Klingon Honor Guard

This game proves that Suvlu’taHvIS yapbe’ Hos neH.

In Klingon Honor Guard (KHG), you are cast into the role of an elite Klingon warrior, raised from birth to know the ways of battle and honor. After you create your character (basically choose your name and sex), KHG throws you into a holodeck simulation so you can test your combat skills. During the simulation your training is rudely interrupted by news of a bombing at a meeting of the High Council and an assassination attempt on Gowron, the High Council leader. Several members of the high council died in the explosion and you are being sent to uncover the traitors and bring them to justice.

As an elite Klingon warrior, you have many powerful and oddly-named weapons at your disposal. There’s the D’k Tahg (traditional three-bladed dagger), the Bat’leth (curved, two-handed sword of honor), the Ding-Pach (similar to the Razor Jack from Unreal – it shoots spinning discs that rebound off surfaces), as well as an assortment of energy weapons. And as in Unreal, each weapon has two functions. For example, you can engage your enemies in hand-to-hand combat with your D’k Tahg or you can throw it at them from a distance. The Ding-Pach fires either razor-sharp or explosive discs. The energy weapons tend to fire energy bolts on their primary setting and much more powerful disruption bolts on their secondary settings. Unfortunately, like most shooters, you can’t pick up the weapons your fallen foes were using to wail on you. This is extremely frustrating and contradicts KHG’s supposed “fully-interactive” environment. I don’t know how many warriors with Bat’leth I had to fight before I finally found one lying around that I could use myself.

Along with the many varieties of weapons, KHG also sports quite a huge assortment of items. These include placeable security cameras (think Duke Nukem) so you can keep an eye on certain areas, tricorders to detect nearby enemies, and magnetic boots to hold you firm to metallic surfaces when engaged in zero-g combat.

Most of the enemies in KHG will be familiar to anyone who has seen at least a few episodes of the Star Trek television series. Your humanoid foes include rival Klingons from the House of Duras, Andorians, and Nausicans. There are also several beasties such as the Tar Chop (poisonous scorpion-like insects that attack in swarms), the Targ (mate a Wild Boar and a Bulldog and you get a Targ), and the dreaded Ro’peD (think of the creature that Luke Skywalker bumped into on Hoth). Overall there are 20 different enemy types, with several different kinds in each locale.

KHG is the first shooter to utilize the Unreal engine with, of course, the exception of Unreal, the best action shooter to date in my opinion. While the Unreal engine provides a fantastic development tool for KHG, the designers at Microprose did not use it to it’s full extent. The graphics and textures are good, but not as good as Unreal. The lighting effects are impressive, but not as impressive as Unreal. The level designs are complex, but not as complex as Unreal. I know it’s getting rather boring ‘listening’ to me continuously compare KHG to Unreal, but it does use the Unreal engine after all. Shouldn’t it be an improvement?

Another problem I had with KHG lies in its option system. There are a variety of choices, but they are somewhat confusing to decipher as their ‘true/false’ designations do not always seem to correspond to the ‘on/off’ system used in most first-person shooters.

There are also quite a few bugs in the game, giving it a ‘rushed out the door’ feel. For example, I suffered an average of one computer lock-up per level, so it will be in your best interest and the interest of those around you (we know you throw things and act like a little baby we you don’t get your way . . . we’re watchin’ you through the screen) to save often. I also encountered a few graphics bugs. Some enemies would continue to stand after I killed them. I could walk through them, so they didn’t really get in my way . . . it just kinda freaked me out. I also kept getting knocked out to Windows briefly between the end of a mission and the beginning of a cutscene. It really pulled me out of the Klingon warrior spirit to see all of those little icons . . . it made me think of how much work I had left to do.

At least the extremely intelligent enemy AI has been carried over from Unreal, and it may even perhaps be a bit better. The bad guys will roll and dodge to avoid an attack, they will coordinate co-operative attacks hitting you from several directions at once, and they will run away if hurt badly enough.

Multiplayer variants, called Death Rite Matches, include co-op play, deathmatch, and botmatch, in which lonely gamers with no friends can challenge computer-generated bots in deathmatch competition. Up to four players can duke-it-out via the Net or up to eight on a LAN.

