Valhalla: Before the War logo

It's Vulcan Software's follow-up to their renowned speech adventure. But is it really 'good to talk?' Tina Hackett says what she thinks.

INTRODUCTION

The original Valhalla was met with a mixed reception when it was first released. There were those who loved it and those who absolutely hated it. And then there were those who just weren't sure - me included! While I appreciated the skilful programming, the original idea and the fact that this was the developer's first project, at the same time I couldn't help but find it extremely irritating.

And now it's back in the for of a 'before the war' prequel - in other words, it takes place before the original. It's not actually the proper follow-up though, more a four level special edition to keep fans happy in the meantime.

STORYLINE

Infinity was the bad guy that started all the trouble in the original, but this time round you get to play things from his point of view. The trouble starts because Infinity was born too late to be king and now he feels it's time to wreak his revenge on his brother who has been favourite for too long.

However, in an amateur psychology profile, Infinity isn't really bad, just misunderstood, a victim of society who has suffered as a result of his brother's popularity.
So the fact that he is plotting to kill him off in an attempt to get the throne is okay then is it? Right, fine.


 

FLASHBACK

When Valhalla was released it created a new game type - it wasn't the usual type of adventure, or a puzzler or a platformer. Despite its faults, it brought forward a new style of gaming and it was original at least! So how do the two compare?

Well, to be honest, in design they don't differ a great deal at all. Graphical style is very similar, the icon system identical and the basic principles the same. The main difference is the speech. Whereas the first had something closely resembling Porky Pig on acid, we now have the opposite. More the Incredible Hulk on hash.

Now though, if you don't like the speech at leas you can limit it to only the essential phrases, but this is pointless as it is meant to be a speech adventure - the game's main selling point! You can actually skip all the storyscreens and credits this time which is a welcome addition once you've seen it a couple of times.

Compared to other adventures like Simon the Sorcerer or Monkey Island that have wit, humour and charming graphics, I'm afraid I would quite happily sacrifice the speech for one of those games. It tries to be funny... but fails.


 

PLAYABILITY

The game is based around the idea of puzzle solving. You find objects, interact with other characters and make the various connections with the clues. This is one of the elements that worked well in Valhalla: Before the War. They are all fairly logical and take more working out than the original, so it will provide longevity.

The icon system works well, especially as it is joystick controlled. However, I would have like to have been able to pick up an object and be told what it is rather than have to pick it up, click on the object and then click on the look icon. It's a small point but it makes a difference.


 

SOUND

The main feature of this game is the speech. Fortunately, being a different character, the voice has been changed so that it is deep and slow, so it's slightly less irritating - but not much. Call me awkward but I really don't find repetitive whinging at all endearing. I'm afraid this grated on my nerves just as much as the original.

Yes, it's all a very clever concept and it does make a nice change to a textual adventure, but it is still annoying. Ney, it is nothing short of rude, in fact. Who needs verbal abuse from computer sprites? In parts he tells you "Don't be stupid." The rest of the time he grumbles and moans, such as "I hate this castle" or "My arm hurts". It's not amusing, it doesn't enhance the game and it bored me no end.

Thankfully, you can limit the sound to merely the essential phrases but then why buy a speech adventure in the first place? There is an impressive amount of speech involved - 4,250K's worth and over 1000 words - but in some places you have to replay them again, and again before you can make out the meaning. Then the character has the nerve to turn around and say "You know what this is" or "I've seen this before." Yes, I know. But if he could speak with some clarity for a change it would make a difference.

The background sounds are good, though, and add atmosphere to the game. Dramatic footsteps pound the corridors, water ripples, and birds tweet in the background. It's all the usual stuff but brings a nice touch to the proceedings.

30%

 

GRAPHICS

Vulcan Software have already established a very distinctive graphical style for their games. Valhalla and the Lord of Infinity, Valhalla: Before the War and their Timeslip game, which is in development, all have this similar look.

Colours are limited to very dark, murky shades and although this sounds very bland, it works well. They create a very foreboding atmosphere which is adaptable to different scenarios. The characters aren't that great, though. They do speak in time due to Vulcan's Lip-Sync engine, which is something, but they don't really have any character or charm.

