Sláine is a real time, text-based adventure game featuring the popular 2000AD comic barbarian, and it was developed by Creative Reality and published by Martech in 1987.
The game uses a confusing joystick-driven text-pointing interface, called REFLEX. With REFLEX the left side of the screen displays moving words that zip on and off-screen, and these are supposed to represent thoughts going through Sláine‘s mind. Clicking on these initiates commands that then lead into others, allowing you to move between locations, use objects, fight in combat, and converse with Sláine‘s sidekick dwarf, Ukko. On the right side of the screen are stills and message boxes that depict the results of your actions.
There’s no getting away from the fact that REFLEX is a failed experiment, and using it is very frustrating. Especially when you’re trying to click on a specific word and the bloody thing keeps disappearing off to the side, or you accidentally click on the wrong word… While innovation can be good in the world of video games, in some instances it doesn’t work that well, and REFLEX is a case of the designers becoming fixated on a control method that was so out of the ordinary that they lost sight of what an enjoyable game should be. That is: one that isn’t annoying to play. And using REFLEX is annoying and tiresome; plain and simple.
At one point I got into a drinking contest in the game (which is required for building up cash), and if you drink too much the hand cursor spins around the screen uncontrollably, making it almost impossible to click on the word you want. You can rest to stop this happening, but doing so when drunk is difficult. I get why the developers did this, but it would’ve been better to at least have it wear off after a short while, but no…
Something that really bothers me about this game is that it contains really bad spelling and grammatical mistakes throughout. It’s not a very big game, but it clearly didn’t have anyone proofing it during development, otherwise you wouldn’t have “northen” instead of “northern” or “breath” instead or “breathe” or “fresh are” instead of “fresh air“… Correct use of English clearly wasn’t high up on the writer’s list of priorities. Which is unforgivable for a text adventure.
Getting anywhere in Sláine requires persistence, a map, and lots of experimentation – three things that not many people would be prepared to give it. That said: making a map is almost impossible because many locations have the same description.
The game’s commercial failure is indicative of the failure of the designers to come up with usable interface. Which is a pity because, with some tweaks, this could have been an interesting game. Graphically, it’s not too bad, and the continuous music is subtle and atmospheric, but from my point of view the convoluted gameplay sinks it. Sláine is barely playable at best. It’s certainly not enjoyable.
I slightly prefer the C64 version to the Spectrum and Amstrad versions, mostly because of the music, but also because it plays faster and smoother. I still wouldn’t recommend playing Sláine, though. Unless you want an insight into how to fail at interface innovation and usability.
See also: 2000AD Special.
More: Sláine on CSDb