Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Missed Classic: Knight Orc - The Great Escape (AKA Won with Final Rating)

By Ilmari


Small things often lead to great achievements. This time, it all began with a mouse.
You might remember from the last time that I had trouble catching a mouse, because it always managed to hide itself in a hole. I finally got the idea that I could look into the hole with my eye spell. I did, and I saw, not just the mouse, but also a plastic card.

Picking up the card didn’t help me with my mouse problem, but I then got the idea that I might be able to prevent it entering the hole. I waited for it to come out again and then immediately put something in the hole. Now, when I tried to pick the mouse, it ran into a crack.

This went on a few more times, the mouse finding always new hiding places, after I had dealt with the previous ones. Finally, the mouse had nowhere to run anymore, so it just entered my sack.

Mouse was trying to say something to me, but so fast I couldn’t understand it. I cast slow spell to understand its speech. The mouse told me that it had surrendered and taught me the death spell, which could be used, obviously, to instantly kill any character in the game. Remember that death in the game is not final, since all dead characters will just be taken to the heaven AKA the repair shed to refresh. Furthermore, overuse of the death spell will aggravate the robots administering the game and will lead to Grindlecuts being disbanded.

Even more important discovery was the plastic card I found in the mouse hole. Remember that closed metal door in the repair shed with no way to open it? Turns out I’d found a keycard for it. The only problem was that when dying, Grindlecuts would drop all his inventory to the ground, making it impossible to take the card with you to the repair shed.

The solution was rather simple. I had to just kill some random character - easy with the death spell. Then I had to wait for the valkyrie (nurse robot) to come and pick the body up and give her the card. Finally, I had to kill myself and snatch the card back from the nurse. My reward for solving this puzzle was the recruiter.

Recruiting followers

Recruiter - or reprogrammer - was a tool I could use to make some of the other robots my loyal servants. All I had to first was to subdue them in some manner. The game was helpful enough to tell me what four characters I had to recruit: the mouse, the dragon, the troll and the rainbird. Mouse was simplest, since I had essentially subdued it when capturing it.
Recruiting the dragon was almost as simple. I just walked to the dragon’s lair with the mouse, who bit the only vulnerable spot in the dragon’s tail. After that, the problem was to get the dragon to move anywhere else but the caves. The solution was simple - I just had to find its missing scale and hand it over so that the dragon could cover its soft spot.
The troll should have been easy. The game told me straight away that recruiting the troll required getting its wallet, and I had already nicked that. Problem was that recruiting didn’t work. I checked the official clue sheet and a few walkthroughs, but found nothing helpful. The only solution I could come up with was that I had took the wallet too soon - remember that after getting the wallet, I could then escape the troll’s lair only by abusing the game. Grudgingly, I restored to an earlier save, retraced my steps and repeated the complex steps for getting the wallet after getting the recruiter. Indeed, the response was now different - the troll arrived, like earlier, but now it begged me to give the wallet back. I declined, and the troll was ready for recruiting.

Gathering spells

Rainbird was the most difficult character to recruit, since it would only obey a magician. Now I knew why I had to gather all those spells. Some of the still missing spells were easy to find with the help of my new friend, the troll:
  • When I had earlier tried shaking an apple tree in the garden, the apples would be broken before I could get them. Now I could instruct the troll to catch the apple before it hit the ground. On the apple, I saw the empathy spell.
  • With the help of the troll, I could pull a rope tied to the bridge. Tied to a rope I found a ring, which had some writing I couldn’t read. After throwing it to a fireplace (now, where could they have got the idea to this?), the writing was clearer: it was the exorcise spell.
  • Troll could help me clear the plaque in the marsh. Now I could read the fireball spell.
  • Troll could also assist me in killing enough ants, so that I could grasp the magician spell. Casting this spell was required to turn me into a magician, in addition to finding all the spells.
  • When I took the troll with me to see the vampire, the vampire was pleased that I had brought it something to drink and taught me the knives spell. The vampire also opened the barrow, so that I could get out with the coin in my hand.
  • Giving the coin to the troll, I could instruct the troll to put the coin in the recess in a grave. At the same, in a room nearby, I could access an opening tomb and learn the detect spell.
Some spells simply eluded me and I had to check the clue sheet how to find them:
  • For some reason, casting excorsise on a piece of driftwood made it readable, revealing the fly spell.
  • The fly spell could be used to a statue in the garden. Under the statue, I discovered the shield spell.
  • The jump spell, which could transport me into a room adjacent to where I currently was, proved to be of assistance in a certain part of the orc lair - it could be used to jump Grindlecuts to a salt mine, where I found the sword spell.
Castle of death

