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ARGanoid's videogaming page - Reviews (Highly outdated)

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Review philosophy

The purpose of this page is not to tell you what a game is. I assume you already know that Quake is a first-person shooter, and that Heroes of Might and Magic III is a turn-based tactics/strategy game with lots of elves and pixies and goblins. The trouble with magazine reviews is that they often concentrate far too much on a game's concept, and only touch briefly on how successfully it is implemented. This page attempts to rectify that somewhat.

Recommended usage: Hear about game. Play demo. Like demo, but have reservations. Read review here. Base purchasing decision on. The management takes no responsibility for disappointments if you didn't agree with my analysis.

The scores given on this page are subject to change. If I'm reading an old review and decide I rated a game slightly too high or too low (either the final score or one of the category scores), I will change it. For example, on release I gave Quake II 94%, mostly on the basis of playing the single player game. After playing it online solidly for a year, I upped that to 95% and the multiplayer score to 10/10.

You may notice that quite a few of the reviews are of old games - sometimes, the review was written years after the game was released. Better late than never. After all, just because a game is old, doesn't necessarily mean it should be forgotten forever.

New thing!
I have partially abandoned percentages for scores. Now it's marks out of 10. However, I will still give greater score resolution for 9/10 scores. I am also going to be slightly more discerning - there were a few games in the past which I overrated slightly. Now, 8/10 will be a greater accolade than 80% used to be.

Newer thing!
I've added a new innovation in game reviewing technology: the goodness distribution. Let's look at two example games, Soldier of Fortune and Sonic Adventure. Sonic has quite a few "Wow!" moments where you think "Hey, this is totally excellent!". However, it also has a lot of moments when you think "Hey, this is total shit!" (such as when the camera gets stuck outside the level at a crucial moment, or you happen to run so fast that you run *through* a wall (due to poor collision detection) and die. On the other hand, we have SoF, which is consistently good, with few really annoying moments, but doesn't contain that many "Wow!" moments either. The goodness distribution shows a breakdown of this type o' ting. I've gone through every review and added this feature to every game - take a look for yourself. It's also useful for conveying the bugginess of a game - very buggy games will be sure to get marks in the 'Bad' and/or 'Poor' categories.


Index

Grand Theft Auto 3 (PS2)
Rez (Dreamcast)
Spheres of Chaos (PC)
Max Payne (PC)
Anachronox (PC)
Operation Flashpoint (and Red Hammer expansion) (PC)
Soul Calibur (Dreamcast)
Tribes 2 (PC)
Insane (PC)
Sonic Adventure 2 (Dreamcast)
Black & White (PC)
Daytona USA 2001 (Dreamcast)
Planescape: Torment (PC)
Serious Sam (PC)
Grand Prix 3 (PC)
Metropolis Street Racer (Dreamcast)
The Typing Of The Dead (PC)
Giants: Citizen Kabuto (PC)
Deus Ex (PC)
Jet Set Radio (Dreamcast) - UPDATED 27th April 2003
Shenmue (Dreamcast)
Thief II: The Metal Age (PC)
Soldier of Fortune (PC)
Chu Chu Rocket (Dreamcast)
Thief Gold (PC)
Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast)
Rollercoaster Tycoon (PC)
The Sims (PC)
Parapper the Rapper (Playstation)
Quake 3 Arena / Unreal Tournament (PC)
Dungeon Keeper 2 (PC)
System Shock 2 (PC)
Command & Conquer for Windows 95 (PC)
Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun (PC)
Starsiege: Tribes (PC)
Heroes of Might and Magic III (PC)
Aliens versus Predator (PC)
Outcast (PC)
Civilization: Call to Power (PC)
Alpha Centauri (PC)
Battlezone (PC)
Half-Life / Sin (PC)
Wetrix (PC)
Sentinel Returns (PC)
X-COM: Interceptor (PC)
Grand Theft Auto (PC)
The Curse of Monkey Island (PC)
Dungeon Keeper (PC)
Wipeout 2097 (PC)
Ultim@te Race (PC)
Quake II (PC)
Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (PC)
Mini-reviews of X-COM Apocalypse, Red Alert and Civ2.


A series of ridiculously brief reviews, since I can't be arsed to update this page properly any more...

Halo (9.0), Project Gotham Racing (9.3), Neverwinter Nights (6), Gridrunner++ (9), Space Channel 5 (7), Moonbase Commander (9.1), Bangai-O (9.1), Jet Set Radio Future (9.0), Metroid Prime (8), Panzer Dragoon Orta (6)

Heroes of Might and Magic 4 (PC): Like Civ 3, a big improvement on its predecessor in some respects, but a step backward in others (particularly AI). Extremely large and addictive. 9.0 out of 10.
Excellent: 3. Good: 2. Average: 3. Bad: 2

Return to Castle Wolfenstein (PC): The single player game was so tedious that I never bothered to finish it. Multiplayer is good, but not particularly original, kind of like a very polished version of Team Fortress.

Civilization III (PC): Some superb additions to the classic Civ gameplay, such as culture and strategic resources - but it also has a lot of flaws and bugs. 9.2 out of 10.
Excellent: 5. Good: 1. Average: 2. Bad: 2

Grand Theft Auto 3 (PS2): Huge, superbly executed, funny, satirical, immersive, addictive, incredible attention to detail. 9.6 out of 10.
Excellent: 6. Good: 2. Average: 1. Bad: 1

Rez (Dreamcast): A work of art. When I first played it through I felt a little let down, thinking "Is that it?". Then I played it again. And again. And again. Etc. The gameplay may appear simplistic at first, but has a lot of subtleties, and encourages you to play repeatedly in order to get the best score, or to see the final end sequence. 9.3 out of 10.
Excellent: 4. Good: 4. Average: 2

Spheres of Chaos (PC): A stunning shareware game which is to Asteroids what Ridge Racer is to Pole Position. The most psychedelic game of all time, with a superbly imaginitive array of enemies and weapons. You can download the free demo from here. 9.2 out of 10.
Excellent: 3. Good: 4. Average: 3

Max Payne (PC): A good solid game which does what it does pretty well, but nothing earth-shattering. Good weapon balance. 7 out of 10.
Excellent: 1. Good: 5. Average: 4.

Anachronox (PC): A painfully simplistic and linear RPG with a few nice moments, but in the end it became too boring and tedious for me to bother continuing. Some people say it gets better later on, but I don't know how many more hours of boredom I would have to go through to get to the good bits.

Operation Flashpoint (PC): A superbly immersive game which excellently captures the feeling of being a soldier/tank commander/infantry commander/helicopter pilot... Very freeform gameplay, and lots of it. The downside is that it sometimes gets extremely difficult, and several of the missions can be very tedious. 8 out of 10.
Excellent: 3. Good: 2. Average: 3. Poor: 2.

Operation Flashpoint: Red Hammer (expansion pack): Very disappointing - the Russian voices are appalling, thus ruining the immersion, and the game is ridiculously difficult. In fact I only got as far as the second mission, so I can't give it a score. Only buy this if you are the world's most hardcore Operation Flashpoint fan, the type of person who wears combat gear all the time and sleeps with an assault rifle under his pillow.

Soul Calibur (Dreamcast): The first beat 'em up I've ever bought, and worth every penny. Much more depth than the average beat em up, and imbued with subtleties. Stunning graphics, animation and sound. Superb in multiplayer. 9.1 out of 10.
Excellent: 2. Good: 7. Average: 1.

Tribes 2 (PC): A disappointment compared to its predecessor. Doesn't have the same atmosphere as Tribes 1, partly due to inferior sound effects. The music also helps wipe out the immersion in the game world. The game was extremely buggy on release. On the upside, the Tribes gameplay is still in there, with new stuff like improved vehicles. 7 out of 10.
Good: 4. Average: 3. Poor: 2. Bad: 1.


