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Sam Hardy @WebDog


Need for Speed: Most Wanted (Windows)

It still needs....something.

The Good
I have a bit of a dislike for driving games. Logically I should not, cars run in my family, my grandfather was a second hand car salesman at one point, and his place has loads of VW remains. Other members in my family like cars, but I don't. I ended up deciding a computer was a far more entertaining and less dangerous investment to your life.

Along that line I encountered "The Need for Speed". Back when you're twelve, Ferrari means "fast" and it being red makes it faster. I sucked at that game, the first go I spent five minutes grumbling that the Ferrari was slower than my mum's 20 year old BMW, and then I was informed I was still in first gear.

Then the years went along, and so did the newer versions of this game, I played them out of nostalgia rather than the fact that I actually liked the game. Everything was fine up till the Underground series. When that game arrived, despite being a non car person, I knew well that this game franchise had fallen.

EA's marketing plan is a main cause for this. A market filled with sheep who think Tupac is still alive and that baggy saggy pants that show off your underpants are really awesome. Then couple that with the emergence of the "Emo" lifestyle, bad hair and worse songs, and couple that with two movies focusing on street racing.

What was produced? Two shallow games, that highlighted that materialism is the king. The goal of the game was to evidently wreck up an import car to the point where the designers could not recognize it. Now certainly there's a novelty in seeing a hummer modded with hinge doors, blinking neon, glary paintjobs and more stickers over the windshield than the average Ute. But the fact of driving was turned into an arcade game, drifting was king, gaining points for losing control, there was no finesse in those games and I never got into it.

Then word came for Most Wanted. Well, there seemed to be some hope, and then I read the press release. It sounded like Underground 3. Mentioning in big splashy writing that you were against black listed drivers! Had to be the best! Tune your car up with glam! I really wasn't looking forwards to this, and sort of avoided most news concerning this game.

Then out it came. Yep there was the grunge artwork, the spray paint, the gothic font and a painted up BMW. Interesting - a BMW, I hadn't seen them in a Need for Speed game in a long time. Investigations revealed that there were no imports, and a lot of nice old names like Lotus, Aston Martin, and Porsche were sitting in the game. I took a gamble and got the standard game. Well four CDs and one patch later I was double clicking on the icon and starting it up.

It didn't enthrall me. Intro movies of a hot chick introducing herself, clichéd slow mo car chases and of course the game's onset plot of street racing. Nothing seemed to have changed from the previous game, and I wondered if I could refund.

But then witchcraft happened. I noticed that despite trying to garner its old audience some of the roots from the older games had crept through the cracks. Modding had been reduced to visual appearances only, while stupid spoilers and carbon bonnets and other junk were still there, they weren't needed for the game. The cars were fast, new and most had been on Top Gear, so I was somewhat attracted to what this game had for me to drive. Behind the wheel was something I had been missing. This game was surprisingly fun.

Now let's stop a bit and explain a few things. A lot of naysayer (fourteen year olds) have been deriding the game saying it's hardly realistic and, well kiddo you were most likely five or four in 1997. Time for a history lesson.

The Need for Speed (the first one) is the ONLY game in the whole series (exception being Porches Unlimited) to have attempted realism. And that was because Road & Track sat down with the developers and got a game to the point where even the gear shift sound was correct. Since the second game, realism has ALWAYS been out the door for the Need for Speed games. And the latest is hardly sitting on realism.

The idea of the game is, speed. But then enter politics; a lot of the car manufacturers are precious about their cars, utterly precious. This meant that damage was not allowed in the game, Ferrari reportedly wasn't in here because they don't like seeing their cars in a cop chase, and of course they want their respective cars to be accurate.

Accuracy is a mixed bag here. What you get are more or less dramatic representations of the real life cars. You could drive a Porsche 911 in life, then in the game go "well" there's something Porsche about it, it's on the right track". But needless, you aren't buying this game as a simulator of driving, Gran Turismo 4 is a far more accurate representation, but even that's got some downfalls.

See you're steering a car using keys. If you drove along in life just jerking the steering wheel left and right and expecting the car to follow, you're not going to get anywhere. The game has to draw the line.

But aside from the faux fur, this game does offer loads of fun. The tracks are more reminiscent of the older Need for Speed tracks, but this is a far more realistic representation, no fantasy volcano temple lands here just open lanes of freeway and city streets, some forest tracks and so on. The game is set in the fictional city of Rockport and when you're not tearing after a badly painted Audi, you're free to roam in this city, and get chased by the police.

Yes the cop chases are back! And oh they are so fun. Relentless, irritating, road spikes and all, the insanity of having six SUV cop cars after you as you smash through shop windows and the like is a breath of fresh air in the stagnant game play of the NFS series.

Also making a sort of return are the destructible environments. Littered are road signs, markers and lamp posts that are all destructible with the help of the front of your car, and occasionally this is used as a bit of a hazard to players, taking a shortcut, you find out that it's littered with debris intent on slowing you down. Of course realism takes a back seat as the cars are quite happy to plow thorough several light posts and other things taking no more than a scratch of paint (the car makers don't want their babies in pieces).

The Bad
But some things irritate me in this game.

Firstly multiplayer is sadly too limiting. Just three modes, where are the police catching races from the old games, where are the police in multiplayer? Just racing or performing drags get old.

And while the car choice is brilliant, it's a shame that the bonus cars are more or less as they are, no modding can be done on them. Also the AI seems rather hard. And this seems to be on the unfair point. The AI seems able to take corners at impossible speeds and is often irritating and loves to shove you out of the way.

Also as a bit of a pet peeve, the whole aspect of grunge and power modding your car seemed somewhat of a leftover, stuffing a top line Mercedes into an ugly body kit isn't really adding much. Now I'm aware the older Need for Speed games did have upgrades, but still the game feels too much like it's stuck in the middle of trying to cater for everyone. Bring back the good old videos of the cars, bring back the ability to have a in-car dashboard! Give more appeal to car lovers.

The Bottom Line
If you are looking for a game that is fun to play and good for a five minute lunch break tear around, then get this game. If you want something realistic, there are far better games out there. If you want imported cars that look like junk, stay with Underground 2.

In the long run, this game's appeal is really for a quick LAN race break or something to do on a Sunday afternoon.

By Sam Hardy on January 26th, 2006

Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (Windows)

More Payne...

The Good
In 2001 Remedy Entertainment gave us Max Payne. A story about a man who was committed of a crime he did not commit, and thus sends sweet vengeance upon the entire New York crime syndicate.

Now a couple of years on the Fall of Max Payne continues this story. Is this just a classy revamp of what we've already seen or a bit more?

STORY Taking straight off from where Max Payne 1 left off - we continue the story of Max Payne. Just fresh from managing to get away with killing pretty much the whole of the New York underground - Max has left the DEA and has joined back with the NYPD.

While investigating a strange group of cleaners - Max runs into a problem - Mona Sax.

While this story purposely takes off many film Noir ideas and themes - it's still quite well done - it flows on smoothly and it's quite engaging.

MENU Very much the same as the last Max Payne - a image of Max and Mona against some rainy backdrop that has had many photoshop filters slapped onto it. Even the loading bar is the same - have I been here before?

CONTROLS Well - they're exactly the same as from the first game. Left Mb you fire, Right Mb for the very funky bullet time WASD for moving and so on. The only little difference is that grenades, melee weapons and molo cocktails are now on a sub class of their own - meaning you just need to select what one you want - then hit F to throw them. I would have preferred a separate key for melee - as it's so fun whacking things.

GRAPHICS Running on a Geforce 2 TI - I had visions of trying to play the Max Payne 1 demo on my aging Celeron 400 with the TNT 2 (it actually ran) But no - what ever stunning optimization tricks the developers used - they used very well. I experienced very little slowdown in the game with everything (bar shadows) on full. I was unable to check out the pretty pixel shaders ...but still.

The texturing along deserves to win an award - I have never seen our world represented in a hyperrealistic way as this game has presented it - it was very scary. Also things like plastic has been very well textured. On a higher system I'd imagine the textures would be a bit better. But nevertheless I was constantly blown away by their very well done application of textures for the game.

The game character models have been greatly improved. No longer does Max look like he's got a hot poker shoved up his arse - but he looks far more realistic. So does other characters - like Mona - who at times bears a passing resemblance to Demmi Moore. Other game characters turned out to be well done - even the henchmen and goons that you fight - while their polycount is lower - they still have plenty of detail on them.

Misc things like bullets and bullet holes are well done - a nice thing to note is firing into metal things - the holes glow orange then slowly fade from the bullet cooling down. Explosions are pretty :D And there's some stunning flame effects in the game. A good example of a pretty explosion is shooting Ammo crates - little bullets fire out everywhere - and there's lots of white flashes as well as a strobe effect for the lighting used in the action - it's very cool. Especially in Bullet time.

HAVOK 2.0 Well the physics engine in this game is worth half the price of admission. It's very well done. Games like Detestation used Havoc - but very poorly - things didn't move about realistically - you would have boxes that would slide through other boxes ....and things like heavy metal barrels would just shoot across the room - so I was a bit curious to see how this would work out.

It worked out better than I could think of. Each level is filled with tons of things to toy with - buckets of paint, planks of wood, explosive barrels and many more things that are fun to play with. My only concern that some things are a bit too easily to topple over - like chairs - you just have to walk into one and it falls over a bit too soon. Rag doll physics are very well done - unlike most other ragdoll attempts - like Ravenshield for example where people died in amusing pretzel positions - the developers had remembered that the human body DOES have a spine in their back. While there's a few weird arm positioning from a person being weirdly draped over various objects - generally it's very well done. The best pose I've seen was a guy who's head was pushed up against a plank of wood - shoving it to the side - giving it a very broken neck appearance.

Animations are very well done - as there's a fair bit of in-game character movement - all appear to be motion captured and shift flawlessly from one pose to another - even with a character in the middle of a dive getting shot seamlessly blends from his dive animation - to the ragdoll taking over and sending them into something.

GAMEPLAY Short version: more of the same. Long version: While the core game play is still there - run and gun in slow mo - this has been expanded on quite a bit. The enemies are a tad smarter and in numbers tend to flank you - if they're not caught by surprise. Bullet time has been given a bit of an upgrade. After shooting so many people down in Bullet time - Max does this Matrix ish slow motion reload spinny thing as well as the camera spinning around him indicating that you've entered "the zone" where things get slower. The downside is that you hardly get enough bad guys to really use this - plus it wears off after a while meaning you have to kill MORE people.

Now and then in some levels you get NPCs to join you. In one level this included a Akimbo Pistol packing Hobo and a Hooker. In some levels you have to protect people. Including one of the main villains who is trapped in a giant Baseball bat boy costume with a bomb stuck in it. Switching genders you also play as Mona - taking an alternate view on a game level and protecting Max with your sniper rifle.

Getting around the levels is a piece of cake - there were probably a few little bits where I had to stop a bit and work out where to go....but most of the time it's very linear. There's some great levels though - like the fun house level for instance and It's hard to find faults in a game like Max Payne 2.

