GRAY AREAS MAGAZINE SOFTWARE REVIEWS

REVIEWS BY NETTA GILBOA

ALONE IN THE DARK 3 (I-Motion Inc.) Over 70 hours of gameplay are included in this Western game. Your job is to save a movie's heroine in the ghost town Slaughter Gulch. You have no friends and many enemies all of whom are trigger-happy. If you can avoid death, you must also solve puzzle after puzzle in order to break the town's curse. Although this is a sequel, no prior experience with the first two games is required. While this runs on 386-33 machines, a rarity these days, it does require 592kb free conventional memory plus expanded memory to play and 35 megs of disk space to install.

ARTWORKS CUBE (Aztech New Media Corp.) This low-priced collection of six CD-ROMs (plus a seventh upon registration) provides all sorts of treasures for those interested in illustration and graphics, all for less than the price of a single disc sold by competing companies. Included are 25 watermarks and ghosted backgrounds, 100 photos of undersea life including fish, shipwrecks, coral and plant life, 100 photos of exotic wild flowers, 99 photos of gems, 100 TrueType Headline fonts, a photo morphing program, 1stdesign which is a drawing program and a photo program which includes 200 photos, 30 effects, screen capture tool, support for many file formats and an album manager. Worth having even if you only use some of the many things provided. Use of this package is limited only by your imagination.

BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD IN VIRTUAL STUPIDITY (Viacom New Media) The same type of animation used in the popular MTV show is included here with all new animated scenes, four mini-games and three music videos. Mike Judge provides the voices for Beavis and Butthead as he does in the MTV cartoons. Try your luck at scoring with chicks, messing with Anderson's mind, making Buzzcut's neck veins stick out and trying to get into Todd's gang. You can break stuff, kick butts and lounge in front of the TV being cool. Very cute.

BLOODWINGS: PUMPKINHEAD'S REVENGE (MPCA Interactive) This combination horror action and adventure game is based on the film and includes 3D full-motion video from the film as well as new footage specifically shot for this game. Includes five stars from the film, the ability to fight and challenge Pumkinhead, and changing elements so the game is different each time it's played. Lots of digitized speech, 60 minutes of live action video, a 16-bit soundtrack and both animated and realistic violence. It helps to have seen the movie to enjoy this fully.

CAESAR II (Sierra On-Line Inc.) In this city-building simulation you help build Rome. There's 256-color SVGA graphics, a novice mode, a tutorial and history of the Roman Empire and extensive city-building. You'll open trade routes, defend your city from attack and launch bath houses. You can zoom in for close-ups and watch 3-D animations of your city come to life. A solid game, as you'd expect from Sierra, for fans of simulations and of history.

CARD STUDIO (Micrografx) This package will let you make your own greeting cards, invitations, announcements, signs, certificates and calendars. There's also an address book, the ability to use any fonts already in your computer plus 40 more supplied here, and there's samples of papers and envelopes to use in your projects. Easy-to-use and well thought out.

THE CHAOS ENGINE (WarnerActive) Offering both one and two-player action, this game challenges both your brain and your reflexes. There are 16 levels full of puzzles to be solved as you avoid traps and seek out secret passages. You must shoot your way past many different types of monsters. Great sound and soundtrack but a me-too kind of plot.

CREATIVE WRITER (Microsoft) Designed for kids, I found this fun for adults too. It's a basic word processor that is user-friendly, offers customized fonts, borders and backgrounds, clip art and 20 levels of undo. For kids it also offers over 8000 "story starters" to get them to start writing. Makes cute computerized stationary and makes writing fun.

CROSSWORLD (GameTek) Puzzle fans will rejoice when offered this low-priced CD-ROM title with three different games in it. There's "CrossWorld," which has crossword puzzles from the L.A. Times Syndicate as well as a feature to let you create your own puzzles. In "WordSearch" you create your own puzzles where there is a list of phrases to look for and you circle each phrase as you find it hidden in the puzzle. In "Decoder," you must unscramble word lists and famous quotations. Highly recommended as both a golden and a bargain to a puzzle lover!

DESTRUCTION DERBY (Psygnosis, Ltd.) The idea here is to wreck other cars while surviving in yours. You can play a full championship season against such racers as the Suicide Squaddies, Skum and The Optician. Great graphics and superb handling with a Pentium processor.

