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Star Control 3 (DOS)

An exceprt from the SC3 staff meeting...

The Good
PROJECT HEAD: Okay, staff, let's really take this alliance building, diplomacy thing full tilt on this one.


The Bad
HEAD: How's the dialogue coming along?

SCRIPTWRITER: Uh... well... um... I like Juicy Fruit?

HEAD: Okay, let's rip it off straight from SC2, shall we? How's testing coming along.

RESEARCH STAFF: We've got Bob the Janitor and our pet gerbil playing SC2 right now, sir.

HEAD: And...?

RESEARCH: Bob's getting upset because the gerbil keeps beating him at HyperMelee.

HEAD: Right. Let's dumb down the artificial intelligence. Have the enemy fly in some random direction as soon as combat starts. Okay, what have we done to research the plot?

RESEARCH: We watched the "Friends" marathon.

HEAD: And?

SCRIPTWRITER: I have a secret friend.

HEAD: Sounds like that man's making progress.

DESIGN: Yes, sir. He doesn't think he's a plank anymore.

HEAD: Okay, about the plot.

RESEARCH: Well, Bob the janitor is having trouble understanding what's going on in SC2, so we figured we'd make it a little less complex.

HEAD: How much less complex?

RESEARCH: About as simple as an episode of... well...

HEAD: Let me guess, an episode of "Friends," right?

RESEARCH: Could be, yes.

SCRIPWRITER: Cheez-Wiz is the opiate of the masses.

HEAD: Comission that man to write that Star Control novel we were talking about.

RESEARCH: Ah, "Interbellum."

HEAD: And make the Spathi sound like Woody Allen!

DESIGN: We can make all the villains TOTALLY one-sided dorks!

RESEARCH: Bob's eating his 3DO controller...

HEAD: Take out all the planet exploration features!


HEAD: Create TWO WHOLE MINUTES of CG movies!

RESEARCH: We can use random goobers as voice talent!

SCRIPTWRITER: I have my own Tandy, you know.

The Bottom Line
GERBIL: This is gonna suck!

By Vance on July 10th, 2000

Hardline (Windows)


The Good
Well, let's see... um... er... AH! The uninstaller works like a charm! A-friggin'-plus!

The Bad
(DEEP BREATH) This steaming pile's main purpose in the video game world is as a shining bad example. The graphics are pixelly and repetitive, with the mixture of CG and live footage being horribly obvious. Sound is tinny and badly recorded and mixed, so that most of the time the characters sound like they're speaking through aluminum tubes. The story sucks something I can't mention, and the actors probably had to pimp themselves out to the devil after reading the script for the first time. ON TOP OF ALL THIS, your character's name is Ted Irven, and the acting style that brings this guy to life can be described as "Let's do this in one take, I just woke up from a NyQuil-induced coma." Most of the touted film clips are shots of the guy running down a hall, walking down a hall, or (proving there was SOME imagination here) turning around and walking down a hall. There were some adventure elements thrown into the shooter-on-rails format, but after using the interface to pick up the first gun these elements went largely unused. Plus, this game is just too hard. I immediately hit the net to find cheat codes, hoping the story would pick up and make the three bucks I spent worthwhile, but in the end all I wound up with was a bad taste in my mouth and a refund. Even the gratuitous sex scene they blatantly edited in wouldn't be worth the sacrifice of precious life you spend playing this thing.

The Bottom Line
Proof positive that Satan has infiltrated the entertainment industry. Grieving mothers can bring this to their court cases and will probably win large cash awards. Buy it only if you are running low on clay pigeons, since this is cheaper and more satisfying to shoot at. "Ted Irven? I don't THINK SO BLAM"

By Vance on June 26th, 2000

The Pandora Directive (DOS)

