GRAY AREAS MAGAZINE

SOFTWARE REVIEWS - JANUARY 1997

Reviews By Netta Gilboa

3-D ULTRA PINBALL: CREEP NIGHT (Sierra On-Line, Inc.) This awesome pinball game offers three new tables plus a bonus, hidden fourth table each with moving targets, and ball-stealing creatures. Up to four players can compete, or you can play alone on an extra wide playing field, and you can save your games midway through them. One of the few games to take advantage of the popular Sound Blaster AWE32 sound card, this looks and sounds great. As might be surmised from the title it's got a horror theme with lots of ghosts, tombs, skulls and skeletons. Don't miss this if you like playing pinball!

AFTER DARK 4.0 (Berkeley Systems) This latest and greatest version of the world's most popular screen saver includes 20 new displays, 50 wallpaper patterns and a randomizer to let you select from these and existing savers which can then be played in any order or at random. New to this version is an online service which works when you have this product and an Internet connection. You can get all sorts of news, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Sports Illustrated Online, stock quotes, sports scores and ZD Net. For those still without a Net connection, the program ships with an ability to get service from AT&T WorldNet which comes with Netscape Navigator. Very useful, even if you do have to turn it off a lot when installing new software.

THE ALCHEMIST (Enteractive, Inc.) Fans of astrology and tarot products will delight in this new and original program which also helps to provide answers to life's challenges as you confront them. You begin by asking a question and then use nature's four elements to get instant guidance and answers in the form of a reading. There's a glossary, screen saver and even a personal diary to store your past readings. Highly recommended for its originality. Even if you already have other fortune telling programs there's no overlap here.

CLUE (Hasbro Interactive, Inc.) The classic board game comes to life and is greatly improved in this collection of three different mysteries on CD-ROM. Up to six players can play and there are 12 possible outcomes to the three stories. There are interactive movies, sound effects and intriguing plots involving blackmail, a religious brotherhood and a secret formula for synthetic rubies. One of the rare games a whole family or group of friends can enjoy all at once, this blows away the board game and will keep you entertained for hours.

COLD SHADOW (Disney Interactive) This action game offer 40 hours of gameplay in 23 stages which take you from the top of a volcano to the bottom of the sea. You play a mallard who also morphs into a Ninja. You fight pirates, zombies, warriors and muddrakes. The mild violence is tempered by the fact it's a Disney product and full of stunning animation. It's also got great sound effects, bonus rounds, and lots of humor. Can you finish the levels and find the missing Shabuhm Shabuhm idol before your island explodes? If not, just play again. Well done.

CONNECTIONS (Discovery Channel Multimedia) Puzzle game fans will not likely own anything already that compares with this "mind game" which features 3D environment after 3D environment of puzzles and clues to help you unlock how you suddenly entered a strange world and how you now can escape from it. Based on work by James Burke, as seen on The Learning Channel, this game has live-action characters to add realism to your explorations. Superb for those who like to think when they play rather than just shoot at things or click here and there.

DEUS (ReadySoft Inc.) Offering both arcade and role playing modes, this gory strategy game features 3D scenarios and superb SVGA graphics. You wield ten weapons of all kinds including laser, machine gun, grenades, rocket launcher, and axe. In addition to running, jumping, crawling, climbing, swimming and fighting, you must also look up, down and over your shoulder. You'll also manage hunger, need for sleep and other vital signs, which requires thought as well as good combat skills. Interesting enemies, realistic environments and the kind of gory challenge most players look for but don't often find.

THE ENCHANTED TAROT (Enteractive, Inc.) While there are a number of tarot titles on the market, this one is special. It offers 140 minutes of audio narration, a diary in which to store your readings, movies about the cards, your choice of four different types of readings and ten templates for choosing how to formulate questions. Whether you are a novice curiosity seeker, or someone already familiar with the basics of card interpretation, this program has something for everyone. It's based on The Enchanted Tarot book and card set and includes all of the features you'd get on paper as well as the convenience of printing out your readings, the ease of having the computer draw the cards for you and sixty minutes of original music to set the mood. I own several competing programs and found this useful in addition to those or instead of them if I could only own one.

GAMEBREAK: TOPSY TURVY GAMES (Disney Interactive Inc.) Timed with the release of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, this tile offers five games that are easy to learn and hard to tear yourself away from. I got stuck on one that is a reverse Breakout. All of the pieces of the wall are there, and you use your paddle to remove them. Hour after hour flew by and I could not quit playing it. There's also a bowling game, one with riddles, aerial dueling and a food fight. You can play alone or against a friend and there are escalating game levels (if you get that far). Designed for kids, I found this delightful even before I saw the film. Fun for all ages and a MUST if you are a Breakout fan.

