ARGanoid's videogaming page - Reviews (Highly outdated)
Click here to return to the main videogaming page
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.
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.
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.
Grand Theft Auto 3 (PS2)
Spheres of Chaos (PC)
Max Payne (PC)
Operation Flashpoint (and Red Hammer expansion) (PC)
Soul Calibur (Dreamcast)
Tribes 2 (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
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)
Civilization: Call to Power (PC)
Alpha Centauri (PC)
Half-Life / Sin (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.
Platform: PC (minimum: P2-300, recommended: P3/Athlon-500)
Hard disk space: 100Mb
Reviewed on: 12th July 2001
Game released: Mid 2000
- Graphics: 6/10 - The landscapes and vehicles are okay, but nothing to write home about.
- Sound: 6/10
- Gameplay: 4/10 - Insane is a game where you drive around in off-road vehicles and take part in various competitions such as Capture the Flag, racing, and one where everyone competes to get to the next checkpoint first. Unfortunately, the range of play modes are very limited, and each individual mode tends to get boring pretty quickly - particularly as some of the more tedious rounds can last 20 minutes or more, with little variation in the gaming experience.
Crucially, the handling of the vehicles leaves much to be desired - it is far too unforgiving. For example, driving over the crest of a hill and briefly becoming airbourne before landing and triumphantly continuing on your way. This isn't what happens in the game - instead, your vehicle usually overturns, or a wheel breaks. Also, if you try to adjust your racing line by turning one way to position yourself on the track, then the other way to make sure you're pointing in the right direction, unless you're going slowly the vehicle will usually topple over.
- Learning curve: 6/10
- Long-term interest: 4/10 - The combination of the problems mentioned above mean that most players will lose patience with the game pretty quickly.
Sonic Adventure 2
Reviewed on: 10th July 2001
Game released: June 2001
- Graphics: 7/10 - The frame rate and visual quality have been improved over Sonic Adventure 1, but sometimes at the cost of a shorter draw distance. Some locations are extremely impressive, others look like they're made out of a handful of polygons.
- Sound: 5/10 - Forgettable music and sound effects. Voices in cutscenes are muffled and aren't even synced correctly with the scenes and/or subtitles.
- Gameplay: 4/10 - Sonic Adventure was a good but flawed game, and I always looked forward to a sequel, imagining that it would be just as good but with the flaws removed. Unfortunately, Sonic Adventure 2 is a frustrating disappointment. The controls are more sluggish, and even more so than the original game, the levels are designed to look impressive rather than play well. The robotic missile shooting mode (which was the best mode in the original game) is now sluggish and tedious. And the shoddy camera from the original game is in some ways even worse, occasionally getting totally stuck.
- Learning curve: 5/10
- Long-term interest: 5/10
- Multiplayer: Not tested
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)
Reviewed on: 8th July 2001
Game released: April 2001
- Graphics: 9/10 - Excellent level-of-detail technology which both permits the display of massive landscapes, and also allows the game to run surprisingly well on low-spec (i.e. Voodoo 3 equipped) PCs.
- Sound: 8/10
- Gameplay: 8/10 - Totally addictive, but at times can be terribly repetetive. At the end of the day it all comes down to whether you find the setting immersive enough (in particular, whether you find the lovely wisps of belief the rise from your villagers satisfying enough) to justify the repetition. The game is full of excellent bits, but also has more than its fair share of niggles, flaws and a whole barrage of serious bugs. Some of the bugs were fixed by the beta patch (official patch coming soon), but the game was clearly released before it was finished. The use of the third-party BWBackup utility is highly recommended in case something goes seriously wrong with your game.
- Learning curve: 8/10
- Long-term interest: 8/10 - My game took 51 hours from start to finish. There is a fair degree of replay value, but many may not relish the possibility of playing what can be a very repetetive and slow-paced game through again. Personally, I won't consider playing through again until all the patches are out and I get a new video card.
Overall: 9.0/10 (7/10 without patches)
Daytona USA 2001
Reviewed on: 8th July 2001
Game released: April 2001
- Graphics: 8/10 - Smooth frame rate and moderately impressive visuals.
- Sound: 6/10
- Gameplay: 8/10 - The handling takes a lot of learning, being very different to most other racing games out there, but once you've got the hang of it, it's very enjoyable. Unfortunately, the game is too short, with just four 4-race championships to attempt. Once that's done, you must resort to challenging yourself with the time trial with ghost car option. However, you'll need several memory cards if you want to keep ghost cars for every single track.
- Learning curve: 7/10
- Long-term interest: 6/10
- Multiplayer: 7/10 - The enjoyability of split-screen multiplayer depends entirely on whether you can find someone who is able to practice the game enough - it's not the kind of game that a beginner will be able to play properly on their first 10 or 20 races. If the game had had the online multiplayer option present in the US and Japanese versions, it would have almost certainly got 9/10 overall.
Platform: PC (minimum: P200, recommended: P2-300)
Hard disk space: 610Mb
Developer: Black Isle Studios
Reviewed on: 27th April 2001
Game released: 1999
- Graphics: 7/10 - Rather outdated, but not too bad, and some of the spell effects are pretty good.
- Sound: 7/10
- Gameplay: 8/10 - A good game with a superbly original plot. The game gives you great deal of freedom to express yourself the way you want to - many character interactions can be resolved through any one of (or combination of) negotiation, compassion, bluffing, lying, promising, outwitting, and of course violence. The game can sometimes seem like it's just a vehicle for the excellent story, but usually it's pretty good.
- Learning curve: 7/10
- Long-term interest: 8/10 - Fairly long, and there is a lot of scope for playing the game in a completely different style a second time around, but as is often the case with games based on a strong plot, once you've finished the game once, the urge to play again might not be so great, since you already know almost everything that's going to happen.
Platform: PC (minimum: P2-300 & 3D card, recommended: P3-500)
Reviewed on: 23rd April 2001
Game released: April 2001
- Graphics: 9/10 - Gloriously huge and pretty landscapes and some very impressive scenes.
- Sound: 7/10 - Sufficient. Some of the music is quite good, although as with most games, I wish there was more music.
- Gameplay: 7/10 - Amusing and refreshingly different at first, but it soon gets repetetive. On Normal difficulty, the entire game will require you to utilise the Quick Load/Save keys almost as much as the fire button.
- Learning curve: 6/10 - Don't play it on Normal difficulty unless you like having to repeat the same section 20 times before you get through without dying.
- Long-term interest: 6/10 - Limited replay value - the single player game is slight variations on the same gameplay all the way through, so by the time you've got to the end, you'll probably already have had enough. Might be good for the occasional quick blast, but some may consider the levels too big and time-consuming for this.
- Multiplayer: Not tested extensively. Seemed like a reasonably good laugh when playing co-op on a LAN, but unsurprisingly, slowed down a lot with a lot of creatures on-screen. Unusually for a PC first-person shooter, the game also includes a split-screen multiplayer mode.
Grand Prix 3
Platform: PC (minimum: P200, recommended: P3-700, 3d card)
Developer: Geoff Crammond
Reviewed on: 25th February 2001
Game released: Mid 2000
- Graphics: 5/10 - Glitchy and outdated, although the reflective rain effects are ok. Also, the game runs at a fixed frame rate, and the physics are tied to the frame rate - which means that if there are lots of cars on the screen, instead of dropping frames like any other game, the whole game will halve in speed - a ridiculous state of affairs for a game released in 2000.
- Sound: 6/10 - Not particularly noteworthy.
- Gameplay: 7/10 - Great and rubbish in equal measure. The handling seems a lot more slidey than the previous Grand Prix games, which I like. However, the game is afflicted by loads of minor (but they all add up) bugs and niggles. Also, Like the real thing, it's very unforgiving and overtaking can be a pain in the arse - often it's too difficult to judge where the other car is in relation to you, and you end up getting rammed off the track. The game is best suited to hardcore sim fans who have a lot of time and patience.
- Long-term interest: 7/10 - If you have enough patience to endure the game's shortcomings, it could last you years. Otherwise, it won't.
- Multiplayer: Not tested, but apparently is an almost complete waste of time.
Metropolis Street Racer
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Reviewed on: 11th February 2001
Game released: November 2000
- Graphics: 9/10 - Superb - wouldn't look out of place on the PS2. Although unfortunately that includes the 'jaggies' that have afflicted some PS2 games. The graphics often look near-photorealistic - partly because the textures mostly comprise of photos from the real life locations the game is set in.
- Sound: 8/10 - Excellent engine sounds and authentic radio stations which are tailored according to which location you are in. It could do with more music tracks, though.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - The best driving game for a long time - the handling is a good halfway point between arcadey and realistic. Unlike many racing games, success here is not determined by how much you hold down the accelerator, but how intelligently you use the brakes.
However, the game isn't without its problems. The 'revolutionary' kudos system, which awards points based on how much 'stylishly' you drive, is far too unbalanced towards giving you massive rewards for doing handbrake turns at every corner, rather than genuine racing skill. You can expect to get over a thousand points on some tracks merely because they are longer and thus have a greater number of corners to slide around. The game also has a number of bugs, and a new version is being offered to people who send their bugged discs back to Sega. I got through it without being too disrupted by the bugs (indeed, one of them helped me considerably - incorrectly winning me championships which I wouldn't have wanted to repeat anyway...)
- Learning curve: 7/10 - Starts off quite difficult, then gets relatively easy later on. The final chapter consists of 9 really easy challenges (which are affected by a design error accompanied by a bug) followed by 1 extremely difficult challenge that will have you punching inanimate objects.
