Neuromancer (Second Review)

Title		Neuromancer (Second Review)
Compatibility	Not AGA
Game Type	Adventure
Players		1
HD Installable  No
Submission	Angus Manwaring Profiled Reviewer

Neuromancer is one of those old games that has continued to be discussed
with reverence and wonder, years after its original release. I would think
most of the older Amiga gameplayers have heard of it, but not many seem to
have played it in any depth. Of course, some of the respect that the game
has accrued is a direct result of the pioneering SF novel by William
Gibson; from which it takes its name. The author was the inventor of the
term “Cyberspace” and has rightly received recognition for his creation of
a bleak, high-tech future of hugely powerful corporations and shady
computer dealing practiced by unscrupulous Cyber-jocks.

So much for origins, what of the game? At first sight, we appear to be
dealing with a fairly straightforward point and click adventure game. The
graphics are fine as far as they go, but have in my view completely missed
the opportunity to evoke the atmosphere so redolent in the book. This
obviously doesn`t destroy the gameplay, but neverthless it is a pity.

As the hero of the piece, you can choose the name of your character, and I
should say at this point that the game, while looking and playing like an
Adventure, does have some strong RPG elements. At the beginning of the
game you are just coming round from a particuarly heavy session of too
much alcohol; infact you`ve been attempting to sleep it off using a plate
of synth-spaghetti as a pillow. Your host, the owner of the bar, informs
you that you owe him some money, and once you`ve paid him, he gives you
some helpful advice about how to progress in the game. From the start
you`ll have easy access to the PAX machines which are computer terminals,
allowing Public ACceSs to bulletin boards, banking services, and news
reports. Most of the time, when there is a PAX terminal is present there
will also be a port for you to connect your computer deck. This is not
Cyberspace, but it does allow you to connect to many non-public bulletin
boards and access more privileged information than you`ll find on the PAX.
The way the game handles the non-cyberspace computer system is highly
effective; you can send e-mail, (though it only ocassionally triggers any
events) and generally have a lot of fun, looking around the various sites
and collecting information. Be warned though, just like the internet in
the UK, you are being charged for the privilege, and ponderous browsing
will prove expensive.

A notepad is absolutely essential for playing Neuromancer, unless you`ve
got a far better memory than I have. As the game proceeds you`ll find more
and more software to upgrade to, and thus armed, you can start hacking
into forbidden sites, editting databases to further your cause, and
generally finding things out.

Your computer exploration will soon draw you to a message from a friend,
telling you that something sinister is going on in Cyberspace, and that
you should upgrade your equipment to a Cyberspace capable deck, and get
out there and investigate..

Although initially there are not many locations for you to visit in the
game, don`t be fooled, there is a great deal to find out. For instance,
you have a special connector attached to your head that allows you to
insert silicon chips. These chips contain various “skills” which will
enable you to achieve certain objectives that would otherwise remain
beyond your grasp. The skills, which include subjects like Psychanalysis,
Sophistry, Evasion and even Cop talk, can also be upgraded, so while you
might have the Cryptology skill chip, it may not decipher an encrypted
code word until you find a way of upgrading it to version 2.0 or even 3.0.
You`ll generally acquire skills and upgrades by talking to other
characters within the game, and this brings us to the game`s parser or
interpreter. I have a pet hate for Adventure games where you can solve the
puzzle mentally, but not find the right sequence of words to actually
convince the game that you`ve done so. Unfortunately, Neuromancer does
fall into the guess- the-word category, particuarly when you`re presented
with the option to ask a character, “WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT
.................”. The word you type in may be one of several
descriptions for a particular person or organization, and the parser will
not accept anything less than exactly the input that the programmers have
specified. It can be misleading because if your word isn`t exactly what is
required, you`ll get a, “I DON`T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT.” type reply,
which can throw you off the scent, when infact you need to keep hammering
away with every variation of the name you can think of.

Eventually, assuming you have the patience of a saint, you will be able to
access Cyberspace. What`s rather strange is that to get this far, you`ll
have had to really work hard without too much in the way of rewards from
the game; my guess is that not too many people will make it, I certainly
needed help. You might therefore suppose that if there were going to be
some big visual or gameplay payoffs, you`d have had them before this
point, right? Wrong. Accessing Cyberspace adds a completely different
element to the game. As you emerge within the matric you`re faced with a
slowly spinning green vortex in the background, like an early Amiga demo,
and you now find yourself in a first person perspective, 3D environment,
similar atleast in terms of the game engine to Dungeon Master. When you
try to break into various companies` databases though, you`re faced with
almost shoot-em-up style gameplay. I`m not complaining, and it may just be
that I`m rather poor at the Adventure elements within Neuromancer, but
maybe the difficulty curve is a little on the steep side to allow players
to reach this rather crucial  later part of the game.

Once in Cyberspace, you don`t have unlimited access to all areas, you are
actually confined to a fairly small sector containing just a few
(data)bases. If you need to access different bases, you`ll need to exit
Cyberspace, go to another location in the “real” world and jack in to a
suitable port which corresponds to a different sector of the matrix. The
bases are protected by varying levels of ICE (Intrusion Countermeasure
Electronics) which can be deadly to you. To defeat the ICE you`ll need
various ICE breaking softwares, and when the battle for access to a base
commences, you`ll find yourself desperately executing one software program
after another, which takes the form of beams of energy crashing into the
base`s defences, while the base fights back in a similar manner. If you
are successful, you`ll be presented with  a similar screen to the one
you`d get had you approached the base on a  conventional computer, but
this time you`ll will have greater access privileges. Although it isn`t
the best produced action sequence I`ve ever seen in an Amiga game, it is
enjoyable, and defeating the defences and acquiring the goodies within the
base is highly satisfying.

Neuromancer is, like many adventures, a voyage of discovery, so I won't tell
you much more about what's out there. I will tell you this though: It is
deadly, it is artificial, it is ambitious and it is intelligent. Good
luck, it's a difficult game, but I've not come across anything quite like
it. It successfully combines a number of different approaches within it's
design and it gives us computer nerds a chance to feel some of the
satisfaction of hacking into large and powerful corporations; assuming
that's not something you've done already.

As a final point if you're very keen on the world of Cyberspace, but the
idea of Adventures makes you squirm, you might want to try out the game
Interphase (also reviewed) which approaches the subject in a very
different manner.

Category list.

Alphabetical list.