The games techies play

This year's crop of electronic games includes something for every taste

December 8 1997

The games techies play

This year's crop of electronic games includes something for every taste

December 8 1997

The games techies play


This year's crop of electronic games includes something for every taste

In 1972, a California computer programmer named Alan Alcorn created the world’s first massmarket video game, a simple diversion called Pong in which players batted an electronic ball back and forth across a black screen. A quarter-century later, the electronic game market is a $21-billion global industry, with a wide assortment of formats, sophisticated 3-D graphics and ever-increasing standards of realism. There are games to suit every taste—or lack thereof. Maclean’s reviews some of the best computer and console games of the holiday season.


$67, PC & Mac CD-ROM

Any of the more than 3.5 million people who muddled through Myst—the most popular computer game of all time—will find Riven to be a familiarly befuddling experience. The longawaited sequel to the addictive puzzler. Riven once again thrusts players into an artificial world where the mystery lies not so much in figuring out how to do things, as in finding out what's supposed to be done. The gameplay is almost identical to Myst: using a mouse to pointand-click their way around, players must solve complex puzzles to learn the secrets of the topsy-turvy, but inherently logical, landscape of Riven. The sequel is slicker and prettier than its predecessor, with stunning graphics and a thoroughly cool, evocative sound track. In short, Riven offers Myst fans more of the same, only better.


$80 Nintendo 64


Slick and richly detailed, GoldenEye 007 captures the suspense and intrigue of a James Bond thriller. Players become secret agents with a dangerous mission and, emulating the suave British hero, “a licence to kill.” Armed with a golden gun—one of many weapons in

the spy’s impressive arsenal—players dodge bullets and stalk enemy agents through a maze of corridors, tunnels and underground parking garages. The graphics are stunningly real, right down to the lifelike figures that writhe and fall to their death in a blaze of gunfire. And like Bond, players can call on a dazzling array of gadgetry. Decoders open doors, a bomb defuser cuts through detonator wires and a covert modem downloads classified information. Secret agents can also launch grenades and rockets, throw knives or aim a sniper rifle equipped with a special zoom lens. Warning: GoldenEye is highly entertaining and can easily become addictive.


$60, Sony Playstation

To paraphrase the old Beatles song, auto-racing simulations are getting better all the time. This entry is up against some tough competition, including Formula One Championship Edition, the much-anticipated sequel to the most popular video racing game ever. Still, fans of North American Indy-car racing may prefer Sony’s new release, based on the CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) series. Speed demons can choose to race as one of 25 real drivers from 16 CART teams, on 10 tracks modelled to scale from the actual blueprints (Vancouver is represented, but not Toronto). Boredom may set in on some of the oval tracks, but the collisions are realistic and the game’s designers have done a good job of simulating the behavioi and feel of a 900-horsepower race car at speeds up to 320 km/h.


$65, PC and Mac CD-ROM

Released late last year, this two-CD game is sure to enjoy renewed interest with the release of director James Cameron’s Hollywood blockbuster (page 86). Players find themselves aboard the legendary ocean liner on its ill-fated voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City in 1912. In part, the purpose is education: users can tour the boat, chat with any of 25 interactive passengers and crew and, with the help of spectacular graphics, view faithful

reproductions of its staterooms, lounges, decks and dining rooms. Start the game, however, and the player becomes a British agent charged with recovering a book stolen by German spies. The intrigue gets more serious following the Titanic’s collision with an iceberg. The intrepid agent has a chance to change the course of history, but it is a race against the clock—the mystery must be solved before the ship sinks. With a playing time of 2 V2 hours, this is a fascinating and challenging game that should delight history and mystery buffs.


$63, Sony Playstation

Easily one of the best hockey simulations on the market, NHL Faceoff ’98 represents a major leap forward from the 1997 edition, with a wide range of game modes and features. Players can choose from among three difficulty levels—rookie, veteran and all-star— and five camera angles, ranging from high above the rink to ice level. During a game, the fans either cheer or boo depending on whether the team you have chosen is at its home rink or on the road. Another nice touch is the goaltender’s water bottle, which goes flying off the top of the net when an opposing player takes a hard shot. Hockey fans will feel right at home with all the fights that break out in the middle of the action.


$90, Nintendo 64

NFL Quarterback Club ’98 is so authentic, it’s almost like watching a televised football game. All of the league’s 30 teams, 1,500 players and 29 stadiums are rendered in lifelike detail. So are the sound effects, including the roar of the crowd, on-field shouts and a play-by-play commentary. Using separate controllers plugged into the console, as many as four people can control details of the play, from fake snaps and dives to forearm shivers. NFL Quarterback Club ’98 also works with Nintendo’s Rumble Pak, an accessory that vibrates the controller to help players experience the impact of a tackle. Of course, football in the 1990s is as much a business as a sport—and the game’s creators have taken that into account, too. Off the field, players can test their front-office skills by drafting and trading team members and negotiating salaries. The only downside is that all that realism adds to the complexity of the game. Even experienced Nintendo fans may find it difficult to keep track of all the possible options.


$85, PC CD-ROM

OK, so it doesn’t quite live up to the hype that its publisher, Interplay, foisted upon computer gamers for more than a year before its September release. But for all of the game’s faults—it lacks some of the features promised in pre-release, and hard-core flight simulation gamers will find it too simplistic—Starfleet Academy is still one heck of an entertaining title. Players assume the role of David Forester, who is training to take on the toughest job in the universe: captain of a Federation starship. To do that,

he must not only command his ship through simulated training missions against Klingons, Romulans and other alien life-forms, but also guide and encourage his often-troublesome crew. In that respect, the game combines the excitement of a shoot-’emup with edifying human-interest elements—in all, a refreshingly rewarding experience. With passable full-motion video sequences, tough but fair battle scenarios and appearances from original Star Trek cast members, Starfleet Academy is worth a look. And for fans of the series and its spinoffs, it’s a must-see.


$50, Sega Saturn

Sega’s 32-bit Saturn console has been struggling recently against other stand-alone video game platforms, but there is still no shortage of new titles. Shining the Holy Ark, the latest in a series of Shining instalments, is among the best of them. Players

adopt the persona of a medieval adventurer named Arthur, who embarks on a quest for sacred artifacts while attempting to save the kingdom from mysterious evil spirits. The story line is not terribly original, but the fight sequences are fast-paced with plenty of impressive special effects.


$70, Nintendo 64 Diddy Kong Racing offers double the fun: a solo adventure and a challenging race in one light and cheerful game. Single players travel by go-cart, plane and hovercraft through a lushly detailed and intricate landscape with Diddy Kong, a mischievous chimpanzee, and his cartoon friends—Timber the tiger, Pipsy the mouse, Banjo the bear, Conker the squirrel and Bumper the badger. Players face ever-increasing challenges as they ride through 20 different levels, gathering golden balloons that will help them unlock doors to another world where they can finally break the spell of the evil Wizpig. A single player can race against the clock or as many as four can compete against one another. One drawback: while the car and plane manoeuvre easily, the hovercraft is awkward and somewhat difficult to control.


$80, Sony Playstation

Considered by many video game veterans to be the best role-playing game ever, Final Fantasy VII has broken all sales records for its distributor, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. In Japan, 2.5 million copies were snapped up in the game’s first three days of release last year; in Canada, where it went on sale this fall, more than 150,000 copies have been purchased. The premise is not exactly original: players must save the world from a crazed terrorist who is plotting to blow it to smithereens. But the mix of adventure, combat and Japanese-style animation is engaging, and the three-disc package contains more than 50 hours of gameplay. □