And while the game play is repetitive -there's many little things that make it more detailed - like the goons having conversations, the constantly reoccurring end credit,s found on CDs in Max's apartment and is played on a piano by henchmen. Also the TV shows reappear, and you can follow the story. The two more prominent ones are "Lords and Ladies" - a Soap opera and "Address Unknown" Also right at the start there's the malarious Max Payne Parody "Dick Justice" - which parodies the start scene from Max Payne 1 where his wife gets killed. There are amusing conversations throughout the game as well - giving it a bit more depth than the first game.

And when you've done the game - there's the dead man walking game - where you must get the best time in a series of levels where guards constantly spawn.

The comic books make a reappearance again - but this time with professional actors for a change. Sam Lake still appears on the TV as various characters in the TV shows. Also the mature tone is upped a bit with a sloshing of sexual actions - well it is a love story.

The Bad
The biggest one would have to be - that it's short. Cut out the comic book parts, and the in game cinematic and would probably stop at 8 or so hours...but that's a good thing in a way - the game's length is just right I suppose - there's no filler - it does not end too suddenly and the story is whole and complete.

A friend commented that you get too much of an arsenal at the start of the game - which is true - but I don't really see that being a problem.

Another problem with MP2 is probably that it's suffering a bit from re playability - sure the levels are kick-arse - and I'm enjoying playing through them again - but there's not much else to do in the game.

The Bottom Line
If you're a fan of the first Max Payne - then you'll love this game. If you have not played the first game - then you might feel a bit lost with some aspects of the story. On top of all that - Max Payne is a very well done game in my opinion - it may be short - but it's not lacking substance, depth and fun.

By Sam Hardy on August 18th, 2004

Homeworld 2 (Windows)

A revolution or simply an evolution?

The Good
In 1999 an unknown company, Relic, released Homeworld – a first for RTS games. Featuring the first solid foray into 3D strategy gaming, stunning graphics, good game play and a well written story it went to the top of many RTS games of 1999 lists.

In 2000 a “sequel” by Barking Dog Studios was created – Homeworld: Cataclysm added onto the already great game play and made even better in my own opinion.

Five years later and itÂ’s finally out. After many scary rumors that the game had been cancelled by Sierra the game finally hit our shelvesÂ…but is it what we die hard Homeworld fans are wanting?

STORY Almost two centuries ago the Exiles from Kharak realized they were aliens to their planet and set about returning to their home. That achieved they settled down to live happily. But their nemesis – the Taiidan rebuild themselves up over the years and a new leader – Makkan – now controls them. They are also renamed the Vaygr.

Faced with almost complete domination of the Vaygr the Higgarans realize they must stop it somehow – so they construct another mothership. Then the Bentusi tell them of a prophecy of the chosen one – and that they must seek out Sajuuk – a god they have worshipped for years – if they are to reclaim their destiny.

Overall the story is good – and it would make a nice little novel. But while it’s easy to follow – it doesn’t offer any astounding twists and turns...and in comparison to Cataclysm’s more emotional plot – this one seems a bit too flat and it’s not as compelling as Homeworld’s, but it’s filled with sacrifice and heroism for all.

GRAPHICS The engineÂ’s been given a total overhaul here. Essentially it remains the same as it was from HomeworldÂ…but itÂ’s just far prettier. Firstly the ships have been given more polygons and more detailed textures that make for a really rich environment. ThereÂ’s a really good contrasting difference between the Higgarans and the Vaygr making for easily identification. Also the ships are nicely fleshed out and detailed giving it realistic look. They all look industrially made.

Then there are all the special effects. Whilst they are simply sprites for the most part – they well made and blend in well with other objects on screen (no outlines around the edges). And this new glare mode for some parts of the ships and suns is done nicely – bleaching out your screen.

Homeworld 2 has found a good relationship with particles…from fires belching out smoke onboard damaged ships, to the little sparks flying off from the Resource Collectors repairing the same ship – it’s just filled with highly polished details that make it shine. Also ships and missiles leave trails behind them – resulting in some of the more chaotic moments turning into some kind of weird skyshow especially with large cannons firing off the larger capital class ships and flak filling the sky.

Another great piece of detail added is the damage on the ships. Little chunks of debris flail off your ship when hit leaving a crater; ion cannons leave burn marks on your ships and bits of plasma and smoke vent out of damaged sections.

And of course the colorful backdrops of the previous games are back and theyÂ’re better than ever with a fair amount of variety of planets, moons, debris and wreckage.

Cutscenes are following tradition with them being hand drawn black and white images with a computer eye candy effect put in a subtle fashion over the top. Overall the engine is solid, nice and never crashed once or had any glitches.

SOUND Next to flawless. The good thing about creating a game with a dedicated team is that things are made with love – and when it comes to the sounds of many ion cannons firing upon a frigate…you can hear that love.

All of the sound here adds so many layers of atmospheres into this game, from the whoosh of ships flying by the camera to the grumble of the battle cruiser’s engine and even the sound of a destroyer’s gun cannons swiveling around to blast the crap out of some poor fighter it’s all there. If there’s an action in Homeworld – you can bet there’s a sound for it.

The radio chatter from the previous game is still there, aside from none of the fighters having much personality – at times they sound severely depressed…but the chatter is not just a thing tacked onto the side of the game – no – it’s crucial for the game. Your ships report when they’re under attack and how intense it is…and even little messages like “Stabilizers off line” or “this is a cakewalk” makes you really feel for your little tin cans.

Game music has been composed by the same person who did Homeworld and Cataclysm and it’s very good. Ranging from fast and almost techno music – to music that has a heavy Indian or African influence with its haunting vocals it’s a stellar soundtrack and I hope there’s a soundtrack of it released somewhere. The only downside to the music is that it sometimes stops suddenly – then starts again – changing tracks I think.

Yes! does not make an appearance this time in the end credits.

CONTROLS AND INTERFACE The usual keyboard and mouse control. The best thing about it is that most homeworld vets can get into it really quickly…and all the rookies can learn it really quickly. The new interface kinda scared me at first. The first homeworld had almost nothing on the screen – save from the auto-hide taskbar at the bottom. Fears put aside – it’s a well done interface – aside from it being a bit too chunky. It offers many quick keys to show info about anything – from the amount of ships you can build – to what is being built. The build and research menus all appear on the side of the screen when clicked instead of the old homeworld where you had to risk a few seconds of playing to quickly churn out a fighter or two – this time you don’t have to worry as it’s all accessed easily on the side. It’s also a bit more automatic – as you just have to click whatever you want instead of having to queue up then hit build.

The main menu for the game is oddly accessed by the F10 key…which I think is a bit pointless – or is the F10 key becoming the new escape key?

GAMEPLAY Right – time for some slogging. There have not been many constructive critics about Homeworld 2’s gameplay – many citing it as inhumanly hard and unfair towards the player. I had to sit down and think about this for a moment. The game throws many many units against you – you are always completely outnumbered in any way possible…so why did Relic choose this? The biggest complaint about today’s games is that “oh that was a cakewalk” “oh I finished that in 2 hours” most people are saying there’s a lack of challenge… So here we have Homeworld 2 that is – well damn challenging. While there are a few missions (4 and 9 notably) that really are a tad unfair in some aspects the game has been designed FOR hardcore RTS fans. It’s MEANT to be played strategically and when you do properly play it – you realize that it’s not that hard.

ButÂ…there are some mission design quirks that I find odd.

In one mission you have to destroy a probe that could possibly alert the enemy…that done you think - “ah that’s that” because at the time – you’ve got your own problems with another bunch of aliens. But no – destroying that probe probably didn’t do much as a small army hyperspaces in to greet you with a bit of a barrage. There are many small niggles in gameplay that really did bother me a bit and it looked like parts of the game lacked thought and thinking in terms of interesting mission design (the prize for that goes to Cataclysm)

Now units. This has to be one of the most thought out unit collection in any RTS – every unit here has a purpose and it’s a worthwhile purpose other than just a feature. You have to utilize them properly. In the first homeworld – a missile destroyer could pretty much eat any large group of fighters single handedly. That has been tweaked so that the missile frigate HAS to have some form of fighter or corvette protection. It’s impossible to do any form of tank rush in this game. There’s this harmony over all the units so that when it’s all working – it works like a well oiled machine.

But there’s an interesting twist. Instead of cranking out units like in the first game where anything could be constructed simultaneously it’s set up so that you can only punch out one at a time. This has been cleverly rectified by creating squadrons. Meaning for one order of Interceptors – you get 5. So you still can pump out a large armada…it just takes up some time. Carriers can produce their own ships independently of the mothership making them a must for larger armies.

Sensors are limited to what you ship can see which is very different compared to the first homeworld where you could “see” everything. Thankfully the feature of Cataclysm where you could control the game from just the map alone is still there. Another feature implemented from the previous game is subsystems. The mothership gets various systems added onto it which can be destroyed by enemy fire preventing them from building frigates or capital class ships.

Multiplayer deserves a big kudos to the developers. The units are incredibly balanced. The Higgarans love their Ion cannons. While just about every Vaygr ships have some form of missile on them. But both are next to equal when the numbers are added up. Also added are new sensor types that make you think about just what to put on what ship. Cloaking and Gravity well generators make a return in multiplayer- many strategies abound. The only downside to multiplayer is that all the fun game modes and extras from Homeworld are gone. So you canÂ’t set it to have resource boosts every minuteÂ…nor can you have modes like bounty and so onÂ…it seems somewhat incomplete. But itÂ’s still a blast.

The Bad
Hmm I've kinda nitpicked the game in the rest of the review...skip this part and read the end.

The Bottom Line
CLOSING COMMENTS “Evolution not revolution” was the motto for the latter part of the Homeworld 2 development phase after the nasty catfight with Sierra. Has our much loved homeworld evolved? Yes in some aspects. While you cannot have a perfect game in every sense what’s been presented is a game that’s got a fair amount of polish on it and it’s pushing in a different direction for the mainstream gamer with it being hard and challenging. It’s a sold and polished game in the end and it’s probably just the thing the hard Kore Korean RTS gamers are looking for.

By Sam Hardy on September 27th, 2003

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (Windows)

Never since Ultima 7 has a game been so expansive

The Good
STORY You are a captive, onboard a slave ship that has docked at the Island the coast of Morrowind. Having no idea what you are doing here you must start off greenlimbed and form a life for youself in this new world.

The main story also revolves around a few aging gods, plots to end the world amongst other many many sub plots...

GRAPHICS Probally some of the best I've seen for a RPG...there's so so so much detail in this game - and if you have a good graphics card to boot - well you're in for a treat!. Firstly the island is chock full of details - you are not just wandering around a blank plain with a few trees here, a rock you are wandering around an incredibly varied enviroment that is filled with many sights and sounds...from giant mushrooms, to rolling's pretty much all there (save snow and forests). There are plenty different races living here and each have their own style of accomodation...Some races like the Imperials live in large impressive fortresses that dot the sky, others may live in the ancient massive city of Viviec where the tiered cantons reach into the sky...or some choose to grow their homes out of large impressive fungi. The details on these dwellings is very impressive...from the simple Tudor style house to the massive intricately twisted and spirialing plant homes the textures are just incredibly done, the same goes for objects and characters. Each character has a different face...though some faces are more commonly repeated - mainly on guards...and some races don't have many faces to choose from...which kind of spoils it a bit...also there are different hairdos for each race as well that adds to the viarity. Lighting is also well done, there's just something wonderful about seeing the sun slowly set and the stars can even see the birth signs in the night sky. There's just so many more things graphcially that make Morrowind so wonderfully can't really explain them all.

