A Bountiful Harvest
As the weather cools and autumn arrives, it's time to spend more time indoors--and reap the benefits of a busy growing season in the Mac game world. From funky arcade games with cartoon colors and a techno beat, to gritty World War II action-adventure scenarios, to a creepfest from a master of horror, there's more than enough in the silo to keep all of us well fed until next spring.
Whenever Ambrosia Software comes out with a new game, there's cause for both joy and alarm. Sure, Ambrosia's games are inexpensive and finely crafted, but they're also as addictive as a bowl of potato chips. The company's latest offering, pop-pop, is no exception. It's the sophomore effort of developer Andrew Campbell, whose first Mac game was a delectable morsel of goodness called Battle-Girl. If you're familiar with Battle-Girl, some areas of pop-pop's design will seem familiar: a buttshaking electronic soundtrack, psychedelic background sequences, and game play that's an homage to old-school arcade classics.
The game's brick-bashing mode will be familiar territory to all but the newest game players: You use a paddle positioned at the bottom of the screen to deflect a ball that pings wildly around your territory. Every time the ball strikes a brick, it smashes the brick to bits (except for some bricks that require more than one hit, and some that won't break at all). If you can clear your area of bricks, you win.
But pop-pop isn't derivative of old classics such as Breakout and Arkanoid, thanks to a huge twist that makes this game quite original: a Street Fighterstyle combat mode, in which you can challenge the computer or other players on the Internet (via GameRanger). You choose from several characters, each of whom has a special power that hinders an opponent's ability to effectively clear bricks. Mini T, for example, has Blow power, which pushes an opponent's paddle around with a great gust of wind. Zap creates sparks that repel an opponent's ball like a fierce burst of static electricity. My personal favorite is Ducky, who has the power to fill an opponent's play area with rubber duckies.
That's not all. The bricks you bash are sent to your opponent's area to be cleared. If your opponent knocks those bricks down, they come back to you--twice as strong. Time and mistakes cause the bricks to descend closer to your paddle. If you can't clear them in enough time, you lose the round.
You've got more than just your special power to defend yourself with. Power-ups can give your paddle extra juice, allowing you to bash more than one brick at a time or send your field of bricks up a row. But, alas, there are also power-downs that can make your bricks descend a row, minimize the size of your paddle, or hold the paddle in place horizontally.
This frenetically paced game features animated characters cute and cuddly enough to merit their own line of T-shirts and plushy toys, and a thumping electronic soundtrack that makes you want to crank your speakers up a notch. What's more, the background of the playing field shimmers with a watery effect that's downright trippy. (You can turn it off if you find it too distracting.)
The Bottom Line
At first glance, Street Fighter and Breakout may make very strange bedfellows, but somehow, Ambrosia and Andrew Campbell have managed to fuse the two into an ingenious (and occasionally hallucinogenic) action game that's worth your attention.
The Nazi menace has been constant fodder for gaming over the years, and now and then there are interesting twists on the theme--for example, Return to Castle Wolfenstein (The Game Room, August 2002) threw zombies and weird otherworldly monsters into the mix. But Aspyr's new Medal of Honor: Allied Assault is a more traditional (and historically accurate) example of the Nazi-hunting genre.
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault is a first-person shooter, but it's significantly more complicated than simply barreling in with both guns ablaze--that will often lead you to instant defeat. Each mission has a goal, whether it's stealing documents, planting bombs, or otherwise thwarting the efforts of your Nazi nemeses. You're given an arsenal of varied weapons to use to accomplish each mission, as well as limited amounts of ammunition and other resources that you must carefully manage.
You're outfitted with true-to-life rifles, sidearms, grenades, and other gear that will help you. Obviously, some aspects of reality have to be modified a bit to keep the game play interesting--such as instant recovery, thanks to health packs and canteens you'll find along the way--but an extraordinarily detailed graphics engine and realistic sound effects help immerse you in this reality.
Once you've completed Medal of Honor: Allied Assault's single-player mode, you'll find a wealth of opportunity to play online. Powered by the Gamespy game-finding service, Medal of Honor servers abound on the Internet. Some of these servers sport free-for-all deathmatches; others feature team-based game play that requires you to play a specific role on a team in order to reach an objective.
Single-player and multiplayer modes alike often depend on your listening for cues that tell you where your enemies are. The sound effects in Medal of Honor are terrific--but they don't distinguish left from right as clearly as some other Mac games do.
The Bottom Line
Great graphics, detailed and challenging missions, and varied multiplayer modes keep Medal of Honor: Allied Assault interesting for hours. The lack of 3-D audio is a drawback, though, especially in multiplayer games.
A Day at the Beach
Long before video games were all the rage, shooting galleries were an arcade staple. Taking up a toy rifle and aiming at targets was a simple pleasure. When I play MacSoft's Beach Head 2002, that's what I think of: simple, repetitive fun.
And apparently, I'm not alone. The game's predecessor, Beach Head 2000, was one of MacSoft's more popular games targeted at casual gamers--despite some absolutely scathing reviews when it appeared on the scene. There's just something mindlessly addictive about solely occupying a bunker on a nondescript beach someplace as hordes of invaders charge your position, begging to be mowed down by your array of powerful weaponry.