THE DIG (LucasArts Entertainment Co.) Using the combined talents of LucasArts and Steven Spielberg, this epic adventure game has almost 200 locations to explore and hundreds of puzzles to solve. Robert Patrick lends his voice, Industrial Light and Magic lend their special effects, dialogue was written by sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card and there is full voice and sound as well as an original musical score. Beautiful graphics and a great challenge. As is standard these days, a strategy guide to help you through the game is available. A must if you like adventure games.

DUST (GTE Entertainment) This Western themed adventure game offers over 40 hours of play and over 40 characters to interact with. You can drink, cruise Main Street, , duel, talk to townspeople, get poker tips, etc. Unlike most of these games, you have five days in which to explore a Western town with no law. This leads to less predictability and more options than in most adventures. Unique!

EARTHWORM JIM (ActiVision Inc.) This started out as a video game and has been so successful it got ported to Windows95. It's an animated, cartoon-style action game with 20 levels, including one not in the videogame version. You'll explore secret paths, hidden items, bonus power-ups and you'll bungee-jump, rocket-ride, walk the dog, navigate an underwater pod and launch cows as you play! Devotees of the game will also enjoy the bonus desktop kit which works under Microsoft Plus! and provides sounds, icons, wallpaper and more from the game. Amazing graphics, cute plot, lots of challenge and all sorts of little touches make this a winner.

FULL TILT! PINBALL (Maxis) If you've played the superb pinball game included with the Windows 95 Plus! Pack, here's the full package it came from. If you haven't, but enjoy pinball, run right out to grab this title. There are three games here, each with 3D graphics, realistic ball movement, the ability to handle four players and superb music, graphics, voices and sound effects. Pinball has come a long way since the old video game machine versions for Atari's 2600 and Nintendo's first machine. This runs great on everything from a laptop to a big-screen monitor and on older 486's as well as state-of-the-art Pentiums.

FUN 5 PAK (T/Maker) This CD-ROM contains over 500 pieces of cartoon clip art along with 60 in full color, 10 fonts, an image browser so you can preview images and a conversion utility that lets you save the images in many popular formats. This collection includes five packages previously available separately. These include: Beastly Funnies, Parties and Events, Bulletins and Newsletters and On The Job. Lots to choose from here to spice up your correspondence, flyers, newsletters, etc. This is a great buy if you'd use even a few of the cartoons here.

GLIDEPOINT PORTABLE (Cirque Corp.) This is a stand- alone mouse which looks and operates just like the one you've drooled over which is made for Mac Powerbooks. Basically you touch it instead of clicking repeatedly. Your finger controls the mouse movements. You can pick this up for laptops or as a desktop version which is 33% bigger or attached to a keyboard so it stays 100% still. I found that once in awhile it clicked something I hadn't intended to, but after an hour I was so used to it I can't imagine working with anything else instead. Simply one of the best computer accessories I've ever invested in. If you hate your mouse, or it's always getting full of cat hairs, try this!

GRAND PRIX MANAGER (Spectrum HoloByte, Inc.) Racing car fans will love this game in which you manage a Formula One racing team. You hire and fire staff, negotiate contracts, build and test cars, deal with rule changes, manage race day and have instant races. This very well-thought-out concept teaches players this is a hard business and not just the exciting job fans think it is. Beautiful graphics and lots of fun.

THE GROOVE THING (Big Top Productions) If you're one of those people who loves psychedelic screen savers, this program takes the concept to a new level. This "visual jam" allows you to select a musical style and then manipulate hundreds of sounds from 27 base soundtracks. You can command dazzling visual imagery with your voice as well. Offers nine kaleidoscopic visions, 180 sound effect keys, six symmetry levels, limitless color sampling and hundreds of line weights as well as tile size variation. Way cool.

HEXEN (GT Interactive Software) By the time you read this, a Win95 version of this elite game should be out. I tested a DOS version which worked fine under 95. Made by id Software, this sequel to Heretic offers the opportunity to be one of three heroes. You walk, run, fly, pillage, inflict pain and cast spells while avoiding death. Allows four players via network, two via modem and can also be played alone. Superb sound (I used this to configure my Soundblaster AWE32 PnP card) and amazing graphics which were state-of-the-art until the release of the more recent id Software game, Quake. A must for fans of Doom and its many spin-offs.

HIJAAK GRAPHICS SUITE 95 (Inset Systems, Inc.) This graphics package helps you create and edit graphics in over 75 file formats. It comes with a paint program, a sketch program and 10,000 pieces of clip art. This suite version of the popular stand-alone program lets you trace, do slide shows, scan and use 3D text. Ideal for ads, logos, letterhead, brochures, presentations, web pages, flyers, etc. this is a perfect way to create, manipulate and manage your artwork no matter how many other art programs you already own. Works so well under Windows 95 that you need only click your right mouse button to use it! A must for people whose work or play uses graphics.