GAMEPLAY Ok this is very different from most other RPGS...other RPGS offer the usual - kill more things...get experience...Morrowind...does it differently...the more you use a certain weapon the more skill you get with it...after you fill around 200 experience points of whatever (be running, using a sword...etc) you gain a's a bit confusing.

Acessing something is done by using space, attacking is by the right mouse button...then comes accessing the inventory.. The inventory, map and stats are all one one screen...this is really irritating because there's not much room for it all - unless you are running the game at a high resolution. It would have been better to have the map and so on a different button. Sword fighting is a bit too dull - you move in a direction and you strike in a direction - a but too limited in my opinion - and it's made even more limited by ticking the "best attack" option in the menu.

AI is pretty lax...they either attack when provoked, or just real tatics involve - just run up and whack the crap out of the offender. Also the crime system is a tad weird as well...when you loot or kill someone - you can either pay the guard, go to jail (lowers experience) or fight (making yourself an outlaw).The things to do in Morrowind is large and can even become a vampire - adding a twist to the game as you can only travel at night - and most people want to kill you outright.

There are many many quests that you can partake on - and some are simple, others are just weird...but all really involve just either killing someone, or retreving an object (usually by killing someone). There's alot of walking involved as well, while there is transport to and fro areas...most of the time you are on foot power...which comes to another game walk like you have had your legs bound! It's very slow and irritating...even when you're constantly running.

The Bad
It's hard to get into. You start off with no idea what to do...or really where to go, not many people like you, and you have next to no cash...and you just got beaten up by a rat. Also the scope of Morrowind is just massive, there's so many things to do in the game it's just crazy...and you kind of get bored in the end because you end up doing so many side quests that you never get around to the main story. Also the Journal is just not very well done. It records many little notes and conversations in there and is a good book of gets too messy fast and you are constantly flipping backwards and forwards trying to find information about something...there's an index - but that does not really help as well. Also the game is bit of a resource hog...after a while the game starts to slow - so you have to close the game to clear the memory a bit. Also the game is prone to just warning...just click boom back to desktop...which is very annoying if you have not saved.

The Bottom Line
Morrowind does have a few weird gameplay flaws in this in comparison to the other RPGS out there...but there are so many things to do in this game world that you will rarely get bored.

By Sam Hardy on August 4th, 2003

The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon (Windows)

Wolves, Bears, sexy tree-women...oh my!

The Good
STORY Solstheim, home of the Nords of Vardenfell, Morrowind. Without giving much away there are two major quests, one involves working for the Empire creating a mining colony...the other involves a prophecy, Nordic tribes and warewolves.

The new stories are a bit more interesting than the previous expansion, and they flow a bit more tightly as well.

GRAPHICS Nothing really new here. The new landscape, trees and buildings for Solstheim are really good as usual, lots of nice touches, like skins on the floors, engravings here and there and so on. The new weather effects are really good as well - the snow is one of the best I've seen in a computer game to date. The new armor and weapons are also done to standard as well - nothing seems to have been skipped.

SOUND The previous expansion pack was pretty light on the case of new sounds...this time they've listened and added some stuff in. There's new fighting music for starters, plus many of the NPCs now say more things - and this can range from grumbling about not having any boots to freezing from the cold. The new enemy sounds are good as well, Wolf howls are not a nice thing to hear when you're stumbling in a blizzard with only a candle to light your way.

GAMEPLAY Bloodmoon adds more to exploring rather than Tribunal which involved lots of Spelunking in caverns. Also it's an actual island, not a set of interior sets that have no realistic location on the actal game map. Bloodmoon is clearly visable on the main map. The quests are also a bit more tricky this time than the normal "get this, kill that" style the others have offered. While that formula still exists - they've made it a bit more interesting. Also there's a larger sense of achievement in this game, the previous games didn't really have much changing unless the major plot quests were done, in Bloodmoon, you watch the mining colony slowly grow into a sizeable village, you see the dark happenings of the Bloodmoon prophecy unfold around you as strange things go get more drawn into this world in comparison to the previous game. The game's quests are a tad too short...a lot of it involves running around the forests of Solstheim....there's alot of exploring to be done...fortuantly the island does not take long to cross. There are a few more weapons here than in the previous expansion pack. Proper Nordic weapons are here, along with some nice new ones, Ice and Hunter. There's a few new classes of armor, some that can only be aquired though quests where you must collect raw material for the armor to be made. The new armor styles are: Nordic Chain, Ice, Wolf, Bear, Snow Wolf and Snow Bear. All are nicely done and look pretty cool. This game is also more forgiving in terms of a player's level. Tirbunal requred you to be around level 60 or can complete Bloodmoon easily on level 30. Also getting to the island is far easier as the expansion is not as tied up into the Morrowind story as Tribunal is - it's a very seperate game. Also being a warewolf is well done...during the main quest you contract the disease which can be simply cured...and and the end you get a ring that can turn you into one.

Turning into a Warewolf in front of people is not a good idea - like being a Vampire you get shunned, you have to transform in secrecy, then hunt at night in order to stay strong for the next night...the fun thing is that no one knows that YOU are really killing them - so you can slaughter a whole bunch of people then change back and no one will blink an eyelid. You can only attack hand to hand....and you cannot cast spells, use your inventory and weild weapons...theres's a quest to cure being a Warewolf in the game as well - I'm not sure if there's a clan like there are for vampires. Neverthe less - being a large shaggy beast with very fast speed and the ability to maim most things really quickly is fun.

Also while Cliffraces are no where in this game (the only one you see is a ceiling decoration in a Great Hall) the Wolves, Bears Fryst Hags and Smugglers do present a small challenge for the adventuers wanting to traverse with no trouble over the plains. Other new enemies that you will encounter are: Spriggians - sexy tree-women that attack and you have to kill three times before one is concidered dead, Ricklings - little blue Dwarves that sometime ride on boars and there are other nastys for you to find out as well.

The Bad
It was a bit too short on things to explore...there's all this forest area....and there's not really any hidden goodies or strange things...well ok there is Uncle Sweetshare - the Moon Sugar dealer in his little workshop in the middle of no of the things I loved in Morrowind was hunting down weird and strange objects....and there were a few...but it's a bit of a shame that there's not as many in this game - Tribunal suffered alot from just made the world a slightly duller place...there weren't really any new books to couldn't really get into the mythos of Bloodmoon...

Also was lacking were cool weapons to get...well there were some...but part of the fun of raiding odd areas was to get new powerful weapons or things that were really really rare...instead you just get more glass swords, or weapons that don't do as much damage as you would like them to..

One of the biggest gripes I had with this game was the amount of useless crap locked in chests with lockpick ratings of over 60 You pick open a lock with a score of 86...only to find a pair of pants and 10's pretty annoying and you generally don't go touching chests and crates in the end. The other downside to the game is there's not much reason to stay in Solstheim when the quests are done..there may be a few odd places to explore - but nothing to really keep you hooked into giving the isle a good explore.

The Bottom Line
A very well done expansion - better than Tribunal in many ways...but not as expansive as I would have liked - this expansion should have deserved at least a few more months just adding more things in to make the world of Solstheim more lively. A good ending to the third chapter in the Elderscrolls series.

By Sam Hardy on August 4th, 2003

Half-Life (Windows)

A timeless classic that is still fun to play - even in 2003

The Good
STORY You are Gordon Freeman - research assistant at the Black Mesa - goverment run - science facility. Your day starts off as normal, a ride in the tram to your post, the standard checks and so on and so forth... Then it all quite simply - goes to hell. An experiment goes horribly horribly wrong, and a whole bunch of interdimentional aliens arrive at black mesa - they don't bring peace. Things get even worse when the Military being sent in to rescue you are really there to clean up the mess.

GRAPHICS Ok it's 2003 and well back then the graphics were not too brilliant - but I'll just shut my eyes and take myself back to early 1999 where the Quake 3 engine had just started to hatch and we all went "oh my!" The textures and characters are by todays standards - horribly outdated and just plan "ewww!!" Back then in 1998 they were not really concidered brilliant - but nevertheless passable. There are some cool things, like the gibs the excessive amounts of blood one scientist can have and so on. The animation of the characters are very well done, very fluid (for 1998) and nicely done. From the multiple feelers of that large squid alien that likes to spid acid and charge you, to the headcrabs that lunge from nowhere groping in the air with their claws for your face. Other animations like the guards, hapless scientists and other miscalanious things are all well done in my opinion. Other cool things are the random piece of junk that burst out of boxes and bits of debris that fall from things.

Characters are a bit lax, you see THE SAME guard over and over again while there's at least 4 different scientists...Alien models are generally well done, fairly detailed and such, the alien guns are pretty cool as well - like the little alien mine critter that tries to eat your finger.

CONTROLS Standard FPS config, WASD for movement, E for activation, Left mouse for shooting, Right for Secondary fire and so on

SOUND Very very good. While the echos are a bit grating on my latest sound card (it just loves reverb) all the small effects like footsteps, alien sounds and such are well done. And there are also the small things like the wirring of a sentry gun, and the beeping of it locking onto you, plus how in echoy rooms you can hear things crawling in the darkness and so on. The voice acting is also pretty good - while a bit sterotypical (nerdy scientists) it's ok.

GAMEPLAY Now firstly - the game is linear - totally 100% linear - no alternate paths, no different ways though a situation it's 100% scripted. So what makes it so great? The answer is in it's moments, and details. Half-Life is like being in a very high octane movie with something new always around the corner. You turn to go across a catwalk, only to have a large creature teleport in mid-air and crash onto the catwalk destroying it. Things that hang from the clieling and drag you up to be eaten spew remains when killed, fans whirl hapless scientists into them, monsters eat and claw hapless scientists. a scientist hangs off a piece of debris before falling off...(yes they are cannon fodder) What also makes this game great are the situations that you are placed in - they do require you to think a bit. And while keyhunting is almost completely non existant, it's trying to work out how to defeat this seemingly invincible boss....then you hear a guard "it listens for things" Yes - no longer does a boss mean you pummel what ever you have into it - no this one meant you had to sneak around it then activate the fuel and oxygen of the blast chamber and fry it to pieces. The other two bosses were also interesting, one was completely invincible, the other well that was a shame. It looked like a giant baby...thing....and it required a but of a jumping puzzle to kill. But what makes this game replayable - it's just the situations there are so many moments in Half Life that make it so hard to forget.

The Bad
Well...ok it was a tad hard. Especially the jumping aspects of it. Some parts were just almost insanely hard that you just gave up for the night, Mainly thoese parts involved some mechanical thing that tracked and shot you - or the guards with their devious AI.

The other niggle about the game is the linarity of it - while a situation may be cool at starters - other times it's plain annoying when you've seen it for the 15th time after dying from it.

Also the ending just is really a truly disapointing end to such a great game. The final levels are more or less like Turok rather than Half Life

The Bottom Line
Play it if you have not. For this a rare game that is a stunning classic

By Sam Hardy on July 17th, 2003

No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way (Windows)

The "Shagadellic" is missing in this one

The Good
STORY You are the foxy spy Cate Archer - in the employment of the anit-terrorist group U.N.I.T.Y... It's been a few years since your last outing against the terrorist group H.A.R.M and there's another mysterious plot about involving Russians, Mimes, and Supersolders. But the story is lacking a bit incomparison to the last game. I got lost on the plot more than once and kept on wondering If I had missed anything. A second play revealed that I had not.