Insane

Platform: PC (minimum: P2-300, recommended: P3/Athlon-500)
Hard disk space: 100Mb
Publisher: Codemasters
Reviewed on: 12th July 2001
Game released: Mid 2000

Overall: 4/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Sonic Adventure 2

Platform: Dreamcast
Developer: Sega
Reviewed on: 10th July 2001
Game released: June 2001

Overall: 4/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Black & White

Platform: PC (minimum: P2-400 Voodoo 3, recommended: P3/Athlon-600, GeForce or better, 256Mb)
Hard disk space: 620Mb + 50-130Mb for each backed up position (using BWBackup)
Developer: Lionhead
Reviewed on: 8th July 2001
Game released: April 2001

Overall: 9.0/10 (7/10 without patches)

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Daytona USA 2001

Platform: Dreamcast
Developer: Sega
Reviewed on: 8th July 2001
Game released: April 2001

Overall: 8/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Planescape: Torment

Platform: PC (minimum: P200, recommended: P2-300)
Hard disk space: 610Mb
Developer: Black Isle Studios
Reviewed on: 27th April 2001
Game released: 1999

Overall: 9.2/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Serious Sam

Platform: PC (minimum: P2-300 & 3D card, recommended: P3-500)
Developer: Croteam
Reviewed on: 23rd April 2001
Game released: April 2001

Overall: 7/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Grand Prix 3

Platform: PC (minimum: P200, recommended: P3-700, 3d card)
Developer: Geoff Crammond
Reviewed on: 25th February 2001
Game released: Mid 2000

Overall: 7/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Metropolis Street Racer

Platform: Dreamcast
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Reviewed on: 11th February 2001
Game released: November 2000

Overall: 9.0/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


The Typing Of The Dead

Platform: PC (minimum: P200, 64Mb, 3D card). Also available on Dreamcast
Developer: Sega/Smilebit
Hard disk space: 600Mb
Reviewed on: 9th February 2001
Game released: January 2001

Overall: 9.0/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Giants: Citizen Kabuto

Platform: PC (minimum: P2-300, 64Mb, mid-range 3D card. Recommended: P3-800, high end 3D card, 128Mb)
Developer: Planet Moon
Hard disk space: 1.1Gb
Reviewed on: 15th January 2001
Game released: December 2000

Overall: 8/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Deus Ex

Platform: PC (minimum: P2-300, 64Mb. Recommended: P3-600, high end 3D card, 128Mb. Runs better with Glide than Direct3D.)
Developer: Ion Storm
Hard disk space: 700Mb + lots more for savegames (several gigs if you never delete the old ones)
Reviewed on: 3rd January 2001
Game released: Mid 2000

Overall: 9.1/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Jet Set Radio

Platform: Dreamcast
Developer: Sega
Reviewed on: 9th December 2000
Game released: Late 2000

REVIEW UPDATED 27th April 2003

Overall: 9.0/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Shenmue

Platform: Dreamcast
Developer: Sega
Reviewed on: 7th December 2000
Game released: November 2000

Overall: 8.0/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Thief II: The Metal Age

Platform: PC (minimum: P2-300, 64Mb, headphones. Recommended: P3-500, high end 3D card, 96Mb)
Developer: Looking Glass
Hard disk space: 700Mb
Reviewed on: 10th September 2000
Game released: Early 2000

Overall: 8/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Soldier of Fortune

Platform: PC (minimum: P200, 64Mb, 3D card. Recommended: P2-350, mid to high end 3D card, 96Mb)
Developer: Raven
Hard disk space: Just over 700Mb
Reviewed on: 25th June 2000
Game released: March 2000

Overall: 8/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Chu Chu Rocket

Platform: Dreamcast
Developer: Sega
Reviewed on: 11th June 2000
Game released: Mid 2000

Overall: 6/10

Goodness distribution:
N/A - depends entirely on which type of single or multiplayer is being played.


Thief Gold

Platform: PC (minimum: P200, 48Mb. Recommended: P2-300, Voodoo 2 or better, 96Mb)
Developer: Looking Glass
Hard disk space: Approx 270Mb
Reviewed on: 4th June 2000
Game released: Early 1999

Overall: 9.0/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad

Additional note: Looking Glass recently went out of business. Buy Thief Gold and Thief 2 while you can.
Additional additional note: See this for an update on my opinion of Thief.


Sonic Adventure

Platform: Dreamcast
Developer: Sega
Reviewed on: 2nd June 2000
Game released: 1998

Overall: 8/10

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Rollercoaster Tycoon

Platform: PC (P166 or better)
Developer: Chris Sawyer
Hard disk space: Approx 50Mb
Reviewed on: 7th April 2000
Game released: 1999

Unfortunately, I haven't played it for about six months, so I'll have to make my descriptions brief..

Overall: 92%

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


The Sims

Platform: PC (recommended: P2-300 or better)
Developer: Maxis
Hard disk space: Approx 280Mb
Reviewed on: 10th March 2000

Overall: 78%

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Parapper the Rapper

Platform: Playstation
Developer: Sony
Reviewed on: 9th March 2000
Game released: 1997?

Overall: 60%

Goodness distribution:
Excellent
Good
Average
Poor
Bad


Quake III Arena / Unreal Tournament

Platform: PC
Quake III Arena - minimum: P200, 64Mb, Voodoo 2. Recommended: P2-350, 128Mb, TNT2 or better, 56k modem (at least))
Unreal Tournament - minimum: P200, 64Mb, Voodoo 2. Recommended: P2-300, 96Mb, Voodoo 3, ISDN or better)
Developer: id Software/Epic Games
Hard disk space: Approx 550Mb each
Reviewed on: 19th January 2000
Quake III ArenaUnreal Tournament
  • Graphics: 9/10 - Stunning. It's not quite as impressive as 3D accelerated Quake 2 was, but close. However, this graphical quality comes at a price. Although most semi-modern PCs should be able to get it running at quite a reasonable speed (albiet with some video options turned off in some cases), the quality and variety of the textures can cause annoying problems. Going to the score screen for the first time in a game causes it to lock up for about a second while it loads all the player skins.
  • Graphics: 8/10 - Often impressive, but lacking in several areas. The maps are huge (large outdoor areas are a welcome feature), but the textures are mostly very bland. The player models are very well animated, but they also suffer from dark, bland textures. There is pretty much no variation at all - at a distance, almost all of the models look identical.
  • Sound: 9/10 - Splat to the power of splat squared. What I crave more than anything else in this kind of game are insanely meaty, solid sound effects - and that is where Q3A excels. If you scroll down this page for a while, you will find my Quake II review. Note my enthusiasm about that game's 'splat factor'. Well, after playing Q3A, Quake 2's sound effects sound like they were recorded by the BBC's radio sound effects department.
    The music is also quite good. Although it doesn't compare so well to Quake II's, it augments the fast-paced gameplay perfectly. When I was playing (and winning) on the final level on Nightmare difficulty, I had to pause for a while and switch off the speakers in order to work out whether the incredibly loud throbbing noise was the music or my heart. It was both in unison.
  • Sound: 8/10 - There are few things more satisfying in life than being on the receiving end of the following series of words:
    "Double kill!"...."Multi kill!"...."Ultra kill!"...."M-M-M-M-M-ONSTER KILL!! kill... kill... kill...".
    Although such aural gratification is indeed great (Quake III's take on this is also cool, but is applied slightly differently), it doesn't have infinite staying power. The same goes for the other sound effects. Although they are a thousand million times better than in the original Unreal (which was crap), for sheer splat-factor it can't compete with Quake III. The music is good, but a bit too cartoony for my liking.
  • Gameplay: 9/10 - Unfortunately, despite what John Carmack may tell us, this is not as well-realised a game as most of id's previous hits. It's a testament to the sheer greatness of deathmatch in the original Quake (of which this is an ultra-refined to the power of splat version) that Quake III manages to be superb despite a number of stupid and easily fixable flaws. Had it been in development for another two or three months, these should have been easily fixable - but clearly it was rushed out in order to make it to the shops in time for Christmas.
    So, what are these flaws? Here are the three most serious:
    • Weapon autochanging. In Doom, Doom 2, Quake and Quake 2, you would automatically be switched to a weapon only if it was better than the one you were currently using. So, if you were holding a rocket launcher and you picked up a shotgun, it wouldn't switch you to the shotgun.
      No such luck in Quake III. For some bizarre reason, the fools at id have removed this essential piece of code and replaced it with one that switches you to a crap weapon even if you're in the middle of an intense firefight. This leads to a premature death on an infuriatingly regular basis. If you are using the rocket launcher and there are three useless weapons in your path, you will be switched to each one as you pick it up - requiring you to repeatedly press the 5 key in order to keep on the rocket launcher. This is just lame, especially when Unreal Tournament excels in this area by having a drag and drop list of weapon priorities.
    • Bots. Fortunately they are mostly good, but they have the annoying flaw of often being 100% accurate, especially with the lightning gun and plasma gun. No human is capable of hitting an erratically moving target with perfect accuracy - neither should the bots. It gets particularly ridiculous on the last level, where Xaero, the nastiest bot of them all, has the ability to rail you the same picosecond he sees you, even if you are all the way across the map and flying diagonally through the air at a hundred miles an hour.
    • The online gameplay - supposedly the game's best asset - is not up to scratch. For a start, the server browser included in the game is very poor. It's usable, but that's the only good thing that can be said about it. It gets the job done, but highly inefficiently, and it has no advanced (or even very many simple) features whatsoever. It makes the use of a third party utility (such as Gamespy essential for any serious gamer.
      When you actually manage to get connected, the online performance is disappointing. Supposedly, the game was designed to reduce the strain put on the modem, but in the real world this goes largely unnoticed. It's certainly far from unplayable, but there are problems. Due to the increased player movement speed over Quake 2, instant hit weapons like the railgun, shotgun and machinegun are a fair bit more difficult and frustrating to use. Then again, maybe I've been spoiled by being able to play it on a LAN every day at work. On the subject of which, LAN play is great.

