Product: Pantheon
Publisher: Hardcore Software
Compatibility: BBC B/B+/Master 128
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #70

Pantheon is a BBC only game by HardCore Software, written by Lars Osterballe and Benny Lonstrup, and which was released on the PD circuit around 1992. Many of you probably missed it entirely at the time because, as far as I know, it was not carried on a single BBC cover disc, nor was it mentioned in a single magazine apart from in Alan Blundell's BBC PD catalogue. It has now been in our own archives, with basic instructions and filed under BBC PD, for some years but again, it's easily missed unless you're really "looking" for it. In trying to bring to your attention some of the great games that are out there that have never been highlighted, this is a review of what I can fathom about this enigmatic two-game suite.

I might as well dive straight in to this one. I don't know if it's just me, but I find it confusing to have two completely different games, joined in an extremely spurious manner. Certainly, it doesn't help that the 'pre-game', a shoot-'em-up which we'll get to in a moment, is awful. I wonder how many people over the years have never even seen the 'main game' because they've abandoned the 'pre-game' a la BREAK, never even suspecting more existed. Why would they? Unless you've read the instructions, which are woeful in the extreme, you have no idea that the main game even exists!

The first of the games starts with a loading screen in the form of a Mode 1 'bar' and then cuts to a status panel glowing red and bleeping 'Incoming mail!' at you. You are then told to press 'ACTION to play'. The 'Action' key is the 'A' key and pressing it here brings up a shoot-'em-up game which is possibly the hardest and smallest shoot-'em-up game ever produced. Running in a window just 16 x 10 CHR$ high, the instructions handily inform you to avoid anything that is red and hope for the best. Survival however, is down more to luck than any arcade skill.

Using the < and > keys, you can steer a small red craft left and right in the bottom of the playing area, whilst below you an enemy base scrolls past equipped with red drones firing projectiles. Red enemy ships also float around in set patterns and need to be either avoided or better still blasted.

Now I can just about get over the fact that the small playing area makes it nigh on impossible to navigate without colliding with something and that by the time a drone appears you are literally on top of him because the whole thing is scrolling so quickly! But what I detest is when a game is also unjust, and this is the case with Pantheon's opener. You can line up with a drone, fire, watch your bullets sail through the air and even start to congratulate yourself that at least one drone is about to be taken out. And then, because your bullets only traverse the bottom seven eights of the screen, they disappear one pixel away from it - leaving you completely at its mercy!

Seriously, no-one is going to survive this mini-game for more than a minute (at best!) - and that's even if you stick Slomo on your Beeb and slow it down to one frame per second! So perhaps it's just as well that HardCore didn't market it as a game in its own right. I really think it is best just thought of as a bonus.

You press ESCAPE whenever the playing area turns red to enter the real game, which is completely different fare. Incidentally, before this real game starts you get a few strange messages informing you you are going to have to make a forced landing. Presumably therefore, the Pantheon of the title is the planet you have landed on.

Now you enter the much more familiar environment of a Mode 2 graphic adventure, very reminiscent of Codename: Druid and Palace Of Magic. You are a small multi-coloured man who can run, jump and fight, and who has an energy bar in the form of a broadsword at the top of the screen. Unlike with other graphic adventures, no other information is actually shown on the screen, i.e. room name, score achieved, location, etc. However, by pressing SPACE the playing area is replaced with a control panel headed "Time Link" which describes the current location, and shows number of lives, objects carried, two blank areas and the message 'ON-LINE'.

Unfortunately I cannot be very specific about what exactly your mission is, because the instructions as supplied with the game are very poor and the text simply states that the game is Public Domain and gives a postal address where you can write to the authors of the program for a map, cheat sheet and documentation. Alas, this service has long since expired, so you're left with only the power of my brain in relation to the rest of the game.

Firstly, it is a lovely looking piece of software. The graphics are in all the seven colours of the Mode 2 palette with perspective plotting in at least three separate planes. You have fountains in front of trees in front of clouds. Secondly, it is all written in machine code (as is the pre-game) with very quick reactions to keypresses and smooth animation throughout. When you are killed, or give up, your man cries a flood of tears.

Thirdly, the instructions inform you there are approximately 130 different 'rooms' in the game. I've managed to visit about 30 of these so far and all are of a high resolution. In about one in every five rooms there is a dude bent on causing you destruction, who is usually the same size as your character. Unlike with many graphic adventures, these dudes have real intelligence and don't just move in set patterns. They cannot follow you from room to room but as soon as you enter a room where they are resident they will clock you and come bounding over to whack you on the head. Sometimes (although rarely!) you can jump over them. However, on most occasions, you have to resort to hand-to-hand combat.

Fighting with these dudes is curious in a great deal of ways. Different combinations of jumping, punching and kicking are needed for different dudes. However, whilst tapping the S and X keys certainly lands blows upon them, because they have no on-screen energy level, you are never quite sure how much damage you're actually doing! Well, not until they stop hitting you and retreat to either the furthest left or right point of the screen, that is. They then fling a bouncing stone at you - which it's best to try and avoid! You then need to attack them again to finish the job.

Not that the job is finished however because as soon as you leave the room, the dude comes back to life with full energy and if you need to cross that room again, you'll have to slug it out with him a second time.

Scattered around the rooms are mysterious objects which you need to pick up and either 'use' or 'sacrifice'. In one of the first locations you will find a marble head (called a 'bust') and can sacrifice this in the Temple of Zeus (a few screens across) to cause a drought. This turns some quicksand into scorched earth and enables you to visit more locations than previously allowed.

In each location, you should also check the Time Link. As you progress further you are given more and more 'wreckage' (presumably from your ship) and it appears, jumbled up in the right hand panel. You can click and drag it to the left hand one, sort of like putting together a jigsaw. I would hazard a guess that once you have got all of the wreckage, and put it together properly, this is the end of the game.

As you will see from the screenshots illustrating this review, if you regard the opening shoot-'em-up as a bonus, this game looks and feels better than many professional software releases. So, if you haven't yet played it, there's never been a better time than now. Oh, and the only other thing I will mention is that there are at least three "Caves" locations which are completely dark and which you must need a light source for. Investigation reveals a piece of wood which can presumably be lit up and turned into a torch. But how? I'm not sure. If you discover the answer, please let me know.