Attack on Pearl Harbor
Hardcore flight sim enthusiasts can switch off now, because this particular program contains aircraft physics of a disturbing nature. They're extremely basic, but then they're supposed to be, as Attack on Pearl Harbor has been designed to be a pick up and play arcade game. The controls amount to tapping the space bar to take off, then banking and firing.
The player has the choice of a quick dogfight or four campaigns, two American and two Japanese. The campaigns are actually quite neatly implemented, with a selection of missions and planes to carry them out with. If you lose a plane, you lose it permanently, and once your hangar is empty it's game over, although extra aircraft are awarded for scoring a number of kills (as are medals and promotions).
Initially, it's all quite enjoyable and easy to get into, with some reasonably impressive graphics and a smooth frame rate even with the details notched up. There's a heart warming low-tech buzz about the destruction, whether you're screaming down in your dive bomber and blowing up battleships, or raking the enemy's fuselage with your fighter's machine-gun. It isn't long, however, before the cracks in the fuel lines start to appear.
One of the biggest problems is the missions themselves are overly similar. There's a core set of scenarios - attack, defend, escort and recon - and they soon begin to feel rather repetitive. Elements of the HUD design are poor, in particular the small black crosshair which is too easy to lose sight of. And the less said about the throttle control, the better. This allegedly dips (or boosts) your speed while the appropriate button is held, but it seems to make little difference, which isn't very handy when you're desperately trying to slow down to keep behind an enemy bandit.
Still, if you fancy a spot of no-frills arcade dogfighting this will keep you entertained for a while, and there's also a LAN/Internet multiplayer (offering free-for-all and teamplay modes).
Hands up who's played Doom 3? Hands up who wants to play it again? Now that's not an entirely fair comment on this first-person shooter - it's not exactly the same, but its dark corridors, sci-fi setting, completely linear path through the levels (ooh another locked door) and the odd puzzle thrown in which involves shifting boxes around will remind you strongly of the realm of the cacodemons.
Where the game is different, sadly, it's generally for the worse. The cinematic cut-scenes are poorly voiced, the characters unconvincing, and the plot is so-so at best. The developer has thrown in bullet time to try to spice things up - which is activated by taking a drug called Hubbardium that the story revolves around - but that's hardly a master stroke of originality either.
The graphics - average. The sound effects - average. The music - below average. Even the arsenal of guns - painfully average (shotgun, machine gun, sniper's rifle, blah, blah). There's only one area where the developer has managed to pull its head out of the arse crack of mediocrity, and that's with the AI.
Enemies will charge you at times, or take cover appropriately, and sometimes act a little unpredictably in a sort of human-like way to keep you on your toes. Unfortunately, sometimes they'll also act unpredictably in a sort of random running up and down the corridor while you shoot them way, so even the AI is patchy.
Alpha Prime isn't even all that long, boasting just ten levels (and no multiplayer), although you could argue that's a blessing given that as drugs go, Hubbardium is about as addictive as cod liver oil.
Spaceforce: Rogue Universe
Occasionally, computers can be spookily clever. As I was typing the name of this game into my word processor, the auto-complete function helpfully suggested that its title should be Spaceforce: Rogue Unintuitive. Which is most definitely what this Elite style trader/blaster should have been christened.
You're dumped into this particular universe without much of a sodding clue what's going on. The initial tutorial contains a few basic pointers on how to play, although half the time it confuses more than instructs. And some of it's just lazy - you're told to "Press the key for teleport" but not what that default key is.
This shoddiness and complete lack of direction means you're flying about early on, trying to suss out how complexities like the ship upgrade and trading systems work with absolutely no clues and a damn clunky interface which doesn't help. Couple this with the fact that combat is bloody tough from the very first fight, and getting into Spaceforce becomes a rather gruelling experience.
That's not to say that those who do have the patience to persevere won't find some manner of reward. There's some depth to Spaceforce in the form of a huge universe and a really meaty ship and technology upgrade system, not to mention some splendid graphics, particularly the background nebulae, planets and suchlike (which run with a slick frame rate even when the details are turned up on a middling PC).
The developer has also bolted on a diplomacy system with multiple factions you can perform missions for, so there's no shortage of stuff to do alongside the main storyline. It's a shame, then, that the missions are generally unimaginative (kill pirates... kill more pirates) and the game's plot and script are uninspired. Yes, there are a lot of "un" words here; unfortunately, Spaceforce can't be recommended despite some interesting ideas.
It's from The Adventure Company, and it's billed as the "ultimate puzzle adventure" so you'd think that Safecracker would be an adventure game with a heavy emphasis on breaking and entering safes. And let loose in a deceased billionaire's mansion, it soon becomes clear that you are indeed surrounded by loads of puzzles in the form of locked doors and safes. However, the adventure bit is non-existent aside from moving around the house by pointing and clicking.
Yes, you have an inventory and can pick up objects, but there's no exploring or working out adventure game style conundrums, you simply solve the safe puzzles and are rewarded with an object or code which lets you pass through the next door. The mansion is merely a pretty 3D setting for a series of puzzle games. Incidentally, it's a pretty 3D setting without an invert mouse option - why is it that developers think if it's not an FPS, this isn't required? Pushing forward to look up makes my head hurt.
The puzzles themselves are a varied bag. Some are based on simple logic or sequences, and there are also mazes, sliding square puzzles, code wheels and even a game of Mastermind (the board game, not the quiz) at one point. Generally, the difficulty level is quite well balanced but be warned - there are some tricky brain teasers here. Moreover, there are red herrings which appear to be unfeasibly complex affairs, but actually have very straightforward solutions that are incredibly annoying to discover after an hour or more spent tinkering.
Apart from the odd frustrating puzzle, there's nothing much at fault here, aside from the fact that what you're buying is a small collection of puzzles and nothing more. As long as you realise that's all Safecracker is - and there's no adventure element to speak of - then you won't be disappointed.