The top-down perspective has been used again and gives a good 3D look, but it's not without its fair share of problems. For example, sometimes it's hard to see what an object is, or whether an object is collectable or part of the set.

67%

 

OPINION45%

I must admit I'm very cynical. The idea was fine as far as it went... last time. There are people who loved the original and who will love more of the same. But for the average gamesplayer that's looking for a new adventure title, £35 for four levels is hardly the bargain of the year, especially as this isn't really the proper sequel - only something to keep you happy in between!

I don't know whether they expect fans to fork out this amount of money now and then fork another lot in a couple of months for the sequel or what, but it leaves me feeling very dubious. If you enjoyed the original you'll like this - it's more of the same thing.
To it's credit, all the levels are cleverly contained on separate disks so there's no swapping between levels. It's also hard disk installable and the puzzles did work quite nicely. But for me - and a lot of people in the office who kept telling me to turn the volume down - it just became too irritating.

It does leave me with the slight problem of how to mark this. I gave Valhalla and the Lord of Infinity 58 per cent and this does have some improvements. However, the price and the fact it's only an in-between edition makes me inclined to lower the mark significantly. And inevitably it loses its novelty value. For true Valhalla fans - who just happen to have £35 begging - only I think.



Valhalla: Before the War logo

Steve McGill checks out Vulcan's brand new fetch-and-carry game and finds himself plagued with an unnerving desire to iron his underpants and fold his jimjams.

In Thirties Italy, unemployment was dangerously high. Every politician knows that too many idle hands can lead to the overthrow of a ruling government. Therefore, in an attempt to stem the potential threat of insurrection, Mussolini drew up a brilliant plan - employ teams of men to build walls systematically throughout Italy. The specious logic being that, rather than feel resentful toward their mighty rulers, having something to occupy their time and minds would make them happy, verging on grateful.

The only downside, of course, was that the country would soon fill up with useless brick walls. But Mussolini's genius knew no bounds. To prevent a veritable explosion in the pointless brick wall population, he employed other teams of men to pull down the newly built structures. Sheer excellence.

By now you might be wondering what all of this has got to do with Valhalla: Before The War? Not much, other than the pointlessness and never ending tediousness of the gameplay.

There are four large levels - The Castle, The Dungeons, The Gallery and The King's Chamber. Within each, the player has to do the same thing - explore the bounds of the level, check out all the objects lying around, check out the pieces of furniture, and solve logical puzzles to get to the next level.

Struck speechless
The first Valhalla was hailed as the world's only speech-based graphic adventure. The character you controlled spoke in a squeakily annoying voice that couldn't be turned off. And instant death awaited you every other footstep.

Thankfully, these problems have been addressed. You can limit the amount of speech and now death only lies in areas that are mostly obvious. But that leaves the basic problem exposed.

This is a fetch-and-carry game. It feels as if a best friend's invited you to their house and roped you into doing the cleaning or something. Now, come people might enjoy this time-consuming shuffling of goods and items all over the place. Good luck to them. They probably iron creases in their jeans too.

But anyone who's in the market for a real adventure are better catered for by Bloodnet. It has an involving plot, a believable background (Valhalla has a medieval setting despite the inclusion of lasers, grinding machines, electric lights and imaginable character interaction).

Sane people should give Valhalla: Before The War a miss.



Schon gehört?

Valhalla: Before the War logo

Mit "Valhalla" hat uns Vulcan Software letztes Jahr den ersten sprechenden Adventure-Helden spendiert, diesmal kommt sein böser Bruder zu Wort - in einem zweiten Teil, der eigentlich der erste ist...

Die Handlung ist hier also zeitlich vor dem Vorgänger angesiedelt (noch bevor der fiese Infinity den guten Garamond getötet hat), ansonsten gleichen sich die beiden Spiele aber wie eineiige Zwillinge. Nur daß der Nachfolger das biedere Gameplay mit so vielen technischen Macken zu würzen weiß, daß man von einem Besuch in Valhalla wirklich nur noch abraten kann!

