- 3DO System Requirements - Pentium 90 or equivalent 16Mb RAM 75Mb hard drive space each DirectX 7.0a sound and graphics cards CD-Rom drive Craps Apart from in a few more permissive states and counties, gambling in the USA is generally illegal. Thoughtfully, companies like 3DO make games that promise to simulate the whole gambling experience, or "gaming" as they so coyly name it, as best as possible. "You'll experience all the sights and sounds of Vegas in the comfort of your own home!" screams the back of the box. These two Vegas titles ("Slots & Videos" and "Table Games") share a common interface, with the Table edition, funnily enough, containing seven popular Vegas table games, such as Blackjack, Roullette and Craps, while the Slots & Video collection features five fruit machines and five variations of Video Poker. They are sold separately (although at a mid-range price), so if you were hoping to switch between the two at your leisure you will be sorely disappointed. And curiously there is no interaction between the two packages - the player cannot share funds between the two games; a very strange ommission when it is painfully obvious that the architecture of the games is nigh-on identical. It would have been interesting to amass a small fortune on the slot machines and then move over to the big leagues of table games with your winnings, but sadly, like so much else, this is not permitted. Slots The sights and sounds of Vegas that were promised on the box sadly never materialise. Instead you choose your game from a bitmapped menu screen, and then are thrust straight into the "action", without any seeing or hearing of the famous Vegas atmosphere. This wasn't quite the "midnight madness" that the title promised; it was more gambling for geeks. But what the game does, it does pretty well. All types of poker games are recreated, the rules of all the other games are programmed in full, and there are a few configurable options that allow slightly different styles of play. Using only one deck at the Blackjack table allows a certain measure of card-counting to take place, while six packs maitains a degree of randomness. The slots, sadly, are virtually identical - the joyless, methodical "insert 1 to 3 coins and press go" kind so beloved by Americans. None of the features, light-ups or other distractions that feature in British games, just the cold, sterile possibility of less trash, more cash. This appears to be a recurring theme throughout the game - extract the glitz and glamour, and bow down to the almighty dollar. Bright Lights? That lack of imagination and fun is also reflected in the graphics. Video Slots are given unimaginitive themes that smack of laziness and cliché - you can almost see the graphic artist groaning at his desk and wishing he was somewhere else. The sound is equally boring. That ridiculous "music" which only owners of large hotels and casinos deem acceptable for public consumption is piped in throughout (until you turn it off), as are the nasal voices of your dealers, and some "ambience", just to try and fool you that you are among others and having a good time. It's a statisticians dream, and the manual (thoughtfully provided in Adobe Acrobat format on the CD-Rom, as if to say "Use your own damn paper!") contains several high-falutin' graphs and charts detailing play strategies, chances of winning, and other tricks that might be useful on the real gaming floor, but not here in the virtual world of pixelated dollars. Game Off You can, in theory at least, go on to amaze others with your gambling prowess over the internet using MPlayer or Microsoft software, although both times I checked nobody else was available for play. This didn't really surprise me in the least though. There isn't even a decent single player mode as such, just player profiles that record your winnings on each table and your total money. There is no chance of advance, and everything is available to you when you start. There is little reason to bother being careful, as if you run out of money you can just borrow $500 from the ATM until you amass enough to pay it back. This can be done repeatedly, with no interest or deadline - I just wish these guys were my bank managers! Perhaps by including something like a mob of navvies to break your shins if you didn't pay, 3DO could have delivered some of the "midnight madness" that I was looking for, but sadly no... The Bottom Dollar There is very little to redeem this title from complete and not undeserved obscurity. It's more like one of those budget "Games For Windows" shareware collections that you see in Woolworths than an actual game. Vegas Games is a painstakingly accurate recreation of six table games, two types of Keno, slots and video poker, with a nice GUI tacked on top, and possibly useful for brushing up your skills on. It is not really very much fun, and certainly contains no real "madness", except the one that you succumb to when you realise that you just paid good money for this tripe. The madness will only increase when you realise that, just like the real Vegas, you can't win your money back. 4
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- Sierra System Requirements - Pentium 133 or equivalent 32Mb RAM 80Mb hard drive space 4x CD-Rom drive Teeing Off As the summer months make a long-awaited appearance, the number of games being released slows to a crawl. People take holidays, enjoy the great outdoors, maybe even play some sports, one of the most popular of which seems to be golf. I totally fail to see why - whoever it was that said golf "ruined a good walk" was spot on... If you are unfortunate enough to be a beginner, your first game on the course is little more than a nightmare. As you fumble ineptly with your clubs, pretending to know your 3-wood from your putter, the seasoned players look on with glee, laughing moronically as you sink your seventh ball of the day into the water hazard. As well as this, the cackling golf-nuts will be dressed in clothes featuring colours that simply don't occur in nature, and hats that must have looked ridiculous even to the poor sap that designed them. No, you can stick golf as far as I'm concerned. But what if you could enjoy the swinging without suffering humiliation at the hands of these sporting jesters? What if you didn't have to trudge around a course for several hours just to play a few minutes of actual sport? What if you didn't have to pay £10 for a beer at the clubhouse bar? Enter Sierra's "PGA Championship Golf 1999", recently re-released on their budget label, Sierra Originals. This was one of the top selling sports games of its day across the Atlantic, but has it stood the test of time, or has it become as embarrasing as the garments favoured