- Long-term interest: 7/10 - Very long - 250 challenges - but you're liable to get tired of the repetition before the end. I recommend leaving it for a while when you get bored and coming back in a few weeks/months.
- Multiplayer: Not tested.
The Typing Of The Dead
Platform: PC (minimum: P200, 64Mb, 3D card). Also available on Dreamcast
Hard disk space: 600Mb
Reviewed on: 9th February 2001
Game released: January 2001
- Graphics: 6/10 - About two years out of date, and rather glitchy, but they do the job.
- Sound: 8/10 - Average sound effects, poor voice acting (although this adds to the humour of the game), and suitably action game esque music. Most importantly, the gunshot sounds that occur when you hit a key are nice and meaty.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - The most original and instantly fun game I've played in ages. Although the gameplay is inherently very limited, it's far better than its Virtua Cop/House of the Dead heritage. The situations you find yourself in and the sentences the game requires you to type are both inventive and humourous.
- Learning curve: 7/10 - Although you'll finish it in a few hours or less, the difficulty is just about right. The game lets you start on any level you've previously reached and you get lots of continues, so finishing it is only a matter of time. Finishing it without losing any continues would be extremely difficult, however.
- Long-term interest: 5/10 - Pretty short, but more replay value than most arcade games, and contains a few extra play modes which you can try out if you want to have a quick game.
- Multiplayer: Not tested.
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
- Graphics: 8/10 - Very nice landscapes, complete with bump mapping and realistic looking sunlight and water effects. It also draws a long way into the distance. Not all locations look great, though. Frame rate sometimes drops very low when there are lots of buildings on screen, although this can be improved by turning the detail down.
- Sound: 7/10 - Most effects are merely sufficient, a few are nice and meaty, and the voices are great. Music is not particularly noteworthy.
- Gameplay: 8/10 - Nothing particularly spectacular - just good old fashioned blowing things up fun, except on huge landscapes with masses of enemies. And a great sense of humour in the cut-scenes.
- Learning curve: 7/10 - Mostly not too hard, although there are a few annoying difficulty bottlenecks.
- Long-term interest: 6/10 - The game is the right length, but there's not that much replay value.
- Multiplayer: Not tested, but could be interesting.
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
- Graphics: 6/10 - A bit ropey - let down by bland textures and odd lighting on the characters. On my GeForce, horribly dithered, and had occasional poor frame rates even after upgrading to 750Mhz.
- Sound: 6/10 - Functional. Nothing is particularly memorable. The voice acting is very poor in places.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - Consistently gives you a great degree of choice in terms of how you can accomplish your mission objectives. It keeps track of how previous situations you encountered turned out, and adapts some future dialogue and situations accordingly. Finally, an excellent new realistic weapon system means that you have to keep thinking during combat.
- Learning curve: 7/10 - Mostly ok, although the game isn't always well-balanced, resulting in the situation of having to reload the same savegame tens of times until you manage to survive.
- Long-term interest: 8/10 - There is great scope for replaying the game in different styles, although once you know the plot, you might not have the inspiration to play the whole thing through again.
Jet Set Radio
Reviewed on: 9th December 2000
Game released: Late 2000
REVIEW UPDATED 27th April 2003
- Graphics/Sound: 9/10 - Excellent cartoon-style characters combine with an unconventional (and very good) soundtrack to create a game with its own very unique style. This is a game you'll want to show to everyone you know.
- Gameplay: 8/10 - The controls are very hard to get the hang of. In fact I originally gave the game as a whole 7/10 because I never really got the hang of it even by the time I had completed it. I came back to it two years later and had a lot more fun that time, hence the increased score.
- Learning curve: 6/10 - As mentioned above, the awkward controls (and camera) can lead to frustration. I wrote in the original review at this point - "and in my experience, practice has yet to make perfect". Eventually, it did, but not until coming back to the game two years later and trying again.
- Long-term interest: 7/10
- Presentation: 9/10
Reviewed on: 7th December 2000
Game released: November 2000
- Graphics: 8/10 - The visuals, like the rest of the game, have been exquisitely and lovingly crafted; also like the rest of the game, they're not as good as the hype. For example, although the character faces in particular are very detailed, they're also mostly rather static.
- Sound: 7/10 - Adequate for the task, but could be better.
- Gameplay: 7/10 - Far from being the freedom-fest that was originally promised, Shenmue is actually just as linear (if not more so) than any number of standard adventure games. The bulk of the gameplay involves walking round and clicking on every person you come across, upon which your character asks each person the same question until he finds someone who can give him an answer. Then the question changes and the pattern repeats itself. You virtually never get to choose what to say in a conversation. There aren't any real puzzles, it's just a case of going through all the motions. The game world is reasonably immersive - helped greatly by the semi-realistic passage of time - but the world is far too small - I thought there would be a greater variety of locations.
The adventure part of the game often gets tedious and repetetive. There are also fighting sequences which crop up occasionally. Although these fighting sections provide occasional moments of near-greatness, this only happens a few times, near the end of the game. There are a number of other sub-games, but these generally follow the trend of the rest of the game by being interesting but a little lacking in gameplay.
Despite its shortcomings, Shenmue is a unique and interesting experience. Both the gameplay and plot fall short of being great, but they add up to slightly more than the sum of their parts.
- Long-term interest: 6/10 - Seems slightly too short, but then there isn't enough to do in the game to warrant making it longer. Could have done with more locations to help sustain interest. The gameplay is too limited for me to want to play it through again.
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
- Graphics: 6/10 - For the most part, nothing special, although it does have many good bits. The frame rate crawls almost to a stop in a few cases (particularly the open areas on the second level). Also, I found that in many places, it was far too dark to actually see anything even with the gamma turned right up - I had to turn off the lights in my room to be able to see where I was going.
- Sound: 8/10 - Pretty much the same as Thief 1 - and lots more interesting conversations to overhear.
- Gameplay: 8/10 - I've been playing Thief games too long. Before I played this, I'd played Thief 1 through on both Normal and Expert difficulties. Once you know what you're doing, and have mastered the playing style required on Expert level, it becomes rather repetetive. I also found some of the missions a bit samey.
The place where Thief II shines is not in its gameplay mechanics, but in its creativity and plot originality - almost on a par with System Shock 2.
- Learning curve: 7/10 - I've only played the game on Expert difficulty, but as with Thief 1 the mission objectives on each level are different depending on the difficulty you choose. On the downside, it doesn't have a training mission - for that you'll have to buy Thief Gold (I say buy both games and play them in order).
- Long-term interest: 8/10 - As with Thief 1, the missions are enormous (often taking more than two hours each) and there are a lot of them.
Soldier of Fortune
Platform: PC (minimum: P200, 64Mb, 3D card. Recommended: P2-350, mid to high end 3D card, 96Mb)
Hard disk space: Just over 700Mb
Reviewed on: 25th June 2000
Game released: March 2000
- Graphics: 9/10 - Considering the fact that it uses the Quake II engine, a superb achievement. High resolution textures, excellent animation, good lighting.
- Sound: 8/10 - Stirring context-sensitive music and excellent sound effects. What more could a boy want?
- Gameplay: 8/10 - Falls short of the masterpiece that many had been anticipating, but still an excellent game nonetheless. The weapons are loveliness incarnate. The game is let down slightly by poor AI for the bad guys (such as not noticing when their friends are shot), but they make up for this by being much more energetic than most games - rolling to the side and/or throwing themselves to the floor to evade fire. And they die most pleasingly. Bwahahaha.
- Learning curve: 7/10 - The difference between Medium and Challenging (the next one up) difficulties is rather too large. One is an all-out blast fest, while the latter is a cautious and tense stealth/tactical affair (although not exactly Rainbox Six). However, it does let you make a custom difficulty level based on a number of variables.
- Long-term interest: 7/10 - A full game takes about six hours at most. Moderate replay value, improved by the significant differences in play style brought about by changing the difficulty level.
- Multiplayer: 6/10 - Not tested much, but didn't seem particularly superb when I did try it. However, it has lots of interesting modes, and may be much better on a LAN than a modem.
Chu Chu Rocket
Reviewed on: 11th June 2000
Game released: Mid 2000
- Graphics: 6/10 - Functional - looks more like a Mega Drive game than a Dreamcast game, although the graphical design does have a certain charm.
- Sound: 6/10 - The music is quite catchy, but, as with the rest of the game, there isn't much of it and it get repetetive very quickly.
- Gameplay and the rest (single player): 5/10 - There are two single player puzzle modes, which are mildly entertaining, but rather short-lived. You can also play the multiplayer game against three computer players, but once you've played a few games, you've seen it all. Also, the AI leaves much to be desired. Sometimes the computer players act at Data-esque speed, other times they sit there doing nothing while you steal all the mice.
- Gameplay and the rest (online multiplayer): 4/10 - The interface for creating/joining online games is extremely poor. The game itself isn't suited at all for laggy internet play. It's a game which requires fast reaction times (it's often too fast to react quickly enough even offline), but when it takes around a second for the game to acknowledge that you've pressed a button, it makes it pointless to even try and react quickly.
- Gameplay and the rest (multiplayer on same machine): 7/10 - A big improvement on the previous categories - this game is ideally suited to be played by people in the same room rather than online. However, there is still a question mark over its longevity - the game doesn't have a great deal of room for varied tactics or playing styles.
N/A - depends entirely on which type of single or multiplayer is being played.
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
- Graphics: 7/10 - Marred by very low resolution textures in places, but mostly acceptable (and occasionally superb).
- Sound: 8/10 - Excellent use of sound as a gameplay device.
- Gameplay: 8.5/10 - A new genre, completely different to anything else (except Thief II). The nature of the game means that it can be a little tedious at times, though.
