Me and my shadow...

Shadowlands logo Amiga Computing Gamer Gold

DOMARK * £29.99 * ½ meg * Mouse * Out now

I don't know, you wait ages for a role-playing adventure game to turn up and then you go and get four in two months - it's just not fair. Following quick on the heels of Knightmare, Abandoned Places and Moonstone (OK, it's more action than adventure, but who cares) is Shadowlands.
I don't really know how to describe Shadowlands, but I'll have a go. It's a sort of, err, umm, isometric Dungeon Master with a mere shade of Akira thrown in for good measure.

You are now probably wondering what the hell Akira, the cult Japanese cartoon/film epic, has got to do with Shadowlands. Well hold on to your hats, helmets or whatever you're wearing on top of your head and all will be revealed soon.

Time for a story, I think. Are you sitting comfortably? The story follows an ancient legend. Drowned while fleeing enemy hordes who have invaded to find that your spirit is still very much alive and lusting for vengeance.
New supernatural powers give you the ability to control the minds of others. Hyou must guide them into the Shadowlands where they must search and find your natural remains and from there take them to the altar to be reunited with your spirit in an ancient ceremony.

Just like Dungeon Master and all its contenders, you start the game with four intrepid adventurers. Normally you have to choose your adventurers, but not in Shadowlands - here you have to make your own. Using an identikit system rather like the one in Midwinter 2, you get to design your brave lads.
If you remember, I mentioned Akira - well this is where the Japanese influence appears. All the graphics of your man's face, hair, mouth, etc. are very oriental and you can get qite a good likeness to the bloke who runs the chippy down the road.

Right, you've made up your men and you've given them names, now it's time to play the game. You start off in an orchard with loads of apple trees, so you can do your best Darling Buds of May impressions, pretend to pick this year's crop of apples and say "Perfick" a lot.

While you are wandering around you encounter pesky crows and also find some very important weapons. After a bit of apple-picking and the odd game of hide and seek, you will eventually find the dungeon. Now the game really begins to take shape.
The first part of level one is merely a little taste and enables you to get used to the controls, so that you can move around quickly and efficiently. Movement is entirely controlled by your little mouse. By now you should have seen our little box with an explanation of the control system - if you haven't seen it, read it right now, it's dead important.

If you're a bit daft in the head and you haven't seen the screenshots then you probably won't know why the game is called Shadowlands. It's called because it uses a Photoscaping system. I suppose you'll want to know what a Photoscaping system is? It allows the game to actually simulate light and darkness. I know it sounds a bit complicated, but I'll make it easy for you by using a couple of examples.

Example one - when you light a torch in Shadowlands, you actually light up the area around you and you can see everything a lot more clearly.
Example two - when you open a door the light from the torch actually floods through into the next room, just as light does in the real world.
I know the word 'gimmick' comes screaming at you from out of the darkness, but it really does add atmosphere to the game and lends it a realistic feel. The actual game is plagued by all manner of evil beasties like skeletons, rats and even Jeremy Beadle (are you sure? - Ed). Some of the beasties are harder than others, and some so-called "beasties" are actually scantily-clad women.

Also contained in the dungeons are loads of fiendish puzzles. Sometimes the dungeon will help you with them by leaving a plaque for you to read, other times it won't. These puzzles will give you sleepless nights and a severe case of brain-ache.
For all you would-be wizards, there are also spells for you tp play around with, but be careful - you wouldn't want to command a bunch of frogs around the dungeon!

I have been reliably informed the dungeon bit lasts for 14 levels. Then your progress further to the pyramid and maze levels, so it definitely isn't one of those "I completed it in ten minutes" jobs.
Shadowlands is one of those games which will keep you entertained for hours on end. You know the type - you start playing in January and before you realise it, it's April.

Engrossed? I certainly was. I almost forgot about writing the review. And even now while I'm writing this, Darren, our resident adventuring expert, is deeply engrossed in it - at the moment he's turning the air blue.
In fact, hold on for a minute.
"Oi! Get off that Amiga!"
"Whaat?"
"Come 'ere you, take that!"
"Youch!"
Ho ho! That'll teach the bugger.

Overall, Shadowlands is the game all adventurers have been looking for. It has great graphics which, coupled with the Photoscaping system, gives a unique atmosphere, almost a feeling of actually being there.
On the sound front there are suitable FX featuring grunts, screams, thuds, clanking, clanging and even a ding ding ding sound. And it's got a lovely intro tune.

Playability? Do I even have to tell you about this? (Yes, you bloody well do - Ed). OK, it's certainly one of the most playable games I've ever attempted. It even beats Dungeon Master, mainly because it's a lot more interactive.
The control system becomes second nature after just a few goes. You don't particularly have to read the manual, you can just boot it up and play it straight away - it's that playable.