The last two spells I found in a castle, which I had been unable to enter. This was a peculiarly delightful sequence, where I got to use the spells I had been gathering. Firstly, the drawbridge was shut, but with the knives spell I could sever the ropes keeping it up. This was just the first line of defense, since the sound of the falling drawbridge attracted the castle guards, who began stirring some hot oil. Shield spell created a bubble that protected me from the burning liquid, when I entered the castle courtyard.

The next obstacle was a pool of acid, or as the game also called it, “the only remaining refuge for corruption in Middle Earth”. The obvious solution was to fly over it. The problem was that the door to the inner parts of the castle was locked and the button to open it was in the pool. This required more experiments, but eventually I lucked out with the sword spell: apparently a broadsword created by the spell was unaffected by the acid, so I could use it to press the button.

The hall I arrived led to two directions. At the eastern end, I discovered an electrified door that roasted me instantly when I tried to touch it. At the western end, I found a door that led me to the castle dungeon. As soon as I entered the dungeon, jailer - or a pirate pretending to be a jailer - fastened a chain with a ball to my leg. I could easily remove it by enlarging the chain with a grow spell, but I decided to see whether it had some other use. Searching the dungeon, I found an armor, which I wore, and a scabbard holding a dagger with the teleport spell.
The armor apparently created a Faraday cage around me, since the electricity from the eastern door went around it and earthed itself through the chain and the ball. What a lucky coincidence. Behind the door, I found a library and a monk, who was rather pissed off at me disturbing his reading. After a few turns, the monk picked up his favourite scroll and zapped me. After a few attempts, I noticed I could burn his scroll with my fireball spell. Monk ran out and left the way clear to an office, where I learned lightning, the final spell of the game.

The end

I now could command all the four creatures I had to. I told all of them to go to the exit and took it also as my own destination. Only the rainbird and the mouse that I was carrying arrived at the right place. Both dragon and troll had been distracted by something, so I had to find them again and herd them to the right direction. After a few unsuccessful tries, we all were ready for the end game.

Just as I had assumed, the appearance of a smoking dragon was enough to set the fire alarm off and open an emergency door, which I entered with my friends. Inside I found a corridor marked for no robots. Corridor ended in a red line, which killed me and the other robots, if we tried to go through it. There was also a hatch I couldn’t reach, but which the troll could open for me. Inside the hatch there were some wires. I asked the troll to put the mouse in the hatch, and the mouse bit the wires, which was enough to dispel the deadly field.

The final room of the game was a simrock foyer, with a closed door leading to the outside world, and a small kiosk, where the humans could buy the tickets to the adventure game and where the controls of the door were located. I couldn’t enter the kiosk myself through the small glass opening, but rainbird could do it. The bird pecked the button opening doors and we were free! The game ended with the police arriving to investigate the fire alarm and with a promise of a sequel that never saw daylight.

I wonder if that "Thy life is at an end" is just a mistake

Final rating

Puzzles and Solvability

The puzzles in Level 9 games have always been a mixed bag, the producers rarely finding the perfect mean between obtuse and too simple. This time the balance is clearly weighed on the side of easy. Some of the puzzles are even of the run-of-the-mill variety, and the official clue sheet even makes fun of this by saying that you are in an adventure game simulation and you should just expect this type of puzzle. There are a fair number of memorable puzzles also: killing the green knight’s horse and getting the valkyrie to take the keycard to heaven are a few noteworthy examples of problems requiring lateral thinking. Then again, there’s at least one puzzle where you can deadend yourself, if you do things out of order (recruiting the troll).

All in all, this is probably the best set of puzzles in a Level 9 game I’ve encountered. Even so, I still feel that the game does not live up to its potential in this aspect. This is a third time, when Level 9 has used the “collect all the dozen spells” -theme. Just like earlier, the spells have provided opportunity for some nice puzzles - the sequence in a castle is the premium instance - but unfortunately, most of the spells had no real purpose. Even more of a disappointment was the recruitment mechanic. You do require help from another character in many of the puzzles toward the end, but you never have a need to orchestrate the actions of several NPCs in conjunction.