HYPERBLADE (ActiVision Inc.) Combining the speed of hockey and the action of combat, this game contains seriously fast action as well as deadly opponents. You can select from 45 players, three skill levels, 12 teams, 12 arenas to compete in, and the game even offers network play. It's automatically enhanced if you own a Direct 3D compatible card and if you have access to the web, ActiVision is offering downloadable tools to customize your teams for this game (www.activision.com). There's a world of difference between the 3D accelerated version of this and the regular game, so if you don't already have such a video card it's probably worth the investment to get one. More and more games will clearly start to make use of them. Either way, there's lots of non-stop action here, including the need to master 360 degree flips, rail slides, kicking and more. This should delight anyone who enjoys sports games, fighting games, racing games and even shoot-'em-ups.

HUYGEN'S DISCLOSURE (Microforum) This innovative action-adventure game comes in two versions. One requires 8mb RAM and the other is geared to those with at least 16mb RAM. This way players with better systems don't have to suffer for being ahead of the average computer owner and those with standard equipment don't lose out because they haven't upgraded yet. It's also designed so that even when playing alone the player feels as if they are in a group environment. The plot involves a world set in the future which is close to extinction as the Earth's ozone layer is crumbling rapidly. A space probe called Huygen has found some ray of hope on a distant moon and you journey there in hopes of saving the planet. But, as the ads for this say, "don't expect a warm welcome." The graphics include 3D characters with smoother animation than other games in its genre and the futuristic setting allows for many bizarre alien enemies, all of whom are intent on keeping you from getting any further. This is far better than most games of its kind and worth having if you like action games, sci-fi plots, or have a fast Pentium and all too few good games to play on it.

LEISURE SUIT LARRY: LOVE FOR SAIL (Sierra On-Line Inc.) Larry's the lovable hero of several risque adventure games. This time he's back and the game is better than ever. While you don't need to have played any of the previous games to understand or enjoy this, those who have will quickly realize how much Larry has advanced along with technology. The game's demo is 27 megs alone and the animation is as good as a Disney film. The graphics are so amazing that even if you hate adventure games and/or animation, you'll have to concede this title is special. Considering that all of Sierra's games have had stellar graphics that's no small accomplishment. Larry is a loser who tries to get lucky with the women he encounters. This game is set on a cruise ship and some of the women include the ship's skipper, a casino employee, and a mother-daughter singing duo. Designed for adults, the game is full of sexual innuendo, quippy comebacks to whatever you may type and even comes with a scratch and sniff card. You'll also get to play Strip Liar's Dice (I lost). Takes full advantage of Windows 95 and of the space available on a CD-ROM. Highly recommended if you've played any of the other titles in the series, like adventure games in general, look for humor when you play games or are new to the genre but want a game that's easy to understand and fun to sit through.

LORDS OF THE REALM II (Sierra On-Line Inc.) Combining action and strategic conquest, this sequel makes you one of five nobles in thirteenth century England. In addition to building a castle, managing crops, trading with merchants and collecting taxes, you have to gather an army and attack others before they can attack you. You'll have four rivals to deal with, but only one of you can become king. The game offers modem and network support for you to choose who your rivals are, play head-to-head against them and offers lots of medieval weapons to fight them with. However, poor planning hurts you too as inexpensive castles made of wood leave you more vulnerable to catapult attacks, and while your men are well-armed, the enemy has seven times as many soldiers. Well designed, historically accurate and offers enough variables that you can play this again and again without tiring of it. Good luck!

MASTER OF ORION II: BATTLE AT ANTARES (Microprose/Spectrum Holobyte, Inc.) This sequel to the popular space conquest game includes multiplayer options for up to eight players including modem, network, hot seat or the TEN gaming network. There are multiple game settings, 13 predesigned alien races, a choice of tactical or strategic combat and a slew of random events and disasters so each game is different. You will manage resources, explore and colonize uncharted planets, research over 200 technologies and enjoy state-of-the-art SVGA graphics. I never saw or played the original game but was able to jump right into enjoying this one and while it's probably more fun played with others it can also be played alone. Can you defeat the evil Antarans? Let's hope so, but even if you can't you'll have lots of fun trying to.