It's time for a bit of a sum up, methinks - 2 + 2 = 4, and Shadowlands = bloody ace adventuring roleplaying games.


You put your left leg in, your right leg out...
Shadowlands: Controls explanation
  1. Head - Selecting this icon will allow your man to eat, drink and read tablets which are strategically placed around the dungeons.
  2. Right arm - This icon allows your brave warrior to use items like coins etc, and more importantly allows you to fight whatever fiendish characters might be lurking in the dungeon.
  3. Right leg - This icon allows you to move all your characters at once.
  4. Left arm - The right arm allows you to pick items up and also lets you do things like pull levers and so on. Also if you click on both the arms, you will be able to throw items.
  5. Left leg - This icon allows you to move just the one character.
  6. Energy bar - This tells you how much energy you have left.
  7. Arrows - These arrows allow you to scroll through your inventory.

Shadowlands logo

After years in darkness, the future for role-play games looks bright again. Have you seen the light? Maybe you'll find it in the twilight zone, where the darkness meets the day, and shady characters from Domark tread carefully.

Originality is always scarce in this business - you only have to look at the hordes of plagiaristic shoot-em-ups to see that. As soon as someone hits upon a neat concept for a game, everybody rips it off. But Teque Software, the guys who are behind Domark's new fantasy role-playing game, Shadowlands, have decided to ignore what's gone before, and try to re-invent the wheel. A difficult task indeed, but one that they've taken on with gusto - and the results speak for themselves.

Shadowlands is the first decent role-playing program to develop the ideas from Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder, and add a new twist that works. Instead of the 'player's-eye view'which was used in both of the old classics, Shadowlands uses a 3D-isometric view, (rather like the one in Hero Quest except that it runs in real time) to help you guide your party of four adventurers around an underground dungeon.

In the past, this type of view has usually been severely dogged by playability problems: monsters and party members simply disappearing behind foreground walls (and usually dying before you get chance tow wiggle them back), or they just animate badly around corners and get stuck on other objects which are hidden from view.
Not so in Shadowlands. Using some neat tricks and well-studied designing, Teque have made these long-standing nags ancient history.

Blinded by the light
The first and most obvious trick concerns the foreground walls. As your party approaches a wall which might obscure them from view, the wall disappears, leaving just a simple red line on the floor in its place. Sounds a bit too easy to work, but it does. You know for sure that there will never be anything to examine on the back of a wall (because they always vanish before you can search them), but this is no problem. You may find objects on the floor just behind a wall, however, and the disappearing trick makes looking for them easy.

Shadowlands' most atmospheric feature (and the one which it gets its name from) is the use of light and darkness throughout your quest. Much like Dungeon Master, you can pick up flaming torches from holders in the walls and carry them around with you to light your way during the adventure.
But the lighting effect in Shadowlands goes one better - a circle of light follows the torch-bearer, gradually diminishing as the torch burns down. The light behaves almost naturally, shining through open doorways in shafts as you approach the threshold and then blossoming out on the other side as you pass through. You can even throw them down passages and watch them light the way ahead.


Shadowlands is the first decent role-playing program to develop the ideas from Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder, and add a new twist that works.

A new perspective
Another facet which makes Shadowlands a kind of 'Dungeon Master Plus' is the controllability of the party. DM only ever allowed you to move your party as a single group - Shadowlands lets you split them up into different travelling formations, even as two distinct groups, as well as move individual members anywhere you want. This makes Shadowlands a far more plausible game than DM, and it gives you total control over the actions of your party. The downside, however, is that you have to work just that little bit harder to manage everything effectively - but that's what role-playing is really all about.

Despite creating their own style of role-playing game, Teque know when established ideas work well enough, and leave them be. So you'll find loads of magical items and spells, monsters and weapons, keys and locked doors, pets, pressure pads and plenty of leap-of-faith puzzles. The monsters (which range from slashing skeletons to fireball-chucking barbarians) vary in strength as you go deeper into the tunnels, and Shadowlands alters their relative toughness depending on your success so far.

Perhaps the most annoying of all are the rats - these bite you repeatedly if they catch you standing still. They can't be killed and they even follow you through teleports. Dodge and run is the motto here.

This time it's personal
Another enhancement to the gameplay is the character generator which enables you to create your own team with your choice of statistics for health, magic power, strength and combat abilities. You can create individual faces for your characters by using the identikit system which combines many different style head, chins, eyes and hairstyles together.

With the in-built load-and-save function (which also includes a disk-formatter), you can negotiate Shadowlands with a group of handcrafted alter-egos and really get the best enjoyment possible out of it.

So if you're looking for something in the role-play vein which is a bit different, has oodles of late-night, early-morning appeal, and is good enough to let your mates watch over your shoulder, get Shadowlands or you truly will be in the dark.