by golf players? Let's tee off and find out... Par For The Course One of the most hotly debated subjects in the PC golfing world is the control method. Some games favour the three click mechanism, where you operate the swing through a series of mouse clicks to determine the strength and accuracy of your shot, while others choose the True-Swing system, using your mouse as a virtual club, allowing more realistic control of the shot's direction and power. Sierra has sought to please everyone by including options for both. The tri-click is certainly easier for the beginner, and can allow you to play decent rounds as soon as you start. But True-Swing is more realistic, has a proper golf-like feel to it, and as you improve you can play some superb shots and gradually become a seasoned pro. The choice is yours. Of course, sports games are built on choices, and Sierra's PGA series is no different. The wealth of camera options available are unbelievable, and the range, pitch and height of each camera is easily changed. There are dozens of different modes of play, and you can create and customise your own golfer, complete with plaid trousers. Eight real-life courses are painstakingly recreated in game, including the world-famous Coeur D'Alene and Pete Dye courses. You can even create your own with the Course Architect, a rather daunting tool which takes a long time to completely figure out. But if, like me, you can't be bothered crafting your own St. Andrew's, there are already plenty of extra courses available online. There is even online play available through WON.net. It can be a little hard to find a suitable game, especially during off-peak hours, but it's fun to play alongside others and see their own styles of golf. You can even set up cameras to track the movements of your opponents, monitoring their shot scores and pitfalls. A LAN mode is also available, as well as a "hot seat" mode to allow multiplayer on the one PC. Sights And Sounds Each of the courses is recognisable as its real life equivalent, and you can point out all of the bunkers and lakes in-game, with your choice of course coming complete with a short video advertising its main features. The graphics are a strange hybrid that doesn't really look "right", a mixture of the occasional 3D structure and trees and other features in "glorious" 2D isn't the prettiest of sights. The game was first released in 1998, and this does show in the graphical quality. A number of cosmetic features help bring it up to date though, including the ability to animate your golfer in reaction to his shots. For example, he can fall to the ground and bang his fists if you misplay a drive. It's not exactly sophisticated, but it is particularly fun to see it happen in a multiplayer game. The commentary is commendable as well. I'm more used to the slap-dash speech of soccer games like ISS and FIFA, where announcements take can place minutes after the incidents they refer to, and are more often than not just plain wrong. In PGA the commentary is always accurate, sometimes even informative, and keeps you up to date with the changing winds and the difficulty of holes. For once the speech isn't just something tacked on at the last minute for the benefit of the advertising material, it's a valuable addition. It's also really satisfying to hear a commentator say "He'll have a hard time getting this one onto the green", just before you chip your ball out of a troublesome bunker and it settles next to the pin. Lovely. Fair Or Rough? Of course, all of these options and fancy extras are nothing if there is no gameplay to back it up, and I'm pleased to report that there is. The ball physics are sound, and the wind, gradient and course conditions really do make a difference. Play one hole in dry, calm conditions and then adjust the green to wet and the wind speed to fast, and you will really have to rethink your strategies. This isn't to say the game is perfect though, and the lack of a decent tournament mode is my first gripe - it would have been nice to chart my player's progress over the years, earning money and playing invitationals. Still, online gaming allows these to be organised over the internet, so if you are so inclined and have the time to spare, by all means go for it. As well as this, you can sometimes find yourself cursing at the awkwardness of some of the controls. Swinging, selecting play modes, setting up options and the like are all fine, but semi-complex tasks such as removing your ball from the water and placing it on the ground aren't easy to execute, with little help from the instructions. Still, there is enough good in the game to negate these slight problems. The control systems are fully customisable, and selecting your club, stance and shot style are all done with a few clicks of the mouse. No confusing menus or reams of text - the GUI handles it all. After a few hours of play I was confidently selecting things like punch shots and lazy stances without my eyes widening with confusion, although many of these aren't adequately explained in the manual for beginners. Conclusion As golf games go this is certainly one of the more successful efforts, and I prefer Sierra's effort to the long-running Links LS series, which seems to be favoured by purists. I'm not a huge golf fan in real life, but I found the game enjoyable nonetheless. If you can tolerate the simple graphics and lack of single player depth, this could be for you. The budget price is definitely a bonus, and the online play and support provided by WON.net and Sierra is excellent. Just remember that the tartan shorts are optional! - PGA Championship Golf 2000 review 8
Blizzard Publisher Sierra System RequirementsÂ Â Pentium 233 or equivalentÂ Â DirectX graphics cardÂ Â 650Mb hard drive spaceÂ Â 4x CDRom driveÂ Â 32Mb RAM Thanks A Million Blizzard, creator of such classics as Warcraft and Starcraft, are amongst the most popular of developers with a dedicated fan base. So when Diablo II, the long-awaited sequel to their 1997 smash hit RPG, was finally released earlier this month, it sold over a million copies in two weeks, making it the fastest selling game of all time on the PC... The storyline for the game is interesting and diverse, unravelled through much adventuring and talking to NPCs. In order to restore good to the land, and to end the threat of Diablo once and for all, you must journey through four acts, featuring a series of dungeons and battlefields for your chosen character (Sorceress, Necromancer, Paladin, Amazon or Warrior) to explore. The graphical performance is impressive, and even on my fairly modest system the framerate didn't falter except during the most hectic of encounters. Even with the hero's shadows being cast in all