Blue Byte Software’s Albion uses ingenuity, style, and a dash of innovation to propel the role-playing experience. The story is set in 2227, and the starship Toronto finds a lush alien planet full of juicy minerals – Albion. You’ll get around the strange world of Albion using a simple mouse interface, and most of the time you’ll view the action from a skewed, top-down perspective. You won’t be going alone. The party of characters follows the leader in single-file as you drag the mouse around the screen.

7In dungeons and some cities, however, the view changes to first-person. Each view has its own peculiarities, and requires different explorative skills. In first person, for example, you may have to discover some cracks in a wall to know to knock it down with a pickaxe, whereas in third person it might be a series of plates that have to stepped on to match a pattern found elsewhere. The duality of viewpoints isn’t really confusing, but the different demands of each can prove frustrating in the beginning.

In first-person, for example, moving around using the mouse can be clumsy, and the keyboard doesn’t help much. Doing anything more than going forward, back, and turning requires two hands, and there are moments when the ability to strafe quickly without taking your hand off the mouse would be quite helpful.

In the third-person view, getting around with the mouse is easy — it’s the obstacles that will frustrate you. Although it looks like the party should easily pass between two objects, sometimes they just can’t. Some bushes or trees outside will block your path, while others won’t. Nothing is more annoying than trying to run from a monster because you’re health is low, only to be blocked by a tiny patch of shrubbery.

Combat is handled on a 5×5 grid, similar to Betrayal at Krondor or the Wizardry series. You determine the initial combat positions, although you have to be sure to do so before an encounter. Combat is turn-based — you give each character his or her orders, which range from attacking, fleeing, using an item, or casting a spell, and then click on Start Turn to commence the next round of battle. The actions are remembered, and can be repeated next round, or new orders can be given. This system has only a few flaws: your characters can only move around in the first two rows of the grid, giving the enemy three rows to work with.

5The most enjoyable part of Albion, though, is the many strange creatures you’ll encounter as you explore the often bizarre realms of this planet. There are no elves, dwarves, or the usual assortment of trolls, ogres, and goblins to contend with. And aside from the human characters, each race is completely new and different, and the experience of learning what each can accomplish is gratifying. Magic depends on the race of the character casting it, too, and each brand of magic has its own unique qualities that match the race using it.

Now, there’s no denying that the game looks dated. Textures quickly become pixilated as you move near an object, and most of the NPCs are ill-defined at best. But the colors are vibrant and varied, so no two dungeons really look alike. From the slime-covered walls of dank caves to the gloried splendor of a sunset in Jirinaar, Albion does a good job of bringing its game world to life.

System Requirements: 486 CPU, 8MB RAM, DOS

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