KHG is fun, just not as fun as is could be. It actually feels like an overlay for Unreal that some Klingon fanatic posted on the Internet. Don’t get me wrong, it plays like a damn good overlay, but it neither matches the Unreal experience nor varies it any significant way.

Jeopardy!

This popular gameshow features a Canadian host who played one of the mysterious ‘Men in Black’ on the television show the X-Files. If you said “What is Jeopardy?” then we owe you $200. Trust me the check is in the mail.

 

OK, I think everyone out there is familiar enough with the concept of Jeopardy. Alex Trebek reads you the answer, you tell him the question simple enough. Guess what? The computer adaptation of Jeopardy plays exactly the same way, except the answers are read by announcer Johnny Gilbert who, in my opinion, has a much better voice than Alex anyway. I guess Alex didn’t want to sit around and read answers on his day off I don’t blame him.

Jeopardy boasts over 3500 answers and includes categories ranging from US Cities to Broadway Songs, from Latin Quotations to Robin Williams Films. You can play against two computer opponents or challenge up to two of your friends. But you’re not just limited to single Jeopardy rounds. You can also opt to play a Jeopardy Tournament in which the winner after two rounds goes on to face two advanced computer AI opponents in a Tournament of Champions with more challenging answers and categories. If you wish, you can also play by yourself in a Speed Match consisting of 30 answers for which you must supply the questions. Although Johnny reads the answers, Alex is always in your corner if you get the correct question, saying cute little phrases like “that it is” and “to be sure.” However, miss the question and you get chided with “you’re close, but that’s not right” or the extremely dry and simple “that’s wrong.” Ouch! Let me tell you now, Alex doesn’t pull any punches.

Jeopardy lets you set a variety of options so you can tailor the game to your specifications. You can change the answer difficulty, response time, spelling tolerance, and the buzz-in time. You can also opt for adaptive computer AI, which essentially makes the computer answer more questions as you pull further into the lead. This version of Jeopardy even includes Audio and Video Daily Doubles, something never before done in previous computerized versions of the game.

Overall the computer adaptation of Jeopardy is very satisfying. I only had a few problems with the game: the lack of network multiplay, the repetition of answers after just a few games, and the fact that the game too often comes down to nothing but an old fashion spelling bee. For instance, I played against one of my friends and the question to one of the answers was ‘Who was Lynyrd Skynyrd.’ He typed Lynard Skynard and Alex popped up and said, “No, that’s incorrect.” Although they would be pronounced the same, the spelling can get a little quirky at times, even with the spell accuracy option set to easy. Of course, I was able to sneak in “Who was Lynyrd Skynyrd?” after his answer, resulting in a swift punch to the arm. And who said Jeopardy was a game for intellectuals? The AI also could have been a bit better at recognizing similar concepts (like accepting ‘Hinduism’ for ‘Hindu’ when speaking of the Indian religion or accepting ‘muscles’ for ‘muscle’ when the answer was “The Gluteus Maximus is the largest one of these in the human body.”), but these problems were few and far between and hardly took away from the Jeopardy gameplay experience.

All said and done, the computer version of Jeopardy should keep those of you who like the television show entertained for a while. Sure, you’ll start recognizing some of the questions after a few hours of play, but this just means you’ll be able to decimate your friends, who will immediately start calling you ‘Brainiac’ or ‘Egghead.’ By the way, the guy who played the other ‘Man in Black’ in the X-Files is now the governor of Minnesota think about it.

Israeli Air Force

Although its terrain engine is on shaky ground, IAF is a classic Jane s simulation.

Jane�s latest offering, Israeli Air Force, is quite a controversial title. Now, I�m fairly certain Jane�s isn�t too concerned about sales in the Middle East, assuming any sales occur there at all. Yet the politics of this sim have had nothing to do with the debates that have been raging in the Usenet flight-sim newsgroup: It�s the choice of terrain engine currently employed by IAF that�s got everyone up in arms. Those who can come to grips with the look and feel of IAF (i.e., those who aren�t expecting another Jane�s F-15) will find it a very enjoyable simulation experience.