Simply the best of the series

The Good
This is where the team actually hit their pace with the story, cinematography, and gameplay. A huge leap over the campiness that was Under a Killing Moon, this game fully imbues the streets of San Francisco with that oldtime P.I. feel. The music and lighting only drive the nail home. The acting was also much better this time around, thanks to the presence of more Hollywood actors. Each major character brings their role to life with a power not often found in a game. Barry Corbin especially is frightening as the psychotic head of the NSA. Still, there are a few subpar performances on the sidelines. And for another note, THANK YOU OH THANK YOU GOD FOR NOT USING THAT CHEAP TRICK FROM THE LAST GAME! One thing that drove me up the wall from UAK was the method of saving disk space by only having one actor move at a time while the other was a frozen sprite hanging in C-Space. Not only did it look terrible, it was also obvious that the other actor was talking to thin air. Gameplay-wise, the puzzles were fun and fit in perfectly with the story. Almost everything that had to be done felt right, from searching through an alleyway full of garbage cans for the right newspaper to piecing together a torn death threat.

The Bad
The Windows version was only a half-transport, and suffered heavily from bugs. I finally had to ignore half the warnings it blared at me every time I booted it up and soon discovered that it worked better with all those threatening utilities still running. Still, there were occasional lockups.

The Bottom Line
Definitely for anybody seeking a good adventure game with a damn good detective yarn thrown in.

By Vance on June 26th, 2000

The Pandora Directive (Windows)

By Vance on June 26th, 2000

Space Rogue (DOS)

The "Pre-Wing Commander"

The Good
This was way ahead of its time; A polygonal space flight sim in the vein of Privateer, with mulitple systems to explore, multiple ways to make a living, and a reputation system where everybody treats you differently. Geez... where to begin. Okay, the scope. This was a pretty cool blend of action and adventure. With a little imagination each visit to a space station would be a memorable encounter. There was the usual barter and trade stuff, but then again there were things quite unexpected. Civilians would approach you with offers to transport goods, or even want you to taxi them elsewhere! Sometimes the cops or the criminals would employ your help, and the favors they'd return would sometimes go beyond cash... maybe a special cargo pod to conceal that contraband? How to make a living... this you should recognize the most from Privateer. Merchant? Bounty Hunter? Alien Hunter? PIRATE!? This is where things started to get seriously intense, because it led straight into the... RATING SYSTEM: Not a cheap "One rating, everybody reacts to that" deal. You had ratings with EVERY FACTION AROUND. Save a merchant ship, score points with them. Save a merchant ship by destroying an attacking pirate, lose points with the bad guys... and if you ever need a favor from them, be prepared to pay through the nose... Help the cops by being a bounty hunter and they'll start to chum around with you. Hurt them and they'll start extorting your bounty out of you. It goes on and on. Gameplay was no slouch, either. All of the planets and stars were actually in there with you, no cutouts you could never reach but actual gameplay elements of gravity and velocity. Even binary stars, two stars orbiting each other! My fondest gameplay memory involved a binary star system where I was getting trashed by an alien, totally wrecked at the worst time. I couldn't outrun it and I was far, far away from any help. I turned the nose of the ship to face between the two stars and hit full burn. As the gravity started sucking I started flying in faster than the ship could possibly go under its own power. I started to get pulled off course, towards one of the stars, and then... I shot between them and out to the other side, leaving the alien way back in nowheresville. This is the kind of moment that makes me love a game.

The Bad
Okay, the sound and occasional music can't even be remembered at this point. They must not have been anything special. Also, there was one sequence when I had to make a landing on a station that had been ravaged by a mutant, get in to steal an item, and get back to the ship without getting slaughtered. The mutant was way too fast. I saw him enter the screen, then I died. And don't assume it was a system thing, I was running a P.O.S. Tandy 1000 S(U)X that was WAY underqualified to even be plugged in. No, that was something that made me turn over the keyboard to my buddy while I went and swallowed nerve relaxants by the bucket.

The Bottom Line
Possibly the FIRST space adventure with this kind of scope, Space Rogue was around and kicking butt long before Wing Commander conquered our monitors.