    The weapon balance is okay, but not as good as Quake 2. The weapons lack the context-sensitive balance of those in Q2 - instead, the rocket launcher and the (highly unbalanced) BFG are almost always the weapons of choice. And the grenade launcher isn't as good as Quake 2's.
    As far as pace and combat mechanics are concerned, Quake 3's ethos is "live fast, die young", as opposed to "live long and prosper" in Quake 2 and "live fast, d... oh, you're already dead" in Quake 1.
    I have left the best till last. The level design is utterly superb. There are a few boring ones, but many of the levels are ingeniously thought out. This leads to some superb duels and strategic games against the bots - this above anything else is what makes the single player game great and the multiplayer game even better.
  • Gameplay: 9/10 - Unreal was a tedious bore-fest with good graphics. So it has come as a great (and very pleasant) surprise to everyone to find that its sequel is so good.
    The idea behind the game seems to have been to nick the best bits from other first-person shooters, beef them up with steroids and amalgamate them into one glorious whole. For the first time, we have a deathmatch game which gives the Quake series a serious run for its money. 'Domination' is a small-scale version of Capture and Hold from Starsiege Tribes. UT's Capture the Flag mode mixes the large maps of Tribes with Quake-style CTF. And the weapons have echoes of the Quake 2 mod 'Chaos' (which gave the player a large array of novelty armaments). Also featured is the game mode Assault (one team storms a base and the other defends it), which is one of the few entirely new concepts in the game.
    The emphasis seems to be more on humour and novelty than the serious and deadly art of fragging. While this is superb at first, for me it didn't have staying power (see Long-term Interest).
    The bots are good, and there is much more of an emphasis on teamplay than Quake III (which doesn't include team games on its single player ladder at all). However, the bots suffer from unrealistically high accuracy in a similar way to Quake III. This is particularly evident when a bot runs out of ammo and starts to chase you with the Impact Hammer (UT's fist-style weapon). It's as if the bot turns into a homing missile - no matter how erratically you move, it will pursue you with perfect precision, matching your turns with no delay - something even the best human player could never do. Also, the bots are all too similar - not only do they all look identical, but they generally play pretty much the same as well. Quake III's bots, on the other hand, have noticably different playing styles and weapon preferences.
    The online performance is not very good at all on a 56k modem. It isn't as bad as Half-Life, and is much better than the original Unreal, but the fact is that the game mechanics are completely unsuited to a low bandwidth connection. A modem simply doesn't have the ability to keep up with all the data UT throws at it - such as hordes of high speed ricocheting razor blades and multiple shrapnel fragments, each with their own trajectory. However, the server browser is excellent, as is the rest of the interface.
    The level design is above average at best, and very poor at worst. Labyrinthine, unintuitive levels with little or no flow is exactly what you don't want - it is the weakest aspect of the game. Some of the locations are quite novel (on the roof of a ship in hyperspace, for example), but this doesn't make up for how the maps actually play.
    The game's strongest aspect is its customizability and variety of game modes. If you like, you can set it so that you play a game of Assault at 50% of the normal speed, and everyone carries instant kill weapons.
  • Learning curve: 6/10 - On any given difficulty level, the actual difficulty level varies wildly from level to level. And it could do with smoother difficulty ramping between difficulty levels - the leap between levels is quite big, although this also makes it more satisfying when you start to make progress on a new difficulty level.
  • Learning curve: 8/10 - Better tutorial levels than Quake III, and there are more (and thus more gradual) difficulty levels. However, there are still some annoying difficutly bottlenecks.
  • Long-term interest: 8/10 - I played Quake 2 online solidly for a year. Q3 possesses similar staying power - although, since I've done it all before, I won't be doing it to the same extent again.
  • Long-term interest: 6/10 - Great in the short term - but the novelty wears off. I played the demo to death - by the time the full game was released, I was very bored of it. I played through the whole thing and only occasionally got thrilled by it. On the upside, it is massively customizable and has loads of novel game modes.
  • Interface/Presentation: 5/10 - The interface is sub-standard in several places. The FMV sequences are average.
  • Interface/Presentation: 8/10 - The interface is superb. The intro and end sequences are not so good.
  • Overall: 91%

    Verdict: Could and should have been better. Probably would have got 92 or 93% if the issues I raised had been fixed.

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad

    Overall: 91%

    Verdict: A very polished game. Great in the short term, but gets boring after a while.

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Dungeon Keeper 2

    Platform: PC (recommended: P2-300, 128Mb, Voodoo 3 or better)
    Tested on: P2-350, 128Mb, (Voodoo 2 - frame rates often poor, although playable), (Neon250 - excellent image quality and frame rate), (GeForce - as Neon250 except with slightly inferior image quality)
    Developer: Bullfrog
    Hard disk space: Approx 260Mb
    Reviewed on: 7th January 2000

    Overall: 81%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    System Shock 2

    Platform: PC (minimum: P200, 64Mb, Voodoo 2. Recommended: P2-400, 128Mb, anything better than Voodoo 2)
    Tested on: P2-350, 128Mb, Voodoo 2 - reasonable performance but with some large slowdown sometimes. Also tested on Neon250 - similar but slightly slower.
    Developer: Irrational Games/Looking Glass Studios
    Hard disk space: 330Mb - plus up to about 300Mb for savegames (if you use every save slot)
    Reviewed on: 2nd December 1999

    I bought System Shock 1 earlier this year. It was meant to be an all-time classic, so I reckoned I should get it if only so that I could get some background on the plot in time for the sequel. It would have been great, if it wasn't for the absolutely horrific, 3D Construction Kit-esque controls. I gave up in frustration after about three or four (large) levels. However, it did give me important plot background.

    Overall: 93%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Command & Conquer for Windows 95

    Platform: PC (minimum: P90, 16Mb. Recommended: P200, 32Mb)
    Developer: Westwood Studios
    Hard disk space: 26Mb
    Reviewed on: 10th October 1999

    I've done some late reviews before, of games that I didn't buy until a while after came out (Battlezone, Dungeon Keeper). There are also old games which I bought, but never got far enough with them to be able to review them (System Shock). This is review is not only far more out of date than any other on this site, I was also pleasantly surprised to find that not only did I manage to play the game enough to write a review, it was also good enough to put its own sequel (reviewed directly below) to shame.