Israeli Air Force is the first title that was not created in-house by a Jane�s development team. (It was under the production care of Paul Grace, though, so its interface sports the look and feel of a U.S. Navy Fighters / ATF / Fighter�s Anthology-type simulation.) IAF was created by Pixel Multimedia, which is comprised of some former real-life IAF fighter pilots. Your own career as an IAF pilot starts back during the Six Day War and continues on through to hypothetical future conflicts along the Syrian, Iraqi, and Lebanese fronts. Unfortunately, these missions are scripted, so they�ll always be the same each time you fly them, but at least you can take on various roles within these missions should you choose to attempt them again. In fact, you can switch back and forth among the other aircraft during the mission to ensure success if your wingmen aren�t getting the job done (not very realistic, but sometimes very necessary).

The flyable aircraft, while indeed representative of the real IAF, are not as accurate in the areas of flight modeling and avionics as some other simulations currently on the market. Nonetheless, at full realism the game can be quite a challenge. If you�re the type who likes to make things difficult for yourself, be sure to choose either the rookie or normal enemy AI levels and not the expert setting. For whatever reason, �expert� seems to be the easiest of all (let�s hope for a patch). A mission editor is included, but it isn�t much to shout about, so the longevity of this title could be called into question. On the bright side, these missions are multiplayer cooperative, something the hardcore community now insists upon as a required feature in any simulation. Multiplayer over the Internet via Jane�s Combat.net is silky smooth, and so far there�s been plenty of people to fly with/against.

The sheer irony of IAF, though, is that for a game whose terrain has the look of 2D-only rendering, it needs quite a powerful machine to truly enjoy it. Yes, 3D acceleration is an option, but it only really enhances the planes, buildings, explosive effects, etc. Furthermore, the game will not run at any resolution other than 640×480, so it comes as quite a surprise that a 200 MHz MMX-capable machine is the minimum requirement (since when was MMX ever a requirement?). IAF has hefty memory needs as well. Maybe it�s because the entire nation of Israel and its surrounding regions are accurately modeled that IAF will utilize a full 128 megs of RAM if you�ve got it. Yet despite IAF�s vast appetite, the payoff is questionable. Granted, you�ve never seen terrain quite like this before, so at least something can be said for trying something different. But depending on your altitude, the ground shifts back and forth in what many have described as a �shimmering� effect (which only gets worse the lower you get). At times, it�s hardly noticeable and the terrain looks gorgeous – at others, it�s like some voxel-engine experiment gone horribly wrong. I�m not trying to be vague here: it�s that hard to describe. The bottom line is that you�ll either love the ground�s unique variety or hate how it squirms and shifts in front of you.

IAF is not the end-all, be-all of Middle Eastern jet combat, but it�s definitely worthy of the Jane�s name. If the terrain doesn�t piss you off, you�re sure to have a great time with this one.

Industry Giant

A little Capitalism and a little Transport Tycoon add up to a lot of pain.

When you think of strategy games on the PC you usually think of MicroProse, but over the last couple of years Interactive Magic has done more for strategy gamers than most of its competitors.
Industry Giant is I-Magic’s most recent strategy game. Originally released in Germany during 1997, it contains elements of both Transport Tycoon and Capitalism in it, but doesn’t really match up to either.

You can play the game in two different modes–a campaign of progressively more difficult scenarios with limited objectives, or in free-form mode, where you can customize the number of your competitors, the amount of resources and land on the map, and elements such as the starting date or your initial amount of cash.

There’s also a nifty map editor included that allows you to hand-edit your own map, including the placement of cities, industries, and other resources. This does give the game some good replay value, as users can create and exchange maps of different real-world locations. But all the replay value in the world can’t help a game that is so much of a chore to play.

At first glance, the game looks a lot like Transport Tycoon. Its isometric look, with four different angles, and the way the game names the stations and cities, is identical to Transport Tycoon. You also set up routes for trucks, trains and the like in a very familiar manner. In fact, there is so much resemblance between the way Transport Tycoon looks and the way Industry Giant looks that when the demo was released, Interactive Magic ended up fielding questions from game writers wondering if this was the Transport Tycoon engine or a sequel from Transport’s original creator. But it’s not; it’s an all new engine from a different developer.

