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Stunning pictures and moody atmospheric music abound in this new Dynamix adventure, but is it a game or a slide show?

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.

Too pretty!
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.



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Was waren wir gespannt, als der allmorgendliche Blick in den Briefkasten die Amigaversion von Dynamix' edlem Grafikadventure offenbarte. Aufgeputscht vom ersten Lister Kaffee des Tages wähnten wir uns bereits am Beginn einer neuen Epoche...

Und damit lagen wir grundsätzlich gar nicht mal verkehrt: Auf satte zehn Disketten haben die Programmierer des dynamischen Sierra-Ablegers ihren Drachen verteilt! Erwartungsgemäß überschwemmt die Scheibenflut der Spieler dann auch mit wahrhaft epochaler Präsentation - animierte Wahnsinnsgrafik und atmosphärische Musikbegleitung, wohin man auch schaut bzw. hört. Leider resultieren daraus nicht minder epochale Wechselorgien, denn bei praktisch jeder Aktion wollen die Disks ausgetauscht werden, oft gleich mehrmals. Dazu gesellen sich ebenfalls epochale Nachladezeiten, hier geht eindeutig Warten vor Spielen. Langer Rede kurzer Sinn, so viele Floppys kann man überhaupt nicht haben, daß der Drachenaufstand spielbar wäre - weiterlesen empfiehlt sich eigentlich nur für Festplattenbesitzer.

Also solcher darf man in den Trenchcoat von Privatdetektiv Hunter schlüpfen, der im völlig desolaten Los Angeles des Jahres 2053 daheim ist. Die Stadtväter der heruntergekommenen Westküstenmetropole werden gerade mit der Vergiftung des Trinkwasser erpreßt, zur Demonstration haben die Hintermänner ihr Teufelszeug bereits ein paar Junkies unter den Stoff gemischt. Von denen sind denn auch in Nullzeit nur häßlich verunstaltete Leichen übriggeblieben, aber wen scheren schon ein paar tote Fixer? Erst als des Bürgermeisters Töchterlein der Kreis der Opfer adelt, werden die Politiker plötzlich wach - unter Hunter bekommt seinen (letzten Endes nicht allzu schwierigen) Auftrag.

Also macht sich Schnüffelnase auf die Jagd, der Weg führt kreuz und quer durch ein schaurig schön gezeichnetes L.A. für das ganz offensichtlich "Blade Runner" Modell gestanden hat. Für die Fortbewegung des Detektivs sorgt eine weiterentwickelte U-Bahn, für den Fortgang der Story ein recht geschicktes Maus-Cursor-System: Man fährt mit dem Zeiger über den Screen, je nach Lage der Dinge verändert er seine Form.

Eine Lupe deutet an, daß das betreffende Objekt ein genauere Betrachtung (per Klick) lohnen würde, ein EXIT-Schild weist auf Ausgänge hin, eine Sprechblase auf mögliche Gesprächspartner. Bei Unterhaltungen bestreitet Hunter seinen Part mit vorgefertigten Multiple Choice Sätzen, und auch das Inventory ist kinderleicht zu bedienen. Die gelegentlich eingestreuten Action-Schießereien sind abschaltbar, und wenn sich anderswo etwas Wichtiges ereignet, wird der Spieler von toll animierten Zwischensequenzen am laufenden gehalten.

Das Fazit fällt diesmal klar wie selten aus: Harddisk-Eigner mit Hang zu spektakulärer Optik werden begeistert sein, Otto Normalamigianer hingegen bekommt nur ein teures Grafikdemo mit Diskwechsel-Garantie. (jn)



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Sierra make a renewed bid for the top of the adventure tree, but can they shake off their old image and compete with the likes of Lucasfilm and Delphine? They're certainly making an effort - these new releases (King's Quest 5 & Rise of the Dragon), aimed right at hard disk owners, come with vastly improved presentation - but can the stories keep up?

I 've spent the last few minutes trying unsuccessfuly to work out how to get my word processor to do those French 'e's with accents over them. The trouble is that the word 'cliché'looks a bit silly without one, so trying to review a game as ridden with the things as this could be slightly tricky.