MIND GRIND (Microforum Inc.) This trivia game is full of puzzles and delivers what the box promises is "seriously addictive fun." You can play alone or against a friend, answering questions involving brain teasers, human inventions, world records and mythology. The program uses full motion video, 3D environments and adorable alien creatures to keep it lively and the difficulty of the questions increases as you progress. There's even an audio category to test your awareness of everyday sounds. I found this easy to play but hard to succeed at. Well done.

NASCAR RACING 2 (Sierra On-Line Inc.) This sequel to the highly popular car racing game uses 1996 cars and drivers on 16 licensed tracks. You can play alone, with a friend by modem and with up to 8 players over an IPX network. You begin by customizing your car in the paint shop and then enjoy killer SVGA graphics and a mouse-driven interface as you race. Arcade mode makes it easy for inexperienced drivers to get into the action and a crew chief and spotter alert you to track conditions as you drive around. The original game was a best-seller and this one is sure to become at least as popular. Well done.

NEW BEAT TRANCEMISSION (Microforum Inc.) Without requiring any musical talent or experience, this program allows you to transform your PC into a music studio. You too can be an engineer or DJ with 250 instrument and sfx samples, a sound editor that lets you record and save data in the standard .wav format and 20 different channels to help you mix and combine sounds to make them totally your own. The program has an easy-to-follow tutorial and seven layouts to get you started immediately. Apparently MAC music lovers are displeased the product is only shipping for the PC, so if you have a PC and are a DJ, sound engineer or want to play at being one, this product is well worth the price and you can invite your MAC owning pals over to crow to them. New Beat requires only an ordinary 486/66 to run, but under recommended requirements the box does suggest you have EARTH-MOVING speakers. Highly recommended for those with musical inclinations.

NORTON UTILITIES 2.0 (Symantec Corporation) Every time Symantec releases a new version of their popular protection program I rave about it and tell you that you simply must own this or something like it in case disaster strikes. The program can make an image of your hard drive and restore it after an emergency, scan for viruses and update your virus signatures regularly by accessing the company's Web page, and it has all sorts of other tools for handling software conflicts, recovering lost files, unerasing things you accidentally deleted and preventing the screen from suddenly freezing and eating up your last few hours of work. Windows 95 has been out for some time now and this second version is far more stable, offers new features and has made strides in making itself more user friendly to newbies who may not yet know how their computer actually works underneath the graphical interface, wallpaper, sounds and screen savers. I wouldn't own a computer that didn't load this and hope you also choose to invest in it as insurance against suddenly losing all your data, or even a single day's work. Unfortunately, most of us have to have a disaster before we realize we should have invested in this, but if you know friends who've shared their horror stories with you then you know how valuable it can be. Symantec has GREAT tech support and it's worth being a registered user of this just to have them hold your hand if you ever need to do critical restoration of your hard drive. Highly recommended no matter what cool game you have to pass up to afford it sooner rather than later.

OTHELLO (Hasbro Interactive, Inc.) This classic board game used to come with Windows, but has been removed from Win95. This improved version allows you to match wits with Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci and play any of seven skill levels. You can play with a friend or against the computer and the CD contains versions in English, Dutch, German and French as well. The game is easy to learn as it simply involves placing a piece on the board. It requires some thought however as each piece has two colors and your opponent can move in a manner which reverses your piece, along with numerous others. One key to winning the game involves trying to get the four corner spots. If you like puzzles, or games which require the use of your brains don't miss the chance to play this one.

PRINT ARTIST 4.0 (Sierra On-Line Inc.) Greatly improved, this popular package is now part of the Sierra product line. Useful in designing everything from greeting cards to banners to labels to paper airplanes, this CD-ROM ships with over 1,500 layouts, 600 photos, 300 fonts and 10,000 pieces of clip art! Version 4.0 allows the import of files in many more standard formats, including .BMP, .JPG, .WMF, .TIF, .EPS, .PCX and Kodak Photo CD. The program is designed for novices and you can complete your project just minutes after launching the program. Simply select a project type, choose a layout style and customize the text and graphics and click a button to print it out. Highly recommended for people who don't need all the complicated features of a high-end product such as CorelDRAW!, as well as owners of earlier versions who will benefit from the Windows 95 compatibility, new clip art and better variety of file formats the program can now work with.

QIN (Time Warner Electronic Publishing) Fans of Myst style games will love this epic adventure game in which you surround yourself with the mythology and culture of ancient China. There are five realms, 3D rendered graphics, a music score which uses authentic Chinese instruments, an encyclopedia full of clues and, of course, many puzzles to solve and traps to be avoided. Billed as a "thinking game," this has lots of challenge without the violence and horror so many competing games depend on. Recommended for adults, women players, those interested in the Orient and fans of Myst and Lighthouse.