Essentially, your mission is to link an independent resource provider–steel mill, gold mine, lumber mill–with one of your factories. With your factory in place, you then choose to build one retail item, then set up a new transportation route between your factory and your retail outlet. Both the factory and the retail outlet can only handle one product at a time.

This is different from a Transport Tycoon or a Railroad Tycoon because you’re not earning money by providing transportation routes for carrying someone else’s goods–you earn money by selling products at retail. (Though in the real world, most companies do not own their own factories, retail outlets and at the same time operate their own transportation lines.)

But because earning money is done at retail, Industry Giant is more akin to the earlier Interactive Magic title Capitalism than anything else. However it is a very trimmed, down “lite” version of Capitalism. For example, in Capitalism, your factories are relatively complex buildings that can produce a variety of products, Capitalism’s and retail outlets can sell up to four. In Industry Giant, it’s one factory, one product, and each store can also sell only one item. This brevity really limits the amount of strategy you’ll employ in the game.

There are other shortcomings attributable to the game’s lack of depth. Capitalism has a stock market; Industry Giant does not. Selling products in Capitalism is extremely competitive–branding is important, what competitors are doing matters, you can price a product right down to a cent. Products also have quality ratings, and you need to do Research & Development in order to discover new products.

In Industry Giant, you can sell a product at a default price, or higher or lower by up to 20%. Branding, competition and R&D; are all ignored. You can increase demand for a product through advertising campaigns, and you may also build city improvements–stadiums and culture centers–that draw more people into the towns, and so expand the market that way.

Controlling the transportation routes can be a little tricky, especially with the trucks, who will frequently lock up in traffic jams because one truck is waiting for products–products that cannot be built

So in a nutshell, Industry Giant is an extremely stripped down version of Capitalism with a thin veneer of Transport Tycoon–yes you have the ability to create transportation networks, but not earn money from them or manage them in any way. This is ultimately an unsatisfying thin and somewhat repetitive strategy game.

So if you want to run a transportation company, play Railroad Tycoon or Transport Tycoon. If you want to run a manufacturing and retailing business, try Capitalism. If you want an unsatisfying mish-mash of both, Industry Giant is available.

Independence War

Particle Systems’ European space sim gets a hot new look. But do you really want real space physics?

Now I want all of you out there to understand this: space physics is hard physics. Remember how you always thought life without gravity and friction would be cool? Given a strong pair of legs, you could be in Paris by noon and then off to Rio de Janeiro for a little taste of the night life. But let me tell you, when it comes to piloting a 185,000 ton Dreadnought class Corvette, a little bit of pull toward center might be just what the captain ordered.

With Independence War, Particle Systems offers up a space simulation so convincing that it just may take a trip to the academy to get all of the commands down. Unlike other space sims that focus on small fighter combat like the Wing Commander and X-Wing / Tie Fighter series, Independence War allows you to take command of a medium-sized, multi-role space vessel. As a Commonwealth Naval officer fighting against the Independence movement, you will control all of the major stations of the Corvette, including pilot, navigation, engineering, and combat positions. Although this makes for one heck of an exciting experience, it also makes gameplay hectic and the missions extremely difficult as you are constantly switching between stations in the heat of battle. To make matters worse, even though you have a full bridge crew nobody else seems to give a damn when hot plasma is raining down on your hull. C�mon people . . . little help here!

For those of you who crave combat action in a fighter craft equipped with an arsenal the Montana Freemen would salivate over, Independence War may not be for you. The Dreadnaught is loaded with a lean weapon compliment consisting of two Particle Beam Cannons and two missile hardpoints. Independence War also doesn�t have the variety of weapons, ships, and races that its predecessors do. You can�t play on the side of the rebellion and although there are nearly 40 different ship types in the Independence War universe, you can only take command of the Corvette. What Independence War does offer is a much more in-depth, detailed, and realistic experience than any space combat simulator to date. You rarely go on a routine �search-and-destroy� mission and your objectives often change in mid-mission, making for a more dynamic and random gaming experience. The realistic physics, although difficult to get used to at first, give Independence War a genuine feel. Since there is very little friction in space your ship slides when you make a sharp bank. This can be disorienting and dangerous as you slow when turning, thereby making yourself an easy target. But it can also be very helpful as you can fling your ship around with your lateral thrusters faster than you can make a full bank, making your Dreadnaught one powerful and maneuverable weapons platform.

