Product: Countdown To Doom
Publisher: Topologika
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #54

Not the Acornsoft ROM cartridge version, Peter Killworth's Countdown To Doom re-release by Topologika is a mammoth upgrade to the original with many more puzzles, locations and characters. In many respects a cult classic it is both one of the few Electron games solely produced on disk (and in fact one of only ten games ever which were customised to work only with Pres' AP4 upgrade) and one that is still available from its software company to this day.

The first installment in a trilogy of text adventures about the plague planet Doomawangara (followed by Return To Doom and The Last Days Of Doom in 1988 and 1990 respectively), it mixes a surprisingly detailed narrative of exits and locations with unexpected sarcastic comments when you try particular actions.

The scene is set when your spaceship crashlands and a countdown (of the title) starts ticking away to ship collapse. The description of what is left of your ship's interior hardly inspires hope that any of it is fixable but, with Doomawangara best described as a spaceship graveyard, there is a small chance you can collect enough sundries to get the craft airborne again. A simple puzzle will see you out onto terra firma (after blowing up even more of your ship) and present you with a swamp, jungle, valley, desert, mountain path and narrow path; all exquisitely detailed as, you will quickly appreciate, is the norm.

What is irksome about continuing from this point is that any false sense of security you had developed thanks to the simpilicity of your escape is then repeatedly squished. Almost every move you make now results in a hideous and sometimes quite unconnected death. For example, you choose the desert, death by heatstroke; swamp, death by drowning; narrow path, death by slugs falling out of the sky; etc.

As in all adventures, there are objects to find and use correctly. Unlike in many, there is no need to examine anything. Doing so brings up the message "I've already told you everything you need to know about that!" which comes direct from the hand of Peter Killworth, not the Doom-stranded adventurer who is refered to in the second person. Once again though, you are forced to die a number of bloodthirsty deaths to discover what is safe to pick up or manipulate. Oh, goody, a gun, I'll fire it. Dead. What's that blob wriggling towards the cliff? I'll TAKE it. Dead. And these are only in the first six or seven locations! Bearing in mind that professional adventures such as this tend to get harder and harder the further the adventurer manages to progress, some will probably be very discouraged by these early setbacks which, if you have not SAVEd the position, immediately return you to the start of it.

A better solution, which is contained in some other Topologika releases, is to ask "Do you want to pretend you hadn't done that?" and wait for the inevitable Y keypress. This saves a large measure of frustration.

As you may have guessed, I have not personally made much headway in this hellhole but apart from the spotless spelling and atmosphere, the game has one more feature to recommend it and this is the on line help facility.

With the original disk comes a sheet of most-likely-to-be-asked questions. However, instead of having to decrypt a coded answer or look it up on another sheet, you obtain the answer from the game itself by typing HELP and then the number following the appropriate question. You get one hint and, if this is too cryptic, can ask for further ones until you are given a solution. In this way, the game's appeal is advanced as you can make progress without needing Britain's Biggest Brain.

Presented in a stylish clear plastic folder with an illustrated lowdown on the planet and a playing guide, Countdown To Doom suggests at every level that it is a very serious adventure which will tax the old grey matter to bursting point. This is exactly what the software itself does and it's no bad thing at all. It incorporates many new items over the original version and, although it includes some tried (or should that be tired?) and tested puzzles from other adventures, manages to cram in a few new ideas too. If you can live with being knocked off every few minutes, and don't mind responses like "Gee, I hope you enjoyed that!" if you do something Killworth considers unnecessary, then give this adventure a go. But be warned though, it's not easy!