The Black Sanctum

by Stephen O'Dea & Bob Withers

Horror
1981

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Thirty Years Anniversary for Classical Adventures, January 17, 2011
by smartgenes (Newcastle, UK)

When seeing the year of game release I was very surprised - 1981. What was also surprising was how playable this game is. The game was released on the Radioshack CoCo (Tandy) (AKA TRS-80 or Dragon) and can be played via an emulator. The genre is occult/suspense but also has a sort of fantasy feel to it.

First things first, the fact that the screen is animated with clouds rolling past is even more surprising. OK, after a while this might be a little irritating, but first impressions are intriguing, even by today's standards it is not so bad.

At first I thought I was in for trouble.. was this a game with hundreds of identical screens and I was going to have to walk north 300 times before getting anywhere? But actually this initial temptation to wander off runs counter to playing the game. The first requirement is to find the actual game location (Spoiler - click to show)with the command GO CABIN. Then there was a nice atmospheric "It's cold.. shut the door!" Limitations of the game parser mean that you can't necessarily GO UP but you can GO STAIRS, or at times you have to GO DOOR etc (very forgivable for the age of game). The graphic of the female victim you have to rescue is disturbingly good for 1981. I did find myself a little fortunate that I came upon the inspired command to enter the game proper (Spoiler - click to show)GO MIRROR, but as I did so I felt a wave of nostalgic excitement. Perhaps it is a fairly obvious command, but it is a missable one. Mapping was required so as not to go mad, but there weren't actually too many locations, it was just designed well, so that it gave you the impression of a circular area. There is also a bit of Latin spell-magic thrown in, and not a Harry Potter in sight.

Puzzles are of a fetch quest nature, and are standard fare 30 years on. (Yes, thirty!) Because of this fact, it can be completed fairly quickly, even if it was designed with some time (light) limitations. But there are plenty of objects to provide interest. It has the flavour of a King's Quest game, where you suspect instant death at any moment, but in actuality the game is fairly reasonable if you take sensible precautions. Nevertheless it keeps you on your toes with a slightly eerie atmosphere. I suppose it's real value is as a piece of history, because a lot of the ideas are still replicated in games today, and so you won't be scratching your head much, but it provides nice light (and suspenseful) entertainment.