    Overall: 86%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun

    Platform: PC (minimum: P200, 64Mb. Recommended: P2-400)
    Developer: Westwood Studios
    Hard disk space: Approx 130Mb (plus at least 100Mb more if you keep lots of savegames on the drive)
    Reviewed on: 18th September 1999

    Overall: 76%

    I despair for the (literally) hundreds of thousands of people without net access, who will buy this and then proceed to get stuck on one of the many bugged missions, with little hope of getting through - unless, of course, they spend extra money on a strategy guide or tips magazine. Shame on Westwood. Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Starsiege: Tribes

    Platform: PC, multiplayer only (minimum: P200, 32Mb, decent 3D card and modem. Recommended: P2-300, 64Mb, even more decent 3D card and modem/ISDN/xDSL/cable modem/leased line/etc)
    Developer: Dynamix
    Hard disk space: Approx 160Mb
    Reviewed on: 5th August 1999

    Overall: 92%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Heroes of Might and Magic 3

    Platform: PC (minimum: P100, 16Mb. Recommended: P2-266, 64Mb)
    Developer: 3DO/New World Computing
    Hard disk space: Approx 200Mb
    Reviewed on: 3rd August 1999

    Overall: 91%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Aliens versus Predator

    Platform: PC (minimum: P200, 32Mb, mid-range D3D compatible 3D card. Recommended: P2-300, 128Mb, high end 3D card. Not recommended for people with heart problems)
    Developer: Rebellion
    Hard disk space: Approx 260Mb
    Reviewed on: 26th July 1999

    Overall: 93%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Outcast

    Platform: PC (minimum: P200-MMX, 64Mb. Recommended: P2-450, 128Mb)
    Developer: Appeal
    Hard disk space: Approx 430Mb
    Reviewed on: 23rd July 1999

    Overall: 89%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Civilization: Call to Power

    Platform: PC (minimum: P166, 32Mb. Recommended: P2-300, 64Mb)
    Developer: Activision
    Hard disk space: Approx 310Mb
    Reviewed on: 18th July 1999

    Overall: 58%

    A travesty - by far the worst game I have paid good money for since the days of the Spectrum. It only gets above 50% because it's based on Civ, one of the greatest game designs of all time.

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Alpha Centauri

    Platform: PC (minimum: P100, 16Mb. Recommended: P200, 48Mb)
    Developer: Firaxis Games
    Hard disk space: 130Mb
    Reviewed on: 25th June 1999

    I wanted to write a great big huge full review, but it's so long since I last played the game that I wouldn't be able to remember everything well enough.

    Overall: 94%

    Better than Civ II? Yes. Better than Civ II was at the time? No. But close, and that's just about the highest praise that could be given to any game.

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Total Annihilation

    Platform: PC (minimum: P100, 16Mb. Recommended: P200, 48Mb)
    Developer: Cavedog
    Hard disk space: 37Mb
    Reviewed on: 25th April 1999

    Overall: 92%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Battlezone

    Platform: PC (minimum: P200, 32Mb. Recommended: P2 with Voodoo II and Voodoo II patch, 64Mb)
    Developer: Pandemic/Activision
    Hard disk space: 130Mb
    Reviewed on: 13th February 1999

    Overall: 92%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Half-Life/Sin

    (Dual and mini review)
    Platform: PC (minimum: P200, 48Mb. Recommended: P2-266 with Voodoo 2 and 96Mb)
    Developer: Valve/Ritual
    Hard disk space: Half-Life - 400Mb. Sin - Minimum: 90Mb. Typical: 300Mb. Maximum: 600Mb.
    Reviewed on: 15th December 1998

    Hmmm. I was going to write a dual review, with this two-column style. But I don't have the time or the inclination. So I'll just do two adjacent mini-reviews.

    Half-LifeSin
  • Graphics: 9/10 - Better than Quake II, although not groundbreaking. The most notable thing is that software mode compares favourably to OpenGL mode, retaining most of the effects.
  • Graphics: 8/10 - On a similar, maybe slightly higher, level to Quake II - although the performance is much lower. Software mode is pure shite and shouldn't even be considered.
  • Sound: 9/10 - Mind-numbingly realistic sound effects which may well blow your mind. Good music, used very sparingly.
  • Sound: 8/10 - Excellent context-sensitive music, good sound effects.
  • Gameplay: 7/10 - Amazing AI for the human enemies, and superb immersion - but the aliens are just as stupid as anything in Quake II - as well as having a complete lack of variation. Also, there are many times when the game becomes dull. Most importantly, the joy of killing that have made id's games what they are does not exist in Half-Life. Kill an enemy and he just slumps over in a dull way - where's the fun in that? Half-Life, despite what many say, does NOT deliver everything that was promised, and it is NOT the game of the year.
  • Gameplay: 8/10 - Running around realistic locations shooting people in the head is my idea of the ultimate good time. The locational damage system is superb, and there are a few moments when this feels like the best gameplay of all time. Unfortunately that hope is destroyed by bugs, glitches, and the later levels which just seem to be tacked on so they could fill out the game. By the way, you need to download a 19Mb patch to fix most of the bugs.
  • Learning curve: 7/10 - Hard difficulty just makes it so that enemy attacks do about three times as much damage - very lame.
  • Learning curve: 7/10 - Extremely difficult on Normal difficulty. Hard is a frustrating nightmare.
  • Long-term interest: 4/10 - The game is totally identical every time you play - very little replay value. And the multiplayer doesn't work.
  • Long-term interest: 7/10 - A small improvement over Half-Life - there are a few 'action-based outcomes' which might possibly mean that if you happen to do one or two things differently, you might perhaps have to go through an extra level. Also, Sin has the joy of killing that was absent in Half-Life, making replaying a nicer prospect.
  • Interface/Presentation: 10/10 - There are no 'traditional' cut-scenes in Half-Life. Both the intro and the end sequence are carried out from the same first-person viewpoint - the player can even run around during these sequences. The continuous levels are implemented almost perfectly - in the way it should have been in Quake II. The interface is quick and easy to use.
  • Interface/Presentation: 8/10 - The interface is a competent, if long-winded take on Quake II's. Unlike Half-Life, there are cut-scenes which move the perspective away from the player, but all these cut-scenes are handled inside the game engine, meaning loss of immersion is not such a big problem.
  • Multiplayer: 5/10 - Extremely laggy, even with the online patch. Little or no weapon balance. May be of interest to people who don't care about play balance and just want to gib things.
  • Multiplayer: 7/10 - Because it is based 100% on Quake II, Sin has good online performance. Unfortunately the player models are slightly smaller than their Quake II counterparts, which has huge repercussions for multiplayer - it makes it incredibly hard to hit your opponent. The locational damage remains the game's sole saviour here, but most of the time you'll have a hard time hitting your opponent's body, never mind his head.
  • Overall: 88% (amended from 92%)

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad

    Overall: 91% (85% without patch)

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad

    So, disappointments all round then...