I'll just have to think of a different word, I suppose 'Stereotype', maybe, or 'hackneyed'. Either one could be applied (with the aid of a few judicious prepositions) to Rise Of The Dragon, which combines the tritest of murder-mystery/P.I./futuristic plots with a distinctly run-of-the-mill icons/graphic-adventure/cinemawossname interface, yet somehow manages to come out of it looking like pretty impressive game.

The storyline takes the usual pessimistic computer-game view of the future: drugs and crime have taken over, dry ice wafts menacingly down the dimly-lit streets and everyone dresses in leather thongs. Nothing unusual there, but the mayor has got something more serious on his mind. His daughter's been killed by some 'bad dope' and, fearing something sinister's afoot but wishing to keep the incident quiet, he's asked private investigator William 'Blade' Hammer to look into it.

Unknown to 'Blade' however, he's about to take on more than he bargained for. The trouble is (it says here) that, as prophesied, the one known as 'The Dragon' has returned to restore chaos to the universe and rule once more.


It's not quite first-rate, but it's up there with the best of the second-rate ones

WELCOME TO THE NEW JUNGLE
The game kicks off in Blade's apartment, and follows the usual course of examining things, picking them up, operating them, moving from location to location and interacting with other characters in the hope of solving the mystery.

However, unlike the majority of other cinemawhatacallit games, you don't get to see your character on screen. Instead you see the world through Blade's eyes, which opens the way for a series of attractively drawn stills, with a little decorative animation in each, rather than a Monkey Island-style animated extravaganza.

It's a question of taste, of course, but I tend to find that the approach used here can reduce a game to a string of graphical set-pieces with not much between.

Scale is the other thing that sets Rise Of The Dragon apart from everything else. It comes on (gulp) ten (10!) disks, and incredibly manages to arrange it so that you'll need just about all of them in the first five minutes of playing.

This is clearly a ridiculous state of affairs, even if you've got two disk drives, and a hard drive is an absolute must. Even then, you'll need to find about eight (8!) megabytes of space on it, which is nearly half an A590. Have these people never heard of data compression? Hmm?

Needless to say, to play the game at all you'll need at least 1 Meg of memory, and to play the game at its best this all ought to be Chip RAM.

Staggering statistics, then, but does the game justify them? It's easy to get to grips with, you've got to give it that. Although there's yet another system of mouse clicks to learn, it's picked up fairly quickly and proves to be fast and effective in practice.

The game isn't let down on the programming front, either. Everything looks neat and tidy, and works as it should, and there are plenty of 'extras' like your VidPhone which is sort of an answering machine with pictures - and a couple of arcade sequences. There is one problem, though, and it's one which is perhaps only to be expected.


Scale is the other thing that sets Rise Of The Dragon apart from everything else

THE FLEXIBILITY LINEAR APPROACH
Despite its boast of being highly flexible, with all sorts of possible outcomes to each situation, the game does tend to push you in the direction it wants you to go in most of the time - you can't actually do very much that leis outside the scope of the plot.

You can only talk to people the game wants you to talk to, and you can only say what it wants you to say (with a few multiple-choices, but the choices are usually pretty ridiculous with one obvious one you're meant to pick). Try to pull out your gun in a place where the programming doesn't allow for it and you'll be given a totally crap reason for your not being able to do so.

On the plus side, you do have the freedom to roam around the game's locations at will, but actually making progress generally involves finding the next 'thing' that needs to be done.

Happily, my fault-finding didn't get much further. I was suitably impressed by the graphics (a vast improvement on standard Sierra fare) and engrossed by the puzzles, and delighted to find that Alt M switches off the music.

It's not quite a first-rate cinemathingumy game, but is definitely up there with the best of the second-rate ones. Whether you think it's worthy spending all that money on, however, is entirely up to you.



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You're a dick. A private eye, name of William 'Blade' Hunter, hired by Mayor Vincenzi to discover the truth behind his daughter's death. Grabbing your gun and ID, you race out of your apartment, heading for the street. It's only when the cops grab you that you realise your one mistake - you forgot to get dressed. 'Damn', you mutter as they lead you away, 'I really haven't got the hang of this new icon system yet'.