- Learning curve: 6/10 - The lowest difficulty level is probably still too hard for many casual gamers. The higher difficulty levels, while well thought out, may be too difficult for anyone who doesn't have the patience of a saint.
- Long-term interest: 9/10 - Massive missions, loads of levels, and a multitude of extra objectives on higher difficulties. And a lot of reloading unless you don't mind walking really slowly everywhere.
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.
Reviewed on: 2nd June 2000
Game released: 1998
- Graphics: 9/10 - Worthy of 'only' 8 throughout most of the game, but there are a few bits which are beyond superb.
- Sound: 8/10 - Usually cheesy - but good quality cheese.
- Gameplay: 7/10 - It's one of those games which has the potential to be an all-time classic, but messes it up with bad implementation. The much-maligned adventure bits are in my opinion pretty good (if only because the plot and setting are very nice), but the action sections are flawed. Sometimes the game is marred by awkward or oversensitive controls, but the biggest problem is the absolutely abysmal camera, which spends a large proportion of the time either being at an awkward angle, or behind walls. You are frequently forced to manually move the camera yourself with the shoulder buttons - and sometimes have to walk around blind while you try to work out how to get the camera back.
Back to the good points though - possibly the coolest thing about the game is that you get to play as six different characters, and see the plot from different angles. It's thoroughly groovy to see the same encounter from multiple angles. Each character has a substantially different gameplay format for the action stages - some are superb, a few less so (such as the nightmarishly frustrating and tedious fishing game).
- Learning curve: 6/10 - Too difficult in some places, too easy in others.
- Long-term interest: 7/10 - It took me about two weeks of evenings to finish it as all the characters. They were a pretty engrossing pair of weeks, and the game offers a facility to easily play a single level to see if you can beat your previous performance.
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..
- Graphics: 8/10 - As good as can be expected (quite impressive, in fact) in 256 colour isometric '3D'. Extremely impressive animation in places, mostly on the rollercoasters - there must be thousands of prerendered sprites... I'd have loved to be able to ride my rollercoasters in true 3D, but you can't have everything..
- Sound: 7/10 - Highly authentic for the sound of the rollercoasters and the screaming people on them. Other sound effects and music get rather repetetive sometimes.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - Best described as enchanting. It's the game Theme Park wasn't. Not only do you get to stick down buildings in your theme park and manage the finances (both aspects massively improved over Theme Park), you also get to lovingly craft your own rollercoasters from scratch - tweaking every nuance to perfection. It is a total joy to spend ages creating your own masterpiece then see the crowds flock to it and laugh with delight after going on it. Or to create an outrageously stupid rollercoaster with a top speed of 256mph and a maximum of 10Gs. Bwa ha ha.
The only seriously noticable problem is the occasionally limited AI for the people.
Finally, as far as I can remember, there are few or no bugs.
- Learning curve: 8/10 - The system for building rollercoasters is both incredibly powerful and incredibly simple. The scenarios are challenging without being too hard.
- Long-term interest: 8/10 - Weeks of massive enjoyment at the absolute least. Personally, I got bored before I finished all the scenarios, but in part that is due to having played the demo to death for ages before getting the full game.
- Interface/presentation: 7/10 - Interface is powerful and easy to use. Intro (essentially a rolling demo), like the game, is fascinating to watch.
Platform: PC (recommended: P2-300 or better)
Hard disk space: Approx 280Mb
Reviewed on: 10th March 2000
- Graphics: 7/10 - Not very eye-catching. Just functional.
- Sound: 6/10 - Not very ear-catching. Just functional.
- Gameplay: 6/10 - An interesting concept, but it doesn't work superbly in practice. It's more of a 'software toy' than a game - and not a massively fun toy at that. It is quite addictive, but gets extremely repetetive and tedious very quickly. Annoying micromanagement is the central feature of the game. Furthermore, the game is marred (as so many are, which is why I became a game tester) by quite a few infuriating flaws. For example, if a person is walking somewhere and their path is blocked by another person, they are programmed to always wait about 20 seconds before trying to move again - even if the blocking person has gone after two seconds.
- Learning curve: 6/10 - The pop-up help system guides you through any problems you might have. However, progress is quite easy. Just keep telling your people to eat, urinate, wash their hands, shower, watch TV and go to work at the right times, and you will (very slowly) attain promotions. The only time it becomes a real challenge is when you have a household of four or more people - but that's just because the micromanagement becomes even more tedious and demanding.
- Long-term interest: 6/10 - There is a reasonable amount of potential for messing around and trying new things - and it takes ages to get promoted all the way to the top of any given profession.
You can also download new items for your home at www.thesims.com. Helpful hint - the slot machine download fixes one of the bugs. Another helpful hint - the guinea pig carries a disease which is lethal to humans. I kid you not. What are Maxis playing at?
- Interface: 7/10 - Okay, but the game requires too much micromanagement.
- Presentation: 5/10 - One interesting feature is that it automatically creates web pages for the homes and families you create, which you can then upload to show the online Sims community.
Parapper the Rapper
Reviewed on: 9th March 2000
Game released: 1997?
- Graphics: 9/10 - Totally different to anything else out there - and much better for it. Excellent animation and choreography.
- Sound: 9/10 - Groovy.
- Gameplay: 4/10 - Not as good as it could have been. The gameplay is extremely simplistic - but despite this, it doesn't actually work properly. Sometimes, you will play a section seemingly perfectly, and the game judges you to have done extremely badly. Sometimes, you will get it totally wrong (even pressing the wrong buttons), and the game will reward you. It seems almost random.
- Learning curve: 4/10 - The first three levels are too easy, the fourth and fifth are too hard, and the sixth is too easy.
- Long-term interest: 3/10 - The game is extremely short - to ensure that it isn't all over in half an hour, it relies on being very unforgiving. As for replay value, it would probably be better if it was easier to master the game - but as it is, the technique for getting consistently good results remains a mystery in several places.
- Interface: 4/10 - There are several bugs outside the main gameplay. After you have played a level once, it won't save any high scores for that level unless you attain Cool status. Also, replays occasionally glitch when you become Cool - failing to recognise this event.
- Presentation: 3/10 - Tedious FMV which has little or no connection to the gameplay. I'm fairly sure there are more minutes of video than there are of gameplay.
Quake III Arena / Unreal Tournament
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 Arena||Unreal 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.
Verdict: Could and should have been better. Probably would have got 92 or 93% if the issues I raised had been fixed.
Verdict: A very polished game. Great in the short term, but gets boring after a while.
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)
Hard disk space: Approx 260Mb
Reviewed on: 7th January 2000
- Graphics: 7/10 - Good image quality, but the creatures can sometimes look a bit origami-like - they are not detailed enough. They lack the style and charm of DK1's creatures.
- Sound: 6/10 - Very poor in comparison to DK1. Music is generally uninspiring. Sound effects aren't as meaty or well-orchestrated as DK1. The evil narrator bloke doesn't have the psychopathic edge to his voice that he had in DK1.
- Gameplay: 8/10 - Both better and worse than DK1. It's far more strategic (although it won't challenge many other strategy games in that respect), but it also seems to have quite a lot of style and flair taken out. The whole thing feels a lot more mechanical than DK1's mystery and secrecy. For example, all the creatures now seem to have more rigidly defined behaviour patterns. In DK1, their behaviour was never entirely predictable - they seemed almost alive. Most of that is lost in DK2 - they act almost like robots - and fairly stupid robots at that. They repeatedly complain that they're hungry (or haven't been paid) even if they're just a few steps away from the hatchery (or treasury). If a hungry creature becomes angry and wants to leave your dungeon, he will often walk straight through the hatchery and fail to notice the food which surrounds him.
Furthermore, if you manage to satisfy a creature who was about to leave, it will often leave the "I'm leaving" icon over his head even though he is now getting on with his normal routine. The creatures no longer seem to have much of a personality. Equally as bad as the below-par AI is that the creatures have been severely curtailed in number. No ghosts, dragons, hell hounds, tentacles, and many others. In their place, creatures such as the highly unimagintive Dark Elves, Black Knights and Dark Angels. The level design is well thought out and occasionally mildly ingenious - but once again it lacks mystery and intrigue.
DK2 isn't entirely sterile. It has a certain style of its own - but it gives the impression of having been designed by committee - and perhaps partially by focus group. It doesn't have half the atmosphere of DK1 - and for me, that was what DK1 was all about. If you want strategy, get DK2. If you want atmosphere and immersion, get DK1. One final thing - DK2 is buggy. Even after several patches and nearly a year after its release, it still doesn't seem totally finished.
- Learning curve: 7/10 - To be honest, I can't remember - I played the last level quite a long time after the rest of the game (I was waiting for my GeForce) - it's several months since I played through the majority of the levels. Still, I don't remember any massive problems in this area.
- Long-term interest: 6/10 - The campaign is quite long - but also a bit boring a lot of the time. I'm not going to play it again, full stop.
- Interface: 7/10 - More versatile and helpful to newcomers than DK1's interface, but far from perfect.
- Presentation: 4/10 - Totally superfluous, uninspired, cliched FMV sequences which serve no purpose whatsoever. At the end of each level you are given a supposedly humourous cut-scene which shows your denizens getting up to 'mischief' and 'fun'. I think these cut-scenes are supposed to portray jokes - but I can't see the funny side.
- Multiplayer: Not tested - but apparently far, far more time was spent on it than in DK1.
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.
- Graphics: 7/10 - Nothing groundbreaking, but they do the job just fine.