directions by the dynamic light sources, there was barely a hiccup. Diablo 2 retains the old isometric display system of the original, but the overall look is much smarter and infinitely more detailed. Enemies writhe as they fall to the ground, while the sounds created by assorted nasties lurking in the dungeon alerts you to their presence, their spine-chilling groans allowing you to make good your escape or close in for the kill. Spice Of Life The variety of enemies is also appreciated, and it's easy to spot distinctive foes amongst the swarms. When you target them, information on their special abilities appears at the top of the screen, which helps you to pick out the main threats. With the clarity of the NPCs, it all makes it rather easy to focus on the main troublemakers of a dungeon. And unlike the perpetually dark setting of Tristam, in this game the settings are diverse and interesting throughout the four acts. For example, the second village is set in a dry desert, and has the feel of an ancient Ottoman Empire outpost .. except that its sewers are crawling with the undead. The map system included in the game is updated on the fly, and a transparent layover makes exploring easy. All the major landmarks and NPCs are marked on the map as you see them, so there is little chance of becoming disorientated. Of course, some may argue that this presents little real challenge, and that it cements Diablo 2's role as an "RPG-Lite", but there is enough challenge in exploration and surviving as it is. Going Online One of the features that helped to make the original Diablo so popular was the multiplayer support, although this is also where it becomes clear that the game is not a hardcore RPG. Often I have joined servers to find people talking totally out of character, or not speaking at all and just cutting down reams of enemies in a race to become the highest level player on the server. Sometimes you can find a few others interested in roleplaying, but most of the time it's more like Quake than Everquest. Of course, depending on your taste this might not be a bad thing. And when you are fighting, you won't have much time for idle chitchat - the game's real-time combat is especially hard on the melee fighters, with dozens of enemies converging on you at once. It's imperative to carry several healing potions with you, and even more important are Scrolls of Town Portal. These can teleport you to the nearest town, and the portal stays there so that you can immediately gate back when you are finished healing, or selling the treasures which you have picked up on your travels. This keeps downtime to a minimum, and has already won over several Everquest fans who got bored with the constant sitting-and-resting and going-to-bank routine of other online RPGs. Cart Boot Sale Some of the treasures you collect contain magical properties, and must be identified to show their true properties. Even when you have found out what your new staff does, you may not be able to use it - certain items have a class or stats limitation. For example, a warrior with a high strength will be able to wield a giant two-handed axe, while a weakling sorceress won't. Conversely, a necromancer can wield a magical wand, while it would break in the warrior's hands. As a result, trading magic items with other players is one of the main online features. At the end of the day though, I don't think I will still be playing Diablo II a year or two down the line. It simply doesn't have the complexity of Ultima Online, Asheron's Call or EverQuest, and is missing the little touches that give an RPG its long term power. But this doesn't take away from the sheer fun which can be had with the game. The graphics are a treat, the sound suitably atmospheric, and the soundtrack perfectly matches the scene. If I ever want to just blast some skeletons and take out my aggressions online without worrying about inventory loss or lag, this is the game to fire up. Conclusion Diablo II is really a meld of an action game and an RPG. The wealth of NPCs, settings and items make it comparable to a role-playing game, but the hack-n-slash combat system owes more to Gauntlet than Ultima. Although I haven't always liked cross-genre games, Diablo II carries off its role as an action RPG very well. The wealth of online servers, the randomly generated dungeons, the difficulty of missions, not to mention the three difficulty modes which change the way you have to fight to survive, all add some staying power to the game. If you are looking for serious role-playing I suggest you look elsewhere, especially if you plan on taking the game online. But as an "RPG-Lite" it's a damn fine game - go pick it up! 9
Argonaut Software Publisher Fox Interactive System RequirementsÂ Â Pentium II 266 or equivalentÂ Â 32Mb RAMÂ Â 32Mb Hard Drive spaceÂ Â 4x CD-Rom driveÂ Â DirectX7 graphics and sound cards Platform 1 There seems to be a growing number of console to PC conversions happening these days, and Croc 2 is the latest of this gaggle of games. And so now it's time for us to find out why over a million Playstation owners got in a fuss about their very own Mario 64 clone... Croc 2 is basically a 3D platformer, but with Argonaut Software, the British uber-coders behind the Star Fox series, doing the duties rather than Nintendo. It's more or less standard fare as far as storyline and basic design are concerned - Croc must help the Gobbo tribesmen, spread across four Gobbo villages, to defeat the evil Baron Dante, Croc's nemesis from the first title who was brought back to life by his minions, the Dantinis. The game features ten levels in each of the four villages, which can be accessed in any order, reducing linearity and boredom. It also features a merchant called Swap Meet Pete, with whom Croc can exchange crystals for various items to help him in his quest. Spice Of Life Most of these levels are based around Croc's core abilities of running, jumping and slapping nasties with his butt (Oof!) and his tail (ker-splat!), as well as basic puzzle solving, such as finding keys and treasure chests. But, like any game worth its salt, there are a number of twists and original ideas to Croc 2. Some levels include special objectives, including one of my favourites in which Croc must roll along atop a giant snowman's head to reunite it with its decapitated body. There are many other variations, such as a mine cart level, a go-kart and speedboat race, and Croc can even get airborne with the aid of a hang-glider or hot air balloon. These are spaced well across the 40 levels, so every third or fourth level features a nice change. And of course no platform game would be complete without its bosses. After completing all ten stages of a village, Croc