REEL WOMEN (Enteractive, Inc.) Jodie Foster hosts this multimedia exploration of women in the movie industry. Over 100 producers, writers, directors and editors are included as well as references to over 2000 Hollywood films, a trivia game and interviews with contemporary filmmakers and clips and photographs to honor those no longer with us. Easy to install and use, with great graphics, and lots to interest and amuse film buffs, feminists and historians of all ages.

RICHIE SAMBORA INTERACTIVE GUITAR (Enteractive, Inc.) Former Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora hosts this interactive tutorial. There are close-up demonstrations of over 40 acoustic guitar techniques as well as a built-in tuner, scale charts and chord directory. Aspiring guitarists will enjoy this whether or not they are Bon Jovi fans, but for those who are the CD-ROM features bonus music videos, instructions on how to mimic the riffs used on Bon Jovi songs, access to Richie's celebrity photo collection and interviews about both the creative and business aspects of the cut-throat music business. While not a Bon Jovi fan or a musician, I found this well done and informative. Hopefully this is the first in a series of such titles as I'd love to have one for Eric Clapton, Bob Weir, Carlos Santana, etc.

THE SACRED MIRROR OF KOFUN (Enteractive, Inc.) Problems getting this title to run were quickly forgotten after talking to a superb tech support person at Enteractive. I've done more than my share of calling tech support at companies over the years given the volume of product we receive, but rarely have I run into one as familiar with the quirks of Windows 95 as the person who helped me get this game up and running. Once I shut off the screen saver, rebooted in 640x480 mode and unclicked the taskbar's always on top checkbox, not only did this title run smoothly, but so did the other two games I had that wouldn't play. Even better, the technician encouraged me to call back if I needed anything, made sure I had the company's web page address at www.enteractive.com for game hints and told me what I'd want to do first in the game to get off to a good start! And what a cool game it is. Featuring more than 80 hours of gameplay, this adventure includes underwater footage filmed by Jean-Michel Cousteau, thousands of 3D images, puzzles galore and over two hours of full motion video. You control a computer able to help you investigate subjects, keep track of clues, decode messages and decipher photos. You launch explorations, interact with the crew, explore underwater reefs, wrecks and tropical islands as you check out sunken WWII naval battles and a cast of characters from around the globe. Includes three CDs, a good manual and lots to interest both mystery fans and those captivated by our vast oceans and seas and what might lurk there. Well done.

SIM COPTER (Maxis) From the makers of SimCity comes this new simulation game. It features 30 cities you can fly through and accepts any SimCity cities you may already have. There are ten levels plus a bonus round and each time you complete a level you can buy better helicopters to continue with. This is your chance to fight fires, collar criminals, chase down speeding cars, subdue riots, etc. This works without having to own SimCity but provides an awesome add-on for those who already do.

SIM PARK (Maxis) Designed for younger players, this simulation game allows you to build your own nature park filled with plants, wildlife and people. Included are 132 plants and animals you can learn about as well as carousels, hot dog stands, picnic tables and others park features. When your park is set up people come and play in it and confuse things by messing the park up, leaving litter behind for you to deal with. The game comes with a cool kids watch which includes the date, a weather meter and a bright teal wristband. Very educational, both about the plants and animals and also enhancing critical thinking and creative approaches to problem-solving. Lots of fun too, even for older players.

SOULTRAP (Microforum) This shooting game involves enemies who approach you from all directions - above, below and head on. You play Malcolm West who is tormented by nightmares and twisted dreams. Walls shift, platforms close in on you and creatures attack you, level after level. Luckily there are hidden clues and bonus items to help you beat the eleven levels, more weapons than you can count, and a gorgeous set of backgrounds, good camera angles and eerie sound effects to hold your interest. Requires a Pentium 90 and also offers a training ground area for inexperienced players.

SPYCRAFT (ActiVision, Inc.) Considered one of the best games of 1996, this adventure game utilizes the talents of former CIA director William Colby and former KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin. Combining Hollywood actors, CIA footage, 35mm film and computer graphics, this 3 CD title uses the World Wide Web and real government web pages to teach players as well as entertain them. You'll be submerged in a world of rogue spies, double agents, intercepting radio transmissions and mastering the tools of a CIA operative. You'll use high-tech weapons, undergo weapons training and learn professional spy skills. Very different from traditional adventure games, this is original and inventive. It can be played without Internet access, but is greatly improved with a modem and access to the Web. Don't miss this if you are an adventure fan, are interested in how spying works or wonder what our government's three letter agencies do.