- Sound: 9/10 - Like the original, a large part of SS2 consists of listening to the now dead crew members' audio logs. This aspect more than anything else immerses you utterly in the game. I'd love to be able to tell you about all the excellent and spine-chilling stuff that goes on, but that would spoil the surprise.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - This is the game that Half-Life wasn't. If you thought Half-Life had the best plot and deepest gameplay of any first-person games, it's time to re-evaluate your perception. This makes Half-Life look like Doom. I know I'm not being very useful when it comes to describing how the actual game plays, but that's mainly because it's so huge and there's so much to it - I don't know where to start. Suffice to say that it is an incredible achievement - one day, more games will be made like this. (Clearly not all games - that would get tedious)
It is a very long way from being perfect - but it's still extremely impressive, and seems to be a fair way ahead of its time.
- Learning curve: 5/10 - Errs on the side of slightly too difficult throughout most of the game - although this is mostly acceptable - this is a scary game and to be scared you need to be in danger. Unfortunately it takes this a little too far sometimes. Having to reload the game 30 times in a row isn't fun - the game probably would have got a higher score if the bit near the end hadn't been so difficult. I'll be sure to play my next game on Easy.
- Long-term interest: 7/10 - Despite talk elsewhere of it being too short, it seemed huge to me. My game took just over 18 hours in game time. Probably add about two hours of failed reload attempts. Those 20 hours almost contain more excitement, emotion and plot twists than all the other games in the world put together (excuse the slight exaggeration, but the game is quite good).
Although it technically has massive amounts of replay value (character development paths, co-op multiplayer), SS2 is a plot-based game - and that is what drives it. For this reason, I can't see myself playing it through again more than once - if that.
- Interface: 8/10 - Very good considering the number of functions that can be performed.
- Presentation: 6/10 - Fairly poor FMV, but better than nothing. Good credits slideshow.
- Multiplayer: Not tested - sounds good (no deathmatch of course, just co-op), but I have no idea how successfully it has been implemented. Note that multiplayer is only available after you patch the game.
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.
- Graphics: 7/10 - Not technologically sophisticated, but looks fine - in the GDI missions, at least. The NOD missions suffer from Alpha Centauri syndrome - they're set on a dull, bleak, depressing landscape.
- Sound: 9/10 - Top notch in almost every respect. They even removed the annoying harvester deposit sounds which were in the original version of C&C.
- Gameplay: 8/10 - Simplistic even by the standards of Red Alert, let alone Total Annhiliation, but unlike Tiberian Sun, it is undeniably fun - and isn't marred by legions of bugs and flaws. C&C '95 also fixes the most serious problem with the original - the tiny viewing area. With a resolution of 640x400, you can see four times as much.
- Learning curve: 7/10 - Didn't notice any problems with the original campaigns, but the Covert Operations missions are extremely difficult. Less technically minded people may even have problems installing these extra missions - it uses a DOS installer which assumes you have an American keyboard - so you have to find the US equivalent of both the backslash and tilde keys.
- Long-term interest: 6/10 - You probably won't want to play the campaigns more than once - especially as there are no difficulty options as in Red Alert and Tiberian Sun. Multiplayer, on the other hand...
- Interface: 5/10 - Average by today's standards. No build queuing, and walls must be built one at a time.
- Presentation: 7/10 - The FMV is not as well-crafted or inspiring as Red Alert's, and not as sickeningly awful as Tiberian Sun's.
- Multiplayer: 9/10 - The original C&C has stood the test of time superbly.
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
- Graphics: 8/10 - Sufficient. Looks perfectly acceptable most of the time, although the sprite infantry (with black borders which make them look like poorly drawn cartoons) and lack of truly dynamic lighting are a big disappointment at first. Moderate slowdown in 800x600 on a P2-350 sometimes.
- Sound: 7/10 - Music is slightly inferior to Red Alert's, which in turn was slightly inferior to C&C's. Sound effects are adequate. The big problem here is EVA's voice. For a start, she can't even pronounce the word 'accomplished' in 'Mission Accomplished'. More seriously, her voice events aren't queued - if something important happens while she's saying something else, she'll just ignore the new event, thus depriving you of essential information (this problem caught me out in a very bad way at least once).
- Gameplay: 7/10 - You would have thought that after such a long period of development, Tiberian Sun would be polished to near-perfection and utterly bug-free. Well, that couldn't be much further from the truth. It has more bugs and glitches than both the previous C&C games put together (and multiplied by three). Here is a list for you to peruse:
The gameplay is a mixture of C&C and Red Alert style missions. Unfortunately, many of those which aren't ruined by bugs are ruined by just being plain boring and tedious. There are some which are great fun, but these are a very small minority.
- The old harvester queuing problem from the original C&C is back. Once again, you will be treated to the sight of a full harvester sitting uselessly next to a refinery because there's another full harvester three miles away assigned to it.
- There's a mission where you have to destroy all the wall segments to win. 'Nuff said.
- If you have a group with a medic in it, and tell that group to attack an enemy, the medic will always run to the front and instantly get himself killed.
- Orcas are particularly buggy. They sometimes land on top of each other, causing the one underneath to appear to vanish. Their group number is right on top of the ammo indicator, so you can't tell how much ammo they have. They sometimes fly backwards. And there is a bug which will sometimes cause them to stop reloading their ammo for the remainder of the mission.
- Orca Bombers don't update their ammo indicator properly. There was a similar problem with the Migs in Red Alert.
- The engineers are now the same as they were in C&C - they can capture buildings without the need for them to be damaged. This instantly unbalances the whole game, particularly multiplayer, where players must once again make pacts to not use engineers.
- NOD artillery cheats - it has perfect accuracy. If it fires at a unit which then moves, the shell will land where the unit used to be, but the explosion will happen where the unit is now.
- There's an already infamous mission called Capture the Hammerfest base. You start with a few units which must take back a GDI base. You quickly come across an enemy radar tower. Capturing it reveals a nearby NOD base, complete with an artillery unit. The artillery then proceeds to destroy your units. It turns out that it is impossible to win the mission if you capture the radar station - if you leave it alone, the artillery won't see you - because you can't see it. Doing the logical thing (capturing the radar tower, thus giving important strategic information) causes you to lose. What kind of warped thinking went into this game?
- Multiple other missions have major flaws or bugs. Some aren't scripted properly, so that it's possible to get into a situation where it is impossible to win the mission through no fault of your own.
- Many (I'd say at least 60%) missions fail to give you the adequate information required. Or rather, they give it to you in the FMV briefing (unlike Red Alert, there is no option to view this again), or the mission selection screen, but fail to give it on the mission objectives screen. Other times, the voices (either in the FMV sequences or by EVA/CABAL) are muffled and hard to make out. In the case of EVA/CABAL, you are often told things in a muffled voice during the heat of battle. Naturally, you fail to make out the words, but if you think you might be told again later, you're out of luck.
- As with previous C&C games, units have a laughably poor vision range. Am I really expected to believe that an infantry unit can't see more than a few metres ahead? Or, worse, that an Orca can only see the ground directly below it?
- GDI has some upgradeable buildings. Apart from the power stations, these are utterly useless. Instead of having to click three times to build a defensive structure, you have to click six times, building the turret in two parts. This isn't very helpful when your base is being invaded.
- You still have to build walls one bit at a time.
- You can only queue five units of each type (i.e. infantry/vehicles). This is supposed to stop tank rushing. All it actually does is annoys.
- Westwood (by their own admission) haven't paid any attention to the advances made by other RTS games such as Total Annhiliation. Their loss - and, unfortunately, ours.
- The plot and cutscenes are awful (see Presentation).
- One almost certainly positive thing: the railgun is quite cool.
Westwood have done irreparable damage to their reputation. I just can't understand how this game can be so shoddy given how long they had to make it. Unfortunately, because it's C&C, it's almost certain to become one of the biggest selling PC games of all time. The poor misinformed non-ARGnet reading public shouldn't have to put up with inept games like this. It's not a disaster on the scale of Call to Power, but it could have been so much better than it is.
- Learning curve: 7/10 - Plagued throughout by those annoying missions where you start with a few troops who have to make their way across a map full of enemy units and bases. Naturally, these are the missions where scripting bugs turn up most often. These kinds of missions can often be fun, but Tiberian Sun seems intent on proving otherwise.
- Long-term interest: 6/10 - Quite long, but you probably won't want to play it through more than once - mostly due to there being too many 'supertrooper' missions and not enough base building ones.
- Interface: 6/10 - Additions: Waypoints (clumsily implemented), unit queuing (maximum of five), and the ability to switch off structures to conserve power (never needed to do this). But still you have to build things one at a time, including walls.
- Presentation: 4/10 - How the mighty have fallen. I rated Red Alert 10 in this category; Tiberian Sun takes the foundation built by its predecessor, and defacates profusely on it. The FMV sequences are cheesy to the power of cheese squared. The acting and script are abysmal - when your cringe-worthingly cliched GDI alter-ego, James McNeil, says "Let's kick some ass", he REALLY MEANS IT. And sounds constipated. The 'plot' is shallow, and what story there is is told very badly. At the end, you are left thinking "What was that all about?". And also, "What was the point?".
- Multiplayer: Barely tested, but from initial observations, it doesn't seem as good as the original C&C. Particularly annoying is a thing called the Hunter-Seeker Droid, which randomly destroys an enemy unit or building. Naturally, the first time an enemy used it against me, it destroyed my construction yard. When I first read about it in the manual, I thought it must be some kind of single-player novelty device - but it doesn't turn up in single-player at all.
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.