By Vance on June 22nd, 2000

Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender (DOS)

By Vance on June 20th, 2000

Black Dahlia (Windows)

One of the last greats in the field, highly recommended to adventure fans/movie buffs

The Good
From start to finish this package was incredible. The cast was hand-picked from Hollywood, the virtual sets were the finest ever, sound and music were totally spot on, and the story was a masterpiece. Even the standard adventure engine featured some nice tweaks that kept me interested in the game without breaking the illusion of reality. The music especially helped set the tone, and was at a constant low in the background, just on the edge of concsiousness and pushing the story forward as necessary. The virtual sets, as stated, were incredible. There were many times when I forgot completely that they were computer generated, that the actors were working with blue screen technology. And the actors themselves worked well in front of a blue screen, something which normally hurts a performance.

The Bad
Perhaps the only real issue to put an adventure gamer off about this one is the difficulty. This was hands down the HARDEST game I've ever played. The puzzles involved have a certain logic behind them, but I only tended to pick up on it in hindsight. Also, of course, is the fact that this is an FMV game; The bane of the common gamer. This is definitely for those who want a story and enjoy film clips interspersed along the game, and this constitutes a small minority at this point.

The Bottom Line
Excellent all the way through, pick this up for a great cinematic, mind-bending experience, but be ready to flush a little bit of pride when you have to go look up a walkthrough.

By Vance on June 19th, 2000

Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror (Windows)

A little on the simple side, but with a brilliant script.

The Good
The story was on the quirky side, but the characters, the dialogue between them, and the way the voice actors brought it all to life was simply a joy. At first glance the graphics looked like something that wound up on Hanna-Barbara's cutting room floor, but once into the game they animated with a nice frame rate that settled all fears. Also, the difficulty level was low, making this perfect for beginners or people mainly interested in the story. The puzzles were pretty well integrated into the game, with none of the noticable "adventure game syndrome" coming to the surface. Another glowing point that deserves praise is the execution of the plot. There were a lot of things going on here, but so many of them were subtle. Farces on pop culture lay everywhere, but never does the script beat them over our heads. They're just there to pick up on in passing. So too is a lot of the game's adult content. Instead of coming right out and screaming in the user's face that this is a no-holds-barred gorefest or language-spree, instead it is once again shuffled into the deck and produced as the plot requires.

The Bad
Well, the game was easy. I know I listed this as a good point, but it can also be bad. Sure, you can sit back, look at the big picture, and figure out the solution, but veteran gamers will not be challanged at all here.

The Bottom Line
Quick-witted and fun as a piece of entertainment, this is something to enjoy if you're here for the story and dialogue. Mensa members seeking to challenge themselves should move on.

By Vance on June 19th, 2000

Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness (Windows 3.x)

By Vance on June 19th, 2000

Knights of Xentar (DOS)

By Vance on June 19th, 2000

Tender Loving Care (Windows)

Need any more reason why FMV gaming died a horrible, flaming death?

The Good
The good point on this one is that it still tries to give the interactive movie genre a decent go even after most of the industry considers this a dead end. Also, the presence of John Hurt lends itself heavily to the title, and he does a good job considering the material he got handed here. The psychological worksheets are entertaining, and the ability to read your own test profile is one of the high points here, which is actually too bad considering that this is a minor distraction at best.

The Bad
FMV gaming is dead, and this kind of product is the reason. The story was heinous, something you'd expect to see on a cable direct erotic thriller, most of the actors turned in sub-standard performances excepting John Hurt. Even his screen presence was reduced by a makeup job and hairstyle that made him look like he was having his midlife crisis WAY late. The script is horrible, the camera work is amateur, and with few exceptions the whole reel just lacks. Also, there's not enough info on how to access the alternate scenes and endings. The psychological tests are very obvious about how they rate YOU, but as far as how they effect the movie... I'm still mystified.

The Bottom Line
This game gets a single play for the novelty; It's the first one you can actually sit back and drink a beer while playing, at least with any efficiency. A better story, script, and overall cast might have made the project more acceptible and given the genre a kickstart, but in the end TLC doesn't make the cut and FMV gaming still lies at the bottem of a deep river.

By Vance on June 19th, 2000

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