The Game Room
Tiger Woods has pulled off one of the unlikeliestfeats of our time -- making the competitive world of pro golf interesting. So it's fitting that he has lent his name to Aspyr's Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003, a game that redefines the virtual-golf genre.
Forget everything you know about golf games on the Mac. From its intuitive swing control to its stunningly beautiful graphics, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 is truly unlike past attempts. The game looks and plays like a golf game should, and it will, hopefully, serve as the blueprint for future golf games.
Walking the links as Tiger or one of more than a dozen other PGA Tour pros, you can play some of the best-known courses in the world, from Pebble Beach to St. Andrews. In the game's Career mode, you can create your own custom golfer and work your way up the PGA Tour ranks. As you compete, you'll earn money for equipment or additional skills. Or switch to the Play Golf mode to choose from a dizzying number of additional game options, including practice rounds, a tour challenge, skins, a skills competition of nine different tests, and an elimination round.
You'll quickly get the hang of hitting the ball, thanks to TrueSwing, the game's method of tracking how your mouse moves. To swing your club, simply hold down your mouse button, draw the mouse toward you for the backswing, and then away from you for the downswing and follow-through. How accurately you track the mouse affects the ball's fade and draw; go too far off the line, and you'll likely hook or slice your shot badly.
An analyzer pops up with each swing and shows you how well you hit; it'll give you stats such as club speed, impact type, and flight path.
This game looks as good as it plays. If you have the horsepower and a sufficient video-graphics system, you can turn on detail settings such as antialiasing and anisotropic filtering to create a more realistic environment. (Sadly, you won't see the shimmering, rippled water effects that are touted in the Windows version. Due to differences between OpenGL and the Windows Direct3D API, the Mac version lacks the animation available to PC users. Still, the water looks great, especially with the Reflections option activated.) Admittedly, the game runs slower with all settings cranked than it does at default settings -- but boy, is it pretty. Tiger and the other golfers still look a bit like mannequins, but they behave exactly as you'd expect from seeing them on television. When Tiger sinks a birdie from off the green, for example, he does his well-known power fist. Or he may pound the green after missing a putt.
Once you're comfortable with the basic mechanics of the game, you may want to find some other players for an online foursome. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 can accommodate as many as eight online players at a time. Internet play is handled through direct TCP/IP connections, via GameRanger (the Mac-only online gaming service), or over a LAN. Alas, the PC version uses proprietary Windows networking technology and is therefore incompatible with the Mac version.
The Bottom Line Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 is a superlative golf game. It looks beautiful, especially with optional levels of detail activated. Aspyr has set a new standard for golfing on the Mac.
Most gamers probably won't remember the 1950s detective show Peter Gunn. But start whistling the theme song, and many people in their thirties are likely to shout out, "SpyHunter!" For a generation of arcade-game fans, that theme is forever associated with driving a white sports car down a narrow highway, blasting enemy cars with machine guns, and spraying oil in your wake to keep armed bad guys off your tail. Now SpyHunter is back for the Mac, this time from Aspyr Media.
Any good secret-agent story requires an evil, covert organization, and SpyHunter's is NOSTRA. The group plans to deplete the world of electricity, using a networked array of satellites. Your job, of course, is to put an end to NOSTRA's scheming.
In SpyHunter, you drive a G-6155 Interceptor. Like James Bond, XXX, and other secret agents, you have a vehicle stuffed to the gills with weapons: machine guns, missiles, tracking devices, oil slicks, and such. What's more, your Interceptor can transform from a high-performance race car into a speedboat. And if it's seriously hit, it can even shed damaged parts and become a motorcycle or jet ski, depending on the terrain. Although the smaller vehicles are more maneuverable, they're also less protected and equipped with fewer weapons. If you manage to dodge bullets long enough to make it to the Weapons Van, you can rebuild and restock your Interceptor.
To complete each mission, you must finish a primary objective -- a task such as tagging boats with tracking devices or blowing up structures. There are also secondary objectives -- destroy all of a certain class of enemy vehicle, for example -- for which you receive bonuses. Complete all missions, and you unlock an upgraded vehicle.
Driving through each level is a linear affair; there's a start point and an end point, and you have a finite number of minutes to complete each objective and rendezvous with your contact. However, you can often ferret out shortcuts or secondary routes.
SpyHunter came out some time ago for consoles, but it was only this past summer that the game made its debut on the Mac and PC -- simultaneously, thanks to the efforts of Aspyr and its development partner, Transgaming Technologies. (SpyHunter requires OS X 10.2.4.) While the game has some amenities that you won't find in the console versions, such as support for multiple resolutions, its origins remain all too obvious -- particularly when it comes to graphics. It's a bit jarring to stare at high-resolution images of your car and enemies and low-resolution, blocky background images and dithered explosions.
Admittedly, those are minor quibbles. More unsettling were a few problems that Aspyr wasn't able to resolve for me. Twice a level failed to load, requiring that I force-quit the application and restart. On top of that, the game occasionally acted as if I had pressed keys I hadn't. Aspyr blamed this problem on a faulty keyboard or mouse, but it hasn't happened in any other game or application I've tested on my system.
It's worth noting that SpyHunter is Aspyr's first attempt to create a title for both the Mac and the PC in hopes of narrowing the gap between when the PC version ships and when the Mac version ships. It's just too bad that this game is already long in the tooth if you have a console lying around the house.