So ist erst mal eine langwierige Installationsprozedur auf Harddisk (von Hand ohne Install-Routine) oder ein extrem umständlicher Kopierschutz zu überwinden, ehe man im Intro vom Bösewicht unmißverständlich zur Beihilfe aufgefordert wird. Sie besteht darin, ihn wie einst seinen Verwandten per Stick durch einen erneut viel zu klein geratenen Bildschirmausschnitt zu steuern. Wieder sind die kargen Draufsicht-Landschaften nur in düsteren Braun- oder Grautönen vorrätig, wieder werden alle Aktionen über dieselbe Iconleiste gestartet und dann vom Hauptdarsteller in krächziger Digistimme kommentiert. Sofern der Spieler über gute Englischkenntnisse verfügt, kann er diesen Bemerkungen einmal mehr entnehmen, ob seine Bemühungen von Erfolg gekrönt waren.

Bloß war und ist es halt wirklich kein großes Kunststück, mit den Aufgaben in den vier nacheinander zu absolvierenden Levels fertig zu werden. Da sind brüchige Bodenplatten zu umgehen, Leute auszufragen und vor allem Unmengen von Items einzusammeln bzw. an der richtigen Stelle einzusetzen.

All das wäre ruck zuck erledigt, hätten die Programmierer nicht das Inventory viel zu klein gestrickt und vermutlich mit voller Absicht ein Handicap eingebaut: Während der Held nämlich einst bei Platzmangel sein derzeitiges Übergepäck ablegen konnte, muß Infinity einmal aufgenommene Dinge so lange behalten, bis er sie an der exakt richtigen Stelle wieder loswird! So hat man zwar mehr zu tun, bloß bleibt damit eben auch der letzte Rest von Spielspaß auf der Strecke: Das ewige Hin- und Her-Gerenne im verzweigten Level ist nicht nur ermüdend, sondern schlicht öde.

Da wundert es auch keinen mehr, wenn man hier zwar allerlei Mögliches und Unmögliches wie Kassettenrecorder, Molekular-Konverter, Mumien und Vampire findet, aber nur einen einzigen Savestand

Unter dem Strich will uns Vulcan Software also dasselbe Spiel zum zweiten Mal verkaufen, den genaugenommen wurde nur die Hauptfigur ausgetauscht - die fade Grafik, die Steuerung, das Gequatsche, die Aufgaben, ja sogar die Story kennt man dagegen bereits. Nimmt man jetzt noch das verschlimmbesserte Gameplay und die technischen Unzulänglichkeiten hinzu, ergibt sich ein ziemlich klares Bild: Finger weg von dieser verhinderten Datadisk! (ms)



Valhalla: Before the War logo

"I've got it." "There's nothing there." "Amazing."

I was going to open this review with digression about Frank Welker but he'll have to wait. Valhalla - Before the War demands the full word count. It's the 'prequel' to Valhalla (AP39, 19%) with you now cast as the villain plotting to bump off the king. The unspottable traps from the first game have been removed so you can walk around without fear of plummeting through an apparently sound paving slab. This is the Good Thing about Valhalla - Before the War.

The Bad Things about Valhalla - Before the War are manifold, or at least eight. Let us examine each in turn, with the aid of these traditional AMIGA POWER point blobs.

  • The levels. The levels are very large, and you can call up a map at any time. But, like Dream Web, the size is artificially inflated by spreading out the puzzles and objects to force you to do a lot of walking around. Your character moves extremely slowly and can't go diagonally. Scenery is deliberately place in your way to make walking around even more annoying.

  • The atmosphere. Valhalla - Before the War has no atmosphere. I'd assumed quite reasonably that the game took place in mediaeval times and was therefore considerably surprised to stumble across machine-guns, cement mixers, table lamps and electronic ghostbusting equipment. What about using mediaeval equivalents (a repeating crossbow, an irate artisan, a candle and a moody exorcist, for example) so friend player isn't brutally reminded that he's shuffling around solving a collection of logic problems? But no.

DARK/MIDGARD

  • The speech. The speech is cleverly integrated into the game, with several puzzles revolving around finding pieces of paper and reading out the messages on them. (There's an especially neat bit where you find a password, but have to drink various potions to alter your voice so you can sing or whisper it as required.) But the speech is muffled and at points unintelligible. (There's a moment where a character demands "Bring me a scythe." It's supposed to be 'sign'.) Worse, on later levels your character doesn't bother explaining what an object is. "You already KNOW what that is" he mumbles testily. But clearly I don't. That is why I am asking for a description. So what I've come across the object in a previous level, or is the game a test of memory as well?