Graphically, Independence War is one of the best games around. The CGI cutscenes are incredible and the rendered ships are beautiful. But space is quite a lonely place, so you better get used to looking at a bunch of little white dots before you jump into the command seat.

Although this title has been available in Europe under the name I-War for quite some time, the American release of Independence War includes 3Dfx support, an arcade mode with retrorocket assistance allowing for easier piloting, and numerous gameplay enhancements. European owners need not fret as Particle Systems has promised a free upgrade to bring I-WAR up to the full functionality of the US release. Particle Systems also promises that a mission editor is in the works and will soon be available to all of you aspiring mission builders.

With all of this power at your grasp, the modest system requirements are surprising. What this game is going to require is a lot of patience. Independence War is hard. I can�t stress this enough, people. You�re only going to get out of this game what you put into it. The designers were trying to create a realistic space combat simulation — this is rocket science after all. Particle Systems should be praised for their efforts. Now let�s see if the masses are ready to take on the challenge of Independence War.

Incoming

Rage gives old-school gameplay a major shot in the arm, but good luck getting it to work.

There’s something to be said for Rage – when this developer puts together a game, they make it look beautiful. First with the brilliant-looking space combat title Darklight Conflict, and now they’ve worked their magic on Incoming, a strictly action-oriented PC game that just looks absolutely gorgeous, and manages to play a good game too.

The action jumps around a lot in the game, offering a wide variety of different vehicles and aircraft to pilot. There are many scenarios where it feels like a 3D version of Missile Command, where you take position behind a turret and simply blast wave after wave of invading forces before they destroy your base. In some missions, you’ll pilot a chopper and deliver freight while fending off enemy ships. Others even require the use of maneuverable aircraft to plow the way for your convoy. The missions are both long and eventful, which is surprising for a game that places all its emphasis on twitch-style action.

We’re not kidding about the graphics – this game will push your 3D accelerator hard. Incoming’s got it all — Realistic lighting effects, smooth mountainous terrain, slick plasma trails, and awesome explosions and debris raining all over the place.

But it all comes at a high price: getting this game to run on our PCs was one big pain in the butt – one high-end system would kick back to Windows with memory problems, another would lock up tighter than a drum at the title screen. And on one system, the filtered graphics would lose consistency, the gorgeous visuals would randomly snap into a weird, dithered, ugly mode where it looks like someone dropped a screen window in front of our monitor. After that happened we had to quit the game and restart, and yes, the cycle repeated.

The big deal is, we know we’re not alone. You should see the huge list of questions about incompatibility problems on Rage’s website. Funny thing is, most of the answers are “It’s not our fault,” or “Your drivers are incompatible with Incoming.” Sorry, that’s not going to cut it — there should have been a lot more compatibility testing before they let this game out the door. The game is great, the hassles are not. If you can get this game to work problem-free, hey, more power to you. But chances are you’re going to hit the same problems we did.

Incoming is an outstanding-looking and great playing game, but the system problems are a major drag. If only Rage focused as much time into compatibility testing as it did pushing the graphics, we wouldn’t have much to complain about.

iF/A-18 Carrier Strike Fighter

I-Magic’s new simulation is an improvement over iF-22, but it still has its share of problems.

Interactive Magic’s first in-house-developed simulation, iF-22, was a reasonably good air combat sim marred by a few significant flaws — most notably its lackluster graphics and a whole slew of bugs. I-Magic’s latest homemade sim, iF/A-18E Carrier Strike Fighter, shows that the developers have learned a lot in a year, but it still has some familiar problems.

Let’s start with the good stuff: CSF’s avionics and the TALON dynamic campaign/mission planning system. CSF has a great -looking simulation of ground mapping radar. It’s not as complex and realistic as the one in Jane’s F-15 — ground targets appear as bright, generic dots rather than distinctive radar reflections and shadows — but otherwise it’s very convincing. Terrain details brighten and fade realistically as the radar sweeps back and forth across the screen, and areas that would be obscured by hills or mountains appear as shadows on the display, just as they would with a real radar system.