    Wetrix

    (mini-review)
    Platform: PC (minimum: P120. Recommended: P200)
    Developer: Zed-Two
    Hard disk space: About 15Mb
    Reviewed on: 17th November 1998

    Overall: 82%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Sentinel Returns

    (mini-review)
    Platform: PC (minimum: P100. Recommended (software): P200 or higher, (3Dfx): P166). Reviewed in both software and 3Dfx.
    Developer: No Name Games
    Hard disk space: 42Mb
    Reviewed on: 4th October 1998

    Overall: 90%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    X-COM: Interceptor

    Platform: PC (minimum: P166 with 3Dfx or P200 without. 64Mb of RAM. Software version reviewed.)
    Developer: Microprose (in-house)
    Hard disk space: 100-400Mb (300Mb recommended)
    Controls: Joystick, Mouse (that's what I used), Keyboard (shite)
    Reviewed on: 24th July 1998

    THE PAST
    Once upon a time, long long ago, in a land.... here... was a game called UFO: Enemy Unknown. The player took control of an organisation called X-COM - the eXtraterrestrial COMbat unit. The game consisted of two parts - the Geoscape and the Battlescape. In the Geoscape, the player viewed the entire Earth, and launched interceptor craft to shoot down UFOs. In the Battlescape, X-COM soldiers battled against the aliens up close, using a turn-based system. Captured alien technology could then be researched.
    UFO: Enemy Unknown was a huge hit. It was released in the USA as X-COM: UFO Defense, and on the Playstation as X-COM: Enemy Unknown.
    The sequel, X-COM: Terror From the Deep, was a shadow of its predecessor. It was essentially UFO set underwater, with painfully long missions and an extreme level of difficulty.
    X-COM: Apocalypse landed on Earth in the summer of 1997, and blasted its predecessors into the Stone Age. The game was now set in the confines of one city (the Geoscape becoming the Cityscape). More importantly, the Battlescape now had a real-time combat option. The depth of Apocalypse was stunning - far more control and far more technology than UFO or TFTD.
    But that was the end of X-COM as we know it. The developers of the series, Mythos Games, left Microprose, and went independent. Microprose retained the rights to the X-COM name, and we all waited to see if they would ruin it.....

    THE PRESENT
    They haven't.

    X-COM: Interceptor at first seems a huge departure from the classic X-COM idea. As before, there are two parts to the game. The Geoscape/Cityscape now shows the positions of star systems, and is called the CSD (Campaign Strategic Display). The Battlescape is no more. Its replacement: TIE Fighter-style space dogfights...

    THE CSD
    ...is a return to the interface of UFO and TFTD. Even down to using the exact same menus and samples as the Geoscape in UFO. The big drawback here is that looking at a big area of empty space with a few stars that all look the same is, how can I put this, a little boring. In UFO and TFTD, you watched as the day dawned over each part of the Earth. In Apocalypse, you could watch the intricate goings-on in the city - taxis flying around, gangs destroying each others buildings, and of course, UFOs passing over the buildings in a threatening way. In Interceptor, you just get to watch a few stars sit there doing nothing. When a squadron of UFOs comes into scanning range, it just appears as a little circular icon. Oh, what fun.

    Despite the lack of what I'll call human interest, the CSD is very well executed and presented. It's X-COM as we know it - recruit pilots, manufacture equipment, protect outposts, and most importantly, research stuff. Research is handled differently in Interceptor - the technologies are devised by scientists on Earth, and you must download the files. And just like real life, a download is a long process. To accumulate technology faster, you must build more Downlinks - but you can only have three per base, so eventually you must build more bases. Annoyingly, the tech tree sometimes seems to not be sufficiently linked - in other words, you sometimes find yourself aquiring the most advanced technology BEFORE aquiring the less advanced technology. It's not a huge problem, but it's kind of annoying.

    THE SPACE-SHOOTY-BIT
    The moment of truth. Is it any good? Does it do the X-COM name justice? Does it, in essence, rule?

    YES.

    Why are you still reading? Go and buy it.
    My only previous flying experience was the demo of TIE Fighter, which was superb. Interceptor is an exact copy. And is therefore excellent. Unscrupulous but true.
    The terrible lack of human interaction in the CSD is fixed here, for you get to see and hear your wingmen talk over the radio. When you fly close enough to a UFO, you get to see a short video clip of the alien at the controls.
    In previous X-COM games, you viewed all your agents from above, and after a while got to know them. In Interceptor, you take control of one per mission. You feel detatched from the rest of the squad, but because you have direct control, your actions are more significant. If you saved another pilot by getting an alien off his back, it's a lot more satisfying than in UFO if you clicked on 'Auto Shot' and the alien was killed. Similarly, if you are killed in action, you feel like you've let everyone down, and you've only got yourself to blame.
    As ever, part of the long-term interest comes from trying out all the new equipment you've researched. There are nine types of missile, and nine types of beam weapon. The most interesting of these is the Psi-Blaster. Fire it at a UFO and watch as the alien panics or loses control of his ship. While the alien is under mind control, it is much easier to ram a missile up his exhaust pipe - he won't remember to dodge... The Psi-Blaster has a terrible fire rate, and a huge power consumption, but it's still great fun.

    And that's all I can say for now. Oh, it also has a few references to South Park...

    Overall: 92%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Grand Theft Auto

    Platform: PC (Fast CD drive useful but not essential. 3Dfx supported, min P166 recommended for software.)
    Developer: DMA
    Hard disk space: 65Mb
    Reviewed on: 19th February 1998

    Playing GTA is a cycle. Three hours of massive fun. Then, three hours of mild frustration followed by half an hour of marvelling at the inventiveness of the game. Then, three hours of not-so-mild frustration. Then, ten minutes of fun. Etc.

    If only this game wasn't so BLOODY ANNOYING...

    I think I'll review it by listing all the pros and cons.

    Pros

    Cons

    Why, oh why, oh why? Why do game developers have to include all these stupid flaws in their games? It happened to a small extent with Dungeon Keeper, it happened to an even smaller extent with Monkey Island 3. Now it has happened in a massive way with GTA. Listen, DMA! Stupid! Bad! Go to your rooms! Maybe you wanted this game out for Christmas? So what? I don't care about Christmas. The thing which I care about is buying a game that ISN'T full of STUPID, POINTLESS, INFURIATING little flaws! You should be ashamed of yourselves.

    GTA could have been an all-time classic. We're talking 93, 94%. I could have been sitting here praising DMA as the best game developers in the world. A game as innovative as GTA has not been seen since Lemmings. But Lemmings didn't contain a million stupid flaws. Therefore:

    Overall: 90%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    The Curse of Monkey Island

    Platform: PC (Fast CD drive useful but not essential)
    Developer: LucasArts
    Hard disk space: 2Mb, runs off CD (Two CDs)
    Reviewed on: 30th January 1998
    (Reviewed on Mega-Monkey difficulty)

    Graphic adventures. You can't live with them, and although it is possible to live without them, it wouldn't be the same.

    The first graphic adventure I ever played was The Secret of Monkey Island, on the ST. The second was the shareware game Grandad and the Quest for the Holey Vest. The third was Sam 'N' Max Hit the Road. The fourth was Monkey Island 2: Lechuck's Revenge.

    So, a total of four. Three of them by LucasArts. And the other one was shareware, so it probably doesn't count. I tell you this so that you know I am not an adventure freak. Well, okay, there's LBA 1 and 2 as well. And the Captain Blood games. But only three actual point-and-clickers.

    But, of course, the Monkey Island games are an essential for all gameplayers, not just adventure-heads. Monkey Island 2 is, to this day, the best graphic adventure ever made.

    Is that all about to change?

    No. Sorry...

    Because The Curse of Monkey Island is more of the same. And while this is undoubtedly not a bad thing, you would have thought they'd have been able to come up with at least one thing slightly new after seven-odd years...

    Just like Quake II could never be Quake, Monkey Island 3 can never be Monkey Island 2. And just as Quake II introduced a whole load of new things, some great, but some not so great, the same can be said for Monkey 3. There's an all-new look to the game, and it is the only Monkey game to feature voice. Both of these are very good things. Monkey veterans should have no problems with either of them.

    Just as good is the return of that unique Monkey style and humour. Now that I have finished Monkey 3, it will be sorely missed.

    A whole load of old characters make a welcome return. Most welcome is Stan, who now comes equipped with a wonderfully smooth voice, and a very effectively-checked shirt. And, of course, a new business venture that suits him perfectly... Also, there is an excellent new character - Murray. The only problem I had here was that these characters didn't appear enough; although, looking back, maybe this wouldn't have worked so well.

    BUT...
    Despite the bucketloads of entertainment this game provides, there are a few MAJOR niggles...