Rise of the Dragon draws its inspiration from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and William Gibson's Neuromancer: a dark, unpleasant future world in which the jaded population live in high-tech slums, getting their kicks from electronic devices and chemical stimulants.

Brutal murders are common, which provides an excuse for touting vicious self-protection (Blade carries a Pulse Particle-Beam gun). The city locations vary from the plush mayorial offices to seedy nightclubs and dark alleys, as Blade tracks down the killers while trying to avoid a fatal dose of lead poisoning.

Converting a game from 256 colours (its original incarnation on the PC) to 32 on the Amiga usually means sacrificing good graphics, but ROTD looks splendid with the Amiga's palette. Dynamix are affiliated to Sierra, and it shows: lovely backdrops complement the digitised and animated faces in the game, making this one of those 'look what this computer can do' games, so beloved of kids trying to convince parents of the educational value of an Amiga.

Of course, there's a price to pay for such impressive visuals, and in this case it's loading time. This is a perfect game to play while painting the hall; while the game's ponderously loading the next screen, you can nip out to watch the paint dry for a couple of minutes. This seriously affects the gameplay, as it's hard to maintain the atmosphere of a moody murder mystery while listening to the drive whirr for ages, and in conjunction with the disk swapping, makes the game a major cow to play smoothly.

People may have thought that disk silliness had reached its peak with King's Quest V's record of eight disks, but I'm afraid not. Rise of the Dragon weighs in with an unbelievable TEN disks. It had me climbing he walls with frustration after half-anhour or so, and that was with a two-drive system: one flppy drive would turn me into a suitable candidate for a rubber room in minutes.

The seemingly random swapping between the stack of disk,s, combined with the painfully slow decompression of the graphics, renders atmosphere and enjoyability virtually non-existent, and means that travelling to a location takes five times as long as it should. The music, while fairly pleasant, becomes irritating if only because so often you get to hear silence between screens.

ROTD was designed for hard drive installation, and without one Amiga owners are going to find this hard going. In fairness, Dynamix do point this out on the box, alerting punters to the 'Recommended' use of hard drives and second floppy drives, and although the game isn't unplayable without a hard disk, it is slow and cumbersome.

That aside, the game has a complex plot, with plenty of locations to visit in Blade's search for the truth behind the death. Dynamix's system for interrogating suspects is excellent - a lits of potential questions or statements appear on screen, with the player choosing what he or she thinks is best.

Each character Blade meets has to be approached differently, as they all have their own personalities and history. Sometimes saying the wrong thing means that the subject clams up and refuses to 'sing' - or even tries to kill Blade. Luckily there's no right way to complete the adventure, and some people will take different routes than others.

The icon system is a vast improvement over rival systems, with the cursor changing to reflect possible actions. For example, putting the pointer over an individual changes it into a speech bubble; put it over the videophone, and a magnifier appears to allow closer examination. This avoids either tedious typing or cycling through potential icons, and ignores irrelevant items or people.

The inventory actually comes in two parts. The quick inventory shows all the items Blade is carting around, while the main one (which takes quite a time to come up after clicking) shows a picture of Blade himself, necessary for options such as putting on his raincoat, etc. To move an object into the inventory, all you have to do is drag it across (by holding down the left mouse button) to the small figure of Blade in the corner of the screen.

Rise of the Dragon is an above-average adventure and uses a novel interface to interact with the world. For hard drive owners, this is a must; for the rest of us, the disk-swapping and access times could make it more hassle than it's worth.


CHINA IN YOUR HANDS

The next game from Dynamix will be Heart of China which uses the same system as Rise of the Dragon - and features even more outstanding graphics. This time, the inspiration comes from another Harrison Ford film - Indiana Jones.
Set in 'thirties China, the hero this time is Lucky, an 'imporer' of various goods, who is hired by Lomax (an important financier) to find his daughter. Sounds familiar? Despite these broad similarities with ROTD, Heart of China introduces a sidekick, Chi, and the player switches between characters to complete the story, as in Leisure Suit Larry III. Contemporary music helps set the scene, and this promises to be something of an event upon release - although there's a good chance it may come on even more disks than Rise of the Dragon.