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)
Hard disk space: Approx 160Mb
Reviewed on: 5th August 1999
- Graphics: 8/10 - Most 3D engines are designed to display lots of special effects and the like, but are restricted to showing small rooms or corridors. Tribes' engine goes in the opposite direction. It has little in the way of special effects (not even realtime lighting), but more than makes up for it by featuring massive outdoor levels with rolling hills and valleys, and massive structures. A breath of fresh air. Unlike Outcast's outdoor-orientated engine, it is also perfectly capable of showing indoor locations.
- Sound: 7/10 - No music. Sound effects aren't quite as meaty as they are in id games, but far meatier than in Half-Life. The little jingle you get when you capture the flag is spot on.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - The most varied and strategic first-person shooter since Team Fortress. There are a multitude of play modes, the most common two being Capture the Flag, and Capture and Hold. CTF in particular requires lots of cohesive teamwork, something which is often hard to achieve on a public server. Conversely, C&H is much better suited to being played on a public server, as you are more free to go off and do your own thing, although teamwork is still a strong element. There are three other modes (Defend and Destroy, Find and Retrieve, Deathmatch), but in my opinion they're not worth bothering with.
Tribes' combat isn't as fun or refined as in Quake II or other such games, especially in enclosed spaces; but in the open air, it becomes signficantly better. The highlight is swooping over the crest of a hill with your jetpack, turning round, and nailing an opponent on the other side with a disc (equivalent of a rocket in Tribes). As well as standard weapons such as the disc and chaingun, Tribes offers a number of more specialised weapons, such as the excellent sniper rifle (the zoom facility (which can be used with any weapon) is top notch) and the heavy mortar which can cripple a base in seconds in the right hands. Whatever your gaming preference, Tribes probably caters for it. You can be a commander, a scout, a repairman/medic, a sniper, a heavy weapons platform, an APC pilot, a scout pilot, a base defender, a flag carrier, an engineer, and probably many more things. Unlike Team Fortress, these roles aren't implemented as classes which you have to choose from and stick with. You just pick up the
relevant equipment and weapons depending on what you want to do. If you get bored of your current role, it's easy to switch to something else.
The biggest problem with Tribes is that because it is a team game, your enjoyment depends on finding good teams to play with and against. Public servers sometimes contain unsatisfactory games (although, of course, there are lots of good games to be found too). There are also sometimes people who take enjoyment out of spoiling it for everyone else, by killing their own team mates. These people can completely ruin the game - I've hardly played it since I started to encounter this regularly.
- Learning curve: 7/10 - Requires a bit of time, dedication and tolerance before you really get into it. Takes quite a while to master. There is a fairly good set of offline tutorial missions to help ease you into it, but the best way to learn is to play.
- Long-term interest: 7/10 - It all depends on how much you're prepared to put into it. If you get into a Tribe [clan] and start playing organised matches with better co-ordinated tactics (which I haven't), it could become your life. If you only ever play open games on public servers, it may hold less long-term interest, although still quite a fair amount.
- Interface/Presentation: 7/10 - The in-game interface is good. The built in server finding utility is not so good - Gamespy is much more convenient.
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
- Graphics: 7/10 - The majority of the graphics are detailed and well drawn, but mostly unimpressive. But there are a few nice animations for some of the spells and effects, such as poison.
- Sound: 7/10 - Competent, but nothing special.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - Rivalled only by Civilization in the 'just one more turn' department. Except in this case, it's more like 'just three more turns'. As such, it is a game which is guaranteed to grab you by the balls with an iron gauntlet and not let go for weeks.
However, there are two big problems. First, the gameplay is repetetive in the extreme. At first this doesn't matter because it's so much fun, but after a while, the mathematical aspect of it becomes overwhelming, and you start to feel like you're doing your accounting. The second problem links in with this. Like the Bitmap Brothers' Z, HoMM3 is often balanced on a knife edge. Every decision you make can be absolutely critical later on, and if your assault is pushed too far back, it is often impossible to make a comeback, even when it seems like you should still have a chance. While one level of Z takes a maximum of an hour, a level of HoMM3 generally takes several days, so it is extremely frustrating when you have to start from the beginning.
- Learning curve: 8/10 - Takes minutes to learn, but years to master. An almost perfect ingame help system tells you what almost every single thing in the game is - just right click.
- Long-term interest: 9/10 - A massive number of levels and campaigns, but the two big gameplay flaws I described above are a serious (although not insurmountable) impediment to long-term enjoyment. I originally rated it 7/10 here, but further playing has prompted me to raise it to 9/10.
- Interface/Presentation: 8/10 - Very good interface. Don't bother watching the FMV sequences, the plot couldn't be much less interesting.
- Multiplayer: 5/10 - Not tested much, but the games I did play were extremely tedious due to massive amounts of waiting around doing nothing while the other players do their turns. HOMM3 badly needs a simultaneous turn option like Alpha Centauri.
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)
Hard disk space: Approx 260Mb
Reviewed on: 26th July 1999
- Graphics: 8/10 - For most of my playing time, I had loads of trouble with washed-out graphics. As I expected, this turned out to be entirely the fault of 3Dfx. When I managed to fix it, I was finally treated to a visual masterpiece. Vibrant colours and excellent special effects* give this game its own very disctinctive and totally superb look. My only complaint is that some of the levels are a bit bland in places - but then, that's still a vast improvement on Half-Life, where most of the locations were bland.
(* - For example, the Predator's zoom effect. Oh baby.)
- Sound: 9/10 - Much of the music is superb. The sound effects are totally authentic.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - The best single player first-person shooter. Half-Life had an excellent plot and in-game 'non-cut scenes' (e.g. the battles between the marines and aliens), but very poor combat. AvP has superb combat, which is the most important thing in this kind of game. Play as the Marine and watch as you shoot an Alien in the head and it falls to the floor in a spray of acid blood. Play as the Predator and laugh like Saddam as you zoom in on a Marine's head and then spear it to the wall. Play as an Alien and feel like the most evil bastard in the world as you prepare to munch away on the head of a crying woman.
I would have liked to see more 'non-cut scenes', though - by that I mean things such as seeing more battles between your two opponent species, and some bits where you fight alongside creatures of your own kind. That would have made the game almost perfect.
The AI takes second place to Half-Life in terms of intelligence, but first place in terms of actual effectiveness. By this I mean two things. First, randomized starting positions means you can never be totally certain what is round the next corner (although the savegame patch messes that up a bit). Second, and most important, enemies - aliens in particular - seem able to seek out the player much more effectively than in any other game. This is partly an illusion due to respawning enemies (which aren't perfectly implemented - sometimes respawning is too obvious when it happens just outside the view of the player), but in AvP you can never be relaxed - unless you have a death wish. In Half-Life, if you kill everything in a level, then retrace your steps later, you can be sure that you won't be attacked again. In AvP, you have to have your wits about you all the time. Pipes, ducts, miscellaneous holes and orifices - you name it, an alien could leap out of it at any moment, and probably will.
The AI for the Marines and Predator isn't quite as good as the alien AI - the Marines in particular have an amusing bug which causes them to casually walk off very tall structures and fall to their deaths. Still, it's funny, which is more than you can say for the Half-Life uninstall bug...
AvP is the scariest game of all time, when played as the Marine. The first time I played as him, I found myself firing randomly into the darkness every time I heard the tiniest sound. Then there are the Facehuggers. They're so small as to be almost invisible when not in very bright light, so get those flares ready. You can hear them crawling along, though. Hearing the crawling noise is the signal for all but the most seasoned of veterans to panic and start firing pulse grenades into every corner, usually with little regard for personal safety. Indeed, there has been at least one confirmed report of a player deliberately committing suicide in the game due to fear of a facehugger. Show me one other game that can drive people to do that kind of thing.
- Learning curve: 6/10 - The developers of AvP made the extremely controversial decision to omit a savegame feature - in order to increase tension and improve the game for people like me who suffer from compulsive repeated savegame syndrome (in Quake I used to save after pretty much every kill). To a certain extent this works - AvP's basic design in terms of creature and weapon strengths means that there are less bottlenecks (places where constant reloading is often necessary) than in other games, particularly Half-Life. However, it isn't implemented perfectly. There are still a few bottlenecks - in particular, a couple of frankly stupid ones on the second and third Predator levels - a jump over an abyss, and a one minute self-destruct sequence - both of which I failed on the first attempt. Being killed in combat is avoidable, but those two things are less so if you're not familiar with them. Also, some of the levels are far too big for the no-save system - even if it was made really easy, you
wouldn't want to play Half-Life or Quake II from start to finish without saving - there'd be too much chance of making a mistake somewhere.
Fortunately, Fox Interactive and Rebellion came to their senses and introduced savegames in the first patch. You are now allowed a limited number of savegames per level - this means that those with compulsive repeated savegame syndrome can continue to play without their problem ruining the game. Those who still aren't happy with the concept of limited savegames can at least play on a lower difficulty level, where they get more saves. Despite this, there are still some who refuse to play the game unless it has unlimited saves. Maybe Rebellion should make this configurable in the user profile in future versions.
- Long-term interest: 7/10 - To a large extent, AvP is a novelty game - albeit one of the best novelties that has ever existed. This reduces its long term appeal somewhat. On the plus side, it gives you several goals to aim for beyond finishing all the levels. After completing each species, you get to play bonus missions, which are the levels from other species from a different species' perspective. To access all the bonus levels, you have to complete all the normal levels on the hardest difficulty, which was too difficult for normal humans before the savegame patch, but is now an attainable goal. Finally, many levels have targets to beat, such as finishing within a certain amount of time, or getting a rating of 80% Accuracy or more. Beating each target gives access to a different cheat mode. Cheat modes should really be called Novelty Modes - they include things like a mode which makes all enemies appear as flames; one which makes all Aliens have no legs; one which makes the Speargun fire
thirteen spears at once.