GRAPHICS Top notch - for the rather irky Lith-Tech engine. While past releases of this engine have not been brilliant the Jupiter variant is a stunner. From very well realised Cate archer to other nice effects like water, glares from laseres, explosions, gas and other very eye candy additions to the game engine - most notable is the hair, there's a physics engine behind it and on some characters like Dr. Schenker they have a pretty realistly cool mass of tangled hair. The game textures for the levels are also nicely done - nice and crisp with signs and stuff telling you to do things like "Don't drink the water" Also characters are very well animated, most likey MoCap with the animation blending from the previous game returning, enabling guards to fall down stairs without as much as a stop in their frames. Eye motions and expressions are also well done giving a more human touch to the cutscenes.

SOUND Yet again sound is handled well. From the ambient chatter of Eastern cities to the clink of bullet shells everything is still the same in this department. The music is also back - while not as brassy or as entertaining as the last game the dynamic music still is there when you get into a mess. The voices are well acted - the replacement actress for Cate Archer does very well, as she has a large part to replace. Some of the actors from the previous game are back, Dr. Schenker, Bruno, Magnus Armstrong as well as a whole bunch of other well voiced characters.

CONTROLS Standard WASD keys with the Right mouse button assigned to interact with anything and so on.

GAMEPLAY Now this is when the game unfortuantly does not live up to it's predecessor. The last game was honoured for being VERY different in terms of common FPS games...but while the second time around there are still innovative objectives (sober up your pilot by making coffee!) other missions have objectives that are not so well explained. The story has lots of gaps and one moment you're in Britan talking about HARM and so on - the next second later you're in India trying to get into HARM....then with no reason why you're suddenly taken all the way from India to the Antartic then BACK to that sunny country India with little reason why. There seems to be a few cutscenes missing in my opinion Now - the weapons. The zany gadgets are back - from the simple Bug (an oversized Ladybird) to the Angry Kitten - (a VERY explosive cat that explodes and sends whatever is around it to kingdom come) "Oh what a cute little kitte- BLAM!" Some other changes have been made - you now have an Utility Launcher in which a whole lot of supressors for cameras and guards have been installed in it - Very handy because you don't need to do elaborate camera jumping or being sneaky with sleeping gass purfume. But the weapons - are sadly limited. The Russians have their AK-47, the French their Tommy Gun and Harm Agents Parabellems...and you - your pistol or Sten Gun....that's pretty much it. Gone are all the handguns, machine guns and so on...It's a real shame. The crossbow does make a return (along with pinning people to the wall) and the Rocket launcher folds rather cooly out of a case - but gone are the real assortment of guns that made the last game interesting - though the addtion of Katanas, Rapiers and Shrikens make it interesting The enemies have better AI and there's this interesting pathing/interacting thing added to their AI. There are all these hotspots located around a level where the AI may go and sit at a desk, and do something, then walk over here and do this and so on. But when it chooses to (random choises). The same old "Oh - I've found some footsteps!" and other "We have an intruder" stuff is still there - you can now hide from them and they then loose you - but keep a tight patrol.

The missions like I said were a bit duller in comparison to the last game - Gone are the dive from the plane, escape in a rail-car while being shot at by choppers or escaping from a sinking ship (well there is a level close to that) When there is a happening it's usually interesting - like the fight in a Caravan park as a Tornado approaches or the fight inside the house as it's being torn to pieces by the same tornado. Other missions involve you scurrying around a level finding things from glasses, doorknobs and tapes - not too entertaining, plus alot of the plot is told though notes and things found in the level. The Abigal supersolder sub-plot is not really well explained and I did not really understand it untill I played it again.

The Bad
It could have been another classic - but slightly stale gameplay and lack of things that made the last game great are missing.

Gone are the brilliant levels that just flowed from start to end perfectly, almost no backtracking, in here the Serbia levels are a major chore with plenty of backtracking and getting well lost. The outdoor levels are more or less like a maze - with little or no clues on where to go next. The AI is good, though in some times the constant spawning of foes as you are trying to get out of a sticky situation is very annoying. Plus the skewed plotline is not too well.

Multiplayer is not as grandose as the last game - no Good vs Evil - just CoOp missions that while are interesting - get dull.

The Bottom Line
A great game - playable, enjoyable - aside from the mentioned flaws. The original is still the best.

By Sam Hardy on July 17th, 2003

Enter the Matrix (Windows)

In short this game hit the bottom of the rabbit hole too fast, broke it's legs, and can't get up again.

The Good
STORY When the Hovercraft Osiris discovered a large mass of machienes digging into the ground the Captain Thadeus sent a drop package containing evidence of this into the matrix shortly before they were killed. This is where you come in. The mission of the crew of the Logos is to firstly find this package, the story is then woven into the plotline that is Reloaded, filling in a few gaps here are there. Like the movie's plot it is confusing and while you understand what's happening, the reason for why it's happening does not make much sense.

GRAPHICS A very mixed bag... The characters are very well done, the LOOK like their live action counterparts and are pretty reconisable. The textures for the characters tho are another story. Ranging from pretty damn good, to very poor in quality belonging to a game 6 years ago it's a very mixed bag. The game engine is interesting. On it sits different modules for different parts of the games, like driving, fighting, flying and so on. The engine is pretty powerful when you have a good hard look at it, the animations are very well done and blend in pretty flawlessly. It's a shame that in some aspects - like when they exit via a phone they don't go all sparky and fade away. Bullet time is...well interesting. Instead of the nice clean ripples you get in the movies, you end up with weird stretched out ripples that don't look too brilliant, but the move between bullet time and so on is very well done with all animations playing well in slow-mo. Other graphical features of this engine are reflective objects - like sunglasses and apparrently bullets. Explosions and fire are far from spectacular, and smoke is usually large transparent white dots.

SOUND None of the guns sound realistic - then again it IS The Matrix and none of the guns there sounded too realistic either. The sound is pretty average, walking on steel sheeting placed across a gap sounds just like the concrete you step off onto on the other side. What was really missing was the clinks of shells, and ammo clips, and all the other small details that games like Max Payne were able to use. The music was pretty much very ambient, didn't really do much, the only rare cases was when the music was taken from the movie (the fight in the tea house level) and a bit in the FMVs - but really there was not much to it.

GAMEPLAY Ok - here we go... Two words - Console Port It plays like it would play on a console, VERY limited keys, button mashing, combos galore, horribly linear - yet - somewhat entertaining....somewhat

Most of the game consists of you following directions from Sparks - your operator or an arrow on the top of the screen - it's very hard to get lost and if you do...well....that's just luck. Fortuantly there's some viarity in all this - Ghost and Niobe have their own different tasks in some missions, and in a few cases work as teams. The game also features a beat the boss kind of mission, with Niobe being up against them more than Ghost. There also features a few driving missions and when you're riding shotgun - Niobe's driving is very scary. Combat is irritating, firstly you cannot aim freely, save being in first person mode and that's another headache all together. You auto aim onto things, and that's...a bit weird to the point of having bullets fly out of your gun at 45 degree angles from what the barrel was facing, You're also woefully inaccurate to the point where shooting at a door from point blank you're bound to miss.

Fighting is fun....and repetative. I ended up thinking "12 weeks in a MoCap studio for this" There's sadly little difference between Ghost and Niobe - which is a shame. With Ghost being more the peace loving monk of the two you'd expect a different form of martial arts from him - no while a kick or two is different, some of the more elaborate moves - like jumping through glass firing both weapons while spinning in the air is the same for both of the characters. Fortuantly some of the other major charactres - Seraph, Agents and Trinity have their own reconisable moves and styles that were from the movie. There are quite a few moves that each characters can preform - tho I don't think it's the 1200 moves per character the marketing fluff advertises. But all the cool moves are there, from disarming your foe by grabbing his gun and wacking it into his face, to running off a wall and doing a kick into the guy's face, to wall running and limited bullet doding.

The other aspect of gameplay - is hacking. This is a small..uhh game...that requires you to "hack the matrix" using a semi-dos prompt style interface. This does little to lengthen actuall gameplay. Upon finishing it you are rewarded with the ability to view images, FMV's and profiles that have text that is too big to properly fit inside their boxes. There's also a few useless options like - Vibrate.exe - which makes your controler vibrate - hardly handy when you have a PC. Other things - like Multiplayer do not work as well.

FMVs Well it seems that FMV's live - though they are rarely seen with today's games, and when they are, they're usually poorly acted, CGI sets, campy lines...but this game's FMV's are a bit different.

Firstly the claim "featureing the main cast" is a bit of a lie. The only main member from the main cast who does do extra stuff for the movie is Carrie-Ann Moss - Trinity. She appears fleetingly in a scene where you fight against her as Ghost. The other major cast members do not show up - with the teeny exception of Morpheus when he appears in the bit where he falls onto Niobe's car. All of the other cast are the secondary cast who are glimpsed in the film - but are given a slightly "larger" role. Plot holes are also answered here a bit - you work out what the plan was with the ships against the machines and why that failed and you get to see the new Oracle who raises more questions that answers. These are all professionally shot, and well acted - a pity they could not have done the in-game cut-scenes like this. There are a few scenes that were shot enterily in-game.

The Bad
Looking at all this you have to ask - what's lacking? You have a plot written by the guys who wrote the original film, you have passable graphics and sound, brilliant character details and animations and a game that is pure action....what's missing?

The answer is polish. Firstly the game was made so that EVERYONE could play it, X-box, PC, PS2 and GameCube...that's a lot of platforms for one game, the problem is - working out an engine that will happily work for all of these platforms. That's one reason The other one is - marketing, this game would have been fine if it was released a month ahead from the movie's release. they might have even worked out a few bugs. But no - a tight schedule meant the game could hardly get up to the game that it was meant to be. Some of the bugs I occured were, game crashing, sound missing or heavily distorted, large parts of the level missing, items that could not be picked up and were mission specific and other random graphical glitches. Yes it's bug ridden - and how so...

The Bottom Line
Hire it out - don't bother spending money on this - while the game is hardly a winner it is not a loser... If you're a Matrix affectionado - like me - then you will prolly enjoy this game, if not - put it back on the shelf and buy something like BloodRayne that also features bullet time - plus the fun ability to sever people with long blades.\

In short this game hit the bottom of the rabbit hole too fast, broke it's legs, and can't get up again.

By Sam Hardy on July 14th, 2003

The Sims: Vacation (Windows)

The Sims get a much needed holiday

The Good
STORY: Well your family can now take a break at going to partys or downtown and go to a vacation island.

MENU LAYOUT Well there's no menu in the sims - you get the same screen as before - but with added buttons for the Vacation Island

GRAPHICS The same as before - while a whole new lot of animations have been added and all - the objects still have the same style that the other games did. There are some new clothes and all as well as new furniture, walls and windows.

SOUND Some new voices have been added - adding some vairity to The Sim gibberish - as well as the sounds for the new arcade games - though the Sim gibberish Jamacian song is really annoying.

