Staying in to Play

By John Paul Bichard, 10 September 1997

Games reviews by John Paul Bichard

Seems like ages since I last spoke to you and, well, so much has happened since then. The games industry has finally re-emerged from the devastation of last Christmas - with bucketloads of small (and not so small developers) going to the wall or being bought up - stability at last, as the big movers and shakers (Electronic Arts, Eidos, Virgin, Activision) have creamed the crop in preparation for a star-studded Christmas 1997. 3D is big on the PC at the moment with loads of new games supporting Direct3D or the new PC 3D accelerator cards (check out anything with the 3Dfx voodoo chipset in it). At long last PC owners are being offered access to true arcade gaming, and just to keep us all going in the meantime, the latest string of new games just keep on getting better and better.

Apart from 3D, what's everyone up to? Multiplayer gaming - sure it's not a new gaming genre - Doom et al have been out on networks for years providing networked offices with hours of fun and network managers, hours of grief. What is new is that the genre has matured considerably, opening up the gaming experience further and expanding into the world of online gaming to deliver a truly global environment. The lone gamer need sit alone no longer - forget the games consoles with their 4 player link-ups, forget carrying your PC around to a mates house in a shopping trolley, no need to invest in a big garden shed and half a dozen Pentiums - dial up and play across the world with up to 80 other gamers. The bandwagon is truly underway as, daily, servers are being turned over to multiplayer gaming and not just quirky shareware games but the pick of the current crop of kicking masterpieces. The internet is finally delivering as a useable multiplayer games network.

There are two routes to online gaming - the closed dial-up network or the internet - the online closed networks, like BT's Wireplay (.25p/minute - UK) [] and Thrust World (£17.99/month - UK) [] offer fast dedicated networks that help alleviate the lag that can cripple net gaming, or the internet games servers like Internet Gaming Zone (free - run by Microsoft) [] or TEN (US$ 29.95 / month) [] that should see a boost in performance when and if bandwidth increases. Many sites support multiplayer games like Quake, Command, Conquer, Doom, EF2000, and Duke Nukem - the list grows daily. There is also massive support from the numerous clubs, clans, newsgroups and so on: practically every major game has a mass of fansites and homepages run by games nutters and providing technical support, maps, cheats, hacks, customization etc.In addition....

...companies like Lucasarts with their Rebel HQ []and Ubisoft with Podworld [] have provided support areas on their web site. On-Line [] have just launched a netplay 80 player submarine dive-em-up... and last but not least Id software - granddaddies of the genre - continue to thrash everyone else's asses with Quakeworld - dedicated servers, international tournaments (England just beat Sweden 874 to 333) and the fantastic Quakeworld and Qspy software [] that allows you to pick out the game from the dozens of Quake fests that are running right now and then play quake with up to 32 players.

As bandwidth improves and providers improve their services, the future of online gaming looks set to carry on it's meteoric rise - seems like the internet is of some use after all. Come in number T6SC A2 your time is up.......

X-Wing vs. Tie FighterSpace Sim - PC - Lucasarts/ Virgin Street Price £28.99Calling all Star Wars spotters, calling all Star Wars spotters.......... .....first there was X-Wing in which you flew as a Rebel pilot kicking shit out of Darth Vadar's buddies. Then there was Tie Fighter in which you got to make that fabulous screaming noise as you warped about the universe fragging the Rebels. Now the techies from Skywalker Central bring you the ultimate in Star Wars space combat; X-Wing vs Tie Fighter - with improved engines, nine ships to choose from and silky smooth manoeuvrability around the far reaches of the Empire. The mildly erratic but nonetheless playable single player game is completely out-classed by the multiplayer option as you pick your wits across whatever network you're connected to and engage in realtime dogfighting with real human beings - whatever will they think of next?

I'll just content myself with strapping a washing up bowl to my head spinning around on my office chair and listening to that lovely screaming sound from the TIE fighters ion drives - weeeeeeoooow.Get a modem or a friend or both.