I'M ALL FINGERS AND THUMBS, ME!
The key to success is swift, precise character control, so here's a handy guide to take the legwork out of arming yourself.
LEFT ARM AND HEAD - top up your energy by unching the apples and bread you find on the quest. Put the food in the left hand, click on the arm and then the head to make your character gobble up the goodies. Use food sparingly, because it's in short supply, and you may even need to drain its magical force to use in spells later on. Shadowlands: Head HEAD - to look at something, like a plaque or an inscription, click on the head and then click on the object to be examined. Your character strolls over and the message is displayed in the middle of the screen. But remember, reading in the dark is nigh-on impossible, and very bad for your eyes.
Shadowlands: Left Arm LEFT ARM - your attacking arm. With a weapon in the hand, click on the arm and the monster of your choice. Your man attacks repeatedly, until you call him off. If you're not paying attention and he's not winning, he'll fight to the death. Shadowlands: Body Shadowlands: Right Arm RIGHT ARM - click on this arm to tell your character to pick something up. Click again on the object you want to grab and your character walks over, stoops down and gathers it up.
Shadowlands: Left Leg LEFT LEG - most of the time, your party moves as a group. Highlight a left leg to call the party into formation around that character. Five different formations can be selected using the function keys. Shadowlands: Face Shadowlands: Right Leg LEFT ARM AND RIGHT ARM - some objects are for throwing, or dropping. Put the object in the left hand, highlight the left and then the right arm. Finally, click on the floor, and the object is hurled away.
FACE - when the current controlled character strays too far from the others, their body icons disappear, and you can no longer call them into formation around the wanderer. The body icons are replaced by each player's face - to regain control, just click on the face to re-centre the display on the chosen character and display his body icon again.   RIGHT LEG - occasionally, you'll want members of your party to do different things at the same time. Use the right leg to select each character one at a time, and then click on the place you want them to move to.

Shadowlands: User-interface explanation
The inventory screen lets you shuffle around all the things you find, and check up on your health.
  1. These are the contents of your expansive backpack. You automatically put items into your hand.
  2. Holding items here enables you to examine them closely. Chests can only be opened here.
  3. The five travelling formations are created here using the chess pieces to represent your party.
  4. Experience levels and health indicators are displayed here. Top them up by fighting and eating.
  5. Sleep and food is essential to keep you alive. Close the eye to snooze, and put food in the mouth.
  6. Select characters with these panels. If they're close, you can pass things from one to another.

Es werde Licht!

Shadowlands logo Amiga Joker Hit

Es ist immer wieder eine Freude, über ein neues Game zu berichten, das voller toller Einfälle steckt - und Domarks Action-Rolli ist mit Ideen geradezu gespickt! Bei der Arbeit am Schattenreich hatten die Programmierer sozusagen lichte Momente...

Der Spieler verkörpert hier einen toten Halbgott, dessen Geist aber noch sehr lebendig ist. Jedenfalls lebendig genug, um vier gestandene Helden durch vertrackte Dungeons, Höhlen oder Wildnisse zu dirigieren, in denen sie nach seinen sterblichen Überresten fahnden sollen. Sind nämlich alle Knochen wieder beisammen, kann der untote Verblichene zu neuem Leben erweckt werden!

Die hilfreichen Knochen-Kramer sind fix und fertig zur Stelle, lassen sich aber auch eigenhändig zusammenbasteln. Zufallswerte für Eigenschaften wie Stärke oder Energie, sowie Porträts im japanischen Comic-Stil (mit auswechselbaren Gesichtszügen) sorgen dabei für individuelles Flair. Danach beginnt postwendend der Ernst des Lebens: In ihrer isometrischen 3D-Welt angekommen, tragen die vier Aufrechten gerade mal das letzte Hemd am Leibe. Ausrüstung, Waffen und Nahrung müssen nach und nach organisiert werden.

In der Düsternis der Dungeons macht sich die augenfälligste Innovation des Programms bemerkbar, werden doch die Lichtkreise der Fackeln mittels des neuentwickelten Photoscape-Systems umwerfend realistisch dargestellt. Nur die unmittelbare Umgebung des Laternträgers ist dabei beleuchtet, während der Rest des Raumes im Dunkeln bleibt. Dies ist keineswegs eine bloße Spielerei, denn es gibt z.B. "Photoschalter", die auf Heiligkeit reagieren, manche Monster werden vom Lichte angelockt, andere wieder kann man damit vertreiben!

