Chronicles Of The Sword is an adventure game from Psygnosis, loosely based on Arthurian legend. There have been other Arthurian games in the past, none of them particularly good; Chronicles, alas, is no exception to that. In this outing, you maneuver Sir Gawain, newly-created Knight, through a series of episodes beginning in Camelot and ending up in Morgana's castle at Lyonesse.
The game opens with an automated sequence of Gawain being knighted alternating with Morgana's brutal murder of a priest in the castle's chapel. As something must be done about that, Gawain is dispatched to deliver a magical indictment to Morgana. This results in her banishment, and not pleased, she attempts to kill Arthur. The king, in turn, is not pleased, and now Gawain is sent off to take care of Morgana once and for all.
Typical for adventure games, the interface is simple. The basic cursor is an arrow that changes to a pair of blue footprints when over an exit, or red when it moves over something of interest: an item to look at or pick up, a person to talk to, etc. Items are used by putting them on the cursor and clicking them on other items or on a person. If the object is not appropriate to the situation, nothing much will happen. You can't lose something inadvertently, and there is no way to drop anything.
Moving Gawain around is equally simple; he always walks automatically to the item, person, or exit clicked upon, if that is possible. You can also click elsewhere on the screen to move him, although that is rarely needed.
Conversations are an important part of the game; this is about the only way to obtain clues and information. Talking follows the familiar pattern of choosing questions or remarks from a list of topics. Topics can change over time as things happen in the game or Gawain learns new information, so it's usually necessary to talk to people more than once as the game progresses. Happily for those whose sound cards are not supported, are hard of hearing, or may just want quiet playing, text is automatically presented along with speech. Everything that is spoken can be seen as written words, and this includes the several automated sequences, so nothing will be missed if you're playing silent.
There is a small amount of combat in the game, a few situations where Gawain must wield his sword. Fortunately, you have the choice of directing the fight yourself or letting the computer do it for you. I preferred the automatic combat myself, especially as this assures Gawain of winning.
I did not come across any bugs in Chronicles. The game played without trouble all the way through; no crashes or lockups, no bizarre happenings. Animations were smooth, and the graphics overall quite decent. Sound quality on the Gravis Max (supported via the Ultramid driver) was good and clear.
As adventure games go, this one is not particularly difficult. Most solutions tend to be obvious, especially once you've found the right item to use. What could make for difficulties is finding that "right item". In some instances, you can miss an object because it's in a very dark part of the screen, while in other circumstances, you may well miss an exit to another screen that has what you need.
The "hot spots" are not consistent; sometimes, they cover a generous area, sometimes the area is narrow. I had trouble over the dragon egg, for instance, because the exit to the next cave was a small hot spot at the extreme right of the screen, which I missed for some time. At the Skull Bridge, I had similar problems, because I had bypassed the necessary pole two screens back; it was extremely difficult to see on the dark screen, among all the other poles.
More irritating is Gawain role in the game, which is to act as fetch dog for other people. Since he has no armor (a knight without armor; what a concept!), Merlin must make a magical ring for him. Naturally, Gawain has to do the running around to obtain the ingredients. Later, on the way to Lyonesse, his traveling companion becomes ill, and once again, Gawain has to go hither and yon to gather the necessary healing items for her.
These two sets of actions comprise the mid-section of Chronicles, and they are essentially without purpose, except to pad out the game. No sooner is Helie well again, then Morgana pops in and kills her. As for the magic ring, Gawain has to give that up to reach Morgana's castle. It is frustrating to gamers to see their efforts go for nothing, and that is what happens here. One or the other of these incidents could be accepted, but both together are too much. There is no pleasure to be derived from watching much of what you've accomplished go down the drain. It makes you wonder what the designers were thinking of here, to present such a slap in the face.
You're not always told what you need to know right out, either. For example, Merlin sends Gawain to get water from Guinevere's Well, which happens to be sealed shut, and Merlin knows this. Does he say anything about that?No, you have to parade through the woods, find the well sealed, then return to the castle and talk to people to find out why it was closed, and what will break the seal. This is just so much busywork, and not real gaming.
The game is on two CD's. The events through forging the ring are on CD 1; the remainder, starting with the journey to Lyonesse, are on CD 2. Guess what? No sooner have you begun on CD 2, then you have to turn around and go back to Camelot, which is on the first CD. Why? Why set up a situation that makes you switch from 1 to 2, and then immediately back to 1 again? And this after having sat through a long automated sequence, too.
Adding to the dreariness is a distinct lack of period flavor, of any of the excitement and adventure associated with Arthurian legends and the Knights Of The Roundtable. Along with several teeth-grinding anachronisms, and a Merlin who looks more like a weightlifter than a Druid, this did not in any way seem like the glory days of knighthood and chivalry.
The save game feature leaves much to be desired. You have only six slots for save positions. As each save takes less than 20K, there is no reason to be so cheap. Worse, there is no description allowed for the saves. You click on a slot, and a small picture of where you are is all you get. Since you can easily have two or more saves in the same spot, but at different times in the game, you have to keep track of the saves on your own.
Overall, Chronicles Of The Sword is a mediocre product at best, a mechanical exercise in "find the hot spot" and simple puzzles, with flawed design and little in the way of "when knighthood was in flower". Anyone wanting a taste of the real thing is better off reading Le Morte D'Arthur.
Just Adventure + Assigned Grade: C