Shortly: although the puzzles are mostly decent and sometimes even inventive, there’s a lack of originality in the majority of the puzzles that prevents Knight Orc rising above mediocrity.

Score: 5.

Interface and Inventory

I can appreciate the improvements to the parser, and the ability just to direct the PC to any place, character or item whatsoever, without the frustration of first mapping things out, is godsent. The complex commands you can give to the NPCs is also an intriguing possibility, even if the full potential of this innovation is not used. What I can’t stand is Hobbit-like chaos of characters roving from one place to another, without any rhyme or reason, picking up items and leaving them to places you’ll never find them. This chaos is somewhat mitigated by the parser improvements - if you’ve lost something or someone, just use GO TO. Still, it’s difficult enough to direct the unruly lot of NPCs you’re supposedly commanding. Add to that the overall feeling of unpolishedness, seen especially in some game breaking bugs, and you’ll understand why I can’t give this one high marks.

Score: 3.

Story and Setting

This is by far the best attempt to reverse popular tropes in the later Level 9 games. Indeed, it does it two times, firstly, by making the player take the evil side of the fantasy lore, and secondly, by revealing it is all just a virtual reality game. I might have preferred if they’ve focused only on the first reversal, since “it’s not real!” -surprise was a bit overdone even in the end of 1980s (heck, even Level 9 has done it before). Still, the surprise is woven to the plot thread in an organic manner and put to good use in showing the two versions of the game world, characters and items. It’s also nice that Knight Orc ties two different Level 9 trilogies into one shared universe (the fantasy world being a continuation of the Jewels of Darkness -trilogy, while the real world exists in the Silicon Dreams -world). Overall, it was a fairly positive, even if not a world shattering experience.

Score: 5.

Sounds and Graphics

I am a bit surprised this was an Atari ST version I played. Sure, the graphics looked nicer than the ones in 8-bit versions I’ve played for the previous games, and especially the intro screen was quite nice. Then again, there were less pictures, since only a handful of the screens had their own associated image.

Score: 3.

Environment and Atmosphere

Another positive point in the game. It’s meant to be a virtual MUD/adventure game and that’s what it feels like. Roving adventurer-wanna-bees, who in real life are nothing but a bunch of nerds, soft cushions serving as weapons, heaven/repair shed and even the pirate jailer, a mainstay of early adventure games retrofitted to another purpose, are all examples of the producers knowing the tropes of their genre and making fun of them.

Score: 6.

Dialogue and Acting

Peter McBride, the writer behind the background novella, apparently provided some text for the game itself. There are, indeed, delightful passages with the tongue-in-cheek attitude of the novella, especially in the first part of the game. Unfortunately, the text in the latter part of the game loses most of that light touch and replaces it with a more humdrum style of writing. Still, it’s a step up from previous Level 9 games.

Score: 4.

Let's count the total (5 + 3 + 5 + 3 + 6 + 4)/.6 = 43.
Well, that’s a surprise - the first Level 9 game to reach 40s! I am glad they are improving, even if this was one of their last games. Leo Vellés gets the reward for this one with his guess of 42, although he later became skeptical of it. Congratulations Leo! You will be rewarded, whenever the next mainline game will finish.

4 comments:

  1. It's an exciting game in concept; if they had more graphics, a bunch of background music, and a couple extra rounds of playtesting and polish to round it out, it could've been a right classic.

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  2. The metallic armour suit should protect you against the electrified door, as it provides a path of lower resistance to the ground.

    If you want to get really technical this is not a Faraday cage effect as used by high voltage line workers who need to be protected against electric FIELDS instead of the current but functionally it is much the same. But that really is getting unnecessarily technical.

    I do like the graphics though, and I agree with Kirinn that more of those screens would have greatly helped the game.

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  3. Hey, i think this is the first time I nailed the final rating! That mouse puzzle made me remember of the one in The Hitchhicker's...where you need to grab something from a vending machine. Am I right? Never played that one, but form what i remember from Joe's playthrough seems that there are a few pointa in common...

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    Replies
    1. I think it was the Babel fish puzzle, and now that you mention it it doe feel very similar!

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