up.
The game opens with a message on the vid-phone. It is the mayor, his daughter has been killed by a mysterious narcotic and he wants an answer, but no publicity - it is election year after all! Blade has been hired, now he must try to unravel this twisted tale.
Person to person
Rise of the Dragon uses a first person perspective and an intuitive mouse interface for the majority of the scenes. You see what Blade sees and rolling the mouse cursor across the screen reveals the various hotspots: active areas he can manipulate to further the quest. The options offered by the system are not really options, they are more logical extensions of the cursor. To swing open a cupboard door you need to have the cursor at the correct side and click. To get an item to interact with another just drag it over the top of the other one and let go off the button. To exit left or right simply move the cursor to the far side of the screen. It is not revolutionary, but it is slickly done and glitch free. Sort of a downtown Dungeon Master.
To talk to a suspect just click when the speech bubble 'hot spot' appears on them and an inset portrait appears. You can relate to these pics: the bad guys look evil, Blade's girlfriend looks helpful and decaying drug riddled corpses look just as you would imagine drug riddled corpses look. Speech boxes convey their statements, while your potential questions and replies are offered in multiple-choice style. Talking is limited to three or four responses, but they cover all the possible reactions anyone could have to a bouncer packing an automatic rifle. Rise of the Dragon also uses an Op Wolf-style shoot out and 'Meanwhile' screens. The first allows for blasting action, while the plot interludes reveal the dark secrets of the criminals. The change of perspective frees up the game, allowing the graphics to use an exaggerated form.
The only irritation of the keyboard-free style of play is that it fosters the introduction of timed sections. In certain situations a whole bunch of actions have to be taken quickly. The music is often the only clue to this, so the results first time round are predictable and frustrating.
One or two areas like this would be tolerable, but they are overdone and overly long. It does not ruin the game, but provides a stumbling block to the continuity because you can go no further until you are certain what has to be done, in what order and at what speed.
Rise of the Dragon simply looks too pretty to be a game of any depth. Dynamix have lavished obvious time and effort to make their screens glow on the Amiga. They carefully build a Ridley Scott atmosphere, of a city decaying in its own decadence. It is state of the art comic book stuff; exaggeration spiced with dark threat.
The graphic threat is underpinned by the music. Each area of the game has a theme, which varies according to the actions required. In the timed sections the music ups the tempo, providing an audible clue of a need for speed. In other cases its style clues you up as to the nature of your next encounter.
The effective mouse system, great pictures and continually changing background tune creates a movie-like atmosphere. The folks you meet and the world they inhabit are drawn and behave in a slightly exaggerated fashion. It is like exploring an animated cartoon film. Judge Dredd is alive and well and living next door to Blade Hunter.
It is not without its problems, though, but they are problems that emanate from the game's ambition. Played from floppy it is slow, not crushingly so, but still slow. The game really deserves to be played from hard disk. It will, however, probably be remembered for its cracking graphics and great use of sound, but it must not be forgotten that there is a toughest adventure here too. The clues are clear enough to be found yet devious enough to cause confusion. The environment is friendly, changing both viewpoint and style regularly enough to keep all but the most impatient player happy. The stress on time proves irritating, forcing you to keep trying the same situation. But, if Rise of the Dragon is an indication of the direction Sierra is taking, the road ahead looks exciting indeed.