The computer game of an Anna Popkess book (which was originally bundled with the game) uses an interactive fiction System Without A Name, or SWAN for short. It's set in a post-apocalyptic world of guards desperately attempting to retain order over mobs of genetically-mutated thugs, with extensive use of the death penalty.
Into this maelstrom steps Robin, an 11-year-old psychic beamed forward in time from before the drama. Adjusting to a completely different form of life, Robin must learn to survive and get adequate food, and ultimately infiltrate this vicious police state.
Encounters with other characters are frequent, of whom some retain a semblance of old humanity. Daryl, Alison and Matthew all come in handy, and must be coaxed into doing what you wish. Examining objects often gives few clues, so the detail in the manual is vital, although few of the objects are vastly different from familiar 20th century artifacts. Two levels of object descriptions exist, allowing for faster or more immersive play.
Mindfighter is one of the best post-apocalyptic adventures ever made, although sadly not many people played it when the game was released in 1988 for the PC, Atari ST, and most other computer systems. Aside from being one of the most ambitious IF titles ever designed, Mindfighter also marks a debut title for Abstract Concepts, a more serious sister company of British developer Delta 4 who best known for the hilarious Bored of The Ring and other parody games. The game is based on the prophecies of 16th century French prophet Nostradamus, who predicted that the third world war would erupt in late 20th century, beginning somewhere in the Middle East. You play four people with para-psychological powers living in Southampton, who are trying to help Robin, your 11-year-old boy friend whose mind is trapped in a nightmarish future. Robin's immense para-psychological powers allow you to control other people's minds, as well as metamorphose into various animals. Curious to find the results of an upcoming exam, Robin projected his mind forward in time - only to discover himself in a post-holocaust Southampton where famine, radioactive fallout, and rabble is everywhere, and people are enslaved by an evil order called the System. While Robin's physical body lies inert in 20th century, you must help him fight the System and eventually prevent the war itself from happening.
Designer Anne Popkess began Mindfighter as a book, and this is included in the game box. The book is 160 pages long, and unlike many 'books' that come with adventure games, is well worth reading in its own right (although the quality of writing is markedly inferior to Magnetic Scrolls' novella, e.g. The Pawn). Everything in Mindfighter is the result of painstaking research. The programmers even use digitized photos of Southampton as some of the backdrops in the game.
The game's hallmark is the excellent, extremely atmospheric writing that evokes the true horrors of nuclear holocaust. Puzzles are mostly logical and believable. As well as more typical adventure problems, Mindfighter challenges you to survive the real-life problems that you would face when trying to survive as an outcast in this fascist state. You must help Robin find shelter at night, find safe food and drink to build up your strength, and avoid the guards unless he feel strong enough to attack them. Although most puzzles are logical, a few of them require some lateral thinking or guess-the-verb procedure. Some puzzles are merely questions, which can be solved by reading the Mindfighter book carefully. There is even an RPG element in the game in that Robin's strength level is monitored, and enemies have their own strength level that must be overcome in combat. Although I don't usually like fight sequences in IF titles, the ones in Mindfighter work well, and in fact add to the believability of the whole story. There are many people wandering around the game, some of them friendlier than the guards. Most characters go about their own business, and many puzzles require you to order them around (you can control their minds with your para-psychological powers). Just like you, the NPCs have their own physical statistics and emotional states, but much of this is invisible to the player and goes on behind the scenes in the program.
The game interface, beyond the familiar graphics window and text parser, is excellent. Pressing ENTER at the prompt or clicking the mouse brings up a control panel. From this menu, you can toggle between all-text and graphics modes, turn printer and music on and off, toggle verbose/brief description modes, undo last turn, check your status, or save/load/quit the game. The game's vocabulary is quite large, and the parser understands most common synonyms and abbreviations.
Overall, Mindfighter is a thoroughly entertaining, serious, and thought-provoking game, which draws you into the brutal reality of the future. Although the game sounds a bit dogmatic at times, it is never really overbearing, and the intriguing plot and well-written characters will keep you interested for hours on end. Highly recommended.
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