Ein originelles, intuitives Bewegungssystem ermöglicht es, mit ein, zwei simplen Mausklicks alle Aktionen (auch die Echtzeit-Kämpfe) direkt auf dem mitscrollenden Hauptbildschirm auszuführen. Dabei ist Multitasking möglich; z.B. darf man einem Teil der Party befehlen, sich mit Skeletten herum zu prügeln, während die anderen derweil den Schlüssel für die Tür suchen, Schalter betätigen oder geheime Mechanismen enträtseln. Wer lieber zaubern möchte, muß allerdings zuerst eine Spellrolle finden. So ein Hokuspokus kostet natürlich magische Energie, und die kann im Inventory-Screen dadurch erneuert werden, daß man die beliebigen Sammelobjekten entzieht - eine Revolution in der Zauberkunst! Freilich büßen die Items dabei einen Großteil ihres Nutzeffektes ein, beispielsweise haben Äpfel kaum noch Nährwert usw...

Wenn einem soviel (und noch viel mehr) Gutes wird beschert, dann verzeiht man auch, daß sich die Optik zwar fein animiert und interessant ausgeleuchtet, sonst aber wenig abwechslungsreich zeigt. Dafür hören sich die schöne Titelmusik und die gelungenen FX prima an, und die Handhabung ist wie gesagt beinahe schon genial. Insgesamt ist Shadowlands jedenfalls ein Lichtspiel-Abenteuer vom Feinsten! (jn)


Shadowlands logo

Picking up where Hero Quest left off, Domark come up with a remarkably successful beginner's RPG. And - it's about time someone did it - in its 'Photoscape' light-and-darkness system actually adds something new to the genre.

Nyctophobiacs beware! The powers of light and darkness pervade every nook and cranny of Domark's new fantasy epic. From the way day and night take their turn above ground to the murky depiction of underground passages.
Shadowlands is by turns a light-saturated or a visibility-free zone. Torches cast pools of light. Opened doors allow streams of light to fall into adjacent rooms, and the absence of light wreaths everything in uncertainty. It's a Nice Touch alright, but let's be honest - a program which simulated the effects of light and did little else wouldn't be too thrilling. Which is why Shadowlands gives you a 3D isometric, mouse-driven bells-and-whistles role-playing game into the bargain (Mmmm, I wonder I could program my word-processor to add the words 'role playing' into every other review?

THE MOUSE CONTROL THAT ROARED
But - hey1 - don't stop here arcade fans. It may one of those fantasy jobbies with nasty demons and undead and all that, but it's far from trainspottery in its execution. Whereas most role-playing games rely on numerous keyboard inputs, references to hit points and seem to display British Rail timetables on the screen for no apparent reason, Shadowlands dispenses with all that sort of guff. Instead it opts for an entirely mouse-driven control system, one which lets all four characters move together or be given individual instructions to left to do their own things.

LIGHTER THAN WINONA'S SMILE
All movement, object manipulation, eating and fighting is achieved by clicking on the various body parts of the appropriate character in a small box at the bottom of the screen (the on-screen location of these boxes can be altered). To pick an object up is simply a matter of clicking on a character's left hand, then the object in the play area. Throwing the object is similarly achieved by clicking on both hands, then where you want the object thrown to. Of course, if it's too heavy, then it's not going to be thrown as far. (And if the distance is negligible, then the character will walk over and carefully drop the object).

There's a lot of clever stuff going on behind the scenes here, all right - object weights, character strengths, distances, and even the effects of gravity, all are worked out by the computer as you play. The result is a game that's both realistic and darned intuitive, creating a most believable game world. There's so many of these subtleties in Shadowlands, it's easy to see why it took one and a half years to get finished.

As you can probably gather from the screen shots, the game is the usual 3D scrolling isometric romp both above and below ground. Treasures, food, new weapons and spell scrolls can all the collected and used, and there's the inevitable array of monsters and fiendish nasties to be dealt with. And of course, whether it's in combat or character interaction, there's always the light to be taken into consideration. Some monsters are attracted by light, others are repelled by it. There're even traps and puzzles which depend on light. Of course, all this brightness-dependent stuff means that the player's party of characters will need to carry torches everywhere they go - and these have a horrible habit of going out at the most inopportune moments.
This would be bad enough even if the monsters weren't a darn sight smarter than most you'll come across - rest your party in a room without closing the doors first, for instance, and the chances are the sneaky rats that populate the game will be chewing your warriors' sinews. Yeuck.

Have I mentioned character creation yet? Wow, now that's a doozy section of the program. For a start there's the appearance of each of the guys or gals in the party. The hair, eyes, nose and mouth/jaw can all be re-defined. In theorty this means that its possible to create your own image on screen, though in practice things aren't really that flexible - but it's fun to muck around with all the same.