    Such as the way that there are about a billion things in there that have been taken straight out of Monkey Island 1 and 2.
    "Hang on a minute," you say. "It's a sequel. Sequels are allowed to take ideas from previous things. That's the idea."
    Well, yes. But there is a difference between using prequels as a base and directly using things in them. And Monkey Island 3 does this on an all-too-regular basis.
    Although there are a few examples of this are on the first island, when you get to Blood Island, these similarities become crystal-clear.
    (Next bit very small, in case it might very mildly spoil the game)
    On Blood Island, we have: A graveyard which has almost identical crypts to the ones on Monkey 2, the same bats sitting on the gate in Monkey 2, and the same music as the graveyard in Monkey 2. Elsewhere on the island, we have a locked windmill which bears a startling resemblance to the locked weenie hut on Monkey 2.
    Okay, so I've only listed two of these things, but trust me, there are a lot more.

    These are not the only problems. After the huge Monkey 2, I was expecting a similarly huge Monkey 3. And while it is undeniably big, there are many size problems. Like Monkey 2, there are six parts, but:

    1. Part one is a mere three screens.
    2. Part two is totally colossal.
    3. Part three sees the not-entirely-welcome return of the insult sword fighting from Monkey 1. The first time it was a great novelty - now it's just unoriginal and tedious.
    4. Part four is large, but also very dull in places.
    5. Part five effectively consists of one screen. Ooooh, now that's what I call DEPTH.....
    6. Part six, the finale, is a huge anti-climax, with one dull puzzle. It is followed by:
    7. THE WORST END SEQUENCE OF ALMOST ANY GAME EVER MADE!!!!!! Nooooooooooooooooooo! The last ever Monkey game is ended with a whimper!

    Oh, and getting hopelessly stuck is, of course, still a big risk. It's a good idea to have somewhere to turn to when this happens.

    Overall: 92%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Dungeon Keeper

    Platform: PC (P90 minimum, P166 or higher recommended)
    Developer: Bullfrog
    Hard disk space: 70Mb
    Reviewed on: 19th/21st January 1998

    Early summer, 1997...

    Dungeon Keeper, Peter Molyneux's first game since Populous II, is released. Commence much spoogery, joyous dancing in the streets, and public holidays.

    None of this applied to me; I was about the only person in the world who was totally uninterested by Dungeon Keeper's new take on the dungeon theme. I played the demo, and although it was good, it didn't interest me enough to make me want to buy it. Also, it contained elements which were very reminiscent of the antiquitated Populous - slightly off-putting...

    Seven months later, I bought it. It had been reduced to 25 in the January sales. And I had been playing it multiplayer a few weeks earlier, and needed some practice.


    Dungeon Keeper could be described as a cross between Populous and Red Alert. The similarities to the former are immediately obvious. Instead of flattening land so that your people can bulid houses, you dig earth so you can build rooms. And unlike in other strategy games, you don't normally have direct control over your soldiers.

    Dungeon Keeper is, of course, much better than Populous AND Red Alert. Its main strength is in the superb AI. Each creature really does have a different personality, and many will respond differently depending on their circumstances. In fact, it is so advanced, you can often empathise with your creatures - as if there really is a real brain behind that 3D sprite... Makes AL (Artificial Life) look like a complete waste of time.

    The level designs are, basically, the best ever seen in any game ever. In several places, particularly towards the end of the game, I was blown away by the genius of it all. I've never been able to say that about any other game...

    The attention to detail is also superb. There is a whole load of stuff in there which you may never find out about.

    Absent are those stupid tank-rushes from the C&C series. Because you don't directly manufacture your creatures, it's not a question of simply clicking on 'Build' until you have a huge army. You have to do the best with what you've got. In other words, you must intelligently deploy your creatures. There are many choices to be made. Should you put them in the Library, so they can research new spells and rooms? Should you put them in the Workshop, so they can build traps or doors? Should you put them in the Scavenger Room, in order to attract more creatures to your dungeon? Should you put them on Guard Posts, to discourage enemy incursions into your dungeon? Or should you put them in the Training Room? If you never do this, your creatures will be useless.

    Humour is ever-present. Dungeon Keeper uses every cliche regarding good citizens to superb effect. Before each level starts, you get a brilliant commentary which gives you a bit of information on the quaint village you are about to rip to shreds. When you finish the level, you get told how your conquest has changed the place... Similarly, when the Lord of the Land - the mightiest hero of them all - comes and attacks your dungeon, he always comes up with a brilliantly cliched line, such as: "Leave us to live our lives in peace!". (Although this is definitely not the best - I just can't remember the best one...)

    Another brilliant humourous occasion was when I read the manual and saw the 'Blood Type' attribute. 'Blood type. You, as Dungeon Keeper, must know your creatures if you are to command them effectively. Being aware of a creature's blood type gives you greater power of them. Apart from this, it does nothing.'
    'Blood Type?', I thought. 'How sad and pointless.'
    THEN, I went to the actual game and read the on-line help for the Blood Type icon... Superb. Just superb.

    So, the verdict? Despite my initial lack of interest, Dungeon Keeper has managed to win me over more than almost any game ever. That's a huge achievement. I never had much interest in Bullfrog's/Peter Molyneux's games before - I once tried to buy Populous 2 on the ST, but it was out of stock*... Dungeon Keeper has changed all of that for ever.
    Get this: It's so good, I'm even interested in the new data disk... Another first.

    Your corpse will feed my minions yet, Keeper! Hahahahahahhaahahhaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!

    Overall: 93%

    * - Okay, I also bought Theme Park on the Jaguar, but only because there were no other good games left to buy. And I have almost completed Magic Carpet. And I really liked the demo of Theme Hospital. But none of them come close to this.

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Wipeout 2097

    (Wipeout XL in the USA)

    Platform: PC (High-end 3D card ESSENTIAL. Also available on Playstation.)
    Developer: Psygnosis
    Hard disk space: 4Mb (minimum, recommended), >40Mb (normal or full - not recommended)
    Reviewed: January 1998

    Remember the first time you saw Mario 64 running?

    Of course you do. Everyone does. It's like remembering where you were when Kennedy was shot. I remember where I was. I was a sperm. Anyway.

    Mario 64 was very memorable. A graphical advance like that is not going to be forgotten in a hurry. But if you cast your mind back about a year before that, you might remember that another graphical landmark was set, with the epic Playstation hit, Wipeout.
    Wipeout was a game which got many things right. The game was MADE of adrenalin. The graphics were lovely. The music had been done by some big names. And logos courtesy of the Designers Republic. Offsetting all this brilliance was the fact that at times the difficulty seemed impossibly high. Hands up, anyone who won the championship on Rapier mode?
    (Hmm, although I can't actually remember whether I did or not. Come to think of it, I probably did - I spent such a long time playing it.)
    Part of the game's difficulty was that whenever you lightly clipped a barrier, your craft would instantly come from 200mph to a full halt, and usually do an annoying spin which left you totally disorientated. There was much excitement when Psygnosis announced a sequel, in which this problem would be removed. But would this be enough?

    First, let me tell you something. When it was released on the PC, Wipeout was hit by a wave of criticism, and got poor reviews. The main reason for this was the graphics. The engine was an extremely shoddy piece of work - joins between polygons filled the whole game, and the last, most difficult track, featured a load of glitches which helpfully flashed up in front of you, totally obliterating your view. The other problem with the graphics was the frame rate. The first track was playable, but after that, the complexity increased. I had to resort to switching off the texture mapping, which made it look a bit stupid, and still wasn't enough on the last tracks.
    BUT... The thing is, despite these terrible flaws, I love Wipeout. It is great. It is the most addictive game ever made. The demo was very carefully constructed, so that you got one lap on the first track - and it was possible to win the race in this one lap, but only if you were totally perfect (and had a bit of luck as well). I played the demo solidly for days, until I finished first. Then I bought the game, and I was not disappointed. For once, the tacky line on the side of the box - 'Adrenalin is a trademark of Wipeout' - was not hype.