CSF’s air-to-air radar and autopilot are similarly detailed, with multiple modes that reflect their real-world counterparts. The versatile autopilot can steer the plane directly towards a selected waypoint, or it can take you back to your flight path, then turn toward the next waypoint (this course-coupled mode gets you back onto your carefully planned route after you deviate for a dogfight or a target of opportunity, rather than flying you right over an SA-8 site between you and your waypoint). It can also be set to hold your altitude, attitude, or heading, independently or in combination, and automatic throttle modes keep your speed steady while you maneuver or manage your thrust as you land using the Automatic Carrier Landing System (ACLS). The ACLS itself sets CSF apart from other carrier-based air combat sims; it’s the first to simulate a fully automated landing — naturally, it also lets you try a manual carrier trap if you’re up for the challenge, but even a hands-off landing can be pretty thrilling.

Unfortunately, while everything going on inside the cockpit is pretty cool, you’re eventually going to have to look out through the canopy — and that’s where CSF takes a steep dive. CSF is based on the DEMON graphics engine, the same one used for iF-22, and as a result it suffers from most of the same visual problems. In theory, the DEMON engine produces photorealistic graphics by laying satellite photos over authentic terrain elevation data; in practice, though, it’s a mess of blocky textures, patches of varying resolution, and unconvincing effects (like smoke trails and explosions). It’s true that graphic quality isn’t the most important element of a good game, but simulations live and die by believability — and any game needs to at least meet the standards of the competition. CSF’s visuals fall far below those in the least impressive of its rivals. Bad-looking terrain might be excusable in a high-altitude air-to-air simulation, but CSF simulates a jet that spends a lot of its time in low-level bombing runs — and the closer you get to the ground in this game, the worse it looks. 3D models — planes, ships, buildings, etc. — are slightly improved over iF-22, but they’re still no match for those in other current sims like Jane’s F-15 or Israeli Air Force.

Ultimately, CSF’s nifty avionics and campaign system can’t overcome the shoddy graphics. If I-Magic’s next sim retains those elements — and dumps DEMON in favor of a more up-to-date graphics engine — the North Carolina publisher may finally have a hit on its hands, but iF/A-18E Carrier Strike Fighter doesn’t quite cut it.

Icarus: Sanctuary of the Gods

An old school RPG that could make veteran gamers weep for the days of the Commodore.

Every now and then a low-budget game comes through that while lacking in special-effects polish or marketing glitz still wins us over just though its sheer depth of play. Icarus: Sanctuary of the Gods, a new strategy/RPG from a small developer called KRGsoft is definitely NOT one of those games. Self-touted as a game that Diablo fans will love, Icarus is instead an exercise in linear storytelling, interminable combats, and irritating themes. The most entertainment most Diablo fans will actually get out of this game is in finding and laughing at the title’s countless grammatical errors.

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One of the first things you’ll notice about Icarus is that, for most of the game, you won’t really have all that much control over what’s going on. As the story begins you’ll watch screen after screen of different characters speaking s-l-o-w-l-y, and while you can hit the escape key to skip the dialogue altogether, there’s no option that allows you to speed up the characters’ speech. Once you get into the game, you’ll realize that you might as well skip the dialogue bits because there’s nothing you can do to affect the decisions your characters make anyway. Think it’s a bad idea to try and escape from the king’s prison? Too bad! All you can do is sit back and watch in horror as your characters make more and more stupid decisions and recruit more friends to help them make ‘em. The only time you’ll have control of your characters is in combat and in towns.

Wandering around towns is kind of quaint in a hey-let’s-dig-out-the-Commodore-64 kind of way and many old-school RPG fans will probably feel a tug at their heartstrings as they buy new weapons, sell old weapons, and grill the townspeople for info. Unfortunately, the townspeople talk so damn slowly that you’ll probably give up on chatting with them after your first encounter. It’s not like you can put any info you get from them to use anyway. These village encounters are also the only time this title ever bears even the slightest resemblance to Diablo, and this mostly because the developers of the game obviously ‘borrowed’ rather heavily from that game’s interface. Each town contains a couple of shop and an inn in which players can rest up, as well as one house that will act as a plot device. There’s not much gaming to be had here folks, it’s all just walk, buy, and chat. Let’s move on to combat.

