It's well over twelve months now since Wintersoft's last Dragon adventure, Return Of The Ring, but the time's been well spent judging by the quality of their new mega-tale, Juxta Position - Barons of Ceti V.
Fans of their earlier quests may or may not be delighted to know that there isn't a ring in sight in this new one. It's a completely fresh story - well, fresh to Dragon adventurers, though players with access to other machines might spot resemblances to adventures such as Snowball, Return to Eden and, most of all, Lords of Midnight. What, you say, all this on a Dragon? Almost, as the program must be a masterpiece of compression, with no subsidiary programs to load, as has happened in the past.
You are Cross - no, not because you've bought the adventure; that just happens to be your name, and you live on the planet Ceti V as a fairly low grade servitor, the planet being split into colour-coded sections and each one ruled by the appropriate Baron. You and a few million others are servitors to Baron White, living in a domed city in the middle of his lands.
The game begins with you waking in your tiny, poorly decorated apartment, a sort of Ceti V council flat, with seemingly the bare minimum for a happy existence: a bed and a Vidphone. A message comes through on the Vidphone, the equivalent of a Royal summons, it's Baron White himself sending you on a suicide mission to the lands of Baroness Black to find out why she hasn't attended the last few cabinet meetings and discover if she's got her hands on the secret of Juxtaposition, enabling her to cross the line of dimensional instability which passes right through Ceti V. Got that? Right, off you go. As you're undertaking this mission on behalf of the Baron himself, you'd think he'd give you a bit of co-operation and protect you from the dreaded droids which are patrolling the corridors outside your apartment, but no, you have to deal with them first, but that's not too difficult with a little careful observation of their movement habits. This first section is basically a text adventure, with a small picture of the domed city in the upper right of the screen. The text has been re-defined for easier reading and a more attractive layout, and occupies the bottom half of the screen.
Examine every object you can and you should find a way of getting down to a slightly superior set of apartments below yours, and if you can deal with the patrolling droid here you get yourself a blue key card allowing you through the locked doors that lead to the city itself.
Almost immediately you come across an airiock, though something tells me its not wise to step through here just yet. Wandering round the "Endless Rez Zone" for a while convinced me I was heading nowhere fast, but after finding a monocar I was able to travel to four different parts of the city, in one of which was an ultra-modern Lasertheque, with a girl saying "Let's Dance". After umpteen Terran Twists and being accused of making improper suggestions, I left her for a while and explored elsewhere. This led to me finding a breather mask, at which I rushed for the airlock and found myself outside the domed city.
Out on the surface of the planet itself the game switches to a Lords of Midnight landscaping style of game, though you're still entering text commands underneath. The top half of the screen shows you your current view and you can look in any of the eight compass directions, with the up arrow key moving you forward in the direction you're facing. The speed with which your viewpoint changes is incredible, faster even than Lords of Midnight, I would say, and you can whizz around the landscape - graphics have obviously been kept simple, and you do notice slight duplications of mountains and forests here and there, but this doesn't detract from the very impressive effects. Don't whizz round too quickly, though. I set off in one direction and found myself in the lands of Baron Red, unable to get back again before I was spotted by the Baronial Choppers. Not being able to furnish the appropriate ID card, I was zapped without mercy. Curse you, Red Baron!
Thanks to the SAVE facility I returned to Baron White's domain, and made sure I stayed there. I found a pyramid which I was able to enter, but the only thing inside was a wide cavern leading nowhere, so that's something to come back to later. I eventually found a fort, inside which was a maze of piliars, not to mention ever-present electronic eyes watching me, but at last I made contact with the Baron himself, who gave me a red ID Tag. Scurrying through the Red Baron's lands I found another pyramid, a tower, and eventually a domed city bearing a remarkable resemblance to the white one I'd left. In fact, it was identical... almost. But it did give me chance to stock up on food from the dinner droid and restore my health to a sae state - you have to eat once a day, with SCORE showing you not just what percentage of the game you've done, but your current bill of health.
Out again on to the planet, I obviously had to find the home of Baron Red, but such is my luck I wandered off into Baron Brown's lands and was reduced to a pile of smouldering adventurer yet again. All this playing, and still only 8% completed, tapping the planet's surface is a tricky business, as there are apparently 4,000 locations, and of course you can move off in any one of eight directions from most of them, the exceptions being the mountains which border the map. You have to really keep your eyes open and try to spot potentially interesting buildings in the distance, then head for them. If you want to map this lot properly I'd suggest you go out and buy yourself a roll of wallpaper.
As if 32,000 viewpoints wasn't enough, the text parser is equally complex, coping with long sentences - yet ironically having trouble with shorter ones, sometimes. You have to try several variations on a command to hit upon the right combination of words. You can also speak to other characters using quotation marks, such as SAY TO DINNER DROID 'SAUSAGE EGG AND CHIPS PLEASE', as well as get them to carry things for you, but as yet I've only found the unco-operative girl and a few droids so I think there's more of this still to come.
After a couple of days' play, the adventure itself looks lihe it's going to be fairly straight-forward, and possibly a little repetitive - I sincerely hope that when I get to the Red Baron he isn't going to give me a Brown ID Tag, which I then take to the Brown Baron etc. But I still have a few objects I haven't yet been able to make use of, so maybe it'll get more complicated than that. And I've also a feeling the apparent similarity of the cities is going to be deceptive. Apart from these slight reservations, then, I'd say Juxtaposition looks like being one of the best programs you're likely to see on your Dragon this side of Christmas, and maybe even the other side as well. Programmer John Humphreys deserves all credit for squeezing more into the Dragon than you'd have thought possible, and my guess is it'll be an even bigger seller than Wintersoft's earlier successes.