    Wipeout 2097 was a major factor in deciding which 3D card I would get. I could have bought a 3Dfx, but the lure of this game, bundled free with the PowerVR cards, was too much. I had previously played the demo in software mode, and it was totally unplayable. So when I had installed my 3D card, I installed the game (it mostly runs off the CD, but despite this loading times are still very short). I loaded it. I started my first race. And I was blown away.
    No, not by the brilliance of the gameplay, or the graphics. I was blown away by the TRULY AWFUL frame rate. Aiiiieeeee! It was totally unplayable. This is on a P200-MMX with a PowerVR2 card.

    Later, having played a load of other games, I came back to W2097. And I started playing it properly, as opposed to switching off in disgust. And, surprise surprise, it was great. Of course, I knew it would be, because I had played the Playstation version. But now that I owned it for myself, I had the opportunity to play it repeatedly for hours at a time. This I did. And verily, it ruled.

    To try and improve the frame rate, I turned the draw distance to minimum. This hardly has any effect on the (incredible, by the way) look of the game, but also doesn't have much effect on the frame rate. To a certain degree it is possible to get used to it - but there will be many occasions where you lose a race as a result of the frame rate. If you've got a P2-300 or a Voodoo 2 card, however...

    Like its predecessor, Wipeout 2097 is very difficult. Fortunately the learning curve is ten times better, with the new, easy, 'Vector' class added. And, of course, the ability to make contact with the sides of the track without always meeting a painful death.
    It is also a lot bigger. At the start of the game, your task is to win all the races on Vector, Venom and Rapier classes. You then get thrown into an ultra-difficult championship where you race on the first six tracks at Rapier (incredibly fast) class. Here, you must not only win each track, but do it with the same team and in the same session. You have three continues, although you only lose one if you finish below third. I found this championship somewhat infuriating, but this added to the satisfaction I got from finally winning...
    After that, you can access the two stupidly difficult Phantom class tracks, and get to race against the Piranha team as well as all the others. These new tracks are almost impossible to master, often requiring the repeated use of Autopilot powerups to win - but that won't stop you from trying over and over again... So far I have only finished the first of the Phantom tracks, the second will be a lot harder. Virtually impossible, in fact...
    (Update - I completed these tracks, giving access to the Piranha challenge - which is like the earlier Phantom Challenge, except that you must win all eight races at Phantom class... And, amazingly, I managed this as well, although it took a very long time.)

    There is one slight disappointment, though (not counting the frame rate). On the Playstation version, when you did time trials, you could race against a ghost car, a la Sega Rally. This was cool because it allowed you to compete directly with yourself, and also with other people, by taking it in turns to race (I always won). But when I tried this on the PC version, there was nothing. It was just a standard, boring time trial, with no ghost cars whatsoever. Ah well.

    Final respect must go to the music. Once again, Psygnosis have failed to include the famous music from the Playstation version, instead relying on their in-house music people, known as CoLD SToRAGE. They also did the tracks the the original Wipeout PC, but in 2097 they have really started to excel. I would go so far to say that some of the music on this CD is better than the original Playstation music. Apart from the two remixes of Messij. It was great when we first listened to it in the original Wipeout, but now we'd quite like something NEW, thank you very much. Two almost identical tunes on the same CD is a bit annoying.

    Overall: 92%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad

    Note (29/8/99) - Now that I have got a Voodoo 2, a P2-350, and a crack which lets me play 2097 with 3D cards other than PowerVR, I have discovered the awful truth. This game isn't frame rate limited. It used to be almost unplayable because of the low frame rate. Now it is definitively unplayable because it keeps going into fast motion mode. For this reason, I recommend a Voodoo 1 as the ideal card to play the game with...


    Ultim@te Race

    Platform: PC (PowerVR only, P200 or higher recommended)
    Developer: Kalisto
    Hard disk space: 50Mb
    Reviewed: December 1997

    Quake II was a very difficult game to review. Wheras with Ultim@te Race the task is incredibly easy. Because it is the least addictive good game of all time, and the most short-lived.

    One of the things that made me buy a PowerVR card was the enthusiasm over Ultim@te Race, the game given away to demonstrate the power of the card. But, annoyingly, no-one told me what the actual game was like. They just said it looked impressive and had only one track. Now I will reveal the truth.

    When I first played the game, I was not blown away by it. The graphics are quite nice, but nothing to e-mail home about. There are some very impressive bits, but they are usually followed by some VERY dull bits. Also, the frame rate is not quite what I had hoped for. It is much faster than most PC games, including Wipeout 2097, but still not ideal, especially when there is more than one car on-screen. Also, there is a headlight effect when it gets dark - but this often looks stupid and unrealistic.

    But the real problem is, as mentioned earlier, with the long-term interest. There isn't any. None whatsoever. A few weeks ago I was playing a shareware Pacman clone called 'Greedy'. And even that, with only nine levels, kept me occupied for several days.
    There are a whole load of reasons for this. The first is that there are only three tracks. One of these is mind-numbingly tedious, and the others aren't hugely riveting either. There are two options when you go to do a race - a standard race against 12 computer cars, or time-trials. "Hmmm," you think, "the time-trials sound interesting". Sorry, but you're wrong. The time trials are okay, but get this: No ghost car to race against. No entering of initials when you get the fastest lap. No saving of fastest lap times. No recording of race times, because the race lasts forever - or at least until you quit.
    The other reason for the game's short-term interest is the cars. From the main menu, you can select one from a whole load of different cars. But none of them seem to be any different in terms of handling. So what's the point?
    Okay, so maybe if you've got a network, and know someone else who's got a PowerVR card, link-up Ultim@te Race could be quite good. Otherwise, this is the most short-lived good game ever.

    Overall: 63%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Quake II

    Platform: PC (supports 3Dfx and PowerVR, software version reviewed. 3Dfx and 64Mb recommended. Min P200 recommended for software.)
    Developer: id
    Hard disk space: 25Mb (Minimum), 200Mb (Normal, HIGHLY reccommended), 400Mb (Full)
    Reviewed: December 1997

    Where do I start?

    Quake II is Quake II. It is the sequel to Quake. Quake is Quake. It is the sequel to Doom, and a work of pure genius. You probably already know what Doom is. (If you don't, it's Doom.)

    At this point, the word 'spooge' will be used.

    Spooge.

    This word has various meanings throughout the world, some of which are not suitable for a family page like this. In this case, however, it is the universally agreed method of praising Quake. So, as you can imagine, when the first information on Quake II arrived, there was much spoogery.

    However, after playing Quake II for the first time, and getting through the whole of the first unit, I realised that there was a new word that described the new game perfectly.

    SPLAT.

    Let me explain. The game loaded, and we started a new game. I ran around a bit, shooting things, and gawping at the incredible, 3Dfx enhanced, graphics. Then I picked up my first new weapon - the shotgun. I pointed it at an enemy, pulled the trigger. Splat.
    I continued gleefully on my quest, making many enemies go 'Splat' on the way. It was not long before I had found another new weapon - the machine gun. I pointed it at an Enforcer and held down the trigger. As I fired, and fought against the gun's recoil, I watched as my foe's skin became covered with bullet holes. Then his head vanished, and he started to fall to the floor. A few more seconds of firing, and he had been turned into dogmeat. Splat.
    Later, I found yet another weapon - the huge Super Shotgun. SPLAT. SPLAT. SPLAT, it said to me, as I held down the fire button.
    Much later, I picked up the Chaingun, and let loose on a room full of enemies. "SP-P-P-P-P-LAT-AROONIE!" it screamed, as the bad guys writhed in pain...

    So, Quake II. A game where you make lots of things go 'Splat'.

    Also, a game which is incredibly hard to review...
    This is for the simple reason that Quake II is not Quake. Doom II took Doom, and added some extra bits, and refined the levels. Whereas Quake II is a completely different kettle of Rotfish. Goodbye, medieval setting. Goodbye, ogres, scrags, shamblers and vores. Hello, suspiciously-similar-to-Doom-in-places military bases. Hello, new, side-placed weapons. Hello, The Strogg. Hello, An Almost Believable Plot.

