RPG like it’s 1984 in Italia 1944

Had Italia 1944 been released forty years earlier, the daily post-school battles for control of the Stone family’s TV set would have been truly horrendous. Alessandro Grussu’s 2021 ZX Spectrum RPG has almost everything preteen Tim looked for in a digital plaything, and entertains his over-the-hill incarnation bally efficiently too.

As the admirable pdf manual…

…explains, you play an Italian Liberation Corps volunteer parachuted behind the Gustav Line in the aftermath of Operation Shingle.

In part one of the game your primary objective is the destruction of three heavily-defended flak batteries.

In adventure-style part two, the map shrinks and violence is verboten; you’re expected to stealthily infiltrate a German HQ, gather intel, and sabotage a radio mast.

CIL don’t believe in coddling their operatives. Your avatar lands with only a bayonet, a Beretta M1935 pistol, and a small stock of rations and first aid kits on his person. More capable weapons and additional supplies and ammo must be either scavenged from the corpses of slain adversaries, or acquired from generous locals. The explosives needed to sunder the breechblocks of the AA guns have landed outside the DZ. Until you’ve located them, vandalising 88s is impossible.

Early on, just as important as expanding your armoury and finding the pandemonium plasticine is cultivating ‘aim’, ‘strength’, ‘resistance’, and ‘agility’, the four stats that influence everything from how quickly you traverse the map and how much you can carry, to how likely you are to score a hit or find yourself in a position to attempt a stealthy kill. Amass sufficient XP to level-up and you get the chance to boost one of these attributes.

Using forested squares and travelling by night reduces the likelihood of run-ins with Italia 1944’s half a dozen foe types, the most formidable of which, the Puma, is immune to everything but Panzerfaust punches.

However, operating exclusively by night means you will never encounter the game’s helpful civilians. Depending on the question you ask them, locals either provide a random provision, let you bypass nearby enemies, or guide you towards the partisans without whose assistance it’s impossible to reach the village that contains the HQ.

Although combat basically boils down to IGOUGO dice rolls, weaponry and fire mode choices, variable damage, and the need to periodically reload, ensures tension. Grenades are the most reliable and effective HP reducer in your arsenal, but as they’re relatively hard to come by and indispensable for eliminating resilient AA gun crews, lavishing them on rifle-armed sentries or StG 44-toting SS men can feel wasteful when playing at the recommended ‘two star’ difficulty setting or above.

Alessandro’s control scheme is clean (Menus are navigated with the 1 and 2 keys. Press 0 to select an icon and SPACE to close a sub-menu) and his pixel artistry adorable. Who needs 3D forests when the 2D aide-imagination looks like this:


  1. It looks very neat! While I am a bit too young and too Russian to have proper nostalgia about Spectrum, I just can’t help being fascinated by this.

    I can’t find information on itch.io about one question though: is it heavily stylised or is it proper Spectrum software and needs an emulator to run?

  2. I love this setting. The world needs more partisan role-playing systems with scarce resources and desperate missions.

  3. I cannot put my finger on it, but I just love the exclamation marks in simple sentences as `A ball is on the table!` or `You found the explosive!` It gives the scene its own spin. It promises possibilities. It exhibits joyful enthusiasm and maybe that is what separates `games` from `toys` in my mind. It invites imagination, instead of presenting a setpiece, which you have to `solve`, instead of just playing with it.

    Probably I am just overthinking things obsessively. Granted. But text based adventures truly have their own, unique sense of adventure.

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