The Arthurian legends, like the Greek myths, have been the basis for many an adventure before, but never one as comprehensive as Lancelot. The story's split into three parts. The first two deal with Lancelot's arrival at King Arthur's court in Camelot, and his gradual elevation (you hope) into becoming the best knight in the world. The third part is the quest for the legendary Holy Grail, and you can go straight into this if you wish but you probably won't get too far if you haven't managed to turn Lancelot into the ultimate knight as it'll take all his wits, skill and experience if he's to cope with the quest.
So what does it take to become a worthy knight? Chivalry, for one thing, and this is put to the test right at the start of the game when you encounter a Black Knight who challenges you. Cowardice is no part of the knight's character, so you must accept the challenge, but how you react if you win will have a great bearing on whether you progress or not. All your actions must be those which make you worthy to be a knight.
After your encounter with the Black Knight you head east towards Camelot and straightaway you realise that the research has been thorough and you're going to learn something about the reality of those days. No nonsense in the location descriptions like "You are in a field outside Camelot." "You are inside Camelot." As you approach you must ride first through the castle village, the community that grew up around the castle walls, and see the beggars and the way in which many of the really poor people lived.
It's good to see Level 9 branching out a bit and working with teams of people rather than trying to do everything themselves. Even a family like the Austin's must have their limits! I'll draw a veil over the quality of the graphics, as only the +3 owners will see them and they'll wish they hadn't, but the text is mostly very well-written by Peter McBride and Christina Erakine. How about this, when Lancelot approaches the castle towards the end of the first day: "Dusk began to suck the colours from the greying world, leaving only the pools of light from the torches of Camelot." There's just the occasional word which jars, like 'tons' and 'micro'. Don't. Tell me either of those was around in Arthurian times!
First task is to find somewhere to sleep for the night, and there are a few suggestions as to where you might try. You can use the GO TO command to go straight to any location, even though you've only just arrived in Camelot and should have no idea where it is. There are one or two hiccups in the responses as well. I wandered into the cathedral and thought it might be a good place to hole up for the night, so I typed SLEEP and duly laid me down to rest, only to be told almost at once that I was fired and had better find somewhere to sleep soon. You mean you woke me up just to tell me that?!
The game has all the latest sophisticated commands, like GO TO/RUN TO/FIND a location or character, FOLLOW someone, get someone to follow you, RAM SAVE, WORDS/PICTURES, BRIEF/VERBOSE text, EXITS ON/OFF, WAIT and UNDO. This last can be used several times in succession, although it's missing on the 48K versions. The complexities that these commands create haven't always been dealt with properly. If you use the RUN TO command you are taken straight to a place without the intervening location text being printed on the screen, but any random messages that you might have encountered on the way, do get printed up. So at one point I typed RUN TO MERLIN, and the first response I had was "Sir Kay made pretence to smell garlic" Erm, yes, quite.
You need to see King Arthur himself on your first morning in Camelot, and he knights you and introduces you to his Queen, Guinever. She seems to be fluttering her eyelashes at you quite a bit, but be careful not to have too many un-knightly thoughts. Chivalry at all times! You ask to be her champion but she says you're still a novice and must prove yourself first. She suggests you go to Logris and honour her with noble deeds and battles, and Arthur has a job for you too: free some captive knights that are held prisoner by rebel lords.
Playing Lancelot is, for a lot of the time, more like being involved in a book than a conventional adventure - which is one of the ways that I see adventures developing. Good to see Level 9 experimenting in that direction. There aren't so many problems at first, and it's more a case of finding the main plot and sticking to it, although there are lots of diversions off to the sides if you wish. In one area you find a sick Sir Meliot, and he asks you to try to find a special cloth to help heal his wounds. Okay then, type FIND CLOTH and away you go. It's not quite as straightforward as that might sound though, as you have to work out how to get the cloth once you've been taken to it. But the early stages of the game do tend to progress in a fairly logical manner. Then it gets tougher, believe me!
The area of the game is enormous, too. We all had a moan at the first part of Knight Orc, with its 100 or so locations all with virtually identical text, but here there seem to be even more places to visit, all well described, and with plenty of characters wandering in and out to add a realistic atmosphere to the game.
If you wish, you can try to make a start on the third part, the quest for the Holy Grail, but it's best if you play your way through logically and try to build up the character of Lancelot first. You need your knightly virtues about you on this final quest, as after about five minutes of playing I'd already become a liar, a thief and a fornicator and had scored minus 200 out of a thousand!
This is definitely a value for money game, to go back to again and again. Level 9's adventure systems been developing in leaps and bounds over the last year or so, but they haven't always had the stories to go with it. Knight Orc was a slight disappointment, Gnome Ranger was much better and had the bonus of humour, and now with Lancelot it's shown it can come up with a serious theme that makes full use of its skills - and which will test your skills to the full, as well. This good knight's definitely a good buy!
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