The Bottom Line SpyHunter is a fun arcade-style driving romp, a genre we don't have enough of on the Mac. Its age and some stability issues work against it, but fans of the original and curious newcomers will find plenty to enjoy.
Pangea Software is best known for intricate and beautiful adventure games such as Bugdom and Otto Matic (both are Macworld Game Hall of Fame honorees). Recently, Pangea decided to apply that same excellent production value to a series of smaller games. The first fruit of that labor is the aptly named Enigmo, an action-oriented puzzle game that not only is mesmerizing, but also will have you scratching your head for solutions.
In Enigmo, you're faced with a series of 50 puzzles of increasing difficulty. Each puzzle contains one or more droppers filled with oil, water, or lava. As the liquid spills out, you have to get each substance to its proper receptacle, using whatever tools are at your disposal. You have to get them past walls, around barriers, and even through force fields in some cases. To aid you, each level offers sparing access to devices such as bumpers, sliders, accelerators, and sponges.
Maneuvering through the game is easy and intuitive, so you're free to focus on the challenge ahead of you. As you work, a bonus clock counts down rapidly in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. The faster you come to a solution, the higher your bonus. If you take too long, the bonus dwindles to nothing and your only reward is being able to progress to the next level.
The level design is often ingenious and frustrating. You'll sit there long after the bonus clock has evaporated, waiting for inspiration to strike. Alas, there's no way to replay individual levels to see if you can beat your previous time. (A kid's mode offers 20 levels for younger players, who may be a bit overwhelmed by the 50 regular ones.)
Each level is full of richly detailed and textured 3-D objects, some glistening with reflective or translucent surfaces. Water and oil droplets glimmer with impressive particle effects, while luminescent lava casts little star bursts of light. Enigmo takes advantage of high-end graphics cards when possible. However, the developer has also included a Rage 128 mode that scales back the detail to the bare minimum, so Mac users with older ATI graphics cards can participate, too. The game supports wide-screen resolutions, and you can play it in a window if you prefer.
Enigmo's sound effects and music (some culled from past Pangea offerings) are pleasant but can become a bit tiresome. Fortunately, you can turn the music off.
Enigmo has a built-in level editor that lets you try your hand at making new puzzles. In fact, Pan-gea maintains a Web page where players can download custom levels designed by other Enigmo players.
You can download the game from Pangea's Web site for $20. Or if you prefer, you can get it on a CD-ROM for $25 -- it's chock-full of other goodies, such as demos of Pangea's other games.
The Bottom Line In a genre crowded with action-puzzle games that are pale imitations of precious few good ideas, Enigmo stands alone -- both for its unique design and its high production quality. Give this one a try.
Bust-A-Move is a classic Japanese arcade game in which you eliminate colored balls along the top of the screen by shooting them with similarly colored cannonballs. Over the years, there have been numerous remakes of this simple premise. However, few have had the longevity or prolific tendency of David M. Dobson's Snood. Originally developed in the mid-1990s as a shareware Mac title, Snood has since been ported to Palm OS, the PocketPC, Windows, and even cell phones. As an OS X title, it has now come full circle.
Snood v3 eschews colored balls, in favor of monster faces named Jake, Zod, Midoribe, Geji, Sunny, Mildred, Spike, and Numbskull. The premise, however, is the same: you must free all the trapped Snoods by launching other Snoods at them. Connecting three or more identical Snoods transports them away. The occasional Magic Snood will help you: Stone Snood, for example, can dislodge any Snoods adjacent to him, while a Wildcard Snood can connect any pair of Snoods he touches.
The game features multiple levels of difficulty and an enormous number of options. You can change the background color, turn sound on or off, activate an aiming crosshair, undo your last shot if you mess up, and more.
Snood's interface is a little clunky and, to be honest, is showing its age. The myriad menu items might be confusing for younger players, but it's easy enough for adults to set up a game and get players off and running quickly. Snood is perfect for parents looking for a challenging, kid-friendly arcade-style puzzle game without any offensive or questionable material. And kids love the ogling Snood faces.
The Bottom Line Snood v3 is a bona fide Mac classic that's now native on Mac OS X. Download it and try it out.
Now Where's the NOS?
I've found what is unquestionably the most useless peripheral I've ever had the dubious honor of reviewing -- yet it's somehow intriguing: Antec's iLuminate, a USB-powered, external LED light tube that attaches to your Mac or monitor ($17; 888/542-6832, www.antec-inc.com).
The iLuminate is a 12-inch-long tube that's connected to a small box about the size of a butane lighter. The box sports a three-position power switch (Off, On, and Sound-Activated), a sensitivity dial, and a cable that draws power from your USB port.
When turned on, the long LED-filled tube lights up with seven different colors. (Single-color versions are also available.) If you set it to Sound-Activation mode, the lights flash whenever there's a loud sound. The sound is being registered, as near as I can tell, by the box -- not through the USB port -- so the closer you place that box to the speakers, the more active the lights will be. Pressing a button on top of the control box cycles through the available colors.
The iLuminate serves no practical purpose. But it does cause your Mac to flash in different colors whenever there's a big sound from a game, such as an explosion or monster growl, and it can make the Mac flash in time with music. Antec provides adhesive mounting pads so you can stick your iLuminate to the surface of your monitor or wherever you'd like. Make sure you really want to gum up your Mac or monitor before you attach them.
The Bottom Line The iLuminate is a bizarre bit of kitschy customization that might appeal to some gamers -- or the sort of person who installs light kits under a car chassis.
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