Icarus’ combat system is actually not as bad as the rest of the game might lead you to believe. You take control of how ever many characters you have at that point in time and take on whatever foe the story is throwing at you in a turn-based squad level combat reminiscent of Sega’s Shining Force series. Each round you can move your character and then choose to attack (if you’re within range of your target) with either a hand-to-hand attack, a special attack (if you’re a fighter), or a magic spell (if you’re a mage). Once all of your characters have had a shot, the enemy goes through the same thing, and combat is resolved. If you choose not to attack on any given round, your character can rest and recover hit points. Although I must admit I found fighting fairly enjoyable at first, as the game progressed and the fights became a little more evenly matched, the game showed its true colors and became nearly unplayable. The main problem is this – like your characters, the enemy can heal simply by choosing not to fight in any given round. What this means in the higher level battles is that, even after killing everyone else on the screen, your entire team will have to spend hours running around a battlefield trying to finish off the boss as he avoids you and continues to heal himself. As the bosses get more resistant to your attacks, this can become even more frustrating – imagine how long it takes to finish off an enemy’s last 60 hit points when each turn your team dishes out 24 points of damage and your foe heals up 23 of them. If you’re anything like me, your instinct will be to cut off your computer and look for something interesting to do after the second time this happens.

Icarus could have been a pretty cool game if a little more effort had been taken in spell-checking the dialogue boxes, balancing the gameplay, and seeking to give the story at least the impression that it was interactive in some way. As it stands, this title may provide a good diversion for fans of really old console RPGs, but will almost certainly irritate and alienate almost everyone else.

High Heat Baseball 1999

3DO’s first jump into the PC baseball market is promising.

In many ways, 3DO’s High Heat Baseball is the least sophisticated of the three baseball action games I looked at this year (the other two being Triple Play ’99 and Hardball 6), but in a few key areas, it outshines its competition. Certainly in terms of looks, High Heat is the ugliest of the lot, eliciting the most guffaws from people around the office who passed by my monitor. The batter in particular generated the yuks, as his bowed legs make him look like he is suffering from rickets. On the other hand, the stadiums and the field looked fine.

Bad as they are, the graphics didn’t bother me nearly as much as the lack of a career mode. As a management sim, High Heat is nowhere near Triple Play or Hardball, let alone Front Page Sports, Diamond Mind or Baseball Mogul. That’s kind of surprising, since 3DO made this development group out to be huge baseball fans.

At any rate, what High Heat does right is the most important thing for any baseball game–it plays a good game of baseball. Unlike most other games, the fielders look proportional to the outfield they cover, and they actually seem to range through the outfield at speeds that feel like a big field game. So unlike the rollers skates and cannon arms of the Triple Play outfielders, who almost completely restrict extra base hits, the outfielders here have to react to the ball and chase it down. And unlike the limp throws of the Hardball fielders, the players in High Heat can throw the ball home, or across the diamond.

The variety of hits is quite unlike that of the other games, and you can almost see the computer controlled players making their decisions about where the ball is going on the fly, depending on where your baserunners are and where they’re going.

In short, High Heat feels like baseball.

This game isn’t perfect–you’ll see poor baserunning decisions, and some moves, like a pickoff throw, can’t be handled using a gamepad’s buttons (you have to use the keyboard instead). But even with its quirks (and its bad looks), High Heat may be the best on-field game out there. This is a title for baseball fans who are more concerned with gameplay on the diamond than they are with management or fantasy leagues.

Heretic II

Raven’s newest entry into the 3D action realm certainly looks good, but why third-person only?

How many of you out there remember the original Heretic? This was the game that took the Doom engine to a whole new level and put Raven software in the 3D action hall of fame. At the time, Heretic was one of my favs. Heck, I must have finished it 4 or 5 times and I still go back and play it every now and then. Well � the long awaited Heretic II has finally hit the shelves. Let me tell you I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time.