GAMEPLAY To get there is much like downtown - you call and off you go. One interesting thing is that your sims remain on Vacation unless they leave. There are three different themes Snow, Wood, and Beach. Each has their own different look and feel as well as their own bizarre mascot that prances around generally acting the fool. This is geared towards the kiddie Sims - so that means they have more of a greater role to play than before - and this ranges from building/stomping sand castles to harassing strangers and getting told off. There are also arcade games that your sims can play - rewarding them with prize tickets - these tickets can be cashed in for prizes - like a large stuffed Guinea Pig. These then can be displayed on souviner shelfs at home. Finally you can make motels/hotels. Your sims can stay the night in either a room or a tent. There's probally a few more things that I have not found out yet - but new objects inculde water slides and halfpipes.

The Bad
Again this expansion pack works best when it has the other 4 installed before it - if you install this with just the Sims - you are very limited to furnishings and so on. Also it does not add much to the gameplay - while the whole vacation conscept works well - it's all just too limited and after you've seen the new features - what's left to but collect souviniers.

The Bottom Line
Get this - it is worthwhile - especially if you are new to The Sims and have brought all of the expansion packs one after the other. It adds some great new stuff to the game and really gives it life. And the Whack a Will arcade game is a winner.

By Sam Hardy on April 28th, 2002

Star Trek: Bridge Commander (Windows)

To boldly go where no Trek game has gone before....

The Good
STORY: After a star goes Nova - killing your Captain and wiping out a few planets in a system you are assigned to take his command as Captain and investigate the cause behind this incident. This story was written by D.C Fontana

MENU LAYOUT This is all done in the standard Trek style of orange and dull purple interfaces - it works - a bit cluttered from the added in animations - but it works.

GRAPHICS The opening render is quite ok - untill I had a closer look...firstly Captain Wright looks a lot like the Picard model - with more hair and secondly in the very nice opening credits bit of your ship being repaired one of the engines are floating in mid air. Overall the 3 rendered movies in the game are very well done but lack the polish on them to make them great. No groundbreaking - but serviceable. The ships models are loaded with detail and look very very nice, the textures on the ships are done very well as well and all add to the Trek Movie experence. The bridge is ok, it's not as interesting as detailed as the ships - and I've noticed that there appears to be a few faces missing from parts of the bridge resultining in bits flickering all the time. The people in the crew are not that interesting to look at - you have 2 aliens and 3 humans at your disposal while varied - they are just not that interesting to look at. Also the face animations are done with texture map swapping - so this leads to very bad lip synch as there are only abou 5 different forms of mouth movement. The other characters in the game seem to be all right at first - but as you progress you get the sneaking feeling that the Klingon with the scar across his eye is really just a modified texture of another captain you see. The same applies to the Cardassians - they all appear the same with small differences like greying hair and eye colour. The explosions are a bit dull - they are not bright and colourful but small and bland. One of the more interesting features of this game is the realtime damage - this means that you can bore out holes anywhere on the ship - not just like in the dreadful Klingon Acadamey where it was all preset - but with enough time and paitence you can effectively remove the bridge from a Bird of Prey - and the other half floats off. When a ship is destroyed large chunks are blown out and off so the end is a floating hulk. The phaser effects are ok - there's even an animation of the phasers pre-firing - arcs of energy go around the phaser banks. And the torpedoes look well enough too. The planets and stars are pretty low resolution - a sun looks really cool - untill you get upclose where the wow effect sort of looses it. The nebulae are well done as well. A nice touch is that any light glow - from engines or window lights have their own glow to them - and the ship also has light rippling off them as well. Also the lighting effects are really good in this game - everycurve is lit up. And there is also the Warp Stretch. Overall the graphics are not that bad - they work - but could have been better.

SOUND The voice acting on this game is very good - this game is very story driven and you meet a host of characters from a nervous Fergengi to an insane Cardassian. Patrick Stewart (Picard) and Brent Spiner (Data) lend their voices for a surpriseingly large amount of the game time, and their role works in this story. Multiple affirmative commands and so on have been recorded so you get a bit more that "yes captain" each time an order is confirmed. The weapon sounds aare good - I cannot comment on if they are true to the TV series as I have never seen a Trek episode - but they are effective. The sound quality seems a little low - even on EAX setting. The music is very well done - a good Trek feel to it - the music also changes depending on the situation - but with a little jarring - not smooth and perfect though. Overall the sound really adds to the atmosphere and a great job has been done on this game in terms of sound.

GAMEPLAY A mixed bag. This is an interesting approach - normally a player does all the work -but in this game you command others to do all the work for you -this works very well. You use the mouse to center on an officer - a small display tells you who they are and what they are doing then you click on them to do percise orders. The strategy in this game lies in subsystems on the ships - a subsystem is something like an engine or shield generator. By destroying one of these systems you hinder the opponents ship - they do the same to you. Another strategy feature is power management - by allocating more power to your systems your ship can preform better. If your warp core is hit then you can only allocate so much power to the systems. The battles between enemy ships are long, these are 40,000,000 ton starships - not zippy starfighters so a battle is like a fight against two slow moving giants. This means it's a fight to see who can deal the most damage to the opponent's ship A.S.A.P. This all works very well as you are balancing shield power - weapon power and repairs all in the midst of battle. The game focus mainly on battle so 75% of the game involves you attacking another starship. The other parts of the game involve ferrying supplies or sneaking about - there are also a few missions where you are leading a large scale assualt on enemy bases. Overall the gameplay is varied and has a good enough plot to keep you interested -there's enough combat related happenings to keep you on your toes - or screaming in fustration.

The Bad
The fact that this is mainly a mouse game - though keyboard commands are there means that there's a lot of clicking - and in the heat of a battle it is very possible to misclick a button and have your tatical stop everything - or another misclick might deselect a crewmember. The buttons are a bit on the small and fiddly size. Also the game does not allow you to create much of a personality for yourself. Your second in command does all the talking. Also the game is very linear - there are a few moments where you can choose to do things - but apart from that it's mostly follow their commands or fail the mission. Failing missions are another annoying aspect I noticed in one mission that a shuttle accidently killed it's self by going into a planet - for some odd reason I was relieved of Command and the game ended. Apart from the strange gameplay niggles the game still stands ok.

The Bottom Line
What really let this game down is that it's meant for Star Trek fans alone. While a non Star Trek fan like myself can enjoy it - we would not take it in with as much enthusiasim as the fans would. And I can say most fans would go nuts for Chrome Dome Picard to help them in their first mission. A good game - far better than most of the other Trek games - but still needs a little bit of ironing to become a great.

By Sam Hardy on April 28th, 2002

The Operative: No One Lives Forever (Windows)

Very shagadelic....

The Good
STORY: Set in the "swinging 60's" After seven U.N.I.T.Y agents are killed the company is forced to send in newbie Cate Archer - a thief turned spy. After a H.A.R.M agent kills Cate’s mentor in Morocco - Cate must unravel the mystery of H.A.R.M and stop their evil plans. This game takes a lot of it's story locals from the Bond film Moonraker - such as the space station, fall from the plane - and the hidden space launching facility in the jungle. Most of the levels have scenes in them - these are little "breaks" that split up a level - there are usually four or five of them in a level.

MENU LAYOUT Nothing much stands still in this menu layout - and despite moving backgrounds - they are not that distracting and blend in wonderfully with the 60's colour theme. All items are accessed with ease - a description of what is what is listed below.

GRAPHICS The Lithtech 2.5 engine has it's good and bad points. While it's not as detailed as the Quake 3 engine - it still holds a very good skeletal animation - with blending in it. This allows for very good character animations - I'll get back to that. Despite the rather obviously jagged edged graphics it still holds enough substance to shine in lots of points - like lighting. Everything is set in a 60's theme - so that means "Plastic Fantastic" as well as eye scorching coloured couches - fake flowers galore - and lots of stuff in pink and orange. This works very well and it's so tacky and kitsch that it's cool. The textures are very well done - nice and crisp with lots of detail. The characters - while a little rough on the edges - have lots of charm to them - from the large fat Opera singer to the fez wearing bad guys - all of the characters are memorable. Other effects - like snow is very well done - and it looks like you ARE in snow. Also you leave prints in the snow as well. Other great effects also include the mini welder from your Zippo lighter and the Super Atomic Laser. Overall the graphics in the game do it justice - while everything may not be as smooth as other games - you can sure bet you won't find as many colours in the other games.

SOUND The whole game is full of sound - from tape to tape reels buzzing in the background, to camera hums and footsteps. The voice acting on this game is top notch and adds to the atmosphere. One great thing about this game is the dynamic music. Start creeping around and there's a faint soundtrack ambience playing - get into some action and you are propelled into an authentic 60's action soundtrack - and it works. Overall the sound is brilliant and creates a wonderful atmosphere to the game.

LEVEL DESIGN This game houses one of the best level designs ever. The levels feel like you are in a bustling Arabic city - with lots of detail like rugs - pillows and powerlines strewing the area. There are a lot of open areas - and a good portion of the game is played outdoors. All of the levels feel like you are in the intended area - from a plane that's being ripped to shreds - to a sinking cargo ship all is done in wonderful detail. Never did I feel like I was going to one room from another - there was a pretty free world to explore.

GAMEPLAY This game can cater for many people’s tastes. If you prefer sneaking around past all the guards - then do so. Or if heavy gun action is your mood - you can also do that as well. The missions are very varied and fun to play - I was never stuck in a level -, as most of them are pretty linear. One of the more memorable missions involved you escaping from a sinking cargo ship - water slowly fills the land and the walls buckle in. Other great missions also included you free falling out of a plane in order to chase a guy with a parachute below you - ala James Bond and Jaws from Moonraker. There's even a mission on a space station - with its sectors titled weird names like "Security Sector Raspberry". The A.I in this game is something to be reckoned with - these guys are smart. If they hear a noise - see a flashlight - your footsteps in the snow or see a dead comrade - they get very suspicious and start doing a search for you. They also duck for cover behind any obstacle they can find - or make one by kicking a table over and hiding behind it while firing suppressing fire over their head. They also call for others to come and help attack you. While the gore in this game is only limited to a few small spatters of blood on the wall - there is still impact areas on the person. This means a shot in the head will bring them down instantly - while an arm shot will make them stagger back - sometimes with their finger on the trigger causing their gun to fire randomly about the place. Another great feature is that they will react to their environment - either falling off, over or down things like a flight of stars, ramps or railings. All this is not scripted and depends on how they are killed. There is a large arsenal of weapons to choose from - ranging your P-38 pistol to a one hit-kill laser gun all of the weapons are nice and chunky giving them a good solid feel to them. The lasers have little whirly things on them - giving them a kitchy 60's look to them. Most of the guns have alternative ammo in them - from dumdum rounds that encourage bleeding to Cyanide tipped bullets that if you are hit by one - you see phsycadellic goats floating and bleating around. Other weapons also include a crossbow that can impale people on the wall - can you say wall decor? Along with your weapons you get quite a few zany gismos and gadgets that may have rather silly look to them - yet they have a serious use to them. For example your hair clip can double as a lock pick and a poisoned blade. Others include explosive lipstick and a belt buckle grappling hook - there are many more that I had not mentioned that are all very cool. One thing that really makes this game is the humour. There is a running gag that involves code phrases - which revolve around pick up lines. The little conversations about the code names are very funny. The missions themselves have a very funny range of conversations spoken by guards and NPC's - from discussing what 60's spy TV show is the best to how bad some girls hair looks. One very funny moment was when you overheard someone going on about how much he loved this woman -upon entering the room you found a guy and a goat standing on either side of a crate that has candles and filled wine glasses. Stealth is also a very interesting way to play - from avoiding cameras and floodlights - you can shoot them. From stalking people - to sneaking around setting fire to bins to set off fire alarms. Also they have borrowed the floor element from thief - so if you face a greater chance of being caught if you walk on metal than carpet. And it's quite challenging too. Another thing that makes this game great is the little interludes where you can test upcoming gadgets in a Q-branch like lab. This works wonderfully because it gives you a good idea how they all work without having to guess. Oh and there a few missions involving you riding on a motor bike and snowtruck. The single player is full of wonderful intense and exciting moments - brilliant level maps - and the get hit - stay hit policy gives it a more realistic edge. This is one of the greatest games I've ever played - it's right up there with Half-Life.

