The bleak world of Perihelion is in big trouble. A great and evil force has appeared from nowhere and thrown fear, confusion and hatred into the hearts and minds of the whole population. Rioting, looting, robbery and murder are commonplace throughout the cities and a friendly face is almost impossible to find. It is as ancient prophecy foretold: the Unborn God is coming, forcing a doorway into Perihelion's dimension by gathering power from the mind-control of a once fine race.
Even King Rexhelion the 24th (latest in a long line of regal clones) has started to suffer nightmares and hear voices telling of terror and destruction. But because of the prophecy, he is prepared. One of his predecessors genetically engineered a six-strong party of humanoids who could avoid the Unborn Cod's influence and try and stop his entrance into Perihelion. They had been kept in storage for decades, but now the time has actually come to bring them out...
And, naturally enough, it is you who has to guide these six brave, erm, inventions round the towns and citadels of Perihelion to find a way to stop the Unborn God in his tracks. No prizes for guessing we're in role-playing territory here.
But, to be fair, Perihelion isn't by any means a totally standard RPG. The storyline is much more complex than my basic outline suggests and introduces a genuine cyberpunk atmosphere reminiscent of Darkseed but with more depth. The game's presentation reinforces the cyberpunk story superbly, featuring gorgeous dingy metallic graphics and a quite excellent droning industrial soundtrack. The introduction sequence is a fine moody affair which, to coin a good old games-reviewing cliche, 'sets the scene perfectly'.
Before you can embark on your epic task you have to choose your party of adventurers. Of course this is now a stock ingredient of any RPG, but again Perihelion's approach is more complex and in tune with the game's atmosphere than most. You can choose from a wide range of different genetically engineered hybrids; including cyborgs, insectoids and reptilioids, and from a number of different characters within each of these categories. Every person has their own detailed portrait and a vast quantity of physical and mental stats, which for once are more than just window dressing.
Party chosen, it's into the game proper - and unfortunately this is where the disappointment starts to set in. The presentation continues to live up to the expectations established beforehand, but it soon becomes apparent that user-friendliness was certainly not top of the programmers' priorities. The game plays in the tried and tested Dungeon Master style, except that the movement system inexplicably makes it impossible to step sideways - you can only
Life is not made any easier by the fact that there is very little variety in the many locations. There are none of the little wall-inscriptions or occasional bits of graphical detail you would normally find in games of this type. When you enter an unusual or significant place the only indication you get is a little text message scrolling along the bottom saying something vague like "You are in an area with some strange control panels".
Much more unforgivable is the lack of things to kill (not that I'm a sicko or anything). The programmers have decided to opt for the combat-rounds fighting system seen in games like SSI's Champions of Krynn, which effectively means you have a few big battles rather than a lot of little ones. All this means to me, I'm afraid, is that you spend a lot of time wandering about without really doing very much.
Another problem is that none of the objects you stumble across are actually shown on the main view screen. Instead you are equipped with an object detection system which flashes to indicate an object is nearby, and sadly this spoils the realistic atmosphere the game tries so hard to create. I think the game really might have benefited from including a few more things to pick up - for me, a large part of the appeal of RPG's like the Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master was searching through the wealth of discarded junk strewn liberally around, in the hope of finding a few genuine treasures.
My final niggle about Perihelion though, concerns the computer systems you have to use. These come in two varieties: the main computer networks, where having the right access code lets you uncover a wealth of vital information and the personal data systems, which you use to find out about your possessions, health and such like. The problem is that you actually have to type your commands into them. A menu system where you could choose a command or response would surely have been much faster and have worked better -especially as it would have avoided the problem of an unforgiving parser.
Well, I seem to have spent most of this review giving Perihelion a bit of a going over, but that wasn't my intention (honest). It features one of the most involving and seminal storylines I've ever come across, a huge level of complexity and depth, and it manages to generate an engrossingly potent atmosphere. I just wanted to let you know why this isn't the classic game it might, or perhaps should have been. Blimey, did that sound self-righteous and pretentious or what!
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