quinta-feira, 30 de abril de 2015

War In Middle Earth [1988, ZX Spectrum / MS-DOS / Amiga] Review - It's a Pixel THING - Ep.#47

Back in 1989 there was a game that always intrigued me. Every time I went to one of my favorite local ZX Spectrum videogame selling spots I got somehow mesmerized by the cover of War in Middle Earth. By that time I didn’t have any background on the magnificent J.R.R. Tolkien masterpiece.

Then, one day, I finally picked the game up and brought it home. Placed it in my Spectrum and run it. My first impressions were of complete blankness. I didn’t know what to do or to what I was looking at. Back then this was the main problem with pirated games that were normally sold in electronic stores without any kind of officious fiscal control that could protect the intellectual property of their creators. In this particular case, the original boxed game brought a forty-three page manual that, obviously, the pirated one didn’t have making it really hard for newbies to the Tolkien universe to understand.

Only a few years later I read the books and was absolutely blown away by the details, characters and storytelling that Tolkien had put into his work. So, by that time, around 1992, just when I was embracing PC gaming, I came across the DOS version and thought about giving it a second chance. By that time I had a whole new perspective about Middle Earth and all that is linked to it.

The game was released for the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Apple IIGs, Atari ST, Amiga and DOS in 1988 by the Australian software company Melbourne House. If I recall correctly, it was my very first Real Time Strategy game and that’s where it all began. Then, after War in Middle Earth came Dune II, Warcraft, Command & Conquer, etc, etc..

Melbourne House was already familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. They’ve released, in 1982 and for all 8 bit machines, The Hobbit, an illustrated text adventure game that went being a bestseller game on the Commodore 64 and the BBC Micro with estimated total sales of more than 200.000 copies and also won, in ‘83, the Golden Joystick Award for best strategy game. The website worldofspectrum.org even stated that, and I quote, “The Hobbit was the first Spectrum game ever to sell a million copies”. An astonishing achievement for that time and, in 1984 was even released by the publisher a 78 page hint book named “A Guide to Playing the Hobbit” making it probably the first ever player’s guide to a videogame. Please correct me if I’m wrong!

So, getting back to War in Middle Earth, was it worth it? Is the game really that intense and absorbing as the Lord of the Rings’ books in which it is based?
The concept for this title was pulled off by Mike Singleton, a former English teacher and very successful eighties British author and freelance game designer that, unfortunately, left us in 2012 (1951-2012). He was considered the father of home computer gaming and his work will live on forever, ‘cause many of today’s titles had their roots in this man’s head.

War in Middle Earth is a fairly huge game set in a gigantic fantasy world that even to this day drags a countless number of fans that unite at this one and only webpage (www.warinmiddleearth.com) exclusively dedicated to the game. It combined both a large-scale army-unit level and a small-scale character level and everything just happens simultaneously. Middle Earth Westlands’ map is also a very important item for us to use and a physical copy of it came inside the box.

The game’s plot is obviously similar to the one from the books. The 16bit versions had additional adventuring features depicting the events from the Shire to Mount Doom.

Right at the start, Frodo, Pippin and Sam are surrounded by Nazgul riders and their first task is to travel to Rivendell, although we’re free to decide the game’s own progression.

The main goal is to take the ring to Mount Doom, but how we do it is completely up to us, the player. In the books, the ring bearer is Frodo, but, in War in Middle Earth Frodo can die. If this occurs, the ring simply passes to other character. But if it falls into the hands of the enemy, it will be taken to Barad-Dur, Sauron’s fortress in Mordor, and our quest will be forever lost. Also, if the enemy forces manages to enslave three allied citadels, the game will also end. So, let’s go find some treasures and recruit armies in this early amazing and involving real time strategy and role playing game.

Every time we start a new game, a new adventure will also take place, ‘cause there’s plenty to do, like, for instance, rethink new strategies and find all hidden objects.

Besides that first huge impact of the amazing cover art from that little plastic case from the ZX Spectrum game, the 8-bit versions of War in Middle Earth failed to impress. However, the 16-bit ones were considerably enhanced and all play and look identical.

The Amiga one has a significantly better audio environment, so, if you’re a real fan of Middle Earth, you might wanna check this early venture into Tolkien unmatched fantasy world.

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