INDIANA JONES AND HIS DESKTOP ADVENTURES (LucasArts Entertainment Co.) Designed to appeal to people who like adventure games but do not have the time required to devote to them, this superb package offers billions of game combinations designed to last under an hour each. Set in 1930s Mexico, these mini-adventures allow you to meet unusual characters and people, solve challenging puzzles suited to all skill levels and the disk space requirements are small enough to make this viable for laptop owners. An innovative, great idea using a highly popular film character and theme. Well done.

ISLAND CASINO (GT Interactive Software) Explore the El San Juan Hotel and Casino in this virtual vacation. Play any or all of 25 casino games including seven types of slots, both American and European Roulette, Baccarat, Blackjack, etc. There's also a Las Vegas style room which offers 12 games. Unsure how to play these? No problem. The disc includes a 30 minute full-motion instructional video. Utterly realistic, superb graphics make this enjoyable even if you're not that into gambling. And when you're done winning or losing for the night, you can also explore the island, order room service or tour the hotel's grounds. Impressive!

JACK NICKLAUS: THE TOUR COLLECTION (Accolade, Inc.) This CD-ROM contains three products that work together to allow you to play golf to your heart's content. There are several courses included here, in 256-color VGA, and there's also a Course Designer so you can tweak the game to your liking. This offers good screen redraws, award-winning design and, of course, Nicklaus' name. Golf fans will want to have this, especially if they only had one or two of these three pieces before.

JACK THE RIPPER (GameTek) Using actual clues and evidence from what's known about the famous killer, this game lets you travel around London interviewing over 100 people and suspects as you try to stop Jack before he kills again. There are three levels of difficulty and multiple solutions so the game stays fresh indefinitely. Absolutely one of my favorite games of this type, both for concept and for making you feel you are really there.

LION (Sanctuary Woods) This simulation game turns you into a lion and lets you choose from 20 of them each with different capabilities. There are 20 scenarios and you can play solo or control several lions in a pride. Offers five difficulty levels, 3D graphics, a safari into the wilds of Africa and the chance to be either the hunter or the hunted. You stalk prey, protect your kill, search for water, mate, escape poacher's bullets, etc. Very unique concept makes this appealing even to those uninterested in other types of simulation games.

MACHIAVELLI THE PRINCE (MicroProse Software, Inc.) Here's a simulation game based on the life of 14th Century Niccolo Machiavelli. You'll rule the world, acquire wealth and power, trade goods with 40 cities, manipulate political and religious institutions using bribery, slander and assassination. You can play with an historical map or in a randomly generated world and you can play alone or with up to three players via modem. Includes a copy of the book The Prince. Ideal for history fans of all ages as well as those experienced with simulation games.

MAGIC THE GATHERING: DESKTOP THEMES (MicroProse Software, Inc.) Designed for Win95 users, this offers five desktop themes based on the popular card game. There are 50 graphic images, 50 new sounds and dozens of cursors, icons and fonts too. You can use the five themes as they are or mix and match them to make your own custom one. Absolutely delightful to people who have played the game and of interest also to fans of fantasy themes or those bored with the ones that came in Microsoft's superb Plus! Pack.

MATERIAL WORLD (StarPress Multimedia) Those interested in travel, photography, culture and world economy will enjoy this global family album where you meet 30 typical families in 30 countries which range from Bosnia and Haiti to Japan and Russia. Through them you learn local customs and are forced to consider what it's like to eat termites for breakfast in Thailand, to have two wives in Mali and to take a swim in a sub-zero degree pool in Iceland. Narrated by Charles Kuralt, this incorporates the work of 16 photojournalists who lived for a week with each of the families chosen. Includes a database so you compare the countries and video clips of each family and country. Made with help from the United Nations Population Fund, this explores the gray realities of our sometimes unfair world.

NORTON UTILITIES FOR WINDOWS 95 (Symantec Corp.) I've always recommended this product and it's even more important to use it with a new, unknown operating system. Symantec's tech support people are simply some of the best in the business and this program can help you save your data if your computer starts to die or if you somehow screw it up. This offers system information, the ability to make an advanced set of rescue disks, disk optimization, and enhances the Recycle Bin for deleted files. This will probably be worth every penny it cost the first time you need it.