- Interface/Presentation: 7/10 - There are a few okay FMV sequences at the start and end of each species' campaigns, nothing special. The interface is standard stuff.
- Multiplayer: 5/10 - Not tested, but with no dedicated server facility, playing online is not an option for the vast majority of people. There is a skirmish mode which is perhaps a taster of what the multiplayer game might be like, and I am not very impressed. The levels are unimaginitive, and the interface for starting the game is poor (it always sets your name as DeadMeat by default, and sets a default timelimit of 255 minutes (which works out at 4 hours 15 minutes)).
If a future patch changes the multiplayer aspect of the game (such a patch is being considered at the moment by the developers), I will amend this review accordingly.
Platform: PC (minimum: P200-MMX, 64Mb. Recommended: P2-450, 128Mb)
Hard disk space: Approx 430Mb
Reviewed on: 23rd July 1999
- Graphics: 7/10 - Outcast's voxel-based graphics engine is its most publicised feature. It is very good in places, but the graphics are often dull and uninspiring. It also requires a monster PC to get it to run playably at a decent resolution. I was able to put up with 10-20fps in 512x384 (the maximum resolution it allowed me to switch to), others may not be so tolerant of the frame rate. Because Outcast is primarily an adventure game, it wasn't a problem for me.
Although the graphics fall short of expectations following the hype, there is one aspect in which Outcast excels graphically - the water effects are top-notch. Without them, Outcast would be much less impressive.
- Sound: 8/10 - The music is supplied by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, and thus gives the game an authentic epic story atmosphere. Unfortunately, the plot doesn't quite live up to the epic-ness of the music. The rest of the sounds are sufficient, with most of the voice acting being less annoying than in LBA.
- Gameplay: 8/10 - It's Little Big Adventure, but with more emphasis on adventure rather than action; less annoying (hardly any stupid platform game bits); a more detailed plot and scenario; even more eccentric characters; but crucially, a less interesting world. The plot is good, but not explained well enough at times - particularly in the beginning (you have to read the manual to find out what your mission is and why you're on planet Adelpha in the first place), and at the end, when no explanation is given as to why the evil dictator became an evil dictator in the first place (other than the usual reasons).
The designers also don't seem to fully understand the concept of rewarding the player. There are a lot of extra missions other than the central ones which you can do or not do depending on whether you can be bothered - but on finishing them, you are almost always only ever given one reward - ammo and equipment. Very boring. In terms of equipment, you have all manner of advanced gadgets to help you, such as invisibility devices, trip wires, and holographic projectors - unfortunately, I never found any of them particularly useful except on rare occasions. So I ended up with a backpack full of equipment and ammo, most of which never got used.
- Learning curve: 7/10 - The puzzles are usually easy to figure out, with one possible exception. The battles offered me only a mild challenge. Those whose strength doesn't lie in combat have a variety of tools (like the gadgets mentioned above) that they can use to even things up.
- Long-term interest: 7/10 - Seems bigger at first than it actually is, despite the huge number of missions.
- Interface/Presentation: 8/10 - The controls and interface are good. There are lots of cut-scenes which are well presented, but tend to go on for a bit too long. Some of the cut-scenes, particularly near the end, are too quick and hard to follow. And, as mentioned above, the plot isn't explained perfectly.
- Multiplayer: N/A
Civilization: Call to Power
Platform: PC (minimum: P166, 32Mb. Recommended: P2-300, 64Mb)
Hard disk space: Approx 310Mb
Reviewed on: 18th July 1999
- Graphics: 6/10 - Graphics and animations are adequate - nothing special. It'd get 7/10 in this category if it wasn't for the Space View, which looks crap and runs at about five frames per second - quite apart from being a rather shallow and pointless gameplay feature.
- Sound: 6/10 - Signs are good at first, when you arrived at the menu accompanied by an excellent title tune. This tune quickly becomes tedious. The rest are totally unremarkable. The sound effects are okay, but whenever you move a unit, it makes some stupid noise - like in C&C except crap - and totally out of place in this kind of game. An example - Mounted Archers shout "Find the enemy!" whenever you move them - presumably because the developers couldn't think of anything good for them to say.
- Gameplay: 5/10 - It's a warped version of Civ with many of the basic concepts altered. Some of these changes are a positive step forward, such as the Public Works system which eliminates micromanagement when developing land; the stacked combat system; the revised way of organising production, food and gold. However, these benefits (which in most cases are poorly implemented) are far outweighed by the legions of flaws in the game - some of which go right down to the basic design concepts. There are far too many to list, but here are some particularly appalling examples - the return of the Battleship defeated by Phalanx scenarios from Civ 1 (except that large stacks of very weak units can consistently beat small stacks of much stronger units); sub Civ 1 standard diplomacy and AI; obscure and unbalanced wonders, some with effects that are nothing short of idiotic (like the one which causes cities in your Civ to revolt and break away); lack of an autosave in the release version;
the scoring system (in my first game, I did quite badly and failed to win. In my second game, on a harder difficulty, I performed superbly, easily winning the game and producing hardly any pollution. I got a lower score in second game than in the first); the oversight in the release version which means that nuking someone isn't an act of war. The last one in particular is typical of the lack of thought that has gone into this game's design. The game has also been notorious for its bugs, with many reports of people not being able to play for more than a few minutes without a crash.
- Learning curve: 5/10 - An overly complicated and obtuse interface. Difficulty levels which, in my limited experience, seem to translate very poorly to the actual difficulty of the game. The online help system ("The Great Library") isn't quite up to scratch either, although it is better implemented than most of the game.
- Long-term interest: 4/10 - At first it gripped me by the balls, but after just two games, a huge number of simply appalling flaws made me switch off in disgust. Today I started one last game, just to refresh my memory before writing this review. The game was even worse than before. I will be uninstalling it as soon as I finish writing this.
- Interface/Presentation: 4/10 - The intro is very good - probably the best thing in the entire game. Unfortunately, the rest of the FMV sequences are unspeakably bad. Some of the Wonder movies are.... I don't have words to describe how utterly pathetic they are. At the time, I thought "these must have been done by a three year old", although looking back, a three year old could probably have done a better job. Compared to the Secret Project movies in Alpha Centauri, which are superbly imaginitive and well produced, the movies in CTP are not laughable, they're cryable.
Finally, the interface. Possibly the most criticised aspect of the game in the newsgroups. I can see what they were trying to do - reduce micromanagement and make it more compact. Unfortunately, for the most part it doesn't work very well in practice - the interface requires far too much clicking to see essential information, and pales in comparison to Alpha Centuari's interface (and even Civ II's to a certain extent).
- Multiplayer: Not tested.
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.
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.
- Graphics: 5/10 - Although the 3D terrain is a nice touch, the colours and textures severely let the game down. If your first bases are set up in an arid area, you will be spending much of the game looking at an ugly brown landscape - so brown and ugly, in fact, that it is actually depressing. On the other hand, if you start in a rainy area, you will be treated to joyous rolling hills of lush green-ness.
Many people have complained that the graphics are inferior to Civ II - and this is true, at least in terms of what effect they have on your mood. Civ II's landscapes were pleasing to the eye, AC's are depressing.
One more thing - early versions of the game had a bug where units would move agonisingly slowly, even on top-end hardware - causing immense frustration. Even in the latest version (3.0 at time of writing), this still isn't totally fixed.
- Sound: 8/10 - All the music is context-sensitive - with different tunes and effects for each faction. For example, the militarist Spartans get a special piece of music whenever there is a battle. The eco-friendly Gaians get a special sound whenever they use terraformers. The sound effects are sufficiently satisfying.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - It's Civ II, but with far more depth, more scope for varying strategies, and - unusually for this kind of game - a plot. Even more unusual - although totally in line with the genius of Sid Meier and Brian Reynolds - is that the plot is one of the best plots of any game ever.
It doesn't get 10/10 for gameplay for two reasons. First, although it is undoubtedly better than Civ II, it isn't as good as Civ II was at the time. Second, the game is full of little bugs and niggles. The vast majority of these are forgivable as they are merely by-products of a game which is considerably more complex than Civ II. However, they have still caused a fair amount of loss of enjoyment for me. Btw, I have sent in about 20 bug reports to Firaxis myself since the demo was released. They should have made me a beta tester, then I could have found them BEFORE the game was released...
I also have lots of problems with the scoring system. In Civ II, the best strategy for getting a high score was to expand rapidly, leave one enemy city alive, and grow your population to huge levels until the game's time limit is reached. This is a micromanagement nightmare and isn't really much fun to play. The developers have made a token effort to discourage this, but it isn't even slightly enough. In AC there are four types of victory - Transcendence, Economic, Diplomatic, and Conquest. Transcendence is the only one worth going for if you want a good score. Conquest is made obsolete by Diplomatic (which I think has been poorly thought out and shouldn't be there at all).
- Learning curve: 8/10 - Seems slightly harder to learn than Civ II. There is a tutorial, but I haven't played it. The online help system (Civilopedia in Civ II - Datalinks in AC) is good, although not perfect, and doesn't seem as complete as the one in Civ II. As for the difficulty levels, I won my first game on the highest difficulty (compared to only ever winning one game on the highest level of Civ II, although I hardly ever played it on that level). 99% of this can be put down to Civ II experience.
- Long-term interest: 9/10 - Seven unique factions to play with, and massively increased scope for varying strategies equal a game with oodles of longevity. However, the bugs spoil it again in this respect - there's only so many glitches you can take before you get fed up and stop playing.
