The iron-curtain has fallen and the Russian Bear is now to be found wearing designer jeans and guzzling Coke. Burger bars are sprouting in Red Square and decadent Western magazines can be bought at street kiosks. Does this mean that the former mysterious Empire is now as boring as Wigan? Don’t be silly! The door to the East may be open but behind that door there are still many dark corners to explore. In the vast treasure house of the state museum lies the crown jewels of the old Tsar just begging to be stolen. Mad professors are lurking in their laboratories waiting for nubile western flesh to experiment upon and mysterious gypsies who deal in witchcraft and are to be discovered hiding in the dark pine forests. The plot is a number of loosely connected episodes in which you alternatively take control over one of three comic misfits who are cut on a spree looking for trouble and riches. There are three main characters in the game: Doug the Computer Nerd, Dino the Italian and Donna Fatale from the Bolshi Ballet (she of the flashing eyes and curvy shape!). The story is as big as the Russian Steppes and it snakes its way from Moscow overland on the Orient Express, to a watery climax in Venice. The cartoon graphics and snappy one-liner dialogue gives the game a look and feel similar to the Leisure Suit Larry series but thankfully without the smutty bits. In the initial stages you will only have one character to control but in the later sections of the game the three come together and you must select which of them to use to solve any particular puzzle. As you would imagine, once your options are increased, so are your problems. The game is also split up into a number of different chapters featuring different characters as the star. Not only does this give a different feel to each of the sections but it allows you the chance to try and solve a separate section if you are bogged down in one of the others. The first episode requires you to guide Doug the computer nerd in his quest to steal the Tsar’s crown. To complete this quest you’ll first have to get yourself onto a Russian TV quiz show, then take part in a Mission Impossible style jewel heist.
The second episode features Dino the Italian who makes a plank of wood seem smart. You will have to guide Dino through an adventurous circus background and then onto the Orient Express bound for Venice. In the third episode you’ll be guiding Donna Fatale around the Orient Express, where death and mysterious strangers lurk in the sleeping compartments. In the final episode you’ll encounter the evil Doctor Virago who is looking for a young virgin (so what makes him so special?). It doesn’t take long before Donna is bundled away to the villain’s lair and it’s left to you to rescue her from a fate worse than death. (Never did understand what that could possibly be). The problem with old-style adventure games was that once you’d finished them there was nothing else to do with the software. Luckily modern storage methods now mean that larger games with alternative solutions can now be produced, and this game is no exception. There is more than one way to skin a bear, and with this game you can arrive at a solution by a variety of routes. Happily this means that once you have solved the game you can have another go and try and find the alternative solutions that are also available. Adventure games rise or fall according to the difficulty level set by the game designers. Too hard and frustration and disillusionment sets is, too easy and you’ll feel cheated. The difficulty of the puzzles within Big Red are probably set about right. There are lots of objects to find and use, and although they are sometimes hidden away in corners, the fact that they are highlighted as the mouse pointer travels over them makes them not too difficult to find. One aspect which can cause confusion is that if you don’t know about something, you can’t ask a computer about it. You can speak with someone a million times and they won’t offer to sell you the gold-plated ‘wotsit’ until you are actually aware that the ‘wotsit’ exists. This means that you will need to revisit locations and speak with the same computer-controlled characters many times as you progress through the plot. To solve most problems you will have to go through the usual routine, which is the bane of all adventurer’s life, of sticking unlikely objects into unlikely places.
he full-screen graphics which make up the 100+ locations are drawn in a primary colour, cartoon style format. To stay true to the original PC version the screens have been ported directly. To display them at their original resolution, they are all interlaced so the look a little flickery until you get used to them. No doubt thanks to the high storage capacity of the CD, the game is also full of music and sound effects for nearly every location. However, if the puzzles confuse you as much as they are supposed to, you’ll soon be reaching for the volume control, to give your brain a chance to think. The game uses a simple point and click interface. Clicking the ‘right’ mouse button brings up the inventory window which allows you to select or pick up objects and use them on active parts of the mains screen. By ‘using’ a selected object on your own character you will then be able to reselect the inventory using a ‘plus’ symbol which will allow you to use two objects together from the inventory. By adopting this method of hiding all other windows during normal play, the whole screen can be used to display the current location. There is no need to do any typing, just move the mouse around the screen and any object which has a use will be highlighted with a text title. Let’s face it, it really must be time you decided that you are never going to finish Monkey Island after all, so why not give yourself a break and buy a new game to drive yourself nuts with. And if you are going to buy a new adventure, then the Big Red is one which won’t disappoint you.