PANIC IN THE PARK (WarnerActive) This interactive adventure stars actress Erika Eleniak in a plot involving a set of twins who fight for control of an aging amusement park. You play a reporter who must help the good twin find the park's missing deed. You encounter 30 characters, 3D environments, 200 possible outcomes and a variety of games and puzzles in the park with increasing skill level which you must solve to continue. Great visuals, game play, concept and full-screen video. Includes three CDs.

PHONE DISC (Digital Directory Assistance, Inc.) Although there are many CD-ROMs full of phone numbers sorted by location, profession, etc., this is the only one to include a whopping 112 million listings on six CD-ROM discs! You can look things up, call them, download the data, export it elsewhere, print it and even use it to send mail. Ideal for salespeople who must prospect, this also has relevance to direct mailers. Provides everything from median household income information to Zip +4 to businesses sorted by SIC code and GeoCodes. Has more listings than other programs and the publisher claims it is faster than any other too. Plus, when you purchase this you also get the next edition sent to you free which is a rarity in an industry where the cost of upgrades can bankrupt you. I'm not a big fan of programs like this existing in the first place, but there is a demand for them and this is very easy to use and well organized. A must if you spend money calling directory assistance, buying mailing lists or wasting postage to try to find the right people.

PUBLISHER CUBE (Aztech New Media Corp.) This superb boxed set features six CD-ROMs (plus a seventh free for registering the product). Included are 200 photo images usable as backgrounds, 25 watermarks and ghosted backgrounds, 4000 line art pieces of clip art, 100 TrueType headline fonts, a desktop publishing application called Pressworks, a conversion program to convert file formats and Hutchinson's Multimedia Encyclopedia (1995 version). Ideal for newbies just getting started with desktop publishing and graphics, this low-priced collection also has merit for professional who use photos and have a better idea of what they need. Most companies sell a single disc for more than this whole set retails for so to call it a bargain is an understatement. Also available is a set called Artworks Cube (reviewed above), Multimedia Cube (full of sounds and music) and a set called Productivity Cube (business tools).

RAYMAN (Ubi Soft Entertainment) The PlayStation version of this adorable arcade game hooked me as soon as I saw the box. Generally, games that look great on the PlayStation disappoint on the PC. Not so in this case as Ubi Soft has transferred the killer graphics, sounds and fun with no changes or loss at all. If anything, the game is actually improved. There are 70 levels with 50 characters and the ability to save and continue for people who have a hard time running and jumping through this. As you play you pick up new skills which are then used to return through places you thought you'd completed to find what you missed the first time through. Words can't describe the psychedelic landscapes and intense visuals so I'll just say that fans of PacMan, Mario and Sonic haven't seen anything until they meet Rayman. A sequel is already in the works and this is a must have if you like action arcade games at all. I can't get very far in it, but after months of owning this I am still impressed enough to keep trying.

ROAD WARRIOR (GameTek) In this action game you drive a car which you must navigate through urban jungles and desert as assault the enemy. You're armed with a flame thrower and a Gatling gun. Superb graphics will hold your interest as you battle everything from an evil mouse in a theme park to other vehicles entered in a Death Derby competition where the last one alive wins. Lots of animated violence and animated blood and gore.

ROBINSON'S REQUIEM (ReadySoft Inc.) This is a combination survival and adventure simulation game where you play a trapped alien who must escape. You control over 100 variables such as stress, fatigue, body temperature, pain, disease and even hallucinations. You travel across 3D landscapes trying to find food, water, clothes and weapons while fighting off health hazards and numerous predators. Good graphics and serious brain challenge.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE GOES POLITICAL (Berkeley Systems, Inc.) Just in time for the election, this CD-ROM offers nearly 300 full-motion video clips with sound from the TV show's best political moments. There are also four arcade games and 12 puzzles. If you're a fan of any character from Baba Wawa to Dan Akroyd's Nixon to Dana Carvey as Bush, it's all here. Great installation, flawless Win95 operation and the ability to relive all of your favorite moments at any time.

STAR RANGERS (Interactive Magic) This space game combines combat with strategy using state-of-the-art 3-D, SVGA graphics. Your job is to plan where you will go, shoot your way around and save the galaxy. There's a practice mode as well as a full campaign mode. Good luck in your mission!

TOON WORKS (Microforum Inc.) Designed for children, this will also delight beginning artists and cartoon fans. It's a drawing program that teaches how to design, color, manipulate and print cartoons. It comes with over 50 templates and 100 cartoon characters and can be used to make greeting cards, posters, coloring pages and calendars. Images can also be imported into other programs. Has a great distortion tool which lets characters be stretched, skewed, shrunk and exploded. Undeniably cute.