  • The logic. While the puzzles are logical (and in some cases entertainingly punnish) there's no attempt to put the puzzles in the context of the game - they're just puzzles for the sake of it. As with Dream Web and the Dizzy games it's less a case of cleverly combining objects than waiting for someone to give you a key (or whatever). There's no sense to the objects either; what someone guards bears no relation to who they are (a king gives you a hearing aid, for example), and you find the most ridiculously important items hidden under paving slabs. Why? Because it is a computer game, of course.

  • The deadly water. In Valhalla - Before the War, you are forced to cross rivers of deadly water. Sometimes there are stamina potions in rooms beyond the rivers of deadly water. Sometimes (say, in the first hall of level two) there are not. So you can die through no fault of your own beyond not doing things in exactly the order Vulcan dictate.

  • The grammar. Valhalla - Before the War is an adventure with books to read and messages to discover. They are all riddled with grammatical errors.

  • The save routine. You can save once per level, the new save overwriting the older one. Even on the hard drive.

  • The longevity. Once I understood the way the designer's mind worked (matching objects with synonyms, for example) I rampaged through the game. Level four (the last and hardest) took three hours to beat, including all the walking around. In all the game's taken a weekend to finish.
Eugh.



Valhalla: Before the War logo CU Amiga Super Star

Price: £25.99 Publisher: Vulcan Software 0705 670269

The talking adventure returns to the Amiga once more, and Tony Dillon can pretend, again, that he has an army of friends in his pad.

Love it or loathe it, you cannot deny that Vulcan Software's debut into the market last year - the first ever talking Amiga adventure, otherwise known as Valhalla caused a bit of a storm. Created in a living room, with a copy of AMOS Professional and a sampling cartridge, this top-down view adventure used speech where only CD based games had gone before, along with a little imagination and creativeness to build one of the most characteristic games ever seen on the Amiga. Some people did not like it because they found it too slow to play, others just did not find the logic in the layout of the puzzles. Many, though, thought it was great. I was in the latter group.

Valhalla, however, was not without problems. The fact you could not skip through the opening animation once it had started was a constant bone of contention. The fact that the little guy always said something when you did mundane things like collect an object soon became grating. Although the flaws in Valhalla were only small things, collectively they tended to put some people off. Something Vulcan Software are all too ready to admit, as they release the prequel to that game (that means the story that comes before, whereas a sequel is the tale that comes after).

Valhalla Before The War tells the story of how the Lord Of Infinity came to rule Valhalla, and a very enjoyable tale it is too.
The game itself is pretty much the same sort of stuff as we have already seen. The main character occupies residence in the centre of the screen, and his little world scrolls around him as he walks. He needs to collect objects, interact with other characters and solve puzzles by use of both of these methods to progress through the four huge levels. This could be something as simple as placing a stick in a hole to make a switch, through to arranging giant pieces on a chess board to solve a Kasparov conundrum.

Tamper-proof
Fans of the original will be happy to note that the original game engine has not been tampered with much at all. The same rows of icons run along the bottom of the screen, only now you have instant access to a complete map of the level from the word go, as well as an option to turn off all superfluous speech. No more will he say "I've got it" and "It doesn't fit" every time you experiment with an object. In this mode, Infinity only speaks when asked to, and it makes the game a damn sight more playable for that.

Other than that, the playing area has been increased to show more of the surrounding world, there are far more characters to interact with than before (with all voices supplied by programmer Paul Carrington - even the female ones!) and the puzzles, while being just as devious as the first game, are a lot more logical and straightforward, although that does not mean the game is much easier!

Charming
Valhalla Before The War has all of the charm of the first game, retained carefully pruning out all of the things that caused the original to get one or two less than 80% marks, while keeping the little looks up to camera and all the small touches that made Valhalla cute. It is a very enjoyable game for those who want to spend a few hours lost in a story, and there is enough here to keep you playing for a couple of weeks. If you like the first one, you will love this.