Discworld II : Missing Presumed ...!? / Mortality Bites

Developer:  Perfect Entertainment
Publisher:  Psygnosis
Year Released:  1996

Review by Gordon Aplin (January, 1997)
dw2.jpgThis is a game about Death. Not dying, because there is not a lot of that going on, but about the peculiar, though terrifyingly familiar, spectre of Death who tells the unfortunate inhabitants of Discworld that their time is up. (Actually, there is an awful lot of 'not dying' going on and that, it seems, is the problem, but I'm getting ahead of myself). I borrowed the dramatic opening from the manual, although the writers of that useful tome eventually do come clean and admit that the game is really about Rincewind, but I'm coming to that as well.

Death takes a holiday
Death (or, at least the anthropomorphic personification usually only visible to Discworld wizards) it seems, has packed in his job and has settled on a more relaxed lifestyle in a warmer climate. The immediate effect of this is that people and other creatures are no longer shuffling off their mortal coil at their appointed hour and are remaining in an undead limbo. This unfortunate state of affairs is brought to the attention of the Archchancellor of Unseen University with the unexpected undemise of wizard Windle Poons. So, naturally, someone expendable is required to gather the necessary, though improbable, items for a ceremony that will summon Death to take his rightful place in the scheme of things.

This is where Rincewind comes in (see, I got here eventually). Rincewind, as those of you who have played the first Discworld game will know, is a thoroughly likeable, though not overly competent, apprentice wizard. He would like nothing better than a good long kip, but he seems destined to be forever sent on quests which require him to gather items in the most convoluted way possible. This is the bane of his life, along with frequently being mistaken for a woman because of his wizard's dress ... err, sorry, robe.

As with the first game, Discworld II is divided into four Acts and the first three are very long and quite complex. Locating Death and then getting him back on the straight and narrow is no easy task and most adventurers I know wouldn't have it any other way. The fourth Act (including the epilogue) is much shorter so the game seems to end rather quickly after all the work you put in just getting to this point. This is not necessarily a criticism, just an observation, and I suppose I was having so much fun that I didn't want the game to end at all. Wisely, however, the game's design does allow for a conclusion so that we can return to our own humdrum existence and perhaps allow Rincewind to get some kip at last.

Look and listen
The game itself is not as complex as its predecessor, at least, it doesn't involve time travel, Chaos Theory or butterflies, so it's easier on that score. However, you will still need to be imaginative and inventive to overcome many of the obstacles placed in your path. I know that some people may find a few of the puzzles to be a bit "obscure", but the clues are all there as long as you are prepared to observe carefully (especially examine items in your inventory) and talk to everyone.

Talking includes some automatic conversations over which you have no control as well as a pop up dialogue box which allows you to select icons depicting questions, sarcasm, musings and some special icons representing things you may have learned about in the course of the game. Though much of the dialogue is simply humorous, including many of Rincewind's observations, at times it also provides a nudge in the right direction. At other times Rincewind will come right out and say "now there's a clue if ever I saw one", or words to that effect. So, yes, there is a lot of talking in Discworld II, which I don't mind if a game is sufficiently entertaining, but I know other players soon become bored if there is too much dialogue. Don't forget, though, that you can quickly click through, or even 'Esc', conversations you may have had previously and, the text option can be used to speed things up as you can read it faster than the characters deliver their lines. Unfortunately, you'll miss out on a lot of the fun if you do this because the dialogue contributes a lot towards the game.

More Monty Python
Though based on Terry Pratchett's crazy world much of the humour in this game (as in the first) pays homage to Monty Python, particularly their Life of Brian film, but I particularly enjoyed Rincewind's digs at the adventure game genre and I loved the scene where Death is in 'Make-up' and imitates several well-known movie characters. More importantly, Eric Idle makes a welcome return as the voice of Rincewind and after two games it's hard to imagine any one else in the role. He is well supported by Nigel Planer, Kate Robbins and Rob Brydon, though, I must admit, I missed Tony Robinson and the late Jon Pertwee from the first game. And for some strange reason the voice of Death kept reminding me of Marvin, the paranoid android from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first Discworld and I am pleased to report that there hasn't been too much tampering with that winning formula in this sequel. The graphics, though still very good, are slightly different -- perhaps not drawn with quite the same attention to detail, and Rincewind too has a slightly changed appearance. He looks, somehow older and more of a caricature of his former self. I remember experiencing a feeling of disappointment with the graphics at the start of the game, but this didn't last more than the few seconds it took for me to get involved. The cut sequences and many tiny animations within the game screens are simply delightful. Although, a few screens have so much going on that players whose machines are, perhaps, not up to speed may experience some slowness or hesitation.

Controlling your character and the game
This is a third person perspective adventure game which means you control the character of Rincewind on the screen. Well, when I say control, I mean as much as he will allow. He certainly seems to have a mind of his own and is not averse to giving you a piece of it if you try to get him to do something that he considers really stupid. The trouble is, seemingly stupid things often work so you will need to negotiate a path through the game between you.

The interface allows for mouse or keyboard control and the cursor is the familiar 'star burst' from the earlier game, though I must admit, there were times when I lost sight of it against some backgrounds. Hotspots -- characters or items with which you can interact -- are 'tagged', that is, named on the screen. A pointing hand directs you to exits, usually, but not always, at the edge of the screen, but, if I may offer a little hint here, don't trust this implicitly. Check all edges thoroughly as some screens scroll to reveal extra locations. Of course, I shouldn't need to tell you that, you're all experienced adventurers and would never get caught by that device, would you? Whoops, I did. The multi-legged luggage returns as your main inventory and once again you can resize the inventory window by dragging its borders. And don't forget that Rincewind can also carry the odd (sometimes very odd) item or two in his pocket. That's two hints in one paragraph, you'll be wanting a walkthrough next.

Discworld II is packed onto two CDs and installs to either Windows 95 (recommended in the manual) or DOS. All in all it's a thoroughly enjoyable game, with lots and lots of things to do and many crazy locations to visit. As I mentioned earlier it's a little easier than the first game and, being about Death, the humour is a little darker -- I doubt if I have ever before seen so many Death scenes in one game, though Death himself doesn't chalk up too many notches on his scythe. If you played and enjoyed the original Discworld then you will surely enjoy this one, if you haven't played the first game it will make you want to.

See the Discworld II walkthrough. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1997. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
486DX4 100 or greater (Pentium 90 or greater recommended) 16 MB RAM for Win 95 or 8MB RAM for DOS (version 6.0 or better) 640x480 256-colour SVGA, 2xCD ROM, soundcard and mouse. Single-hemisphere electro-colloidal brain with cognitive functions (twin-hemisphere recommended)