The Game Room
MacSoft released Unreal Tournament 2003 -- a pop- ular first-person shooter that lets players square off in futuristic gladiatorial combat -- roughly six months after its PC counterpart was released. Needless to say, Mac users were a bit miffed.
But with the release of Unreal Tournament 2004 (UT 2K4), MacSoft is out to prove that these time lags are in the past. UT 2K4 is an excellent update to an already good game, and Mac and PC versions of the game hit store shelves almost simultaneously. That's great news for hard-core Mac gamers who want to learn the new maps, weapons, and play techniques at the same time as the PC crowd, thus eliminating any experience deficit when they go head-to-head in online arenas.
In UT 2K4, you don sophisticated armor and weaponry and then take to the playing field, determined to win at any cost. You can play alone against computer-controlled bots, or, as many people may prefer, against real players in an online arena.
While you'll find welcome improvements in almost every corner of UT 2K4, one of the biggest changes is the addition of vehicles. You can now take command of everything from light assault vehicles
to heavy tanks. I'm particularly fond of the game's hovercraft, which features spinning blades that are as suitable for trick flying as they are for occasionally beheading an enemy combatant. Many vehicles require two players -- one to drive and one to work the weapons -- so teamwork is required. But if you prefer some Carmageddon-style pedestrian squashing, you can have your fill of that, too.
UT 2K4 has a new game mode: Onslaught is a team-based challenge in which players must capture and then hold strategic points to win. The game has also revived Assault mode, which was removed from the 2003 version. There are 10 different game modes in all -- enough to keep even the most challenge-starved gamer busy for quite some time.
Of course, all these game modes would mean nothing without new environments to explore. And UT 2K4 delivers here, with more than 90 maps, about half of which are entirely new. Alas, the Mac version still lacks editing tools for creating your own maps. Instead, we'll have to be content with playing mods created by the PC-based UT 2K4 community.
UT 2K4 offers voice communication -- a handy technology that lets you better coordinate team-based strategy. The feature supports any Mac-compatible microphone, including the one built into Apple's iSight camera.
Another interesting addition is Unreal TV, which lets you watch other players online. Believe it or not, the Spectator mode can be fun and rewarding. Seeing how other players approach the game -- the strategies they use and the mistakes they make -- is interesting.
Almost everything in UT 2K4 has been turned up a notch: the graphics are better; the maps are more richly detailed and, in some cases, positively gargantuan; the artificial intelligence is smarter; and the weapons are more varied.
Of course, all this complexity comes at a price. You'll sacrifice about 6GB of hard-disk space to get this game installed. (UT 2K4 ships on DVD instead of CD -- a first for MacSoft.) What's more, you're going to need at least a 933MHz G4 to play, though you might be able to play some of the more modest maps and game modes on an 800MHz G4.
The game is rated M, for Mature audiences, due to the intense and constant violence. There's even some PG-13 smack talk from the computer-controlled bots.
The Bottom Line With improvements to almost every aspect of play, Unreal Tournament 2004 is a great game. However, its complexity will tax a Mac running at anything less than 933MHz.
To say that J.R.R. Tolkien's master-piece The Lord of the Rings has become a national obsession is perhaps an understatement. Now Aspyr is bringing some of that action to the Mac, with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, an action-packed adventure based on the third and final installment of Peter Jackson's award-winning film adaptation.
The Return of the King is a third-person action game that lets you take on the role of a character from the film, such as Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas. Like the original story, the game unfolds from the observations of its different characters -- the Hobbits, on their way to Mount Doom to destroy the ring; Aragorn and his party, sent to defend the world of humans from Sauron and his armies; and so on.
When it comes to action, The Return of the King is a pure button-mashing, hack-and-slash epic. You can switch between a variety of attack modes -- including physical attacks for hand-to-hand combat; ranged attacks using a bow and arrow, an axe, or another weapon that your character is adept at using; and parrying, to help defend yourself from oncoming attacks. You're rewarded for dispatching your foes efficiently -- so developing accuracy with your blade, bow, axe, or staff is important. You can also interact with objects in the environment, such as ballistae, gate and drawbridge levers, and more.
The production quality in The Return of the King is excellent. The 3-D graphics are finely detailed, straight down to the armor filigree and glowing embers of torches and flaming arrows. The game's sound effects are all straight from the movie, including many of the characters' voices. The game also features some new narration from Sir Ian McKellen (who plays Gandalf) -- a welcome touch that really makes you feel as though you're experiencing the story from a different perspective.
In between levels, you can improve your character's abilities by buying special moves and skills. It's not the most imaginative system out there, but it's a tried-and-true method that works well enough under the circumstances.
The Return of the King does hit a few sour notes. The game's console roots are painfully obvious at times, most notably when you try to save a game in progress. Even in its early stages, The Return of the King's levels can be huge. However, you can save a game only between levels. This is unnecessarily frustrating -- especially when time is short and you have only a few minutes to play.
Also bewildering is the game's lack of support for online multiplayer gaming. Instead, you're limited to two players seated side-by-side, each with a game controller (or one game controller and the keyboard and mouse). It's fun but awkward. The omission is especially bizarre since the PlayStation 2 version supports online play.