- Interface/Presentation: 10/10 - Good interface which to a certain extent succeeds in removing some of the micromanagement of Civ II. Presentation - although the intro is poor, the rest of the FMV sequences, such as the Secret Project movies, are top-notch.
A mention must also go to the futuristic technologies that are researched during the course of each game. They are superbly well thought out, each one coming with a little explanation saying what the name of the tech (e.g. "Sentient Econometrics") actually means. I wouldn't be surprised if real-life future technologies follow the same patterns as those laid out in Alpha Centauri...
- Multiplayer: Hardly tested. I tried a hotseat game against myself, and it left a lot to be desired. At the time of writing, the multiplayer aspect of the game seems to be full of bugs and not working very well at all.
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.
Platform: PC (minimum: P100, 16Mb. Recommended: P200, 48Mb)
Hard disk space: 37Mb
Reviewed on: 25th April 1999
- Graphics: 7/10 - The landscapes are quite poor by today's standards, but the unit animation and movement is excellent.
- Sound: 8/10 - Functional sound effects. Unfortunately my CD seems to be faulty and I don't get any music.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - Undoubtedly the best real-time strategy game so far. Situations and tactics are far more diverse than C&C. The early missions are dull, but it picks up a lot later on.
- Learning curve: 6/10 - I think the early missions in particular are far too hard for a beginner. Even I had to switch to Easy difficulty for some of them.
- Long-term interest: 7/10 - The two campaigns are very long, but the game can get repetetive and tedious after a while.
- Interface/Presentation: 7/10 - The intro and plot are very poor and cliched. The in-game command interface is very good indeed.
- Multiplayer: Not tested, but almost certainly excellent.
Platform: PC (minimum: P200, 32Mb. Recommended: P2 with Voodoo II and Voodoo II patch, 64Mb)
Hard disk space: 130Mb
Reviewed on: 13th February 1999
- Graphics: 8/10 (software), 9/10 (with Voodoo II patch) - Very atmospheric, for the first time I really feel I'm on another planet. Mars is beautiful.
- Sound: 8/10 - Good music, adequate sound effects; but often spoken mission orders are drowned out by music and sound effects. And the voices for the Soviet side are terrible.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - Superb immersion, a great command interface, and dynamic missions where the objectives and balance of power regularly change. And some truly excellent moments, reminiscent of those bits of Half-Life where you discover a new threat.
- Learning curve: 8/10 - Occasionally puts the player in a confusing/ambiguous situation, but this is offset by the excellent interface. It also takes a different approach than C&C to the two sides - the Soviet missions, instead of being an evil version of the US campaign, are a series of more difficult missions for experienced players.
- Long-term interest: 7/10 - Two reasonably long campaigns, but much of the game's strength is in the element of surprise and the the sheer new-ness of it. Like Half-Life, it's at its best the first time around.
- Interface/Presentation: 8/10 - Average to good intro. Superb and original plot. Poor ending, which leaves the player with the feeling that the battle shouldn't be over yet, even though it is.
- Multiplayer: Not tested, but sounds cool.
(Dual and mini review)
Platform: PC (minimum: P200, 48Mb. Recommended: P2-266 with Voodoo 2 and 96Mb)
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.
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%)
Overall: 91% (85% without patch)
So, disappointments all round then...
Platform: PC (minimum: P120. Recommended: P200)
Hard disk space: About 15Mb
Reviewed on: 17th November 1998
- Graphics: 8/10 - Quite nice.
- Sound: 8/10 - Not enough variety of music. Sound effects do a good job and add to the puzzle-y atmosphere.
- Gameplay: 8/10 - Very original, very addictive, incredibly strategic, far too unforgiving.
- Learning curve: 6/10 - See above - totally unforgiving. In situations where you are about to lose, you can use a 'smart bomb' which returns you to temporary safety, but death is often so sudden that there is no time to press the key which activates it.
- Long-term interest: 4/10 - It'll keep you addicted for a while, but its unforgiving nature is a total turn-off.
- Interface/Presentation: 8/10 - Nice.
- Multiplayer: Not tested, but the split-screen view seems unplayably small.
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
- Graphics: 6/10 (software), 9/10 (3Dfx) - Ugly and slow in software. Nice and less slow with Glide.
- Sound: 9/10 - Spooky music. Adqeuate sound effects.
- Gameplay: 8/10 - Pros: Unlike anything else, atmospheric, sometimes satisfying. Cons: Often repetetive and frustrating.
- Learning curve: 8/10 - With 651 levels, it had bloody well better have a smooth learning curve. But I found some of the final levels easier than the ones just before them.
- Long-term interest: 6/10 - 651 levels. Even if you skip levels four at a time, it'll take ages to finish it. And then you can go back and complete all the ones you skipped. This is probably going to take me years.
However, just because there are a lot of levels doesn't mean you're going to want to play them all. I got bored after a while and will probably hardly ever play it again.
- Interface/Presentation: 7/10 - Strange (but sometimes glitchy) menu. Nice intro. Average ending. Also, sluggish/unresponsive mouse control in software mode, and slippery mouse control in 3Dfx mode.
- Multiplayer: Not tested, but apparently it's a waste of time.
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
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.....
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...
...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 moment of truth. Is it any good? Does it do the X-COM name justice? Does it, in essence, rule?
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...
- Graphics: 8/10 - Good, but too slow in software even on a P200. Sometimes to the detriment of the gameplay. Infinitely better with 3Dfx.
- Sound: 9/10 - Very similar to Apocalypse. Superb context-sensitive music and nice effects.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - The CSD is a tad dull, but the space-shooty-bit is superb.
- Learning curve: 9/10 - Maybe the best learning curve of any X-COM game so far.
- Long-term interest: 8/10 - Nowhere near that of Apocalypse, but thanks to the nice learning curve, you'll get several long games out of it.
- Interface/Presentation: 8/10 - Good interface, but the FMV is appallingly tacky. Although there are two different endings, neither of them are as rousing as the superb ending to Apocalypse.
- Multiplayer: ?/10 - Well, it's a bit hard to test it when hardly anyone plays it online (via the Internet Gaming Zone).
Grand Theft Auto
Platform: PC (Fast CD drive useful but not essential. 3Dfx supported, min P166 recommended for software.)
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.
- At first, the most fun game you've ever played.
- Loads of different cars, all with different handling.
- Great music.
- Nice sound effects.
- Tons of missions. Lots of locations.
- Stunningly inventive and imaginitive. Perhaps more so than any other game, ever.
- In places, humourous, surprising, ingenious...
- An arcade-experience - but with a bit of depth...
- Incredibly unforgiving. Perhaps more so than any other game, ever.
- Full of STUPID little niggles, like the times when: A cop opens your door, pulls you out, but you manage to punch him first. You start running away, but suddenly you've been arrested - even though the cop's still on the floor.
- Over-pedantic collision detection. For example, there was the time when I was finishing a huge mission. My final task was to steal a limosine. To complete the mission, I had to drive the limo into a garage. I started to do this, but then I clipped the wall, and the car got stuck. So I tried to reverse back, and try again. The car wouldn't reverse. It wouldn't move at all. I tried getting out and using another car to ram the limo out of the wall. It didn't work. I had to destroy the car, thus losing the mission and wasting half an hour of work.
- The police have the ability to set up roadblocks within seconds of a crime. Yeah, right.
- Rocket launchers and flamethrowers (especially the latter) are very rare. In fact, the flamethrower is hardly seen at all. What's the point in that, then?
- Combat, even with a machine gun, is primitive and awkward. A fact that often means death.
- Most of the missions on Vice City Chapter 2 (the last chapter of the game) require armour, otherwise they are virtually impossible. But there's hardly any armour to be found. Therefore, I am not actually capable of completing the game. I was always able to improve on the earlier chapters, but this time it is just too hard to progress.
- Then there was the time when I saw two crates next to each other. Here's a little diagram: I X X. In this diagram, I is me, and the Xs are the crates. I opened the left-most crate by pressing fire. I happened to be facing in the direction of the right-most crate, which makes sense. From the left-most crate I got a rocket launcher. Because I had pressed Fire to open the crate, the game assumed I also wanted to fire a rocket from my new rocket launcher. The rocket hit the second crate. The explosion killed me. It was game over. Apologies for the bad language in the following sentence. FUCKING TWATS!
- And the time when I got into a car to escape from a cop. As I pulled away, I was forced to drive past him. He opened the door (while I was moving), and arrested me, thus destroying all my achievements in that game so far. I quit in disgust...
- And lots more...
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:
- Graphics: 7/10 - Functional. That doesn't always mean ugly, but in this case, it does. Better with 3Dfx, though.
- Sound: 9/10 - Superb music, atmospheric sound. But both of them get repetetive and annoying after a while.
- Gameplay: 8/10 - Ingenious, captivating and innovative. Also, frustrating, frustrating and frustrating.
- Learning curve: 7/10 - The first four chapters have a steep but still good learning curve. The fifth chapter is too easy. The sixth is stupidly hard.
- Long-term interest: 7/10 - Too annoying to keep you going for ever...
- Interface/Presentation: 9/10 - Excellent cut-scenes at the end of each chapter. The one at the end of chapter four is particularly hilarious...
- Multiplayer: Not tested.
The Curse of Monkey Island
Platform: PC (Fast CD drive useful but not essential)
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?
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.
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:
- Part one is a mere three screens.
- Part two is totally colossal.
- 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.
- Part four is large, but also very dull in places.
- Part five effectively consists of one screen. Ooooh, now that's what I call DEPTH.....