COME ON BABY LIGHT MY TORCH
Then there's the character attributes. In place of boring old numbers there're nice simple bars representing strength, magic, combat ability and health - you'll find none of those daft references to hit points, constitution, wisdom or dexterity here. If you're not happy with the computer -generated levels of these attributes then the chance card can be used. Doing this will add to some attributes while taking away from others. It's not an exact trade-off, there's a random element to the modifications, so if you want to slightly improve an almost-great character, the chances are you'll end up with a complete wimp. (Them's the breaks).
Having given all four characters a face and a good selection of attributes it's on to the land of shadows itself.

From the short intro bit (some outdoor exploration in the apple orchard and heroes' graveyard) it's into the first dungeon. Here every sort of puzzle is on show in its most basic form - you get to learn the sort of thing you're up against before it all gets much more complex. Don't worry, though - this is one of those clever programs that's sensitive to how well a player is doing, and judges the game accordingly. And, if you're really stuck, there are always the coin-operated help functions. These wall mounted devices offer not-so-cryptic help for the totally stumped - but remember that those precious coins may be much better used for buying stuff.

WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE
The spell system in Shadowlands is another brilliantly simple system. Spell energy can be extracted from active (i.e. energy laden) objects. A torch or piece o food, for example, is full of potential energy. But sucking an object's life-force for casting spells will inevitably make the object less effective.
Torches will burn out quicker. Food will have less effect. This idea of trading off one advantage over another is at the heart of Shadowlands. Taking firm control of one area inevitably means losing out in some other way - just like it does in real life, in fact.

BACK GO GRIPES, BACK TO REALITY
There's just one problem - I'm running out of space, and I haven't even dug out my list of reviewer's superlatives yet. Before that though, I suppose it'd be only fair to point out a few rough edges - the graphics (too dark and dull) and scrolling being my biggest gripes. And the control system isn't perhaps quite as intuitive as it could be either (that said, half an hour or so should be enough to get the hang of it). These are really fairly minor quibbles though - in gameplay terms the basics are all there, and the size and depth of the whole thing make me forgive its little faults. I personally find it a lot more refreshing than all the Eye Of The Beholder lookalike games streaming out right now.

And so into my last paragraph, and I still haven't mentioned the way the walls dissolve into 'architect lines' to give the player a good view of the four characters' movement. I haven't gone into the way that the character formations can be altered at any time. I haven't really mentioned the wonderful sphere of light which follows the players around when they've got a torch fades. Or the way that the light effects really are ray traced to make the light fall realistically.

Or the way that characters can gang up on monsters, peeling off one at a time to rest and regain health before going back into combat. Or the array of potions and spells to collect. I haven't mentioned the weird and wacky uses of the fireball spell. And I haven't even got space to mention (Snip! - Ed).


MORE FACES THAN FU MANCHU
Plastic surgery the easy way.
Shadowlands: Julian Let's create some faces, and see just how ugly we can go. First up is Julian (or 'Jaz'), a geezer with a crazy hairstyle. Shadowlands: Baldie Not ugly enough, eh? Okay, try this - Baldieman. He's just what you'd expect, though perhaps too Sean Connery-esque in his white beard.
Shadowlands: Oldie Let's take Sean above and bung on a toupee and a nose-job. Voila! Instant wise-older-man type of the party. Now let's try some of the others. Shadowlands: The Blank Hmm. The BLank is a bit too minimalist and mysterious looking for me. NOt the kind of guy I want in my group of adventurers at all. Next!
Shadowlands: Console Ah, now this is it - Super Japanese COnsole Man. With his slick hairdo, big blue eyes and pointed face, he's straight cut of Marine Boy. Shadowlands: Girlie Anybody remember Star Trek The Motion Picture? This is about as close as you'll get to a female character, unfortunately.
Shadowlands: Mad Imp Hmm. Nice cheekbones, shams abou everything else really. Still, I'm sure he's a really good magician or something to make up for it. Shadowlands: Meanie Now this is a cool guy. Can't you just picture him fighting in the dungeons, with a Walkman blasting the very latest rave sounds? (Or something).

Shadowlands logo CU Amiga Screenstar

From converting coin-ops to developing RPGs might not be the most logical of moves, but London-based Teque are hoping they've managed to make the transition and designed the ultimate in Amiga role-playing games. With the likes of Dungeon Master, Might and Magic, Phantasie IV and Chaos Strikes Back already available, it's a brash claim to make but, here, after months of hype, is the proof of the pudding.

Killed by the evil forces of the Shadowlands, your spirit has miraculously remained intact. With your village torn asunder and your family slain by the apocalyptic warriors of the region, you swear revenge upon the bloody reapers. Boosted by strange supernatural powers, you have possessed the minds and bodies of four unfortunate travellers and enlisted them in your campaign to exact revenge.

The four travellers under your control have random combat, magic health and strength ratings. There's also a neat identikit feature whereby each character's facial characteristics can be built up from a number of different chins, hairstyles and hooters.
The Japanese-style graphics used here are a recurrent theme throughout the game and certainly make a change from the European-inspired graphics of Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master.