And while I'm in George Lucas' vein, keep your eyes peeled for more Star Wars nostalgia in LucasArts' upcoming corridor game Jedi Knights (Dark Forces II) another Doom/Quake alike which looks superb and will include real 3D, multiplayer mode and full light sabre support and even sillier names (do you think Jabba the Hut is related to the tellytubbies..... or not)

You have conquered this realm..... Dungeon Keeperunclassifiable - PC - Bullfrog/ EA - street price £28.99Here comes the mother of all point and click/ strategy/ god sim/ resource management games - and then some. A genuine 24 carat classic, Dungeon Keeper puts you in charge of a subterranean world, as yet uninhabited and unexplored with a bagful of gold, and some imps to get you started. Dig, dig, dig and construct ever more complex dungeons as you excavate lairs, libraries, workshops, even graveyards to attract all sorts of nasties - bile demons, vampires, trolls - all the usual demonic fare - slap them around a bit, bribe them and send them off to violate all that is good, wholesome and pleasant in the fair realms you have the dubious pleasure of ransacking. Split the time your minions spend digging for gold, building rooms, researching new spells and turning out ever more fiendish traps before unleashing Armageddon on the unsuspecting locals.

Elegant, intuitive and immensely detailed, the game carries not one ounce of superfluous fat, has excellent creature AI that controls dozens of creatures quite brilliantly in their everyday dastardly (or saintly) endeavours and is dangerously addictive (I nearly didn't get the review written with playing it). Dungeon Keeper is quite simply, a masterpiece.It doesn't get any better than this.

Strut yo' funky thang to Interstate '7670's driving-em-up - PC - Activision - street price £27.99A waaa A waaa A waaa A wawawawa Waaa A Waaa A Waaa........ Yo funky cats & chicks set those flares a flappin, spread those collars out as Shaft meets Mad Max in a crazy on and off road blast-em, chase-em, burn-em up. They call you Groove, Groove Champion and dude, that mother fucker didn't oughta kill your sister - we' gonna burn his yella butt.

I76 is a seriously cool car chase shooter, mission based or multiplayer, as you cruise through the desert in your '72 Piranha, tracking down the evil businessman Antonio Malochio and his associates, in their attempts to blow up the South West's oil reserves (and I'm not talking Cornwall). The clock is ticking, the terrain is hard and so are the hoods as you chase and blast across miles of scorched country, performing Dukes of Hazard style jumps, collecting extra weapons, bigger tyres and softer shock absorbers in your desperate attempt to reach that township before the residents are fried.

Well constructed missions, if somewhat linear; you probably won't want to replay the game once you've finished, but while it does last, you will kick ass. And then there's the multiplayer mode for extra excitement, plus you get to design your own burnmobile and there are the internet "vigilante sites" with new cars maps and hacks - so get cruisin.

Eat your heart out Starsky and Hutch, these Interstate vigilantes just fried and ate you for their breakfast.

Quake Corner Quake Mission Packs 1 & 2 Quake add-ons - PC - Activision - street price £19.992 great mission packs from the guys that designed duke nukem 3D - giving you a really challenging single player experience, new monsters including a twin nail -gun toting scorpion, new weapons including the lava nail gun and the legendary Mjolnir and more deathmatch games - if you even vaguely like Quake, get them right now and by the time you've completed them both, you'll just be in time for Quake II. Pack1 Pack2

Moto RacerMotorbike sim - PC - Delphine/ EA - street price £27.99the arcade just walked in and sat on your PC in this fast, action packed bike-racing sim. The tournament sets you off on a sequence of 4 tracks alternating between cafe racing and dirt biking - fast, furious and designed for full-on racing. Finish the first 4 tracks and you get to race a further 4 including the Great Wall of China - international or what. A well designed game that literally has you driving by the seat of your . Forget the brakes, wind up the throttle and let rip for a true arcade experience. Just one not so minor drawback - you do need a really beefy Pentium or a decent 3D accelerator card to keep up the frame rate (a P133 will only achieve smooth graphics at the lowest detail settings) - if you got that then thrash it.

John Paul Bichard <johnny AT>