must defeat that village's boss. This can be far from easy, and for a game aimed at children I was surprised at the difficulty of some of the levels. However, perseverance will see you through to the end of the game, where the final boss is a tough nut to crack! OmniPlay Despite all these things though, some of the levels felt a little bare, and can be something of a chore to complete. Like a console game, it's not one for extended playing, but rather for quick one hour blasts whenever the mood takes you. To their credit, Fox Interactive have recognised this and tried to add some spice to the proceedings by introducing the OmniPlay feature. This involves "splitting" the controls between two devices for dual-player fun - for example, someone can control Croc's feet by using the arrow keys while the other carries out his array of moves with a joypad. While this sounds like a lot of fun in theory, it would take a hell of a lot of practice to carry out most of the levels with two people. To test this, my brother and I split the controls thusly, and let's just say the co-operation wasn't exactly perfect. I still have the bruises to prove it. However, kudos to Fox for at least trying to include a multiplayer element. Graphic As you would expect for a game primarily aimed at the younger sector of the market, the graphics are bright, bold and bouncy. Croc is clearly defined, as are all of his allies and the various nasties, lending a cartoony feel to the scene. With a 3D accelerator the whole game looks great - smooth polygons and no noticeable drop in frame rate, even with all 16.7 million colours. Play it with the Argonaut software renderer though and you will find things look much grimmer. Laughably poor transparency effects, slow, jerky movement and a lack of contrast are just some of the disadvantages you will face. However, nowadays the vast majority of the games-playing public has a 3D card of some sort, and Argonaut can be excused for their less-than-enthusiastic approach to the software users. And apart from this oversight, presentation is fairly good the whole way through the game. Clear, concise menu systems are a breath of fresh compared to the cluttered systems utilised by other titles in the genre. A console style saved game "slots" feature is also in place, much simpler than typing in big alphanumeric save titles. The whole game basically bears the hallmarks of a console title which, in essence, it is. Even the sound effects and music have a bouncy console feel to them, and I especially like Swap Meet Pete's insane babblings as you peruse his wares. Conclusion I was about to say one million Playstation owners can't be wrong, but they're the ones who keep buying Tomb Raider games, so the validity of this statement is perhaps debatable! But although Croc 2 is not going to set the world alight, if you have a child or a younger sibling, or are indeed yourself looking for a nice arcade style game to while away some of those summer days, you could certainly do a lot worse on the PC. 6
Dynamix Publisher Sierra System RequirementsÂ Â Pentium 200 or betterÂ Â 32Mb RAMÂ Â 8x CD-RomÂ Â DirectSound compatible soundcard Fisherman's Friend After recently reviewing the likes of Street Fighter X2 Alpha Plus and The Devil Inside, imagine my surprise when I tore open the latest parcel from the ever-giving Eurogamer to discover .. a fishing game. Yes, Trophy Bass 4 was my latest assignment, and I installed it in a dim frame of mind. I muttered under my breath expectations of boredom, and regarded the jaunty installation screen with a kind of weak loathing. After recovering from this outburst, I decided to give the game a fair go though. Let it never be said that I'm too quick to judge. And after a quick look at the manual I learned that this is no arcade fishing game, unlike some of Sega's recent efforts. It is a serious simulation, featuring hundreds of real-name manufacturers, and even some "famous" bass fisher-people. Yes, I checked up on them. Let it never be said that I don't do my research, either. But if, like me, you don't know your jig from your trace-bait, and your flip from your sidearm cast it can all seem a bit confusing and anal. When I first played it, it took me a long time to work out all the combinations of rod, bait and cast method, and when to use them. But after a few sessions on Lake Kissimmee - all the lakes are based on real American locations, with over 30 in total - I was reeling in Catfish like a pro. Reeling Maybe "pro" is a bit of an exaggeration - I was fishing like an amateur, and I had only just learned the reel-in system, which in retrospect is rather ingenious. You use the mouse to reel in, hold the fish steady, and release tension, giving some interactivity to proceedings. Line pull tension and strength of reel are controlled with the keyboard, so you will be frantically changing settings and waving the mouse around like an idiot to pull in that 40 inch catfish you have been after. It was a fair bit more hectic than I had expected, and a hell of a lot more enjoyable. Fiddling around with the assorted appliances on board your boat is also fun, as well as vital to your future success. The gadgets include a depth sounder, for use when the water is muddy or very deep, a GPS for navigation, a comprehensive tackle box where you put together your rod, bait and casting method, and various other items of varying use. You can even switch your boat's outboard motor on and go schussing across to another side of the lake, much to the distress of the ducks, and the other competitors. Social Fishing Your competitors can even be real humans as a network mode is included, so up to six can enjoy LAN, modem and internet games. The standard set of rules is to set a type of fish, a time limit, and whoever catches the most fish (in weight, not amount!) is the victor. This is more or less standard for the single player Tournament mode too, although a Fishing Trip option is available for more relaxing play, or to brush up the skills. The Career mode option is quite enjoyable as well, with money and fame being built up over time with tournament victories. If you're not quite up to Career standard after a few disastrous outings, you ought to consult the first-class help facility. This features reams of text outlining every technique from the indispensable to the intricate. It even features videos of fishing professionals describing each method and how to execute it. It's all very polished, and after a few days' play I felt something of an expert myself. Fisherman's Friend Since a lot of effort was obviously put into realism, physics and gameplay, graphics were evidently on something of a back burner down at Sierra HQ. Lego-block style characters and