The Game Room
My first mistake was turning out the lights in my office. My second mistake was leaving the door open. As a battle-hardened Colonial Marine, I was creeping down a dark hallway lit only by a flickering strobe light -- my finger poised on the trigger of a Pulse Rifle -- when I practically jumped out of my skin at the sound of a voice to my right. My eight-year-old son had entered while I was absorbed in the game.
That pretty much sums up Aliens vs. Predator 2, a new adrenaline-pumping first-person shooter from MacPlay. The company ought to consider including a pair of clean underwear in the box.
AVP2 brings you to planet LV1201, where humans and the Aliens and Predators of Hollywood fame must battle for dominance. The game's intertwining story line ultimately requires that you play as each species.
And each brings a unique set of skills to the fight. Humans are physically weak but technologically sophisticated. They pack plenty of handy tools, from flashlights to cutting torches, on top of a standard arsenal of explosives and guns. Predators are strong, and they employ some nifty weapons, such as a multispectrum viewfinder and a razor-sharp Frisbee. But they're most effective at sneaking up on their opponents. Lacking guns or other tools, Aliens may seem a bit naked -- until you realize that they can crawl along walls and ceilings, and recharge themselves by eating their opponents.
Like its predecessor, AVP2 stands out in the crowded market of first-person shooters; it adds plenty of suspense to game play, really putting players in the action. If you jumped in your seat while watching any of the Alien or Predator movies, you'll probably do just the same here. In fact, the game surpasses the last version when it comes to visuals. Thanks to new graphics technology, images are crisper, characters are more detailed, and shadows and highlights are much more dramatic. You can also exert extensive control over the game's performance and graphics quality by changing its graphics options. But with all this graphics power, it's disappointing that the game can't take advantage of wide-screen resolutions.
Multiplayer gaming in AVP2 is varied, with six different modes including Deathmatch, Hunt, Survivor, and Overrun. A built-in game finder makes cross-platform online gaming possible. You can also host your own games.
The Bottom Line MacPlay took its sweet time getting this game out the door -- the company originally planned to ship Aliens vs. Predator 2 in 2002. But it was worth the wait. This is a first-class first-person shooter.
Solitaire is about as plain vanilla as you get in a computer game. The rules are relatively simple, and the game is ubiquitous enough that you can readily find freeware and shareware options online. So how do you make a solitaire game that's worth buying? If you're Freeverse Software, you fill it with animated, wisecracking monkeys and plenty of variety. Enter Burning Monkey Solitaire 3, the latest edition of Freeverse's long-running Burning Monkey series.
Burning Monkey Solitaire includes staples such as Klondike, Freecell, Golf, and Pyramid, along with some unusual options -- the fun but useless 52 Pickup, for example. In fact, there are 26 games in all. Players have plenty of colorful and eye-catching deck designs to choose from, along with a cornucopia of background images. And, of course, there are the monkeys -- lots of them. On the bottom, left, and right sides of the screen, this animated cast spends much of its time transfixed on your game, breaking in every now and again with mocking comments, suggestions, and corny jokes. Clicking on a monkey often yields additional surprises, such as funny dialogue or an occasional flatulence problem.
Solitaire is by definition a solitary game, but Freeverse has made good use of the Internet and introduced a competitive element by providing users with online rankings. (As I wrote this, my wife had a top-20 worldwide ranking for Klondike.) This connectivity also lets Freeverse update the game's jokes, keeping the corn fresh. However, you don't need to be online to play.
Burning Monkey includes detailed rules for every variation of solitaire, so once you've grown tired of your favorites, you can learn some new games. There's also a cheat menu with tips, but you'll sacrifice your global rankings if you use it.
Burning Monkey Solitaire comes with a few built-in songs. But for more variety, you can add your own MP3 soundtrack with the game's Custom Soundtrack option. However, I wish there were a way to select iTunes playlists, rather than just single songs.
The Bottom Line This game is more fun than a barrel of monkeys -- burning or not. With Internet rankings and tons of variety, Burning Monkey Solitaire 3 is a worthy successor to a great title.
Never Say Never
Languishing for more than six years in the development process, and for more than a year after the release of its Windows counterpart, the Mac version of Neverwinter Nights seemed as if it would never ship. But thanks to the efforts of MacSoft, this hefty role-playing title is out for OS X and ready for action.
