At a time when adventure games are so scarce and when it is seemingly unfashionable to tell magical fairytale stories, along comes Liath to fill the void. Liath is a cute fantasy game with delightfully evocative graphics and music that will transport you to a land of wonder, but it might also leave you wondering just what it is all about.
It's the story of a cursed land, of time distortions, a prophecy, and three friends named Criss, Ithena (a fairy who doesn't really have much of a role) and Tiche. You play the part of Criss in this third-person perspective adventure and take control of the game as a bird delivers an urgent message at your window ... Tiche has summoned you to her home in Azeretus so off you go to see what's amiss.
After that you are pretty much on your own and, as the game doesn't sufficiently clarify the situation, it is crucial to read the background information in the manual before you get started. Even then it can still be confusing as the story never really blossoms in the game. Consequently I found myself doing some things because I could and not because I understood clearly what was happening and why I was doing them. Towards the end some blanks are hastily sketched in, but I would have preferred more coherence much sooner.
As noted above the graphics are charming showing an enchanting, yet slightly twisted, fairytale world with quaint, crooked buildings. There are a number of areas to visit that are accessible through a world map, though some you can only access once Criss learns of them. Some of these areas have only one or two locations whilst others have several, and the town of Azeretus itself is the largest with about a dozen screens including the graveyard, town streets, and a selection of indoor locations such as the library, laboratory and inn. Although Azeretus isn't huge, the game provides a supplementary map to aid with travel around town. Transitions are used for movement here and they are very effective despite the slightly disconcerting blurring effect.
Liath is a mouse controlled, point and click adventure with a pointer for all actions. You must watch this pointer closely as a tiny symbol accompanying it will indicate if you can move around, travel to another location or interact with a screen object or person. There are two major menus, the Main Menu that gives access to saving and loading and sound controls, and the Game Menu which is your interface with the game itself and contains options such as examine, use, take, etc., and provides access to your magic and object inventories.
This latter menu or interface is, unfortunately, just as quirky as the crooked town and, though you do get used to it, it can be frustrating at first. The problem is that there are two ways of accessing your Game Menu. First of all you can click the right mouse button and select inventory and from here you can examine items and spells, read books and combine items, etc., but you can't use an inventory item in the game world. However, if you click on an object in the game world the Game Menu pops up automatically, so you have a choice to take the item, use another item from your inventory on it, or use a spell on it. Make the wrong choice and it just throws you, unceremoniously, back to the game screen to try again. To preserve your sanity it's crucial to keep the two modes distinct in your mind.
I should also mention the Personal Interface, another menu of sorts. From here you can watch your progress in the game on a sliding scale and check out your score. There are also hints available from this menu, but if you resort to them your score will suffer. Another option here is the change day to night switch, though I only used this once in the game.
I did say that this is a game about magic so a great many problems revolve around finding ingredients, concocting magic spells and determining where to use them. There is a selection of characters to meet who will give you essential information to complete your quest, although it is advisable to check out your inventories after such interactions as you might be given spells/objects without your knowledge. This is a little annoying and the game would have benefited by providing more feedback in this respect. More feedback might also have made the interface friendlier and it would have helped in providing direction and fleshing out the story. Considering the availability of hints it is not a difficult game, but, I must admit I had to use them too often just to set myself on the right path. I would have been more comfortable with more feedback/hints emanating from the game world itself instead of resorting to the official hints.
Generally, on-screen objects are identified with text and all dialogue has subtitles even if the spelling and grammar leave a lot to be desired. Liath is a Russian title, which explains why the characters' lips keep moving long after conversations have ceased. This I didn't mind, but I cared more that the developers obviously didn't employ an English-speaking translator or a troupe of experienced voice actors to deliver the dialogue. It can be painful at times, but not as painful as sorting out the bugs.
The bugs! I just don't know where to start here because everyone seems to have a different experience even using the patch. Forewarned, I installed the patch before I started, but it made the game unplayable so I had to reinstall without it and start again. I did then find several glitches later in the game, but I managed to scrape through by replaying particular sections in another order. Ultimately the bugs played havoc with the game's continuity and, in all fairness, they probably contributed to my problems in following the story. For instance, at one point I created a spell that transported me to a new location where I was admonished by a character I had not met before for not heeding his previous warning. Sure enough, I had stumbled across this sequence too soon so I restored and did not return until I knew this is what I had to do.
Despite its many rough edges Liath still has a lot of charm and though I'd like to give it a positive review, in all fairness I just can't. The graphics and music are excellent and I thoroughly appreciated the fantasy ambience, but all the problems mentioned above conspired against making it a satisfying game.
Liath is contained on two CDs and allows for a choice of languages (English, German, French, Italian and Dutch) on installation.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1999.
All rights reserved.
System requirements: Windows95/98, P133 (P166 recommended), 32MB RAM, CD ROM 4x Speed (8x Speed recommended) Video 640X480 HiColor, Direct X 5.0 (Included) At least 115 MB of free disk space required.