The game begins in an applce orchard, with plenty of fruit, sticks and even a discarded bow and arrow to collect. It's best to scoop up anything that's not bolted down as you never know what might be useful in later levels. There's nothing on this level to cause any problems, except for a few vicious crows, but once you've entered the dungeon complex the bad guys come thick and fast.

This is also where Teque's much-touted Photoscape lighting technique comes into play. The main light source in the dungeons comes from a number of burning torches, with each once throwing out an arc of light. This lights up the immediate area, but leaves the rest of the dungeon dimly lit and receding into darkness. It's not just a gimmick, though, as many of the game's puzzles are light-activated and the darkly-lit surrounding also help create a dark and foreboding atmosphere which permeates much of the game.

Even when it's completely dark, it's still possible to make out the silhouettes of enemy warriors as they prowl the corridors and labyrinths of the strange underworld, but some of the more important weapons, spells and puzzles might be left undiscovered. A hints-based tips system is also rendered inoperable if you run out of torches, as the helpful information can only be accessed when the placards on which they appear are illuminated by torchlight. Lose all source of lighting, and you'll be well and truly stuck. Moreover, some of the samurai-type warriors wandering the levels are attracted by fiery torches whereas others are frightened off.

Shadowlands adopts an isometric 3D view of the proceedings similar to Core's Heimdall. This reinforces the idea of your detached soul watching and guiding the tour adventurers throughout the game. What stands out most of all, though, is the incredibly simple user-interface with an impressive array of commands at your disposal.

Each character can pick up and throw objects, read clues, engage the enemy, and perform various functions simply by the click of a mouse button on their skeletal forms at the bottom of the screen. For example, by clicking on one of the legs it's possible to guide the character around the screen. It's an incredibly simple control method and works a treat.

There are six main levels to the game with some containing several more sub-levels. The dungeon world is first and is populated with a fearsome array of warriors and suicidal sword-wielding maniacs.
Next up is a maze-like level based on the famous Hampton Court maze and patrolled by rabid dog-demons and tough-but-dim warriors who have the reflexes of a slug. AN Egyptian level immediately follows and, whilst providing a refreshing change in graphics, is choc-ful of beasts ripe for the slaughter and some quite devilish traps and puzzles. The game finishes on a high note with a gigantic cave system to explore.

My only real quibbles with the game are the 'burst' scrolling and the main sprites. As each character wanders near the edge of the screen, the action is re-centered around the group, and this is painfully slow at times. The main character sprites are also slightly disappointing and look more like spindly pipe-cleaners than the chisel-jawed heroes that you'd expect. But this really is nit-picking and the game's many points far outweigh any criticisms I can levy at the game.

Admittedly, there's little in the way of character interaction except for a first in the face, but what we've got here is a contender for the RPG crown and a thoroughly engrossing and entertaining game to boot.


TREE-MENDOUS For those who want a bit of extra protection as they enter the Shadowlands, there's a couple of treasure chests secreted in the apple fields of the first level. THese are jam-packed with swords and magic fireball spells and enable you to cream virtually any creature who is foolish enough to attack your party in the first few dungeons. So where are these handy war chests? If you manage to find the 'Welcome to Shadowlands' statue (not difficult as it's just off the main mud track), walk to the tree directly on the right. Having first picked up some of the fallen apples, chuck a couple at the tree and, voila, two weapon-packed chests magically appear. Don't walk into the vortex that also appears, however, as you'll be ripped to shreds.

Shadowlands logo

What's an RPG? Are there any similarities between Shadowlands and Dungeon Master? What's Photoscape? Why did nature design the banana so that it was curvy, instead of straight like a cab of corn? Duncan MacDonald answers all these questions and more during his review of Domark's Shadowlands.

Q: What's an RPG?
A: Well, RPG stands for Role Playing Game - a game where you play the role of a person or persons, generally in a world populated by orcs, goblins and skeletons. They're funny old things, RPG's, being a little bit on the 'specialist' side, and not really having much in the way what you would call mass appeal. The reason for this 'specialism' is that your hardened RPG player doesn't demand fantabulous graphics (or sound) because he supplies his own - from his head. If RPG'ing was a mental disorder, it would be shizophrenia.

"Well, if flash graphics and sound are produced by the player's brain, then we needn't bother putting them in to begin with," that's the line of though followed by most producers of this type of game. As a result, most RPG games have been rap to look at and crap to listen to, and the letters RPG have been an indelible stamp saying: "Do not buy, do not buy" to all but the most fanatical Tolkien/Yes/Roger Dean poster fiends. Until Dungeon Master came along, that is. And then Eye Of The Beholder. And then Heimdall. And now Shadowlands. Crap RPG graphics are a thing of the past.