VIRTUAL KARTS (MicroProse Software, Inc.) This go-kart racing game lets you compete with up to eight players using real cities like Baltimore, New York and San Francisco and in three possible courses of action ranging from practice on the track to a single race to competing in the Virtual Kart Grand Championship. You can customize your kart, pick everything from uniform to tires to paint to chassis, and play any of three kart classes depending on your skill level. Lots of options and the go-kart theme make this more innovative than many other racing games.

VIRTUAL COP (Digital Entertainment) This unusual game for Windows 3.1 has an interactive story line, live action video, character interviews and tactile artifacts and blueprints. Your job is to absorb all of these as you play the game. You play a character who is now a cop who works on the most dangerous cases but discovers he used to be a hitman in his past. I told you it was unusual…this is optimized for Power PC users but not for Win95.

WEBCOMPASS (Quarterdeck Corp.) This is a search agent for people who use the Internet and want to find things available there more quickly. You enter a topic and can narrow down the search to newsgroups or web pages. A series of abstracts is prepared and you then glance it over and choose which documents you wish to see more of. Offers the ability to create libraries of search data and favorite sites, as well as the ability to run auto-scheduled searches on specific topics. Kind of like having a personal assistant who scours the Internet for you, this is well worth the money if instead of using popular search engines you'd rather save your searches in order to be able to reuse them again.

WEBSTER'S INTERACTIVE ENCYCLOPEDIA (Attica Cybernetics) Designed for the whole family, this CD-ROM includes over 34,000 articles, 3,500 illustrations, 30 minutes of video, 150 audio clips, a Timeline, a Quiz and a World Atlas. Back when I was a kid this required a 20-40 volume set of heavy books! This has a great search engine, an enormous range of subject matter with over 20,000 cross references. The quiz is mostly for home teaching as well as trivia buffs. Beautiful graphics, easy-to-use and certainly portable. Well done.

WINDOWS DRAW! 4.0 (Micrografx, Inc.) This graphics package includes a drawing program, photo program, media manager, over 150 templates and over 15,000 pieces of clip art and 250 fonts. You can't go wrong with this quick and easy way to put text onto photos or combine text and graphics to make a logo. You can also make banners, posters, charts, maps, etc. and apply special effects, fill patterns and layers to your work. Handy for desktop publishing, routine office jobs or family projects.

WORD WAR 5 (Millenium Media Group Inc.) Although this did not run at all under Win95, on two different computers I tried it with, it's worth mentioning for those still running 3.1 as well as Mac users. Included are five games which can be played in five languages and which offer five difficulty levels. Spinning Letters offers 3D letters which spin while you try to spell the word which fits the provided definition. Word Targets has you build five letter words while the darn letters change and you have to match colors too. Crossword requires that you make five letter words that interlock with each other. Odd One Out asks you to find the odd word out of five provided and gets harder and harder while you're under the gun of a timer. Snake is the most complex and challenges you to chain five letters together to make words. An ideal choice for parents who want to acknowledge their kids will play games but want them to learn something in the process as well as for puzzle lovers of all ages.

YAMAHA YST-M15 POWERED MULTIMEDIA SPEAKERS (Yamaha Corporation) Wow! If you never thought a pair of computer speakers could make much difference in a computer's sound these will prove you wrong as they did me. With a list price of under $100, these 10W per channel speakers are worth their weight in gold. I already owned a pair of Labtec 3210's which sell for slightly more and a pair of cheap Realistic speakers with no volume control. All I really wanted was something capable of allowing me to adjust the volume at 3 a.m. so that I wouldn't wake the neighbors. What I got instead was a pair of speakers as powerful as those many people use for their home stereos. The volume was so loud when I tried the first Grateful Dead CD that it felt like I was at a stadium Dead show with 90,000 people present. I had to turn the speakers off while I searched for every possible way to lower the volume in Windows, on the speakers and on the CD player. I could easily invite a dozen or more people into the room these are hooked up to, have the people all speak at once and drown out their words with no problem with these speakers, perhaps not even playing music at full volume! Once I adjusted things properly I was able to accomplish my original goal and play the same CD so softly that no one would ever hear it in another room or apartment. Very impressive power here, with dual stereo inputs, headphone jack and a great deep bass response too. These can also be used with portable tape and CD players and any video games system with an audio output jack. These speakers blow away industry's highly regarded Labtec ones and will definitely not disappoint. Highly recommended for both games and audio CDs.