The Great Escape was released by Ocean Software in December of 1986 - just in time for Christmas sales and nicely coinciding with the usual TV showing of the movie by the same name over the festive period.
Denton Designs actually authored the game and had already developed a few quality titles for the ZX Spectrum (released through various companies) such as Shadowfire, Gift from the Gods and the arcade conversion of Spy Hunter.
This game had you as a British prisoner of war, planning and performing a daring prison break during World War 2. The prison compound was viewed in what was becoming a tried and tested classic game style of isometric 3D isometric angle.
In what was probably a first for Sinclair ZX Spectrum gaming, on first playing it was a good idea to leave the controls well alone. Your character would go about the daily grind of prison life (of his own accord) with the other prisoners, which would give you an idea of what was going on around the camp.
A normal prison day consisted of mealtimes, roll-call parades and exercise periods, all of which were marked by a bell (which was displayed in the status area of the screen).The bell would ring and a message would be displayed giving updates on events within the camp (thus explaining why the bell was ringing and what 'event' had to be attended).
To the left of the main play there was a flag which acted as the 'morale level' of our hero. Basically, the higher the flag was flying, the higher the morale of your character. For instance, Red Cross parcels arrived in the camp sporadically, and of you managed to collect one your morale level improved.
Morale was lowered if your character was searched (by a prison guard) or arrested. Your morale level also diminished as time elapsed, and if the flag reached the bottom of the pole, you lost the will to rejoin the war and finally resigned yourslelf to life in the camp with the other prisoners. The character was now under computer control, and you had to start a new game. In other words, it was game over.
While the flag was green in colour you had limited control of the hero (who could only be searched by the Camp Commandant). Should any contraband be found, it was off to the cells for a while - so keeping out of the commandant's way was wise. The flag turned red in colour as soon as the you breaked with prison routine and moved to off limits areas. While the flag was red objects could be picked up and dropped, but the would-be escaper was liable to arrest and search by the guards. Oh the dilemma!
The key to the game was establishing the routine of the compound, and once you knew where to go and when you could start to formulate an escape plan. To keep things tough, only two items could be carried by the character, so part of the game was finding safe hiding places to stow away useful items. Any items found by the guards were confiscated and returned to their original locations. You would of got away with it if it wasn't for those pesky guards!
It was possible to outsmart the guards as they adhered to patrol routes with precise timing and movement. They followed the routes regularly - so it waspossible to move around without crossing their line of site and access buildings and areas un-noticed.
At the beginning of the game, the security level was pretty lax - but as the game progressed the security level increased and avoiding detection by the guards became more difficult.
It was possible to wander around at night, but you had to pay heed to the searchlights which would sweep the yard as you would be arrested on site and thrown into the cells.
There were a number of routes to make your escape by such as a tunnel, cutting through the wire fence and even bluffing your way past the sentries at the main gates.
Once you were outside the game was not quite over. If you forgot items such as a compass and papers or you would not make it very far.
The Great Escape on the ZX Spectrum was praised for it's nicely drawn graphics and different gameplay. The fact that you could enter huts within the camp (where the view would change to the interior of the hut complete with beds, stoves etc) added more locations and realism to the game. With the open-ended nature and almost infinite ways in which to escape Ocean Software had released a title that was definately different. Watching your character at the start go about his daily business and attend roll call, breakfast and so on was quite something. The Great Escape was a huge success and plenty of people had a copy come the end of December. The fact that it was awarded a Crash Smash in the famous Spectrum magazine did it no harm either.
The test of time:
We here in the land of Spectrum games reckon that this classic game still holds some appeal, even today. The style of the game and other in-game characters (moving in real time and showing some 'intelligence') was quite something back then and influenced future titles. The game is quite absorbing and still holds a challenge. This is one classic game for the more thoughtful gamer.
Stick on the movie, grab a baseball and glove and give The Great Escape a go. Watch out for Werner, he's a crazy mixed up kid.
The Great Escape for the ZX Spectrum is worth another look after all these years.
We recommend getting hold of the real Sinclair ZX Spectrum hardware - but if not then download a ZX Spectrum emulator and download this game. Alternatively you could try and play it online.
GENRE: Real Time Strategy (RTS - Arcade Game)
RELEASE DATE: December of 1986
RELEASED BY: Ocean Software
DEVELOPER(S): Denton Designs
PRICE: £7.95 - UK
Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games