clumsy boats are hardly going to win any beauty contests, but like the sport itself, the game is best left to rugged types who don't mind their pursuits rough around the edges. The transparent water effects are something of a letdown, however, with even "Clear" conditions appearing unclear. Still, it all adds to the challenge, but not to such an extent that you will be cursing with frustration. In fact, the whole product seems determined to make the whole fishing experience easy. A lazy angler's dream. Of course, even your most laid-back, Jack Daniels-sipping guy would have some complaints. The Career mode is seriously below its potential, as the upgrades available to buy with your winnings are minimal. It might have been better to have to build up your tackle box and other items through your winnings and even sponsorship money, but instead almost everything you need is laid out for you at the start of the game. Conclusion I know it's a fishing game and there's only so much one can do with a fishing game, but it's more or less the same each time you play it. The addition of a well-designed career mode would have helped, but many other things could have been added to increase the "come back" factor - a lake editor would have been an excellent addition, or even some more play modes instead of always going for "highest weight wins". However, Trophy Bass 4 is perhaps not the arena for these pursuits, as it sticks to the serious, sober side of fishing. It's good at what it does, and if you are on the look-out for something different, or if you are a fishing fan, then the chances are it's your bag. 7
- Cryo Interactive System Requirements - Pentium II 300 or equivalent 64Mb RAM Kill Your Television The Devil Inside is produced by Hubert Chardot, the legendary genius behind the classic "Alone In The Dark" games, and on first playing Devil Inside the similarities are striking - the main setting is the familiar haunted house, with the usual mix of action, puzzles and suspense. You play the role of one Dave Cooper, an investigative journalist (and seemingly part-time vigilante and ghost-hunter) who works for the eponymous television show, "The Devil Inside". Hosted by one Jack T. Ripper, this is a glitzy, glamorous show that delves deep into the disgusting dungeons to bring the viewers in, with a camera man following Dave as he blasts his way through zombies and other undesirables. However, Jack is a rather renegade fellow, and from the comfort of his studio he has no qualms with forcing Dave into increasingly dangerous situations to boost the show's ratings and please the live studio audience, whose cheers can be heard at times during the game. Deva It's not always Dave that Jack is dealing with either - Dave can morph into his alter ego, Deva, a female demon who possesses magical abilities that improve as the game progresses, including the ability to fly. A cast of secondary characters is also featured, not least , a scientist devoted to the mystery of the undead and unexplained. In fact the whole storyline is rather original - the implications of entertainment over human safety are well displayed in the course of the game, making the player feel like both a brain dead TV addict vying for more cheap thrills, and an entertainer in search of fame. Throw in a bit of gunplay and zombies, and you've got the Devil Inside. The game's atmosphere though is derived from the Alone In The Dark series. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - it's not as if it is shamelessly ripped off, but instead it is endorsed and worked on by the man himself. And from the first glimpse of the haunted mansion where the majority of the game is set, you can tell you are really playing an Alone In The Dark for the 21st Century. Other settings include an old mine and a series of graveyards, all reeking of atmosphere and rotting flesh, and full of icky, sticky, gooey zombies. The default control method, which is rather unusual for a third person game, is using the keys to run and crouch, and the mouse to aim and shoot. After a few minutes getting used to this though I was blasting away pieces of undead mayhem with the best of them. The Devil In The Details The enemies I was shooting also suffer no lack of imagination - from the run-of-the-mill generic zombies to flying ghouls and demons composed of electric wires (with a plug for a hat), the imagination possessed by the Cryo team is admirable. Localised damage is another plus - blasting the legs off of zombies and then watching the paraplegic parasites crawling towards you isn't an image that you will forget in a hurry. Even the abdomen and head can be blown off, severed or torched, and you can punch big holes in their chests with the shotgun. This, far from being simply eye candy, is a thoughtful and enjoyable addition to the game. Further proof of the designers' acumen is the array of weapons, my personal favourite being a disc saw used to rip apart the nasties. Meanwhile Dave's alter ego Deva is needed to fly through a few parts of the game, and possesses huge balls of magick propelled from her hands. Playing with a different set of skills all adds to the challenge, and it's touches like this that set it apart from games like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider. Puzzling One aspect that came very close to ruining the game for me though was the puzzles. Many of them are excellent additions to the game, and without them it would be a whole lot worse, but many were poorly thought out. For example, to breach the first gate in the game, you have to scour the gardens for a key. This would be fine if it was placed logically, for example at the feet of a tough enemy, or hidden in a shed, but instead it is at the far boundary near a hedge. This happens more than once, and even some of the more entertaining puzzles (such as finding your way through a poorly lit attic) smack of laziness and poor foresight. It's a reasonably major complaint, but fortunately Cryo have done enough to ensure that most gamers will overlook this. Conclusion If you are a fan of Alone In The Dark, and are longing for some more French-influenced zombie fun, you will probably want to snap this up right away. You will need a decent computer to make the most of it though - if you play this on anything less than a Pentium II 400 with a decent 3D accelerator card you will be sorry. But if you have the hardware, go get the software. 7