- Part six, the finale, is a huge anti-climax, with one dull puzzle. It is followed by:
- 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.
- Graphics: 9/10 - Unless you look closely and see the dithering, it's hard to believe it's only in 256 colours.
- Sound: 9/10 - The voices have been done perfectly. And some people like the music so much they are campaigning for a CD release. Shame that so much is taken straight from Monkey 2, though. Some NEW tunes would have been nice.
- Gameplay: 8/10 - There's nothing quite like it. But it lacks some of the genius of Monkey 2. And I hate the way so much has been stolen. And I didn't feel as emotionally involved in it as with Monkey 2. Definitively beats Sam 'N' Max, though.
- Learning curve: 8/10 - This is a graphic adventure. Commence much stuckness.
- Long-term interest: 7/10 - Seems shorter than Monkey 2.
- Interface/Presentation: 6/10 - The interface is a huge improvement over the originals. But the end sequence is appalling.
Platform: PC (P90 minimum, P166 or higher recommended)
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!!!!!!!!!!!
- Graphics: 9/10 - Currently the best-looking strategy game in existence. On my P200, runs beautifully in 640x480x16bit. And, amazingly, the Doom-style 3D sprites DON'T look shite.
- Sound: 8/10 - Cool, atmospheric music. Good sound effects, but they tend to get a bit annoying on occasions.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - Deeeeeeep. Meaningful. Immersive. Realistic. Eats time to the same extent as Civilization 2.
- Learning curve: 8/10 - It goes perfectly, with ingenious level designs and cunning challenges, from level 1 to level 19. Then, on the last level, it messes it all up by throwing a thousand virtually invincible enemies at you. Thanks for that.
- Long-term interest: 7/10 - MUCH, MUCH less than all the other strategy games out there. But still a fair amount. Especially multiplayer.
- Interface/Presentation: 8/10 - Functional interface. Excellent between-levels commentary. Token FMV intro. Rubbish ending.
- Multiplayer: 6/10 - I originally gave it 8, but having not played it very much in multiplayer. 18 months on from the original review, I have just played another multiplayer game, and it was pretty poor. It consisted of a massive amount of time building up our dungeons, then one battle (which took place in a tiny corridor and was thus very hard to follow) that determined the outcome, then an even more massive amount of time waiting for my inevitable defeat.
* - 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.
(Wipeout XL in the USA)
Platform: PC (High-end 3D card ESSENTIAL. Also available on Playstation.)
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.
- Graphics: 8/10 - Superb, but the terrible frame rate almost slays the game. With the emphasis on ALMOST. Don't run it next to Screamer Rally, or even Moto Racer...
Incidentally, the version bundled with the PowerVR cards still uses Direct3D, but WON'T run on 3Dfx cards. DIE! DIE! DIE! This is so stupid! What happens when I upgrade to Voodoo 2? Will I never be able to play it again?
- Sound: 9/10 - Great sound. Terrific music.
- Gameplay: 8/10 - Messed up a lot by the frame rate, but this is still one of the most addictive and thrilling games ever made. In fact, the only ones which equal it are Scorcher and the original Wipeout.
- Learning curve: 8/10 - Much improved from the previous game, although still not perfect.
- Long-term interest: 8/10 - One of the deepest racing games I have ever played. Loads of skills to master, loads of championships to win.
- Interface/Presentation: 8/10 - Very good interface. And one of the most impressive intros I have ever seen. But whenever you quit the game, it sets your wave volume to minimum. Thanks for that.
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...
Platform: PC (PowerVR only, P200 or higher recommended)
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.
- Graphics: 8/10 - Good, but not even slightly mindblowing.
- Sound: 5/10 - You get sound effects for the engine, skidding, and collisions. And that's it. Music? You should be so lucky...
- Gameplay: 7/10 - A competent game, but with no long-term interest whatsoever. In fact, not much short-term interest either.
- Learning curve: N/A - How can a game this small have a learning curve?
- Long-term interest: 3/10 - Haven't you read the rest of the review?
- Interface/Presentation: 7/10 - Moderate, becoming good.
- Multiplayer: Not tested
Platform: PC (supports 3Dfx and PowerVR, software version reviewed. 3Dfx and 64Mb recommended. Min P200 recommended for software.)
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.
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.
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...
- Armour. An essential part of Quake II. Without it, you are in extreme danger. So why is there hardly any of it? id have also added a new type of armour - the Power Shield. This powerup lets you use cell-ammo as armour. Which is useful, but it's a tad annoying when it switches off after level changes, and you get killed instantly.
- Gunners. These are probably the most common enemies. And they have the ability to throw about a thousand grenades at you in quick succession. Perhaps a little over the top? No, not perhaps - DEFINITELY over the top. And VERY annoying.
- Bugs. Yes, there are bugs in this game. Things often seem to get stuck on the walls - usually Berserkers, but sometimes you - especially when you're running away from things... And the automatic savegame has been known to malfunction a lot... It's also not at all Windows-friendly (switching away is usually a futile exercise).
- Secrets. Let me give you an example. On the level 'Mine Entrance', I found what I considered to be a secret (the place in the cliffs from where the two light guards shoot up at you). But the game didn't acknowledge this as a secret. This wouldn't be so bad, but it happens ALL THE TIME...
- The comments when you die. Where did they go? It used to be 'Arganoid was mauled by a Rottweiler' or 'Arganoid becomes bored with life'. Now it's 'Arganoid died' and 'Arganoid killed self'. Ugh.
- The futuristic military base setting. I HAVE SEEN ENOUGH MILITARY BASES, THANK YOU!
- Architecture was Quake's middle name, and even with a 3D card, Quake II is not as impressive, architecturally, as levels like 'The Palace of Hate'. Coloured lighting is a big bonus in this area, but of course, I've been playing it in software, so it's impossible for me to give more information on this...
- It looks AND plays a bit like Duke Nukem 3D. Which may be a good thing in some peoples' books, but not mine.
- Units five (Factory), seven (Big Gun) and ten (Boss) are annoyingly small.
- Endless swapping. Even on my 32Mb PC it uses a 30Mb swapfile. I can't imagine what it would be like with 16Mb. 64Mb is recommended...
- A whole load of other things which are too petty to mention. But still annoying.
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...
- Graphics: 7/10 (software), 8/10 (PowerVR OpenGL), 9/10 (3Dfx OpenGL) - Mindblowing with a 3D card, still playable without.
- Sound: 9/10 - Great music. Realistic sound.
- Gameplay (single player): 9/10 - A mixture of disappointment and amazement. Mostly amazement.
- Learning curve: 7/10 - In some cases gets easier as the game continues, due to new weapons...
- Long-term interest: 10/10 - This is Quake II. And I want to make levels for it. And play deathmatch games until my head has fallen off.
- Interface/Presentation: 9/10 - But don't run it off the CD...
- Multiplayer: 10/10 - Socialise by killing people!
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)
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...
- Graphics: 7/10 - As this was originally from the Playstation, the graphics are too low-res to look massively impressive.
- Sound: 7/10 - Quite nice music.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - Very nice, but a bit frustrating for the following reason:
- Learning curve: 7/10 - Difficulty instantly goes from average to incredibly difficult... (But you should be able to adapt eventually)
- Long-term interest: 8/10 - I was wrong in the original review when I said it probably wouldn't be as good as Tetris in the long term. I've had it for quite a while, and it is just as great now - if not better.
- Interface/Presentation: 7/10 - Keys are hard to get to grips with at first, menu's okay except that it crashes sometimes (see above). But things like the amusing intermission screens are great. We could learn a lot from the Japanese way of doing things.
- Multiplayer: 9/10 - Supreme.
These are overviews of a few games written before ARGnet existed... Written on 30th January 1998.
- Graphics: 9/10 - In-game, not the most impressive in the world. The UFOPedia is superb, though. And when the aliens fly across the city, it is twice as convincing as any 50s film...
- Sound: 8/10 - Superb music. Shame there are only three tunes...
- Gameplay: 9/10 - Introduces a whole new genre. Incredible depth.
- Learning curve: 5/10 - VERY tough at the start. But nothing like as bad as Terror From the Deep...
- Long-term interest: 10/10 - Only matched by Civ2.
- Interface/Presentation: 9/10 - The interface may look confusing at first, but soon it will be second nature. The ending is second only to Red Alert.
Oh, and the box art is the best you will ever see anywhere, ever.
Command and Conquer: Red Alert
- Graphics: 9/10 - Lovely SVGA-ness.
- Sound: 9/10 - Pure greatness.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - Consigns the original C&C to the dustbin.
- Learning curve: 8/10 - Smoooth.
- Long-term interest: 9/10 - Lots of replay value.
- Interface/Presentation: 10/10 - The best use of FMV in any game ever. The plot, especially on the Soviet side, is fascinating. And both the endings are truly superb. The best ever.
- Multiplayer: 8/10 - Seems to lack something compared to C&C.
- Graphics: 8/10 - Functional, but that doesn't mean ugly. 800x600 is the best resolution.
- Sound: 9/10 - The music contributes massively to the atmosphere.
- Gameplay: 10/10 - More depth and addiction that any game, ever. Each game lasts two days. And after those two days, you will be thinking: Just one more go!
- Learning curve: 10/10 - Many difficulty settings, accompanied by the best on-line help in existence.
- Long-term interest: 10/10 - Seemingly infinite. (But after several hundred games, events become too familiar)
- Interface/Presentation: 9/10 - Intuitive interface. Good use of FMV, in the form of the High Council.
Go back to the main videogaming page...
Go back to the ARGnet index...
Copyright 1997-2000 Andrew R. Gillett