COMIC ASIDES Packaged with the game comes a comic, billed as a 'Blade Hunter Graphic Mystery'. This sets the scene for the game, proves that Blade is one tough hombre, and includes a guide to investigation techniques that's invaluable for completing the game - it even describes how to tap a videophone.
The best thing about the comic, though, is the presence of adverts that are accurate parodies of those found in real comics, down to the 204-piece World War III action set - complete with dead civilians!


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Sierra/£34.99/October

For creatures that never existed, dragons have been doing pretty well for themsleves lately. What with Dragon's lair, Dragon's Breath and Dragon Ninja III, they've been almost omnipresent. And here they are again in the Amiga version of Rise Of The Dragon. However, now that they've established a reputation, they don't even deign to make a courtesy appearance in this game.

Rise Of The Dragon was the first graphic adventure created by the Dynamix team, pre-Heart Of China. The action takes place in Los Angeles, 2053. Drugs are killing off the population and no-one has tackled the problem until the Mayor's daughter, Chandi (having been deprived of Grange Hill) is found dead from an overdose.

The mayor hires Blade Unter, a man with more gristle than a sausage factory, to hunt out his daughter's assassins and rid the city of sleazy drug dealers and corrupt government officials.

You play Blade, ex-police officer and occasional private dick (ahem) who's gonna track down the culprits and set the world to rights.

Like most modern adventures, the game uses an enhanced point and click interface and the action unfolds in 'real time'. So although you see the world through Blade's eyes, events occur in other locations when Blade is not present. (Thankfully, animated 'cinematic cutaways' appear every so often to keep you informed.)

This means you also have to keep a beady eye on the click - if you have to see someone at a particular time, you'll have to make sure you're punctual and you can't for example, walk into offices at night. Another neat aspect is the way all the characters have been programmed to have personal histories and memories - for example, once you've wronged your girlfriend, just like an elephant, she'll never forget.

Apart from the usual 'adventureesque' Examine Location stuff, there are also action-packed arcade sequences with unlimited replays, which you can miss out if you belong to the sterner variety of the bearded race.

What's more, Dynamix have done away with all that arduous typing - all messages are provided, with you making the choice. So there's no scratching your head for half an haour until you find the right word and, rather like Blankety Blank, there'll be a variety of solutions for all major puzzles.

Amiga reviewAmaya: I loved the opening stages of Rise Of The Dragon They reminded me of the back page of my old Bunty comics where you had Bunty looking rather risqué surrounded by lots of new clothes. Then, you took your mum's scissors and did the only decent thing - er... snip her head off by accident.

Well, funnily enough in Rise Of The Dragon you get to dress Blade too, and unfortunately have to cover up those lithe, rippling, undulating muscles. (And after that you also get to arm him).

The storyline unfolds neatly, with Blade having to collect varied objects and journey to different locations looking for clues. Some, like The Pleasure Dome, are decidedly more salubrious than others. At one point, I decided to play a more Don Juan-ish Blade than the squeaky clean character I'd so far created. Blade went off with the ma-eating chick at the Please Dome, only to be confronted by his girlfriend, Karyn, and her mean left hook. Sadly, there were to be no more nights of rudies for Blade.

Rise Of The Dragon is full of imaginative touches, like Blade's Vid-phone - an ansaphone where your caller appears on a huge screen. As for the graphics, they really are top-hole. The soundtrack is refreshingly pleasant and some of the effects (like flushing your toilet) are extremely realistic.

In addition, the interface and 'real time' elements have been well thought-out. The game's easy to get into but perhaps rather like its sister, Heart Of China, not very hard to complete. Fortunately, the different plot branches should make it a joy to return to.

However, I do have one major gripe - there are 10 disks!!! After a couple of hours and numerous waits I was suffering from acute repetitive disk-juggling strain. For this reason (and the absence of dragons), Rise Of The Dragon falls short of a hero.Stop