- Verant / Sony UK Publisher - UbiSoft System Requirements - Pentium 200 or equivalent 64Mb RAM 600Mb Hard Drive space 2x CD-Rom drive Direct3D compatible video card DirectX compatible sound card Internet connection Expanding When Everquest was released all the way back in March 1999, executives at Sony and Verant lit their cigars with glee as the subscribers, and their accompanying cash, flowed in like so many tsuamis of money. Today Everquest is one of the world's leading massively multiplayer RPGs, with around 250,000 paying subscribers. However, the setting was becoming stagnant. All of the high level zones had been explored and charted, barely anything new was ever being discovered, and newbie zones were full to bursting point as overcrowding occured on a scale not normally seen outside of Bangladesh. Something had to be done, and on the 7th of April this year, something was done... The "Ruins Of Kunark" expansion pack was released to stem the tide of bored players that were leaving the game, and it seemed to do the trick. Subscribers hit an all-time high when it was released, and over half of the existing players had ordered it in advance. Promised for the new expansion were enhanced graphics as well as more items and enemies. Most importantly though, there was a whole new continent to be explored, mapped-out, and ravaged by hordes of blood-hungry adventurers, complete with a new playable race, the Iksar; a lizard-like race that is native to the new continent of Kunark. With so much promised, could the expansion deliver? Visual Feast The improvements to the game's presentation were probably the most hyped aspects of the upgrade, with graphics enhancements to lure shallow eye-candy obsessed gamers into the lands of Norrath. The zones of the new continent are lush and loaded with details, a far cry from the sterile atmosphere of a few of the old zones. A good example of this is one of the low-to-medium level zones, the "Field of Bone". This region is festooned with monoliths and decaying buildings, showing that, unlike a lot of the game, designers seemed to actually spend some time on the realisation of the ideas. Compare this to zones such as Lesser Faydark and Nektulous Forest on the old northern continent, which showed the graphic artists to be suffering from something of a burnout, with the same landscape used throughout, scant scenery, and an overall lack of imagination. Basically, the entire island of Kunark seems well-polished, and a showcase as to what the artists have been doing in the year-and-a-bit since Everquest hit the stores. The graphics engine, although inadequate by today's standards, has been admirably employed to the best of Verant's ability. Unfortunately, these picturesque delights come at a price. Noticeable slowdowns are present in almost all of the Kunark zones that I have explored. Landscape special effects such as waving trees and flowing rivers may sound good around a board meeting table, but don't really pan out in what is basically a dated engine. Some of the features had to be removed, and those that remain will only truly be appreciated by those with high-end systems. My only complaint about the presentation (and it's been a long running one) is that when switching between Full-Screen and Toolbar View in any resolution other than 640x480, the Toolbar View screen is either shrunk to fit 640x680 pixels, or in order to get full-screen the monitor resolution has to change, seriously slowing gameplay. This could have been fixed with the Kunark CD, although Verant claim that it was "deeply embedded in code". New Stuff The main reason that half of the existing Everquest players immediately poured yet more coins into Verant's sagging pockets was the numerous new enemies to fight in the extra continent, and the chance to play as an Iksar. The new enemies are fairly imaginative, and certainly the new level 50-60 zones create a nice challenge for those players at the pinnacle of their EverQuest career. Many are finding themselves drawn to the continent from the old zones due to the lashings of loot available from the loathsome enemies. Scores of new items are available, many of them much more powerful and rarer than anything that vanilla EverQuest had to offer, and in this respect Kunark excels. There's something to keep the jaded old players interested, and the riches entice younger players to stay on and persevere. Conversely, some cynics feel that these trinkets were all confined to Kunark in order to convince spendthrift gamers to upgrade. Still, this extra revenue for Verant will enable them to fix a lot of errors in the game, and include many new things as time goes by. Problems Or will it? Unfortunately Verant's reputation as cold-hearted buffoons who like to rule their customers like kings has been seemingly cemented over recent weeks. On player verus player servers, where players of different races and alignments are engaged in warfare, a bug allows Enchanters under illusion to cast a Stun spell that will never wear off. Instead of fixing the faulty code, Verant has instead removed the Enchanter's ability to attack while under illusion. As an Enchanter who loves sneaking around the streets of Freeport in disguise eliminating Humans, never exploiting the bug, needless to say I am rather disappointed. Also, some of the game's special abilities for players are faulty, or at best flawed. Alchemy, a shaman skill allowing one to brew potions, has many bugs and is officially certified "broken" by Verant. The same goes for the Poison skill posessed by rogues. Both have been "undergoing maintainance" for several months now, with frequent reminders that the patch fixing them is just around the corner, which, needless to say, it never is. It seems that whenever Verant have a problem with the game they present an impractical workaround, say that they're going to do something but then decide not to bother, or just plain lie about it and pretend there's nothing wrong. A pretty shabby display considering the amount of money that they rake in each month... Conclusion Fortunately for Verant though, Everquest is one of the most addictive RPGs I have ever played. I've dedicated over 4 weeks of my life to Norrath, and most players have spent even longer there, some up to 8 months .. and that's just the time actually spent connected to the server! It might be daunting for the uninitiated and poorly supported, but there's just something about it that draws countless thousands to the servers each night. The variety of enemies to fight, skills to learn, and people to meet have a pulling power that most games can only dream of. Despite the game's problems I know I'll keep on coming back, simply because the game itself, preferably when played in a group, is so much fun. And isn't that what games are all about? 8