Multiplayer was a bit of a disappointment - none of the stealth and sneakiness from the single player game existed - there were the two vehicles in the game to help traverse the levels. This adds a innovative touch to the game - but with it's severe lack of gameplay modes it fails to make a mark.

The Bad
While this is a great game - there are a few niggles. One I found most of the levels to be too dark - this may have been the designer's decision to force you to use the flashlight - but there were too many dark areas - and no brightness adjust for the game. I also experienced some lockups - this was related to the game's engine, as well as getting stuck in a level's architecture and being unable to move and being forced to reload. The game was a bit too short and the ending was a little too sudden and taken at a rush.

Also the multiplayer was a real sham - nothing new.

The Bottom Line
Get this game! There are none like it and it blends the best of all the great shooters like, Theif, Goldeneye 64 and Half-Life all into one giving you one of the best gameing experences ever.

By Sam Hardy on April 27th, 2002

Star Wars: Jedi Knight II - Jedi Outcast (Windows)

The force is strong in this one.

The Good
STORY: You play Kyle Katarn - a former imperial officer, turned mercenary, turned jedi and has now abandoned the force after falling to the dark side. So he's now a mercenary. He's teaming up with Jan Ors - his partner - and doing work for the New Republic. On a mission to an supposedly abandoned imperial base - that turns out to be full of imperials, Kyle gets swept up in a interesting plot that will force him to take up his lightsaber again.

MENU LAYOUT A spinning Jedi Outcast logo done in chrome reflects light in the right hand corner while the menu is written in Star Wars font - the type they use for the main title. Apart from that there are these clouds that have been stretched towards the logo. - It's pretty bare - but ok to look at. Holding your mouse over a menu item gives you a description of what it does on the bottom.

CONTROLS The default layout has all the items and so mapped - though their locations on the keyboard are questionable.

GRAPHICS Utilising the ageing Quake 3 engine Raven has done their magic again with another one of ID's gaming engines. The enemies are very detailed - right down to them all having four fingers and one thumb. The Stormtroopers look like they are off the movies and other alien races are bristling with detail. They've even made Luke Skywalker look pretty close to his movie counterpart. The weapons are nicely made as well - the stormtrooper rifle now looks correct - unlike in JK - and the newer weapons keep to the Star Wars universe pretty well. The Textures are huge - twice as large as Quake 3's. So there's lots of detail here. Bump mapping has not been placed in this game. Though some of the textures suffer from very obvious repeating and that kinda lets down the immersiveness of the game. Laser effects are just off the movie - with each laser having it's own light source and all. And who cannot forget the venerable lightsaber. It now looks like it's from the movie with its motion glows and all. Perfect. The animations in the game are.... Interesting. What I don't like is the fact that the lip sync is a bit off and the models all seem to be showing their teeth too frequently. Overall great care has been placed in the animations, from Stormtroopers falling over, then getting up, to the amazing acrobatics that the Jedis get up to. All have been motion captured well and show an amazing level of detail and realism. The weapon animations are a bit lacking most notable is the thermal detonator - it has no throw animation! It just falls out of your hand resulting in major damage and on some case death. This game also Utilises GHOUL - the accurate hit placement system. This means hit a stormtrooper in the arm and they react to this. The same goes to when you slice off their hand with the saber - they clutch their stump screaming, as they slowly die - nice one. Lightning is done really well too - it's just like in the movies with it splaying over the target. Also they have done a good job with the binoculars - they look just like in the movie.

SOUND From lightsaber hums to droid beeps, all the classic Star Wars sounds have been implemented here. And all sound really good. Though it does get a bit repetitive with the same weapon sounds over and over again. The sounds of computers beeping and so forth are also well done as are the door sounds. Voicing is another lukewarm area. Some of the voicing is good - most notably Billy Dee Williams repriseing his role as Lando Calrissian - with his charm still there. The impersonators for Luke Skywaker is pretty good as with the Mon Mothma impersonator. The leads are reasonably well too. And a couple of the bosses seem to have been gifted with a Darth Vader like voice. But apart from that overall the voicing is good enough. Though the 3P0ish droid sounds very not like 3P0. What is also interesting to hear is the Stormtroopers chat on about their lives, weapons and so forth - some conversations are pretty funny.

GAMEPLAY This is a mixed bag. Firstly the weapons are not that interesting. A lot of focus has been placed on the lightsaber so it shines as the jewel of this game because it is an offensive and defensive weapon as well as having an long range attack with "Force Saber Throw" The Bryer pistol you start off with is slow and unwieldily - a bit too slow if you ask me. But the charge up shot kinda makes up for this. The Stormtrooper rifles is fairly accurate at close ranges - but don’t go expecting you'll be able to pick off people from a fair distance. Its secondary rate of fire turns it into a machine gun of some sort. The disruptor rifle is the sniper rifle of this game - and it seems to have found it's way into the hands of every Rodian this side of Tatooine. It is very weak but has a charge up function that disintegrates the target - a bit too Trek if you ask me. The Wookie Bowcaster returns from the JK - the same as ever - which is a pity as it is generally ignored. The heavy repeater is your heavy machine gun. Fast and brutal - with a very large secondary fire splash damage attack. The EMP gun is very useful against anything robotic - like turrets and probe droids. But that all it seems to do. Pretty disappointing. The Flechette is the game's shotgun - firing little hot balls of metal everywhere. It also has a secondary mine function that is annoying to encounter. The Portable missile launcher is fast and underpowered - it takes a few hits to destroy a robot with this thing. The levels in this game are also interesting - some areas are chock full of detail - others are just square rooms. The areas that you are on are represented well - from the rainy well-detailed swamps of Yavin to the large curvy buildings of Bespin. Some areas - mainly outdoors do chug in fps slowdown - but overall they maintain a good Star Wars feel. Though the design of them is questionable - most levels loop back on them and you do find yourself getting lost on a few occasions. Other levels are pretty linear - especially the At-St level near the end. But the locations are diverse - from large reactors - to a carbon-freezing chamber to the Jedi Academy on Yavin. Nar Shaddar makes a return from JK. Whilst the levels are pretty good by themselves - the tasks or puzzles surrounding them are not. Most of the puzzles you are made to do are done with very little clues to how you do them. While security cameras give you hints to where to go - getting there is another task all together. You often feel lost and resort to running around for half an hour. I realised that Raven wants you to actually observe the environment and keep an eye out for subtle changes or things like explosive barrels or switches that are the key to the puzzle. Saber fighting is where the game really shines. You have three different styles of lightsaber stances, each with their own different combos and power. So the lowest level has you swinging like there's no tomorrow while the highest setting has the sword swing like it's a heavy broad sword. The battles are very cinematic. The game captures the dramatic fights of The Phantom Menace very well; the animations are fast, fluid and look damn cool. Another great feature is the Saber Lock. In the original JK the saber fights were pretty dull because there were lots of times when you and your opponent both hit each other. They have fixed this by making it so when the Sabers connect they are pushed against each other - it is then a fight to see who can overpower each other. This usually results in the loser being knocked to the ground. The saber battles take place in many different environments. From the top of sprawling catwalks, to dense jungles and even in between fatal laser beams where you have almost no foot room to navigate. The gunfights are still action packed with you being very outnumbered, just like in the movies. The missions are very varied - always full of action and never are tiering Multiplayer is launched from a seperate icon - this was probally so that it could be protected against cheats or something. Multiplayer has Death Match and Capture the flag - it also has "Kill the fool with the Yasalamari" This means that when even someone has this lizard they are unable to use the force and are unnefected by others useing it. "Jedi Master" is where the lightsaber is somewhere on the map and who ever gets it is the Jedi Master with full force powers and all. The players must then hunt down the Jedi Master and kill him. "Holocron" is where you must runaround and capture force powers - either from the ground or off dead foes. The force power boxes spin around you telling people what powers you have. All these games can be played by bots, and the bots are smart at it as well, each have their own personalitys such as favorite weapons and who they team up with. Overall this game has lots of great moments in it, it's packed with great sound and animations and is an instant classic.

The Bad
The puzzles were the biggest let down. Although Raven did try and make it so that you had to observe, it all narrowed down to the puzzles not having enough clues to tell you how to work them out. Also some of the multiplayer force powers were a little lax. Mainy force drain which took away force power and health. As well as lightning which is just a little too powerful.

The Bottom Line
A great game for all Star Wars fans. Chock full of authenticy and fun - this is one wild ride. Plus the Darth Maul saber cheat in MP is really cool

By Sam Hardy on April 13th, 2002

Red Faction (Windows)

Just misses my expectations

The Good
PRESENTATION: The game's menu were well presented, easy to read and pretty funky with the mars landscape scrolling at the back.

STORY: You are Parker, that's it for a name, you thought working with Ultor would be cool, how wrong are you. In fact the opening dialouge is spoken with surprise. Anyhow the conditons are bad, and the miners revolt. The story kinda trails off from there but remains through the game, in one way or another. It's ok'll have to play to see what I mean. In a way it's just recycled from other story lines.

CONTROLS: All of them can be remapped, thank god, the default key configuration is too far paced across the keyboard for one hand, so remapping the enter key for operating doors is must.

GRAPHICS: Fairly good, the people/things in the game are well done, not perfect but enough to get things rolling. The GeoMod engine is lacking when it comes to curvy walls so some corners looks a little rough and jagged. The textures are also a bit lacking, the game WAS taken from the PS2, so that's one problem. The set pieces (desks clocks) are well done as well, there is even a little pencil on a desk, and the clock hands move, nice touch of details there. Lighting is fairly well done as well with a few ok shadow effects thrown in, and the light glare from flying craft is well done as well. Underwater is well animated as well with little particles (fish food?) floating about, and bubbles from gun shots are also included. The animations are fairly well done, keep an eye out for the shotgun death animation.

SOUND: All the gun effects work just perfect, the reload effects for the Persision rifle and the Sub Macheine gun are really fun. The game also notices little things like crunching glass when you walk over it. Foot steps are a little off set and the voice is not really that good. But it works.

GEO-MOD This has been given a section because it is different from GAMEPLAY. Firstly you all know what GEOMOD is? For the people who don't know, GEOMOD, is the first gaming engine to utilise a realtime world destruction engine. In other words, you can make a level swiss cheese with time and a rocket launcher. This also means you can make a cieling collapse by taking out the support struts, or make APCs plummet into a abyss by taking out the bridge. And if you have time, carve out large sections of the cieling and watch them fall onto people. All the effects that I have mentioned are possible. Glass is well done as well. Fire at a pane from a distance with a pistol and you will only get a little bullet hole. From close range with a rifle, and the glass will shatter from where it is hit. And the pieces fall down every where as well as get thrown about with an explosion. Perfect.