Q: Are there any similarities between Shadowlands and Dungeon Master?
A: Yes. The game, for the most part, is set in dungeons. You control a party of four adventurers, whose aim is to navigate the labrynthine network on their jorney to the lower depths. There are monsters and puzzles akimbo, so application of logic, fighting skills and a bunch of magic spells are required.

Here are the differences. The view-point is isometric, as opposed to first person - it's like Heimdall, but without the bright colours, large sprites and cartoony finish. The characters can be split up and controlled as separate entities - they can even be independently controlled while on different levels. And Shadowlands contains a revolutionary new system called Photoscape™.

Q: What's Photoscape?
A: Well, it's all to do with how light is handled in the game. In a nutshell, it goes like this: imagine somewhere very dark. Okay so far? So light a torch, then. And there you are - a source of light which fades over distance. As the torch burns down, so the light coverage diminishes, until the point when the torch finally extinguishes itself and you're back to total darkness again.
Suffice to say that all the light-producing objects in Shadowlands shine to a greater or lesser extent. Some of them dwindle slowly, while some of them don't. Light sources can be moved and even thrown. You have complete control.

But that's not all - this Photoscape technique isn't just there for the aesthetics, you know. The lighting system plays an inherent role in the actual gameplay itself, because some 'things' are activated by light. We're talking traps, doors and monsters here, in case you hadn't guessed. Sounds straightforward? Don't you believe it.

Q: Why did nature design the banana so that it was curvy, instead of straight, like corn on the cob?
A: There's always a reason for these things. Maybe a quick browse through Bananas - Fruit For The Future (published by Menhuin) would be a good idea at this point. Pop to your local library, find chapter nine, discover the answer, write it down on the back of your hand with a red biro, go and explain it to someone in a greengrocer's shop.

Amiga reviewDunc: RPG's eh? I must admit to not being the most ardent fan of the genre, but I can see the attraction for all that. My problem is lack of patience, and that's generally something you need heaps of in a game like this. It's something that Dungeon Master overcame by bunging you inside an environment which you could view from a first person perspective and interact with in pico-seconds - like real life.

You could bomb about all over the shop, couldn't you? The only time you had to slow down was when the logic problems reared their ugly heads, but like the advert breaks in the middle of Catchphrase, they could be forgiven for the relief they offered. All in all, Dungeon Master gave you a balance in gameplay which offered all things to all men (and women, of course).

If there's one problem with Shadowlands, it stems from the pace of the action - it's missing. There is no pace. There's no darting into a room, turning around and darting out again with a gigantic invisible monster snapping at your heels, because everything in Shadowlands moves at about one mile per hour. But that's isometric viewpoints for you, I suppose.

Another problem I found was that your 'sphere of influence' is rather limited. Point and click at the edge of the screen to get your geezers in motion for a long distance trek? No chance - you can only make them move a few steps at a time before having to re-issue the command, and the portraits often get in the way of your cursor, inducing double hassle.

And the pick-uppable objects? Well, due to the graphical necessity of the overall design, they're a bit 'teensy weensy'. Most of the time, you have to view them in the inventory window before you know what you've got.

Photoscape™ itself is a great idea, and works a treat. However, the brilliance of the system only just negates the lack of involvement you feel, due to your distance from the proceedings. Oh dear, there I am comparing the isometric Shadowlands to the first person perspective Dungeon Masters of the world again. But what can I do? I loved Dungeon Master to death, while Shadowlands I only quite like.

While Dungeon Master embodied tension and excitement, Shadowlands only manages the tension. But then I'm not a hardened RPG'er, am I? Let's put it like this: don't expect to be converted to the RPG fold by Shadowlands, but if you're a convert already, and want a massive game which is atmospheric, extremely testing and in which the characters can actually be split up to do their own thang, then look no further.