Beach Head 2002 hasn't strayed too far from the original: it's more of the same old fun. Soldiers charge your bunker position on foot--under the protection of armored personnel carriers--or parachute from transport planes overhead; it's up to you to nail them before they make it to you. Meanwhile, you'll have to contend with tanks, jets, helicopters, and other nasties as they take aim at you. To dispel each wave of attackers, you use various weapons ranging from guided missiles to your trusty sidearm--all of which are equipped with limited amounts of ammunition that you must use sparingly.
Unfortunately, the game's response to mouse commands is slow and sloppy.And I often had to completely disregard the game's crosshairs in order to line up my shots, as I would fire under or over the target, even though it looked as though I had lined up the shot perfectly.
Firing at everything that moves is about as complicated as Beach Head 2002 gets. This is no Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, but for $20, my expectations were a bit more modest.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes you want a game that challenges you, and sometimes you want a game that's just mindless fun. For those mindless moments, Beach Head 2002 can certainly fill the void.
Bump in the Night
Technical snafus set last year's release of Clive Barker's Undying, from Aspyr Media, way back. But this game is worth the wait.
This period action game is set in the 1920s, when Great War veteran and expert of the supernatural Patrick Galloway is summoned to the ancestral Irish estate of his war buddy Jeremiah Covenant. With his siblings dead, Jeremiah is the last living remnant of the Covenant clan. But the mansion and its grounds are far from quiet--alas, Jeremiah's brothers and sisters have returned from beyond the grave in an attempt to free the Undying King. To this end, they haunt the ancestral grounds with fearsome and horrific creatures from the netherworld. As if that weren't enough, Galloway must also square off against Otto Keisinger, a fierce rival on his own quest for ultimate supernatural power.
Horror author Clive Barker was instrumental in the creation of Undying; he even contributed his vocal talents to the game. Barker's rich and descriptive prose has been fertile ground for visual entertainment over the years--horror-movie franchises Hellraiser and Candyman are based on his works. It's natural, then, that Barker would extend his reach into computer games. If you're fond of Barker's macabre visions, you'll love Undying. It's the ideal game to play late at night with the volume up and the lights down--you'll jump out of your seat.
The game is a first-person shooter. As Galloway, you must unravel the curse and the undead Covenant siblings' sinister plans before they do in your friend Jeremiah and unleash horrors upon an unsuspecting world. To that end, you're armed with devices both mystical and mundane--your trusty military-issue revolver, for example, is just the thing to use against an errant Howler before it slashes you apart and feasts on your viscera. The Gel'Ziabar Stone, which glows bright green whenever mystical energies are nearby, lets you more fully understand what's happening around you.
Undying's visual quality is modestly diminished by the age of its underlying Unreal Tournament engine, and frequent level loading forces you to pause abruptly in the middle of your explorations. But technology limitations aside, the game's designers have done a phenomenal job of creating a genuinely frightening atmosphere. Dynamic music and sound effects complete the immersion into this otherworldly game.
I experienced a few random lockups and crashes while playing the game in OS X; I learned quickly to save my game frequently, and I'd recommend that other Undying players do the same.
The Bottom Line
Ever yelled out, "Don't go in to that darkened room!" to the protagonist in a horror movie? You'll find yourself doing the same thing here--but this time, you're that hero, unable to resist the compulsion to visit those darkened recesses, even though it's your own neck that's at risk. l
Mac Speakers Make Some Noise
No decent Mac gaming system is complete without top-notch speakers. Even more than game controllers or other gadgets, speakers bring games to life. Without dropping a huge amount of cash, you can turn your Mac into a great stereo system. Here's a look at some 2.1 audio configurations--in other words, two satellite speakers combined with a subwoofer.
Arguably the most attractive sound system for the Mac is the venerable Soundsticks system from Harman Multimedia ( www.harmanmultimedia.com ). These things really were made for the Mac. They plug into your Mac's USB port and pump out audio through a trick subwoofer, paired with two minitowers that are each equipped with four one-inch speakers made out of clear plastic material. Of all the systems I've seen, these look the best with my Macs--but they're weak at reproducing midrange sound, and at $200, they're pricey.
Another Harman offering is the JBL Creature. At $130, they're less expensive than the Soundsticks, but sonically they're quite similar. The difference is that the Creature's satellite units have only one speaker instead of four, though they sound very rich. Unlike the Soundsticks, the Creature uses your Mac's headphone jack instead of USB--admittedly, a more primitive way of connecting, but it's a way less prone to USB-related problems and more compatible with other non-Mac devices. The Creature is molded in gray, white, or blue, so you can match your speaker set to your Mac's decor, too. It even casts an eerie glow on your desktop--a nice sci-fi touch for your Mac gaming setup.
Level 9 Sound Designs ( www.monsoonspeakers.com ) brings up the rear with two sets of low-priced but well-configured 2.1 systems--the $100 PlanarMedia 9 and the $80 PlanarMedia 7. Their boxy look is more utilitarian than that of the Harman Multimedia speakers, but what PlanarMedia's speakers lack in cosmetic appeal they more than make up for in sound quality. Both systems feature beefier subwoofers than the Harman systems do--just the thing to get your booty shaking during a late-night pop-pop session.
Blasting demons, repelling invading armies, and infiltrating Nazi strongholds is all in a day's work for MacCentral.com Senior Editor PETER COHEN, who likes to relax in the tub with his rubber ducky, Fred.
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