As the natural life of the Playstation draws to a peaceful end and developers find a hard time developing as many big games for the Dreamcast and PSX2, the profits need to be kept up. Therefore a few of the Japanese mega-companies - Konami, SCEE, Sega and, in this case, Capcom - turn to the PC to make their revenue graphs peck up. This Playstation game of yesteryear will soon be making its debut on the PC, in all of its third person shooter glory. Poly Gone? Dino Crisis is from Capcom's stable of Resident Evil-u-like third person shooters. However, unlike it's zombie daddy, the backgrounds in Dino Crisis are fully composed of polygons, while Resident Evil employs pre-rendered settings. The PC version of Dino Crisis sees the natural incease in both detail and resolution levels. Each dinosaur is composed of hundreds of polygons, so blowing out their pea-sized brains is even more beautiful and poignant (ahem) than ever before. Not only the visuals have been doped up though - full surround sound is now included, as well as enhanced stereo support. The atmosphere created by the surround sound ought to help make the hairs on your necks stand up to full attention. Can you feel it? Play The original Playstation version was competent, if hardly spectacular. The usual run-shoot run-shoot gameplay is par for the course, except there are some new missions to fight your way through now. Comparisons are naturally drawn with its zombie-oh cousin, Resident Evil - this is where the game drew most of its influence from. Capcom clearly saw the success of Resident Evil as a green light to churn out third person shooter after third person shooter, and Dino Crisis was one of the better games from this mob. Unlike Resident Evil, movement with weapons drawn is allowed, so the action is somewhat quicker and more spontaneous. Unfortunately the game is still stricken with what I like to call 'Caretaker Syndrome'. The level designer leaves a number of items and clues around, and you must run around cleaning them up. Get keycard A, solve code B, go to area C, and such... Conclusion To be honest the plot was about as exciting as lettuce, an identikit action hero storyline with the characters splitting up to seek out the mystery for themselves, and much suspense thrown in via cut-scenes. This may not be a bad thing of course. If there is one thing we all need, it's some random acts of senseless violence every now and then. If you are looking for something a little more substantial, you would probably be better off looking elsewhere. But as a pure action game, Dino Crisis looks as if it will have all you need.
In the gaming industry, ideas seldom come along that are truly groundbreaking. Sim City may be hailed as the first god sim, but in fact the lowly Intellivision produced the first such game, called Utopia - an early Civilization-Sim City hybrid that was years ahead of its time. Wolfenstein 3D is often credited as being the original first person shooter. Not so. It may have brought international recognition to the style of game, but the award for the first one must go to - pencils ready? - Monster Maze 3D for the Spectrum. All that is really left is to tweak original ideas, or to incorporate new ideas into old games... Pass The d20! Neverwinter Nights, the latest RPG project from Baldur's Gate developers BioWare, takes a different approach, and instead goes back in time to the days when pen and paper RPGs were king, and takes its inspiration from there, as well as adding some modern features along the way, and a few of its own that truly are groundbreaking. The game doesn't consist of a single on-going story per se. Instead thirty-two "play modules" are included, each with its own storyline and about four hours of gameplay. If you found Baldur's Gate too short on its own, you're going to go nuts for this. Also, for the first time on the PC, a player can become the Dungeon Master, as one would on a pen and paper game, and control NPCs and monsters during a multiplayer game over a LAN or the Internet. This has excited many die-hard RPG fans, and it may tempt more pen-and-paper players on to the PC. Portals They had better bring some friends with them, however. Although Neverwinter Nights is fully playable as a single player game, its true vocation is as an online multiplayer game, and each server can house up to 64 players! The modules that are supplied with the game are all playable online but, perhaps more importantly, players can also produce their own modules and settings using the revolutionary Solstice Toolset, and then invite their friends online to play through them. Servers can also be linked together via "portals", which act as gateways to completely different servers. As you enter a portal, details of the target server are given and the player can then choose to jump out into this new campaign if he or she sees fit. The implications of this are quite amazing. In theory hundreds of individual games, each with their own dungeon master, could be linked, ensuring that the game never runs out of levels or ideas. It is this that has captured the imagination of the online gaming community in general, as well as the RPG fans. Latest Edition Neverwinter Nights will once again use the "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" RPG system, although as the 3rd Edition of AD&D is due out shortly before the game's release it will adhere to these new standards. And since it follows the same rules as the hit RPG Baldur's Gate (give or take), you can import your old characters into the game and breathe new life into their cobwebbed armour and robes, and take them to the new experience cap of 20th level. Neverwinter Nights also marks a return to the Forgotten Realms setting, although this time the game will utilise the Omen graphics engine, which is also being used in another of Bioware's current projects - the incredible looking third person action game, MDK2. For the first time, the Forgotten Realms will come alive in true 3D. This may upset the purists, but it looks not only functional, but damn pretty as well. Conclusion Innovation and tradition have been boiled up with some excellent presentation to make a fantastic elixir, which should go down well with any gamer. Is it ambitious? Yes, but perfectly feasible. Exciting? Of course - this could revolutionize the way we play games online. Fun? It certainly appears so. Not only will the game offer an excellent single-player encounter, but a fully functional online experience with the ability to create your own settings and share them online. Add to this the ability to be Dungeon Master, and you've got a pretty near perfect sounding RPG. But will it measure up? I think so, and if it does I'll see you on the servers - look for the level 8 Ranger who can't stop dying... Neverwinter Nights is scheduled for release by Interplay (distributed by Virgin Interactive in the UK) early in 2001. Look for more information about the game later in the year!