TITANIC (Cyberflix Inc./GTE Entertainment) This unique adventure game is set on board the famous Titanic cruise ship which sank on April 14, 1912. You play a British secret agent trying to change the course of history, who can fully explore the ship and interact with over 25 characters who remember your actions and will act accordingly. The game offers 360 degree real-time movement, a historically accurate reconstruction of the ship, 3D environments and several characters whose job it is to help you out. There are some complex puzzles here and some realistic violence, as well as the usual inventory you must collect, save and use. This is a masterpiece for history buffs as well as mystery and adventure game lovers. Don't miss the chance to play this if it interests you even slightly.

TOY STORY (Disney Interactive) Translated from the Super Nintendo version, this popular video game can now be enjoyed by computer owners as well. Based on the hit film, this action game has 17 levels and lets you save games and choose your difficulty level. You play Rex, the dinosaur and must save Buzz from Scud, Claw, and mutant toys. You rescue squeeze-toy aliens while trying to stay alive. Beautiful graphics and an easy-to-understand plot, but lots of challenge even for adult players. Although it's by no means required, it also helps to have seen the movie in order to fully appreciate this title.

ULTIMATE YAHTZEE (Hasbro Interactive, Inc.) I won't confess how many hours I spent playing this game the day I installed it, except to say it's damn hard to shut this off. In addition to the classic dice game and the lesser known version that allows you to play three games of Yahtzee at once, this superb package offers three new additions. In one the dice are different colors and you need to match colors as well as numbers, and in the other two you play head-to-head against other players. The 3D graphics allow for actual dice movement as you shake the cup and watch the die roll out. There are also sound effects, hint features and music which can be turned off if you play for hours at a time and get tired of it. This game would be a bargain at twice the price. You no longer have to keep score by hand, worry about finding the dice to play and the three new variations are superb as well. Highly recommended if you like the original game even a little bit.

THE WALT DISNEY WORLD EXPLORER (Disney Interactive, Inc.) Released to help celebrate the Florida theme parks 25th anniversary, this title will interest people planning to go see Mickey and his pals for the first time as well as those who go regularly. There's a great index and you can find lots of new things to hit next time just by searching the index. There's also a map and you can click on what catches your eye as you scroll through it. There's a quiz, a slew of guided tours, a glimpse behind the stage and the ability to try your luck at creating movie sound effects. I learned more than enough to make this worth the purchase price, even though I thought I had fully explored both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot in person. This also covers Disney Studios and the many resorts and hotels too. I was also able to use it to show someone who had no interest in visiting Walt Disney World why I loved being there so much, and convinced him his outlook was wrong. If there's a doubter in your life, this is well worth having to help change their mind with. It should have been released long ago, but is a must to get now and hopefully it will continue to be updated as the park expands in future years. Highly recommended for travel buffs, Disney lovers and those planning a trip there or just wanting to relive their last visit.

WEB BUDDY (DataViz, Inc.) Designed for Windows 95 users who use the World Wide Web, this nifty but gray product allows you to steal other people's entire web pages, schedule when to go surfing and what to take, convert graphics you stole into other formats better suited to your needs and also has the ability to organize and bookmark the pages you've visited (and stolen). I was stunned the product doesn't address the obviously illegal act of stealing other people's copyrighted work, trademarked logos and converting them and redistributing them. It simply refers to "sharing them with non-Internet users" and tells users to "think of it as tearing an electronic page out of a magazine." Assuming you are savvy enough to understand what you can and can't do legally with what you've taken, this product can be very useful for everything from backups of your own work to putting together a presentation on what other pages do in general that you might also want to integrate into your home page without actually doing anything naughtier than looking at their page offline. But no corporation, government entity or academic institution would be happy to hear this product encourages people to steal and reproduce their work. If you were to go steal Disney's web site or Paramount's or Playboy's (just to name a few of the nicer sites out there) and use portions of them, you can expect to be dealt with and stopped in your tracks by their lawyers without any support from the kind folks at DataViz, Inc. A great product, but sorely lacking a manual that ships with it explaining copyright law and trademark registration.

YOU DON'T KNOW JACK VOLUME 2 (Berkeley Systems) This sequel to the popular trivia game does not require that you own or have played the original product. It features 800 new questions, celebrity guest appearances by Florence Henderson, Dennis Miller, Dana Carvey, etc. and the ability to play alone or with up to two other players. This is ideal for people who have a lot of parties, think they know everything or enjoy trivia contests. It's easy to use, fun and offers lots of humor and challenge for all ages.

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