GETTING INTO CHARACTER
The four character portraits are the tools you use to control your team. Here's a brief guide to how you can make them do exactly what it is they need to do...
  1. This is the head. If you see something you want to read, click here and then click on the item of interest, be it a signpost or whatever. The same thing applies to eating or drinking. Click on the head, point at an apple or something, and the character will walk to it, bend down, and gobble it up.
  2. This is your 'picking up' arm. Highlight it, then highlight whatever it is you require, and the character will move across, bend down and pick it up.
  3. This is your 'using, fighting and throwing' arm. If you're holding an object and highlight this limb alone, the object will be used in the pertinent place (key in lock, sword on nastie etc). If an object is held and both arms are highlighted, the object will be thrown to wherever you point and click (gravity and muscle-power permitting). So what do you get if nothing is held? A fist, of course. You're in punch-up mode.
  4. This leg, when clicked on, makes a single character walk to wherever you specify, while the others get left behind. You split the party up in this fashion.
  5. This leg does much the same thing as the other, apart from the fact that it deals with the whole party rather than a single character. The person whose leg has been highlighted will walk to the specified point, while the others chug along behind (or abreast, or in whatever formation you've set).
  6. This arrow is a quick way of cycling through a character's possessions. Each time you click on it, a different item will appear in the right hand.
  7. This does the same, but it cycles through in the opposite direction. If you can't be bothered to move to the inventory screen, you can use these cycle keys to switch possessions between the individual characters. (However, it can take an age, resulting in a bit of death).
Shadowlands: Controls explanation
WHAT A STATE YOU'RE IN...
Clicking on any portrait wit the right button brings you to this screen, which contains the all-important inventory, health and stats. Let's have a gander...
  1. This is your, well... it must be a rucksack, because you can cram up to fifteen objects inside. (More if you include chests, as each chest can contain six objects). There's a payoff regarding objects carried, though - weigh your character down and he'll slow up considerably. This is not only a bit of a pain, but can also lead to an untimely death if you're being pursued by a nifty nasty.
  2. These chessboard doofers are your Formation Grids. Drag and click the little chess pieces to assign five different attack formations: a diagonal line, four abreast, even two independant groups so you can split your party up with ease. Once entered, the formation can be accessed via function keys one through five.
  3. Here's the object currently carried. It tells you what it is, how heavy it is, and what (if any) magic force it contains. (Magic force can be drained from an item and used to help power a spell, or simply increase a depleted health bar).
  4. What it says, basically: combat level, magic level, strength, health and armour ratings, and your all-important nourishment and power bars.
  5. Click here and the chosen character will drop off to sleep on the spot, just as if he's watching a Derek Jarman film. As well as regaining lost energy, sleep acts like a sort of suspended animation - less food and water are used by the subject. He/she takes longer to die.
  6. You can make your character eat by clicking on his portrait head in the action window. You can do the same here by dragging food into his mouth.
  7. Cycle through the character by clicking on them. Put weapons in their hands. Put shields in their hands. Give them party hats or style their hair. Set fire to their clothes. Make a cardboard house and pony for them. (Stop making it up. Ed.
Shadowlands: Controls explanation
ZERO PROUDLY PRESENTS...
NIGEL, NIGEL, NIGEL AND SUSAN ARE A BIT STUPID
Shadowlands
1 Blimeny, it's a 'generate your characters' screen, rendered in glorious Jap-O-Vision. Anyway, having created the four faces via the photo-fit icons (and the characters' strengths and weaknesses on the throw of a dice), let's say a big 'hello' to Nigel, Nigel, Nigel and Susan - Susan's a wizard, and the Nigels are fighters.
Shadowlands
2 And here they are. In the Shadowlands. Except there aren't any shadows in sight, of course, because we're still 'upstairs'. So do we search this area? "No," says Nigel, and the others agree. They're impatient, and want to get to the dungeons to see what this Photoscape™ fuss is all about. Susan leads the way.
Shadowlands
3 Having blogged a couple of torches from up above, our heroes happily bathed in light. There's another torch on the wall in front of them, just above the three tiny things on the ground. So what are these three not-very-large mystery items? After Susan's picked them up, we right-click on her portrait to find out...
Shadowlands
4 Aha! - three silver coins, each one weighin a quarter of a kilogram. "It's almost like lugging a bag of sugar around," remarks Susan, and she's right. But if she wants, she can give the coins to the others to carry, just by dragging and clicking on the relevant portraits. She does this and very soon she's carrying nothing again.
Shadowlands
5 After all this coin-switching activity, our fearless quarter return to the action window, only to discover that their torches have petered out. "But the one on the wal's still going," exclaims Nigel. "Don't make an issue of it," says Suan, "the walls probably contain an infinite amount of torch fuel." Susan is always right.
Shadowlands
6 After an encounter with a live skeleton (in which Nigel is killed), the trio reach their third closed door. Susan explains that the door is light-activated, so Nigel stays behind, holding the torch to the light-sensitive pad, while Nigel and Susan continue.
Shadowlands
7 Susan and Nigel are hopelessly lost, having wandered around in a gigantic circle, taking and using all the torches they could find en route. Now they're clean out. "Why not do a light spell?" suggests Nigel. "I don't know how," replies Susan. "A bloody fine wizard you turned out to be," says Nigel.
Shadowlands
8 "Who's that?" cries Nigel from the other side of the wall. "It's me and Nigel," bellows Susan, "Who are you?" "It's me, Nigel. My torc has run out..." "So have all of ours," replies Susan. "What now then?" shouts Nigel. "God knows," replies Susan. "I think we've had it," gasps Nigel, dying.