Neverwinter Nights returns players to the Forgotten Realms -- the same mythical land that has served as the backdrop for other Bioware-crafted RPGs, such as Baldur's Gate. This time, the residents of the fair city of Neverwinter have fallen victim to a horrific plague that turns ordinary people into flesh-hungry zombies.
As the game's hero, you've been sent on a mission by Lady Aribeth, a paladin of Tyr, to recover magical creatures that hold the secret to an antidote for the plague. Along the way, you'll uncover a dark plot to overthrow the forces of good and to betray your mission.
The game looks great and plays beautifully. Eschewing the simple isometric display of games such as Baldur's Gate and its sequels, Neverwinter Nights offers a fully realized 3-D environment with gorgeous lighting and shadowing effects. The game play will definitely appeal to RPG purists. However, fans of faster-paced fare such as Dungeon Siege may find Neverwinter's tempo and combat system a bit plodding and cumbersome.
Ultimately, though, deciding whether Neverwinter Nights is the game for you will boil down to one key question: How important to you is crafting your own story? While you'll find more than 60 hours of game play and the option to play online with other Mac and Windows gamers, you won't find the ability to create your own modules. The vaunted Aurora Toolset available in Windows versions of the game didn't make it to the Mac. Of course, you can coordinate an adventure of your own as a Dungeon Master (as in a pen-and-paper RPG) or download others' modules. But it will put the kibosh on your plans to create a module of your own -- a huge disappointment for many RPG fans.
The Bottom Line Neverwinter Nights is long overdue -- but it's still a fun romp that can cause enough sleepless nights and missed work to make it a worth-while purchase.
Avast, Ye Scurvy Dogs!
Few things stir the imagination of youngsters (and more than a few adults) like adventure on the high seas -- witness the recent box-office success of Pirates of the Caribbean. That's certainly part of the appeal of Imaginext Pirate Raider, a new Vivendi Universal title aimed at ages four and older, and based on the Fisher-Price action play set of the same name. (In fact, the game even includes an action figure you can use in your Pirate Raider set.)
Featuring more than 25 missions of increasing complexity and challenge, Pirate Raider puts young players in the role of a pirate captain. They'll seek treasure, shanghai crew, and try to avoid the many dangers of life on the high seas. Along the way, they'll build up a ship -- improving armor and cannon, adding sail to make it faster, and eventually trading it in for a larger, faster vessel.
Missions include firing cannonballs at forts, engaging in naval battles, and even boarding vessels on quests for gold. You can explore the ocean to find new treasure, or take on new foes. And since the game randomly generates maps, it's a bit different each time you play. Game play is relatively linear -- you have to complete a mission successfully to progress to the next. This may lead to frustration for younger players who have a tough time getting the hang of the activities.
Rest assured that all this action involves no direct injury or destruction. It's all in the spirit of fun and imaginative play. The game even lets players print out an image of their ships, so they can continue the fun away from the computer. And unlike so many educational titles, this game actually runs natively in Mac OS X.
The Bottom Line Imaginext Pirate Raider is just the thing for wannabe Captain Sparrows looking to hoist the mainsail and weigh anchor.
Golf Ball, Corner Pocket
Minigolf is a beloved pastime, and it's a common subject matter for computer and video games -- unless you're on a Mac. Now Danlab Games brings the genre to OS X, with its release of Crazy Golf, a minigolf action game full of creative course designs and traps.
Your goal in Crazy Golf is to complete all 18 holes. That's not as easy as it sounds. To stay in the game, you must minimize the number of strokes you take -- go too far past par (four strokes), and you'll end up back at the beginning. If that isn't enough challenge, you can also play against the clock.
The holes get progressively more difficult. The hole designs include the standard fare of a minigolf course, such as steeply banked corners, ramps, and multiple levels, as well as some less common elements. For example, you'll have to putt over platforms that rise from and fall into a pool of water. Dunlab has also done a good job of imbuing Crazy Golf with an original identity, thanks to unique music.
Before you can master the holes, you'll have to learn how to putt. The game's aiming mechanism reminds me a bit more of pool than of golf. To hit the ball, you click the mouse button and move the cursor in the opposite direction from where you want the ball to go.
The farther the cursor is from the ball when you let go, the higher the ball's velocity. It's a bit counterintuitive, but you should get the hang of it with some practice.
Crazy Golf is available as a free two-hole demo. If you like it, pay the registration fee, and you'll get a registration code to unlock all 12 levels.
The Bottom Line Crazy Golf is a competent, hardy little shareware offering that will challenge minigolf enthusiasts.
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