Chris Sawyer Publisher Microprose System RequirementsÂ Â Pentium 90 or equivalentÂ Â 16Mb RAMÂ Â 50Mb hard drive spaceÂ Â 4x CD-Rom driveÂ Â 1Mb SVGA graphics card Coaster Rollercoasters, essentially, are a curious concept. We go to the little ticket box (or if its a pay-at-the-gate theme park, join a queue that disappears into the horizon and quite possibly crosses a few international time zones), pay an extortionate sum, stand in a queue, caged into columns like cattle, then eventually, you reach the station, dozens of people bundle off the train and disappear out of sight ("Exit the train to your right!"), and with a sense of joy and adventure we step onto the train, and anticipate what will follow. Smooth, fast loops, hurtling drops into psychadelically lit tunnels, and waterfalls and lasers dancing on every slow uphill section. Sounds like fun. Immense fun. However, what invariably does follow is between 30 seconds and 3 minutes of being hurtled around corners and loops of varying intensity, and if you aren't the exact height of 5'11", you will find your head and back being battered off the various lumps on the seat. Then you jerk to a stop back at the station where you arrived, step off feeling jaded and slightly cheated, and feel obliged, nay, forced to part with £3.99 for a Souvenir Photo and/or key-ring from the little shed next door, becase it's a "once in a lifetime oppurtunity.". And the theme park makes money from this, because they know we'll all go on them. We need rollercoasters because we're weak. Ride Which is why, with some glee, I inserted the Rollercoaster Tycoon CD into my drive and launched it... To give me my own chance to create the next RattleSnake or Space Mountain beater, something that the customers would love so much that they would offer themselves up to my park to be slaves, or at least to purchase an "I went to Nacho Land and all I got was this stupid mug" collector's souvenir. Joy! The game is a fantastic piece of work. Several non-coaster rides are available, including old favourites like merry-go-rounds, haunted houses, and swinging ships, as well as more modern rides such as the Launched Ascent Ride (more commonly known as the PlayStation Ride if you've been to Blackpool). Then there are water-based rides such as slides and rapids, and go-karts and mini-cars, and so many other rides I can't be bothered listing them all... You have the freedom to tailor these rides to levels of detail that border on the trivial, such as the colours of the rails and the maximum waiting time at the station. But some of these options prove very important. For example, on some varieties of rollercoasters (and yes, there are different kinds - inverted metal, wooden wildmouse, steel mini etc), there are different launch methods, including the traditional "kick-start", the powered launch (up to 60mph at the start, combine it with a sheer drop for an extremely intense ride!), and the intimidatingly named but frankly useless "Reverse-Incline Powered Launch Mode". And you can actually "theme" your park. For example, in the second mission, Dynamite Dunes, I produced a park with three zones, using Roman, Egyptian and USA Mining scenery and objects. These can be researched and placed all over your park, along with trees, fountains, statues, benches, lamps and litter bins. Crash! Of course, you have to ensure that your rides are safe, which is where the test mode comes in. You see, when I first got the game, I spent around 10 minutes building a steel coaster, and itching to see the little people hurtling round on it. I opened the ride and the park just to see what happened. Big mistake. I had produced a hump near the middle of the circuit, but unfortunately the train wasn't going fast enough at the time to clear it, so it simply rolled back down the hill. Into the path of the next oncoming train. An explosion followed, and several people saw their vital organs splattering off in the other direction, as they flew through the air. Not good... Of course, as well as making a really thriling coaster, you must make sure the people aren't too scared to board it. There are three main coaster ratings - Nausea, Excitement, and Intensity. You have to ensure your intensity remains between 4 and 6, the Nausea around 2 to 4, and the excitement as high as you can get it! And lots of things contribute to this, not just loops and corners. For example, a coaster over water is more exciting than a coaster over ground. Coasters going over and under other riders will prove exciting too. And, of course, speed, duration and turns contribute, as well as the complex lateral and vertical G-force. Staff The shops and staff are the most disappointing aspect of this otehrwise superb game. The staff system is near-identical to the one employed in Theme Park, including Handymen, Mechanics, Security Guards and Entertainers. The main difference is that you can assign jobs to people now. Handymen in Theme Park, no matter what the state your paths were in, tended to walk on to the grass and begin mowing. Thankfully, in Rollercoaster Tycoon you can turn this option off on individual Handymen, as well as being able to assign "beats" to all of the staff, ensuring every area is well covered. Little thought has been given to the shops either, despite the fact that they are integral to your park's progress. The usual spiel of placing food and drink, toilets, and souvenir stalls is in place here, like in Theme Park. However, Information Desks are an original idea, selling maps, pointing out directions, and providing umbrellas if it rains. Your guests are fickle folk too, who on occaision don't spend anything in your park and leave after a scant look around, although if you have placed rides and buildings well, they should look after themselves. You can follow their thoughts and spending, and even lift them up and move them to new locations! I tend to punish angry guests by making a pit in the middle of a lake with the superb landscaper tool, and dropping them in. [Um .. is that legal? - Ed] Conclusion Rollercoaster Tycoon is extremely impressive. This one is great for strategy fans, SimCity lovers, and anyone hoping to produce the next Disneyland. Great work from Sawyer and the team. And when you have finished with the original game, why not check out the website which, especially for a non-multiplayer game, is extremely good. You can download new track designs for every kind of coaster and track ride, made by the game's creator, Chris Sawyer, and even upload and download custom rides made by other people. Fantastic. Eye Candy 8