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Eye of the Beholder

Developer: Westwood
Publisher: SSI
Year Released: 1990

Review by David Rudge (January, 1996)

Eye of the Beholder from Westwood Studios is one of my all-time favourite games. Set in one of the mythical lands of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons realm, you and three companions are commissioned by the Lords of Waterdeep to venture forth into the dank sewers below the city to seek out and destroy whatever is causing a plague of monsters to terrorise the townsfolk above. So you and your team depart using the only entrance, which collapses behind you ... sealing your fate ...

After the above introductory sequence has been played out (or skipped by pressing ESC); you will be presented with the title screen which allows you to load a pre-saved game, start a new party or quit to DOS. If you are playing for the first time you may select start a new party, although you can use a ready-made party by selecting load. If you choose to start with a new party you will need to create your own band of alter egos, after all this is a role playing game.

Character Generation
Character generation is a simple yet comprehensive task, allowing you to set up your party however you like. First you are given a choice of six different races and your character can be either male or female. Then you must choose the class of your character which depends greatly upon the race you choose to begin with, but you still get to pick from fighter, ranger, mage, cleric and thief, or a combination of two or three of these. Your next task is to pick the alignment of your hero/heroine. There are three to choose from (good, neutral, evil) and each alignment has a sub-alignment, but after playing the game a few times I still fail to see what effect these have.

Once you have set up your character you can choose a portrait from a variety of images. Then comes the statistics. You can modify any of these (except armour class and level); or tell the computer to re-roll. If you are happy with your character give them a name then repeat the above steps for the rest of your party.

Playing the game
Moving around in the game is quite simple, just click on one of the directional arrows or use the cursor keys. Movement is restricted to 90 degree turns or moving one game square at a time in any direction. Although this method is not as realistic as in Ultima Underworld, it is easy to use and makes available some clever puzzles and optical illusions.

Interaction within the game world is limited to fighting monsters, pulling levers, pushing buttons, picking up/dropping or throwing objects and talking to Non Player Characters (NPCs). Actually, 'talking' isn't quite appropriate as the NPCs will either give you clues or just ask if they can join your party. Monsters come in a nice variety ranging from giant slugs, ants and spiders to the typical AD&D denizens such as zombies, skeletal warriors and goblins. Some of the later creatures you meet in your travels are quite nasty, so you'll need to adopt the classic 'hit and run' tactic if you want to survive.

Access to each character's inventory is just a mouse click away and here you can arm your character, put armour on them, feed them, etc, or examine their statistics. One major stumbling block is the lack of an automap feature which may put some players off. But there is no reason why you can't draw your own maps. So although it will make it a bit more difficult for beginners, it will be all the more rewarding when you finally finish.

Combat is simple enough but there is no 'all attack' option so you have no choice but to manually select each character for attack, which can become a little hectic in some situations. Attacking a monster is just a case of right clicking on your character's weapon hand and the game will tell you if the attack missed or hit the mark (and how much damage you did). If, on the other hand, you wish to cast a spell just right click on a spell book or holy symbol and a list of spells will appear. After casting a spell you are treated to the appropriate pyrotechnics and, although the sound effects leave much to be desired, you still get a feeling of satisfaction when the monsters disappear in a flash of white light. (Incidentally, all enemies just disappear in a flash when vanquished, no blood or guts in sight anywhere).

The third element of the game is the puzzles, and this is where it truly excels. They start off fairly easy but they soon become quite fiendish. Although experienced players will probably coast through them with a little thought, beginners may find it tough going in the later stages of the game.

The puzzles range from the simple find a hidden key or pull this lever type, to complicated variations where several actions must be performed (and not always in the same area). While exploring, fighting and solving your way through the game, each character will earn experience points. When a sufficient amount of points is attained your characters will go up a level, making them more powerful, which in turn gives them extra health -- very handy if you wish to avoid death.

Rest for the wicked

Eye of the Beholder also features a very useful 'Camp' button. When you click on this you, in effect, pause the game. Whilst 'camped' you can rest your party, (the only way to gain spells) restore health, memorise and pray for spells and add them to your spell books. The other two options lead to sub-menus which allow you to turn sounds and music on/off, load/save your game, drop a character from your group or quit. The most annoying thing about this title is that you can only have one saved game. This isn't too much trouble if you can handle copying the save file to another directory or renaming it, but it is a total pain if you save a game after a serious mistake.

Though not fantastic -- animation is practically non-existent -- the graphics are quite good and the game oozes atmosphere so the clumsy two-framed attacks made by the monsters can be forgiven. As I mentioned earlier the sound isn't quite up to expected standards and, although this problem can be levelled towards the age of this product, even in it's prime the sound would have only been considered average. This, coupled with the 'only one save game' problem, reduces its overall appeal, but ignore those minor blemishes and it is in no way sub-standard compared to other titles available today. In fact if you're new to RPGs (or you want to lose yourself for a few days) and you want a good place to start, then look no further. Also, watch out for Eye of the Beholder part 2, it's even better than this one.

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