GAMEPLAY: Ok a mixed bag. Firstly the A.I in this game is GOOD. The enemy run to cover to reload as well as call in others and dodge their way around you. The weapons are wonderful to play with. The pistol has a nice silencer screw on animation and the heavy machiene gun has a really cool reload action. The only bad bit about the weapons is the uselessness of the close combat weapons. The riot shield only deflects so much in terms of bullets. The rail driver on the other hand is a weapon of mass fear, even in the hands of the enemy. Firstly it can drive a charge through the wall into somebody, or you. The levels are interesting, a bit boring at some points, mainly with the missions in the mines, but it really shines in the space station mission, with low gravity and interesting recol effects.

Multiplayer is interesting as well as chaotic. People try their best to terraform the enviroment to their advantage and other's disadvatage. In this game the floor can vanish below your feet with no warning. Fun.

The Bad
Ok time to dish out the diss.

Firstly the GEO MOD engine. The programmers offered us this new technology and do not let us use it fully. For examples all doors cannot be destroyed and the wall around them cannot be carved into with a rocket launcher. On top of all that the office levels walls are stronger than mars rock.

Apart from that major niggle, the game is a well thought out game.

The Bottom Line
Yes it is worth your $89.00 (Aus). The multiplayer levels are a dream and the single player, while lacking still is a good challenge. It may not be the next Half-Life, but it is very close.

By Sam Hardy on November 26th, 2001

Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis (Windows)

By Sam Hardy on November 20th, 2001

Star Wars: Episode I - Racer (Windows)


The Good
(mini review) PLOT: Race on several planets and become the master Pod-Racer...or something like that.

MENU: Rather granulated and misplaced buttons that try to reflect an alien style but does not quite get the leg over.

GRAPHICS: Good (for 1999). Lighting is well done and the levels are interesting enough to look at. The pod racers are well detailed, though the drivers are a bit lacking and the purple binder rays overlap sprites, such as signs.

SOUND: It's there but lacking. Music is pretty out of the game so the pilot is suffering from engine whinies and humms. All of the opposing racers have their own voices but the bangs and scrapes when you hit somthing are dull.

GAMEPLAY: Fast, almost uncontrolable fast. Often you will find yourself lagging behind the racers after one slip up, with the tracks being hard to navigate and offer some pathways that slow you down. The tracks themselves have lots of spills to offer with ramps, flying and landing craft as well as rock slides there is never a dull moment. One of the great things though is buying upgrades for your racer. This has often been missed out on in other games but in SW:PR it is well done with each element of the racer avalible for upgrade with many different parts, you earn money from each race and you can spend it on upgrades. The AI is pretty marginal, they don't do much like in the movie, you don't get jostled around or bumped, just yelled at. Also there are lots of Racers to choose from.

The Bad
The graphics and sound were lacking, the A.I was boring and Sebula's flame weapon was of no use to the AI players who are invincible.

The Bottom Line
A good game for a rainy day or a LAN party.

By Sam Hardy on September 27th, 2001

Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance (Windows)

By Sam Hardy on September 27th, 2001

Homeworld (Windows)

Inspired by George Lucas

The Good
Story: The people of the planet Kharak live in question of their existance, don't we all. The planet is goverened by several Clans, these clans have only settled down from war as their planet is becoming unstable and they must leave. An malfunctioned satelite finds a large deposit of metal in the Great Desert and an team is sent in to look at it. The first civilisation, built around a large ship has been discovered, they are aliens to this world. Inside the ship a crude map, etched onto a black stone with a word that any clan knows, Hiigara - Home. A large mothership is built to send them across the stars to home, the ship is controlled by a Karen Sejet, who is fleet command. They set off on their first mission, only to find that the ship assigned to repair their hyperdrive system has been destroyed and the mothership gets ambushed, they return to fix the mothership. Apon arrival back home they find their planet destroyed, and the only hope they have of living is to go home.

Menu: Simple but smart looking menu, and a pop up bar on the bottom of the game window controls the different centers.

Sound: Brilliant. Random chatter from the squadron of pilots in their scouts during battles "Flank left, keep the home fires coming, they're toast" Wepons sounds are good as well, from the sizzle of the Ion cannons, to the ping pow of the gattling guns from the scouts. Music is stunning, over 20 different tracks, inculding a theme song sung and written by Yes.

Graphics: In the past all space must be black....right...Homeworld breaks this rule in style, glossy, wonderful eyecandy backgrounds with the light center of the galaxy changes each mission so you get closer each time you continue. The ships themselves are incredible, they look dirty, mishapened, very industrial as well, this makes the "unskilled workmen" story more realistic. The mothership is great, with flashing beacons and all. Smaller ships leave a wake of jet vapor that slowly fades away, making nice patterns in the sky when underfire. Explosions are brilliant, ships start burning then explode in pieces or just vanish in smoke depending on what ship or weapon is used. Bullet marks show the bullets hitting the craft as well.

Gameplay: The is one of the first 3D RTS. It handles well, the 3D camera is controlled with the mouse and it is a marvel, easy to use as well. Ships are moved with a "pizza slice" style range, a large circle shows the maxium a ship can move in the proportions of the screen, want to move further, then use the sensors and you can travel the distance of the map. A.I is brilliant, the little ships learn as they get better at fighting, and killing. The larger ones start knowing when to fire and where to get a better effect so constant care and repair of your ships help give you a better army. Speaking of army Homeworld is the only game where you store your current troops from the last mission, the whole game just flows, the only changes are when your ships get repaired, and that is better than having to send out repair corvettes. The difficulty is scaling as well, start out a level with a fleet big enough to beat anyone, the computer will throw in more to stop you. Units are interesting as well, anything (But the Mothership) can be captured and chagned to your side. There are also cloaking ships and gravity wells that halt hyperspace jumps.

The Bad
The graphics looked a bit too messy from close up, and the maps are a bit boring with not much to avoid. But apart from that this game rules.

The Bottom Line
One of the best RTS ever, play it and learn all the tips.

By Sam Hardy on July 6th, 2001

007: The World Is Not Enough (Nintendo 64)

For goldeneye's not enough...

The Good
Story: After the leader of a oil line (Robert King) is murdered at MI6 Bond is sent to look after his daughter, Electra, but things seem strange when Electra's previous assilant, Renard a man who has lost all feeling to his body, arrives on the scene. Teamed up with Christmas Jones (I thought christmas came only once every year) Bond must stop Renard from destorying Islam with the plutonium core of a Russian Sub.

Menu: A nice Motorolla phone layout, very slick.

Difficulty: At easy you are god, hard...pray.

Graphics: Very good, and impressive too, from realistic shine on the flooring, detailed cityscapes, characters, bullet holes and explosions. All done in wonderful detail. The characters all resemble their life counterparts, even moneypenny looks good. The weapons are done with the usal flair, fairly basic but still look good, as well as a nice night vision and lenz flare off lights. the bad guys are well drawn but lack the detail that the main characters hold. The levels are true to the movie, with that weird torture chair making a camo.All is done in the usal Bond style.

Sound: Fairly good, music is a bit bland, all voice though with some nice acting from John Clease. Good weapons sounds and more.

Gameplay: The game is mostly scripted, although some weapons can be found by taking the left route instead of the right. The missions are true to the game, but the scriptedness takes away the Bond flair that made goldeneye so famous. The mission does have it's good side at times, even though some are hard. A bot or human multiplayer is included with the ability to earn new levels and playable characters (A woman clad in only a towel is also in).

The Bad
The A.I was rather poor, point and shoot. That was it. the gameplay was boring after a while and you got sick of repeating the same mission over and over again. Also easy was too easy. And hard was bloody impossible

The Bottom Line
For the fans, hire it before you buy it. Good in some places (Like blowing away Dame Judy Dench) and bad in others (Like we can hold our breath for THAT long under the water) Also the loading times are stupid and you need a memory card to play.

By Sam Hardy on July 2nd, 2001

GoldenEye 007 (Nintendo 64)

Near the end of a phone conversation "Oh yeah" said my friend "Buy GoldenEye"...

The Good
Story: An helicopter that is not effected by E.M.P blasts is stolen and MI6 agent of the devision 00 James Bond, code number: 007 has been sent in to find this helicoptor, the plot thickens as an outpost on the coast of Russia is destroyed and an foe emerges, such a foe that Bond will find hard to kill.

Menu: A crosshair style cursor on a dossier menu. Very nice.

Difficulty: Each setting brings more objectives and more harder to beat foes.

Graphics: Very good. The textures are real and add alot of character to the game. The game's levels have been lifted straight from United Artist's movie set blueprints and recreated piece by piece for the game. (more on that later). The guards are all in their lovely brown overcoats and wearing deer hunter hats, just like in mother Russia. The weapons are well detailed too, from the lines on the ammo clip to the tiny sight bump on the end of the barrel. The guards all have different facial expressions, these are all done at random and look very real, the faces on the main stars match up with the ones from the movie almost perfectly. The levels range from the famous bunjee jump at Arcangel dam at the start of the movie to the battle atop a suspended antenna array. Also when you get hit, you stay hit. Nice touch that, body armour can be found to act as a shield. Bullet holes and burn marks from weapons apppear on the walls and floors. And reflective glass shatters

Sound: Brillant: Each level has a different trademark theme to it. The third level even has a remix of the Bond theme halfway though the music track. Weapons are good as well, from the clink, clink of a grenade to the sound of a gun being dropped from a guard all adds to the bond atmosphere.

Gameplay: This game made a new name for first person shooters back in 1998. Firstly was the stealth option, sneak, and we mean sneak. Make too much noise with that weapon and guards will fill you with lead. The guards also react to where they are shot. In the arm: They will grab and wince, Foot, hop about a bit, hand, shake it, head...die. This can also be an advantage, low on ammo? shoot in foot, then take to the head. The A.I of these guards is incredible, they are not just drones, they duck, jump, weave, roll and simply side step from you. They also duck behind crates as well as do this annoying charge attack. Cameras play a vital role to steal, while you may not fail your mission, it will be harder with more guards in the house. Glass can be shot through, many panes in fact with any weapon. Speaking of weapons there are about 20+ different weapons, from the PP7 (PPK) to the Sniper rifle's butt. All have different strategy and reload times. Some can be paired in each hand for an Arine akimbo style play. Multiplayer is the jewel of this game's crown. With up to four players in 8 arenas, slugging it out with weapons from throwing knives to timed mines. There are also different types of gameplay from "You only live twice" (You can die only twice) to "the man with the golden gun" (the golden gun kills instantly). All are very enjoyable, the characters that can be chosen are huge in range, from Bond to Goldfinger's mute handyman: Oddjob.

The Bad
Some weapons were either too crap (The Klobb) and some were just too killer friendly (RC-P45). Some graphical glitches, such as the sprites (2D carboard cut out like graphics) did not react to explosions and often remained infront of the explosion. But that is all that there is to this great game.

The Bottom Line
Not just for fans. I became a Bond fan AFTER I played this game. You will love it.