    It is at this point that I realise I haven't actually said much about the game. So, once again, where do I start? How about the all-new engine?

    The first time I played Quake II, it was not on my own PC. It was on a PC with a 3Dfx card. And the graphics were mind-blowingly good.
    A week later, I got it for myself. And guess what? My P200-MMX could only manage 320x240 software mode. This looks, not to put too fine a point on it, bollocks. The lack of coloured lighting makes many locations un-recognisable from the OpenGL version. Some enemies, particularly Fliers and Gunners, are so hard to make out in some cases, that you can't. Make them out, that is. In other words, they're sometimes invisible. But still shooting you a lot. Yep, in Doom II, Hell came to Earth. In Quake II, software mode, the same thing happens. Unfortunately, I had no choice - I wouldn't be able to get a 3D card for about a month, and I would have to like it or lump it. I decided to like it.
    Annoyingly, the game does not support Mode-X video modes other than 320x240 (on my PC, at least). At 640x480 it looks much better (although nowhere near as good as Quake at the same resolution). On my PC, however, this was far too slow. Quake II relies on a high frame rate much more than the original.

    Anyway, let's get on to the game itself. Out goes linear gameplay, and in comes a mission-based game similar to Hexen II but much better. Quake II is set over ten 'units', each one containing several levels. There are some three secret levels (which aren't actually that interesting). But this isn't telling you what it's like to actually play it...

    On my first game, I played through the first three units, having a lot of fun on the way. Then it started to become tedious. When I got to Unit 6, however, things started looking better. The reason for this was that I could see in the sky the huge structure known as the Big Gun - and I knew that my task in Unit 7 would be to destroy it. I was looking forward to yet another complex mission-based challenge. The expectation reached bursting point, as I completed my objectives and moved on...
    Cue Unit 7, which took five minutes, and consisted of about four rooms. HATE. HATE. HATE. HATE. For a more detailed description of this part of the game, click here.

    The game continued, and so did the disappointment. I reached the final level, killed the boss, and felt incredibly depressed. Had it lived up to the hype? It had shot the hype in the head and told it to go home.


    "Okay," I thought. "I won't play it again until I get a 3D card."

    So, why, the next day, did I feel this uncontrollable urge to play it again?

    The answer is very simple. Quake II, despite all of its problems, is great. And there are a lot of problems. Very small problems, but added together, they stop Quake II from being the best game ever. I feel a list coming on...

    Countering these problems are a whole load of truly great things. Ladders, for example. A very effective new method of getting around. Except that climbing down them is sometimes impossible, meaning that you have to plummet to your destination. Crouching is definitively great, though, and is not just a novelty like it was in Hexen II.
    There is a much greater sense of continuity in Quake II, in terms of the locations you visit. It's still not as good as I want it to be, but it's getting there.
    The weapons make things go splat. The music is superb. The FMV is good, as well. (Although hopefully the Trinity engine will render FMV obsolete...)

    And then there is the totally superb secret on the last level. Forget Quake's Dopefish, you're going to love this...

    You might have heard that Quake II is big. This is true, but depends on your definition of 'big'. On one side, we have X-COM Apocalypse, in which one game takes a month. On the other side, we have Quake, which normally takes about a day - but as the truly brilliant 'Quake Done Quick' proves, it is actually possible to finish it in twenty minutes... I would say that Quake II is slightly larger than its predecessor - it took me just over a day to finish. Of course the addictiveness of it means that you'll play it through a million times.

    Multiplayer. Multiplayer Quake was an incredible experience. And Quake II retains all that, and improves it. At first I was annoyed, because on Quake I was someone who always went and took the rocket launcher and killed everyone. Because Quake II has more balanced weapons, I couldn't do that any more. So where, you ask, does the satisfaction come from?
    The answer is one word: Railgun. Killing people with the Railgun in Quake II is twice as satisfying as killing them with the rocket launcher in Quake, because it requires a lot more skill. Nothing can compare to the fun had when you've just killed someone who is about a mile away from you... This is coolness incarnate.
    Update: Having been playing online for a while now, I can now defintively say that Quake II whups Quake I's shiny ass. Especially if you play online and have a go at Capture the Flag. It's unreal.

    A brief history of Quake II. Incredible. Disappointment. Improving. Addictive. Classic. Come to me, Trinity...

    Overall: 95%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad

    The difference between 3Dfx and PowerVR
    Quake II was designed for 3Dfx. PowerVR gives a far inferior experience. The frame rate is about half that of 3Dfx (both with P200s), the coloured lighting is inferior, and worst of all, the lighting effects are done in what I can only call 'Block Mode'. It's hard to explain. Let's just say that it makes the place look like Legoland. Very crap indeed.


    Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo

    Platform: PC (min P100, P166 recommended, also available on Playstation)
    Developer: Capcom
    Hard disk space: Less than 100K - runs off CD
    Reviewed: October 1997

    What's so great about this game? What is it that makes it so addictive? Is it the frantic Tetris-style gameplay? Is it the nice music? Is it the funny little characters who battle it out? Or is it the way you can build massive, impressive looking structures, and then blow them up?

    Yes, I think you guessed.

    SPF2T as we will call it for now is yet another Street Fighter game. What makes it different is that it is the first Street Fighter game which isn't a beat 'em up. It's a novel twist on the Columns theme, in which you play head-to-head with an opponent (either human or computer controlled). Your task is to create great big blocks of gems of the same colour, which can then be destroyed by putting a 'crash gem' of that colour next to them. Depending on the number of gems you destroy, a certain number of 'counter gems' will fall onto your opponent's screen - these are like normal gems except they can't normally be destroyed immediately. The counter gems fall in different configurations depending on which character each player chose. This allows you to use this thing called 'strategy', by trying to predict where the next lot of counter gems will fall. And that's the game. Trust me, it's a lot simpler than I make it sound...

    The game runs totally off the CD, which is very useful seeing how most modern games seem to need 50 megs of hard drive space (or 200 if they're called Quake (that's with add ons, of course)). The presentation of the game is good, with some nice music and sound effects. You get the option of running the game in a variety of resolutions and colour depths, although there doesn't seem to be much point in running it at anything other than 320x240x256 - in higher modes the screen is just stretched.

    There's a training demo which gives you a quick tutorial on how to play the game, which is very commendable. Also, once you've completed it on the hardest difficulty, you can play on 'Street Puzzle mode', which gives you tons of prizes to fight for, including access to the hidden characters.

    Now we come on to a very significant part of the game - the characters. Because it's a Japanese game, and the Japanese don't like playing anything unless they can get full psychological profiles of all the main characters, the game has been packed full of personality. For example, whenever a round is finished, the winner gives you a very cheesey catchphrase. Initially these are annoying, but you'll soon love them to bits... Another atmosphere enhancing thing is the collection of intermission sequences. You get to see one of these halfway through each tournament (as long as the difficulty is on Normal, Hard or Master). They're short, humourous bits of animation which make a nice break from the (sometimes frustrating) main game.

    One thing I find particularly enjoyable is the recurring theme of what happens to Dan throughout the game. Dan is the dude in the pink robe who takes you through the Training Demo. I won't spoil it by telling you everything - you'll have to buy the game to find out. And on the subject of buying the game; as you should be able to get it for less than 15, it is a totally essential purchase. The end.

    (oh, there's a bug in there - always save before you go to the Goodies menu, as it often crashes at this point...)

    UPDATE - I tried out the two-player mode. And it was superb. So superb that it has guaranteed SPF2T's place in my Top Ten for a long time to come. In fact, I can't see it leaving the chart at all for at least two years...

    Overall: 92%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Mini-reviews

    These are overviews of a few games written before ARGnet existed... Written on 30th January 1998.

    X-COM: Apocalypse

    Overall: 94%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Command and Conquer: Red Alert

    Overall: 94%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


    Civilization 2

    Overall: 96%

    Goodness distribution:
    Excellent
    Good
    Average
    Poor
    Bad


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    Copyright 1997-2000 Andrew R. Gillett