Nebula Designs Software, £7.95


In the 22nd century human civilisation has spread throughout the galaxy under the ’benevolent’ control of massive corporations. Nuclear-powered, faster-than-light travel is a fact of life and the ESS Discoverer is regarded as nothing special. A research ship it was sent to get biological specimens from the distant worlds of Edanus. When it failed to return it was presumed destroyed by rebels. That is, until it was discovered by some passing starfighters, drifting aimlessly through space, apparently deserted but for a glimmer of light in the cockpit and an eery, devilish silhouette there.

Diablo! is a homegrown adventure by Mark Cantrell and comes complete with extensive packaging, including a Player’s Guide and Investigation Dossier. Detailed and informative these give a good sense of atmosphere. The program itself comes on two cassettes, for 48K and 128K owners.

The adventure begins once a special shuttle has docked with the Discoverer. The shuttle’s crew consists of three military personnel, a doctor and a civilian. Four of these can be controlled individually (by using CONTROL ‘whoever’) while the civilian, Lawson, just wanders around on his own. Profiles of the crew are included in the dossier along with a rough plan of the Discoverer.

A few turns into the game a bomb goes off. Bad enough in itself if you’re in the wrong location, but investigation reveals that only one of your own crew could’ve planted it! While glumly considering suspects you might admire the game’s presentation, which is excellent. A graphic view is given for most locations, shown in a window at the top left of the screen alongside a well-drawn portrait of the current character. Verbose descriptions scroll upwards in the bottom two thirds of the screen, in either normal or stylised fonts according to your choice. You can also switch between normal compass directions and a more appropriate starboard, aft, port system.

The attention to detail in the presentation is also shown in play itself. The PAW parser is typically refined with useful OOPS and AGAIN commands, as well as the usual RAMSAVE. But where it really scores highly is in the extensive EXAMINE and SEARCH commands which can be used for the majority of objects and features.

Interaction between characters is also very good, and important to make progress. Speech is achieved by typing SAY TO character x ‘whatever’ and there is also a RADIO command when your crew is separated. Characters can be told to do almost any action or in the 128K game, even to LOOK AROUND the ship. But by far the most useful instruction is FOLLOW ME, so by controlling one character who has told the others to follow him/her, you can move the team en masse.

The very tense atmosphere of the game is achieved by some great descriptions, telling how you feel worried about what could be lurking in the shadows. Such worries are well justified as you’ll often end up reading spine-chilling accounts of death: pulped bones and decaying flesh are detailed in almost ‘video nasty’ depth. Clues to the demise of your crew members are weird scratch marks on some of doors and shreds of a blood-stained lab coat. It seems a strange alien creature is on the rampage. And if you find and play Dr X’s data disk you can discover exactly what it is.

Diablo!’s superbly suspenseful atmosphere is obviously reminiscent of the excellent Alien film, but there’s more than enough plot differences to keep you off-balance. With three large decks to explore this is a remarkable challenge, not least because of its homegrown origin.

If you fancy having your intestines ripped out etc, you can get hold of this excellent adventure direct from Mark Cantrell.