By Sam Hardy on July 2nd, 2001

Star Wars: TIE Fighter (DOS)

The good guys ALWAYS win. Right?

The Good

Story: See what life is like on the OTHER side of the cockpit, you are a new enlisment in to the Imperial Navy, your goal is to serve the Emperor at all costs. The brillant story line continues right from X-wing's ending and goes from mucking up the rebels attempts at escaping Hoth, to stopping a traitor from stealing an experimental cloaking device, all that is star wars is in here. All the events lead up to the eve of the battle of Endor.

Menu: Like X-wing, the corridors of an imperial Star destroyer, the doors all open up to different rooms

Graphics: Note I am pretending that I am still living in 1994 not 2001 Oh... they are good. Still the same from X-wing but with new lighting effects explosions reflect off your craft, new ships (YT-1300 says "HI") and new weapons (I think 6) Plus two secret new star fighters that link in well with the story. And well done cutscenes are also included, with a very nice one to end it all off with.

Sound: Possibly the best MIDI version of the Star Wars sound track, all voiced by talented actors, Darth Vader ever has a good portrayer. Weapons, shield frying collisions, it's all there.

Gameplay: Ok, a large and fun training course, then it's onto holographic training gounds then the battle front. Missions can be recorded and viewed at your own free will. A virtual ship data base is also inculded with free rotating craft. The missions range from the simple inspect all craft (Ewok giblets are intersting cargo) to the more important: Defend the Emperor (With Darth Vader at your side) Varied, never boring, all voiced. Missions are breifed by your common officer and a cloaked Secret Service agent (Who gives you nice tattoos, along with the medals you can win)

The Bad
Some of the later missions were very hard, some training missions pitted you against 8 X-wings. And at times you often fell asleep during boarding missions, but that is about it.

The Bottom Line
X-wing's brilliant story is continued, may the force (Hopefully dark) be with you.

By Sam Hardy on July 2nd, 2001

Star Wars: X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter (Windows)

From the best, you get the worst...

The Good
Story: Why bother with this section, honestly throw me a bone here....what do we have? The whole game has very little meat in the story line side of things. In fact lets call that meat: tofu. There is no story what so ever.

Menu: A nice data pad style with ok background graphics that "set the mood" along with music that is a bit too off theme.

Graphics: The ships are nice, very nice, although for the experienced old timers of the X-wing and TIE fighter series you realise that these models are taken directly from the old games and have been given a repaint and A.I tweak then shoved into the outside world. The cockpits are the exact same ones from the old games, save the text being retyped so that it is neater and the targeting screen much larger and more informal (Flashes of TIE fighter there) Then there is space, the stars appear to kind of drop when you roll or move, not slide slowly, they do that, but fall a few inches then start rolling, as I played even more I realised that this was the old X-wing engine, but with new lighting and effects. The nebulas are not pretty to look at, play X-wing Alliance for nebulas. The ships are all done nicely but there seems to be some weird texture on them that gives them a grotty look, not nice. That can be changed in the menu. Explosions are very basic, the same bang for all of the different craft. But at least they kept the random destruction of the craft from TIE fighter.

Sound: All from the older games, just thank god they were all cleaned or this game would be on Ebay before you could say "Super Star Destroyer" But there are only 7 tracks in the sound track and about 4 are used in the main game. Nope nope nope.

Gameplay: MUCH better than the other game, My joystick could be customised so that different buttons could do different things, at least they go that right. For some odd reason the S-foils button has been turned form S to V?? And why is does the N key when pressed states that I don't have a SLAM engine?? The A.I is much better, the wingmen do not become peace meal when attacked. And the shield and laser adjustment rate is still there. Then there is the Multi player, Melees, Tournaments and other weird but fun games that can be played off or online.

The Bad
Ok the game had no plot, none at all. It made some pitiful attempt with the battle modes, the multiplayer was only good with Human Intelligence, I found myself beating "Top Ace" pilots in the skirmish. The missions are bloody hard with unfair enemies that sport shields at 200%. After a while you realise that this is all just TIE fighter with a splash of X-wing thrown in with repaints, some good most bad. A rather good multiplayer makes up for this game that I am glad I got for a lower price ($20.00 AUS from

The Bottom Line
For the dire and die hard of the Star Woids (Star Wars fans) Fun for a quick romp when you are stuck on something more fun (X-wing alliance).

By Sam Hardy on July 2nd, 2001

Under a Killing Moon (DOS)

The world's worst P.I against the a world destroying mad man

The Good
Story: You are Tex Murphy, the star of Access's previous games, Mean Streets and Martian Memorandum. You are down on your luck, living in what is called "Old San Fransico" among mutants and by chance asked by the antiques dealer to find a missing jade crystal. This then leads to other parts with the main plot leading up to a plan to kill off the world and make the better people of the world in a space station a-la the James Bond movie: Moonraker.

Menu: Neat orginised tabs at the bottom of the screen is your menu.

Graphics: At that time I had never seen anything like it, it was like Myst, but you could walk around in Myst style graphics. So real, so fluid. The characters were done good as well, shot against a pre-rendered 3D graphic backgrounds. They reacted with what you said in well thought out conversations that are full of humor. locations range from the streets of San Fransico to the halls of a space station. Crisp and clear, the graphics will hold for a long time.

Sound: Brillant, the music was good as well, the sound from footsteps to the glub of Pug, the mutant's head in the water cooler.

Gameplay: The game stretches for about 7 days (Game time) and each day brings new clues, new mail and new people. The puzzles are well thought out but are a bit too easy in some cases. You can look in any direction and even move up and down, opening and closing stuff is done by a simple click and is accommpanied by an well drawn animation. You can also inspect stuff in your inventory, accommpanied by a crass comment. You collect a lot of stuff over the course of the game, inculding a "Giger Pet" a mini green raptor. The gameplay is interesting as well, in one part you have to doge a security system while collecting vital information. Characters are well developed too, some of the acting is a little weak in the knees.

The Bad
Some of the FMVs had been shot seperately so one person would freeze while another still remained moving. A few of the sounds were a little bit off colour in terms of the volume being a bit too low and it was too easy.

The Bottom Line
Very good, very fun, buy it.

By Sam Hardy on July 2nd, 2001

Star Wars: X-Wing (DOS)

If you liked the movies....

The Good
Story: The Rebellion is starting to make a name for itself. Dozens of worlds are turning towards them. This is where you enter. The story stretches on for about 6 Tour of duties, before ending at a brilliant recreation of the Death Star Trench Run.

Menu: Takes a hint from Wing Commander, the interior of a space ship with different hanger doors that take you to other parts of the world, battle fronts or mission logs.

Graphics: A full 3D engine is alive here boys. The main shape of all the ships is amazing for a game that old. They look like they are from the movie. TIE fighters have shaded parts of their wings so that they look like the solar arrays they had in the movies and all rebel craft have markings on them. Lasers and torpedoes are done well, with torpedoes looking just as fearsome as they are. Lasers diminish as your laser energy goes. Hyperspace lines are also shown, as well as brilliant cut scenes.

Sound: Gahh...brilliant! Well conceived MIDIs of the Star Wars sound track, lasers, explosions sound far off when you are far, the wingmen reply to you in voice, as well as fully voiced cut scenes. Full marks

Gameplay: Jumping in does not get you far. There is a well made training center that lets you earn awards in all of the courses you do. Training really gets you to know about your craft. Then there are the historic battles: training one step further. These missions are well set out and offer plenty of action. In the main battle ground things From inspecting corvettes while dodging laser fire, to helping perform an attack on a Star Destroyer all add the game. The A.I is brilliant, craft dodge your attacks, other craft and move very well. Your wingmen are smart as well, they know when to attack or not and don't get fried like other wingmen in other Sci-fi fighters (Wing commander). The cut scenes have been drawn well, very well indeed. Not a detail is missed, from the glow of computer screens on people's faces a recreation of the death star explosion scene from Star Wars, right down to the music. It all shines as a well made movie. Take off and landing scenes are also shown, as well as hyperspace entry and exit. You can even see the blue lines on the screen, just like the movie. You win awards in the game. These are displayed brilliantly on a coat in the medals room, making you feel proud, and all medals are named with names like "Star of Alderann". All Tour of Duty missions are also presented. Flying the game is easy. Most of the main keys are centered around the Enter key so you don't have to fly your hand across the key board. You can get damaged, your R2- unit (When you have one) can repair this damage, a cut scene at the end of a mission after you have scored a beating shows your craft with bits hanging off being repaired. Missions can be recorded and even replayed halfway in through the recording. There is also a detailed holographic map, showing all the technical details of craft.

The Bad
Not much, some levels got boring, some enemy were too hard. apart from that this game has few flaws.

The Bottom Line
For all people even the fans. Star Wars has come alive.

By Sam Hardy on June 29th, 2001

Manhunter 2: San Francisco (DOS)

Darker and even more brooding....

The Good
It is much better than the first, more deaths (The first is from when you land your ship on some poor bystander) better plot, same old crappy sound, new detailed locations.

Story: After crashing in San Fran after pursuing the bad guy off Manhunter:New York, you are contacted to investigate murders. People are being attacked by something that seems to be a beast. A cult and the last bad-guy of the previous manhunter also add to the great involving story

Gameplay: More interactive than before. You use the inventory to a greater scale and can now interact with objects a bit more. Arcade parts are in the game with a scaling difficulty setting. The same look, watch and listen is added, but with a twist. Break that beaker that is important, you still continue but with different results in the game. The puzzles are bloody hard with the "Bat Vomit" on the door being one of the more puzzling. The gory death scenes are still in.

Sound: Usual bleeps and blips.

Graphics: Same as the last game, only fresher.

The Bad
The puzzles are VERY hard, the game is best with two people. the arcade parts are annoying after a while, and some things just don't make sense.

The Bottom Line
Get it, it is worth it. But be prepared for long nights with a cup of coffee.

By Sam Hardy on June 28th, 2001

Manhunter: New York (DOS)

Dark and brooding

The Good
Firstly the lack of graphical interfaces made controlling the game a piece of cake. You used the arrow keys and the TAB key to select your inventory.

Story: You are a Manhunter, a human assigned by the orbs to watch other manhunters and track their movements. You are awoken to investigate an explosion at a manhunter hospital, from then on, things get dicey. You embark on a quest to stop a madman from killing people and work out the truth behind the manhunter organization.

graphics: Great for it's day. The realism of the graphics, the accurate map of N.Y, landmarks are recognizable. The graphics are good in the tracking parts where you can track any known being, hopefully working out where they head off to. The death scenes are gory, from your head becoming a ceiling decoration to your body being flung to kingdom come.

Sound: Rather dull, the usual blips and beeps, but the manhunter theme still rings in my mind, quite memorable.

Gameplay: Controlled by the cursor keys, you have to spend a lot of time in mazes or puzzles where one wrong click means your body is strewn across the place. A note pad is VERY useful as a lot of minor things become large clues.

The Bad
The mazes were hard, although you have the map, it is still annoying. Also the little arcade game you HAVE to play is hard as the little guy only stops when he reaches a goal. The puzzles take a lot of time to work out hint the first day has something to do with an orb.

The Bottom Line
Hard, yes but your brain gets VERY stimulated after playing it. Play the sequel Manhunter:San Francisco.

By Sam Hardy on June 28th, 2001

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