Oddly enough, there aren’t very many games based around Guy Fawkes and his part in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, during which a group of English Catholics attempted to assassinate King James by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. There are, of course, numerous issues with using the story in this way – casting the player as both a terrorist and a hero, for instance, could certainly be considered ‘a bit dodgy’, and that’s before you even get to the fact that Fawkes and his cohorts ultimately failed in their plans and ended up being tortured and executed for their crimes. Nevertheless, a few companies did try to produce a playable version of the tale during the ’80s, and Firebird’s budget title ‘The Plot’ was among the last of these to hit the shelves.
Published in 1988 on their £1.99 Silver label, The Plot is perhaps most notable for being written by Odin Computer Graphics, better known for the likes of Nodes of Yesod and Robin of the Wood. Indeed, this was the last game to be published using the Odin branding (by the time it was released the company had already closed its doors and disbanded) but unfortunately it’s not the triumphant swan song that they so rightly deserved.
The Plot casts you as Guy Fawkes and challenges you to explore the rooms and tunnels below the Houses of Parliament to collect the sticks of dynamite needed to destroy it. These are spread across a small but detailed map which Fawkes can navigate by running, jumping and climbing, all the while avoiding the many bats, birds and gargoyles which inhabit the House. These nasties will drain your energy, and as you only have three lives with which to complete your task you need to be very careful not to get too close. To help you out there are a number of fireworks scattered throughout the map; these come in a variety of flavours and each one can help you in a different way – firing off like a bullet and destroying enemies, for example, or acting like a smart bomb to clear an entire room.
Initial impressions upon loading the game are actually very good – the traditional Odin polish is apparent from the off, with an excellent loading screen, polished menu and an utterly superb beeper-tune (one of my all-time favourites, in fact). Once into the game itself things still hold up very nicely; the graphics are beautifully drawn and colour is used to remarkable effect to create a series of varied environments which are a pleasure to explore. Fawkes and his enemies are well animated and move around smoothly, and although there is no in-game music the beeper sound effects are solid and easy on the ear.
Unfortunately as soon as you try to actually play things start to go a little awry. The control scheme is very similar to the one seen in Odin’s previous game, ‘Heartland’, in that your character can face in four directions – left, right, into the screen and out of the screen. This means that if you’re moving right and then switch direction, Fawkes will first face into the screen and then turn left. Although this looks very nice, it slows you down quite a lot and makes it a much harder to avoid the huge number of enemies that fill each room, meaning you’ll find your energy draining infuriatingly quickly.
Worse, when it comes to navigating ladders or doors, you have to be facing the right way (either into or out of the screen) in order for this to work. What this means is that it can be incredibly tricky to get into the correct position to do the thing you want to do; quite often you’ll end up panicking and rotating on the spot in front of a door you need to enter while clouds of bats rapidly kill you. Couple this with the fact that you need to be pixel-perfectly placed before you can get onto ropes or ladders and it becomes obvious that the game has a fairly hefty problem; in a slower-paced game like Heartland such a control scheme isn’t as much of an issue, but The Plot is much faster-paced and more densely-populated with enemies so an instant response from the controls becomes an essential requirement rather than a nice-to-have. Sadly you don’t get it, and as a result the game is infuriatingly fiddly at times and far more difficult than it ought to be.
It’s incredibly disappointing to see The Plot essentially crippled by this one flaw, as it’s so close to being a great game otherwise. Most of the ingredients are sound and its beautiful, slick presentation puts it way ahead of the vast majority of budget titles of the same period. Had it featured a more traditional set of platforming controls or a slightly more relaxed difficulty level it could have been right up there with the best of them; as it stands, without POKEs you’re likely to be flinging the joystick in frustration after just a few goes, and that’s a real shame.