Heretic II takes off where the original Heretic ended. You take control of Corvus, the Elven hunter from the original episode. The opening animation in Heretic II outlines the story since the end of Heretic. I seems that after slaying D’Sparil, one of the dreaded Serpent Riders, Corvus steps through a portal which he believes leads back to his homeland. Instead, in an ironic and depressing twist, D’Sparil altered the portal destination and Corvus is transported far away from the Elven city of SilverSpring. After wondering the badlands, Corvus finally finds his way back to SilverSpring. Instead of receiving a hero’s welcome for saving the world from D’Sparil, Corvus instead finds that all of his brethren have been mutated by a mysterious plague that turned them into remorseless, blood-thirsty killers. It’s just not Corvus’ day � or month � or year � or century for that matter.

Heretic II uses a highly modified version of the Quake II engine. Not only are the graphics, moves, and general feel of the engine totally updated, but Heretic II uses a third-person perspective as well. “But,” you say (we have all of you bugged � and we’re watching Rockwell too) “certainly they included an option for a first-person view as well.” Nope. Unfortunately the designers decided not to include any switchability, citing that it would take away from the playability of the game. OK � whatever. I know it certainly took away from the playability of Quake II, Unreal, and Half-Life. Man, nobody liked those games. If only they would have used a third-person view. I love not being able to aim precisely and looking at my tight little Elven butt as I run around the city streets (hmmm � could this have been an attempt to get more girls into computer gaming). And it really helps me get immersed in a game that has me looking at myself from behind. You know, just like real life. Alright, alright � I kid the designers a bit about their choice of third-person only for Heretic II. Overall they did a pretty good job of implementation. The camera generally does a good job of keeping up with your character and it rarely gets stuck in a wall or in front of Corvus. And the choice of a third-person perspective does show off the graphics and Corvus’ hot new moves, like creeping, rolling, the backstroke, and even pole vaulting. Good job guys.

The levels themselves are huge and look really great. The designers used a linear design formula, meaning you are pretty much lead to the end of a level. You all know the routine � run around, get to a door that doesn’t open, run some more, find a key that opens the door, if you can’t find a key look for a lever or button, run back to the door, etc. Unlike Hexen, also set in the Heretic gameworld, you do not need to return to previous levels to solve quests, although you may go back to retrieve any mana or health power-ups you left behind. Heretic II also incorporates the use of power-up shrines where you can get healed, regain your mana, increase your armor power, and receive certain specials like the ability to fly.

Corvus has quite an arsenal of spells and weapons on his hands � literally. You start with a bladed staff which magically appears it your palm when you request it. Other weapons you can acquire include an assortment of bows and the HellStaff. You’re spell compendium includes such beauties as Sphere of Annihilation, Meteor Swarm, Firewall, and Iron Doom. You’ll definitely have a variety of ways to get medieval on the slew of creatures that will barrage you. In addition to damage spells, Corvus also has a number of defensive spells at his disposal. The Ring of Repulsion, for instance, produces a circle of energy around Corvus which pushes monsters aside.

Heretic II sports some very impressive graphical work and your screen is generally filled with big, bright gobs of eye-candy. The wall and floor textures are highly detailed and the landscapes are quite impressive, though rather bland in places, with environments ranging from populous cities, murky swamps, and eerie dungeons. And I can’t rave enough about the spell and lighting effects � good job guys. The death animations are perhaps some of the goriest to date, with flying arms, legs, and heads that still spurt blood even after they’ve been loped off. The game does allow you to adjust the violence level so, if the kiddies play, you don’t have to worry about the cat for the next few months.

Unfortunately, even though it looks pretty, the AI in Heretic II is definitely lacking. In a one-on-one battle you can pretty much defeat any of the baddies simply enough, so Heretic II relies on horde AI to make the game more challenging. Nothing is more frustrating than getting jumped by a group of five of six bad guys at once (this happens a lot in Heretic II), especially since the third-person perspective makes it difficult to aim accurately and turn around quickly to face your next foe.

Overall Heretic II is fun and certainly looks good, but it’s not as good as I had hoped … of course, being a big fan of the original, maybe my expectations were a little high. While it has some of the best lighting effects I’ve seen in an action game, good level design, and utilizes a third-person view better than any game to date, the AI could use some improvement and I’m sure many gamers really would have liked the addition of a first-person view. Now I’m going to go play a few levels of the original � just for a kick.