Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Ultima IV remastered

To me, like many others, Ultima IV was one of the best game experiences ever. My first encounter with the game was on the Commodore 64, so I was quite excited to hear that the game has been "remastered"... on the C64!

The new version fits on two disk sides (or one, if you have 1581, or even a cartridge if you have the hardware) instead of the four original floppies. As is often the case with these new releases, they don't play too well with a SD2IEC, the cheapest of floppy replacements (The loading gets stuck to the screen after the trainer selections) However I could "burn" the images to real floppies with D64IT in order to play with the real hardware.

The introduction graphics have been re-made in multicolour graphics by Mermaid, one of the best (if not the best) current C64-graphicians. The images are of high standard and respectful of the originals and the Ultima tradition overall.

The in-game graphics have been upgraded too, to correspond more closely to the style of Ultima V. Although this might not have been necessary, I feel it has been generally very successful. Only if I'm getting real nit-picky, some of the graphics that could not be brought from Ultima V (e.g. shepherd figure and the like) look a bit incongruous side-to-side with the new ones and would have benefited from some more rethinking. But I can also respect that the graphics have been kept authentic to Ultima where possible.

I haven't played very far so I haven't found any of the enhanced dialogue, besides the inclusion of lower-case/upper-case font which certainly makes the text more readable.

Playing on a real C64 is very slow compared to the hyperfast PC and emulated versions. Especially combat with a large party is a frustrating experience. Perhaps the best addition to the game is the Active Player selection for Combat. With the Active Player, you can simply use one of your characters to kill the stupid critters.

However, even with this improvement, I have to confess I probably can't find it in me to play the C64 version. Perhaps someday someone will rewrite the entire game!

The release features trainer/cheat options, but I would have liked an option to make the game a bit more difficult! The combat in UIV is almost offendingly non-lifethreatening. A crude approach might be to give player HP as LEVEL * 30 rather than LEVEL * 100. Or make the Sling less useful as a weapon, forcing the player to consider melee weapons. It's a hard balance to make but I'd have less battles and more risks involved, something that was done better in UV.

In any case, an amazing release!

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