capsule review

The Game Room

If there's a center of Mac game development in the United States, it's probably the state of Texas. Yep, the whole darn state. Aspyr Media, GraphSim Entertainment, Id Software, Pangea Software, and United Developers (the parent company of MacPlay) all call the Lone Star State home. The two games I review this month--a tag team from Texas--show how diverse the Mac game market is.

Rode Hard, Put Away Wet

The idea of stepping onto a skateboard after all these years sets off mental Klaxons blaring that I'd permanently damage some part of my body. Fortunately, the fine folks at Austin-based Aspyr Media enable people like me to experience some of the thrills and spills of pro skateboarding vicariously, through the Mac conversion of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, the popular extreme-sports game originally published for the PC by Activision. There's nothing

like it for the Mac--it's a 3-D action game that puts you in control of a skateboarder who must navigate treacherous ramps, rails, and other obstacles.

You can use a keyboard or a game pad to skate through a variety of environments ranging from a school yard to a shopping mall to an aircraft hangar. Grind rails and get major air time as you hop over obstacles. As you improve your skills, you can string together combination moves to grab huge points. I've seen experts use combos to rack up hundreds of thousands of points in just a few seconds. If you perform specific feats of daring, you'll be rewarded with a certain amount of money. You can also find cash lying around if you know where to look. The more money you earn, the more parks you can visit, the more equipment you can buy, and the more tricks you can learn.

The game features a soundtrack of punk-pop and ska tunes from recognizable bands, which loops from track to track as you play. I got tired of it and shut it off, opting instead for my own soundtrack. Unfortunately, the game requires that the game's CD-ROM remain in the drive when you're playing, so I had to play music on my stereo.

Thanks to the game's multiplayer mode and its support for GameRanger--a free Mac-only multiplayer service--I've discovered that I'm every bit as clumsy and uncoordinated on a virtual skateboard as I would be on a real one. I've had my hindquarters handed to me in each of the various multiplayer modes, including trick attack, graffiti, and horse.

The game is also chock-full of customization features. Although it boasts a preexisting cast of some of pro skating's top stars, you can customize your own skater's height, build, basic physical features, and capabilities. And Pro Skater 2 comes with a built-in skate-park editor that enables you to come up with park designs as wild or mild as you desire.

And yes, this game supports Mac OS X (a Carbonized version is on the CD). However, some features, such as game-controller support, were missing in that version as Macworld went to press.

It's rare enough that a sports game comes to the Mac, but what makes Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 unique is that it's not your average sports game--it's an extreme-sports game. It's a challenging one at that, with immeasurable replay value thanks to its multiplayer gaming, customizable skaters, and skate-park editor.

Nicest, Friendliest Bunch of D&D Folks

If you're a fan of the style of role-playing game (RPG) that has become popular on video-game consoles in the past few years, you're in for a treat with Summoner. The game, brought to the Mac by Dallas-based publisher GraphSim Entertainment, is unique and deep; it takes hours, perhaps even weeks, to get through. What makes Summoner special is that it doesn't attempt to duplicate the pen-and-paper RPG experience of Dungeons and Dragons. Instead, it melds a solid rules-based system with action evocative of 3-D console games.

Summoner is a fantasy game set in a medieval land. You play the role of Joseph, a young man endowed with mystical powers that enable him to summon creatures, demons, and other nightmarish monsters. While eluding an evil emperor's henchmen, Joseph must find five hidden rings that will help him control and master his abilities. You also control other folks with special abilities and attributes whom Joseph befriends along the way.

Summoner is beautiful to watch--like Tony Hawk, it's a 3-D game that uses OpenGL and makes fairly high demands on system resources. Its roots as a console game are occasionally revealed in the form of some blocky texture maps, scenery that suddenly pops up out of the fog, and other graphical curiosities, but these problems aren't serious enough to detract from the game.

Summoner isn't an action game--at least not in the conventional sense. You're responsible for controlling characters individually or as a group, manipulating inventory, solving quests, engaging in combat with opponents, and interacting with nonplayer characters.

If Summoner were just a single-player game, you'd put it away once you won, but you can also play online. Impressively, the game allows Mac and PC users to play together--something of a rarity in Mac game conversions. Summoner makes use of THQ's free multiplayer service, aptly called thqmultiplay.net.

Summoner won't be a good fit for everyone--it has too much action for some RPG fans and requires too much individual character manipulation for some action fans. It ran solidly on my test machine, a Power Mac G3/450 with 256MB of RAM. Unfortunately, the shipping version I reviewed didn't support Mac OS X. GraphSim has promised an update.

Happier 'n a Rooster in a Henhouse

Those from the Lone Star State have long been known for their independence. Let's hope this spirit will keep leading to more games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 and Summoner, which far surpass run-of-the-mill first-person shooters and 3-D action games.

PETER COHEN, a senior editor at MacCentral.com, got his Texan lingo from the Texas Talk site ( www.rice.edu/armadillo/Texas/talk.html ).

Skate or Die: You can perform radical maneuvers--without risking your neck--in Tony Hawk's challenging Pro Skater 2.En Garde: Summoner's Joseph takes on a dastardly villain.
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