Alan MacMillan goes back….. way back!
As a child I was obsessed with Choose Your Own Adventure games. You know, the Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston ‘do you go through the door on the left or right?’ style games. I loved that sense of individual experience and questing so I was rather excited to get to play a game of a similar vein in Lords of Midnight.
Lords of Midnight harks back more to text adventure games of the 1980’s. Games like Grannys Garden and The Hobbit on Spectrum and BBC Micro. I enjoyed such games as a kid but I never played Lords of Midnight. For the uninitiated, Lords of Midnight was originally released in 1984 on the ZX Spectrum by acclaimed developer Mike Singleton and was a huge success. Mike sadly passed away this year but the fact that one of his best works has been re-released is a great tribute to his legacy.
The concept surrounds the quest to defeat Doomdark, the Witchking of Midnight, as he seeks to conquer the world. The quest can be completed in three ways. You can take Morkin on a typical adventure to destroy the Ice Crown and save the world. Or you can control Luxor the Moonprince and play out a tactical warfare game in which you rally the troops of the Free Cities in order to crush Doomdark on the battlefield. The third playing option is simply doing both at the same time. This has been dubbed the ‘epic quest’ and it certainly is epic in difficulty. Playing either is hard enough but both at the same time is nigh on impossible.
The game plays out from a first person perspective and utilizes what was at the time of release a ground breaking graphical technique called ‘landscaping’. You’re basically looking at a landscape in which you can see scaled images of locations and scenery which will of course get bigger the closer you get to them. You can pivot on an eight-point compass to face different directions i.e. north, north-east, east etc and move forward in those directions. You have a limited amount of hours in the day in which to do your movements, after which it gets dark and you must rest before continuing the new day. You can search areas you are currently in, see what your character is thinking, take control of another character (there is actually 4 in total plus any additional lords you recruit), organise your characters to move as one unit or separate and a few other minor options.
I personally found the most appeal to be in Luxor’s warfare. Recruiting other Lords and their armies to your cause is something that appeals to me as a gamer. It gives you a different experience each time you play. Should you go South and work your way east far from the reaches of the Witchking? Or do you rally the northern cities on his doorstep before they fall to him?
This is ultimately quite a difficult task though. Recruiting the armies is easy enough but actually winning a battle is a tough task indeed. The Witchkings armies are huge and he seems to get ridiculous reinforcements at the drop of a hat. At one point I outnumbered one of his armies by tens of thousands and so I took the rare opportunity to engage and hopefully crush them. However I only managed to dent their numbers and the next turn I was magically surrounded by hundreds of thousands of enemy troops with no escape. Madness!
Morkin’s quest can be similarly frustrating. You prance about the realm searching woods, ruins and wizards towers hoping to find some obscure item to help you in your quest. But the game never tells you what the items actually do. There’s some self explanatory ones like ‘Wolfslayer Sword’ but the mechanics of how much it aids you are very unclear. One time I had Morkin die fighting wolves with that very sword in hand and with Luxor’s army behind him also. Madness!
A lot of the game is clouded in obscurity. From the text descriptions to the total count of your army and the strange UI. Whether it’s poor design or just a game showing it’s age I cannot tell. The menus feel confusing and there’s such a sense of repetition. I do feel though that perhaps some more ‘tarting up’ could have been done with this re-release. The graphics have been touched up slightly so they appear nice and crisp on modern devices but some sound effects and music would have been nice. Perhaps they wanted to maintain the game as much in it’s original form as possible or have some sort of eerily quiet experience. But quite frankly it sucks. And at £2.99 I would be expecting more. The price seems a little steep for what you get, especially in an age of 99p apps.
As I mentioned earlier I am a big fan of Choose Your Own Adventure books and my favourite series was perhaps Fabled Lands. One of those books was also re-released for iOS and despite not being as good as the original adventure books themselves they did a great job spicing it up with music and a ton of extra art for characters and locations. That is the kind of extra mile I would hope to have in something like that. The extra content and overall well presented experience justifies the price. Lords of Midnight on the contrary does not feel well presented. Though I do accept that Lords of Midnight is a different affair and fans might want it as it was.
Undoubtedly a great game in it’s hey day and if you played it when it was originally released then I’m sure you’ll have great fun revisiting your youth with nostalgic glee. However if you didn’t then I would perhaps advise giving this one a miss. It’s limited appeal, frustrating UI and difficulty won’t really justify the few pounds you parted with.
6 Lords leaping into 2012 out of 10