Though there's a lot of violence in The Return of the King, there's very little bloodshed. But the game's sound effects are, in some ways, just as graphic.
The Bottom Line The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has been available for console and PC gamers for a while now, so there's a good chance that avid gamers will have already played it. But if you don't have a game console in the house, The Return of the King is worth picking up -- especially if you're a fan of the movie.
If you like word games, you'll love Super TextTwist and Super WhatWord -- two fun and challenging word puzzles that are now available on a single CD from MacPlay.
Super WhatWord and Super TextTwist are the brainchildren of puzzle-game maker GameHouse. TextTwist presents a seemingly random series of vowels and consonants from which you must form as many words as possible. Each time you create a new word, TextTwist adds it to a series of blanks along the left side of the page. Once you've used all the letters to form the longest possible word, you can progress to the next level. Pressing the Twist button can get you out of a jam -- this rearranges the letters to give you a new perspective.
The game's untimed Puzzle mode takes the pressure off and lets you focus on finding all of the possible word combinations. For an added challenge, try the timed Action mode, which imposes a tough two-minute limit.
TextTwist culls puzzles from a finite number of words. I've come across the same combination of letters a few times. Still, the game is a lot of fun for anyone who loves words.
In Super WhatWord, you're given a five-by-five-letter grid. To earn points, you'll need to swap the letters' positions until you create a word either horizontally or vertically. Each time you create a new word -- whether intentionally or not -- those letters disappear and new ones drop from the top of the screen. To progress to the next level, you must form one of the WhatWords listed to the right of the grid.
This isn't as easy as it sounds. Sometimes, while swapping letters to form a word on one side of the board, you may accidentally create a word somewhere else -- causing the letters to disappear. If the letters you need to form your WhatWord suddenly vanish, you may have to wait awhile before they pop up again. Like TextTwist, WhatWord features a timed Action mode and an untimed Puzzle mode for some variation.
The games have good production quality, but they won't blow your socks off. The limited sound effects are less imaginative than those of some other puzzle games out there. The games provide options for turning off the sound effects and soundtracks and for viewing the games in full-screen or windowed modes.
The Bottom Line Super TextTwist and Super WhatWord are solid games that offer instant gratification to anyone looking for challenges that involve words, not weapons. And thanks to this new bundled CD, you can pick up both games for the price of one.
Exclusive: FIRST LOOK - Call of Duty
Almost six decades after the end of World War II, Nazis still figure prominently in our collective psyche as the worst bad guys ever. Aspyr Media has leveraged this heavily over the past couple of years, most notably with the grittily realistic Medal of Honor series. Now they're set to release Call of Duty, a new World War II–themed first-person shooter that should appeal to Medal of Honor fans or anyone looking for some wartime action. And we got an exclusive first look.
Call of Duty lets you experience World War II through the eyes of different Allied forces, reliving battles such as D-Day, the Russian charge at Stalingrad, and the Battle for Berlin. Over the course of two dozen unique levels, you'll fight as an American paratrooper, a British Special Forces operative, and a Russian tank commander.
There's plenty to see and do in Call of Duty. For example, you'll have to meet a mission objective while enemy forces are assaulting you or as a column of tanks approaches. But while level designs are linear and fairly intuitive, you're given a lot of leeway in how you complete the mission. This gives you freedom to come up with strategies that work best for you, so there's never any one right way to win. As a result, Call of Duty's single-player missions are more fun to replay than many games of this type.
The most significant difference between Call of Duty and Medal of Honor is the scale of battle. Call of Duty's designers have crammed a lot more soldiers onto the battlefield. Whereas Medal of Honor felt more like a solitary effort (with the occasional mission operative lending a hand), Call of Duty feels much more chaotic and features the grander scope of HBO's Band of Brothers miniseries or the movie Saving Private Ryan. War is hell, after all.
One downside is the game's AI. The Allied soldiers you fight alongside occasionally exhibit an annoying ignorance of what's going on around them. The Axis troops aren't immune from this affliction either. The game designers have managed to largely disguise this shortcoming by creating challenging battlefields that cleverly disguise your enemies.
Of course, no game like this would be complete without a robust multiplayer component, and here Call of Duty delivers. In addition to the obligatory Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes, Call of Duty offers a Retrieval mode, which is a capture-the-flag challenge; a Behind Enemy Lines mode, which is a really vicious variation on tag; and a Search And Destroy mode, in which one team tries to accomplish a mission objective while another team plays defense.
To play Call of Duty, you'll need an 867MHz or faster Mac and a DVD drive. As you might imagine, the game is pretty graphic. There's enough blood and violence to merit a Teen rating.
The Bottom Line World War II shooters may be well-worn territory, but Call of Duty proves there's still a lot of new ground to cover. If Medal of Honor hasn't satiated your appetite for this genre, Call of Duty is definitely for you.
Recently Reviewed: Nanosaur 2: hatchling
; Pangea Software, www.pangeasoft.net; $35; download, $25
In April 2004's Game Room, I took a look at a prerelease version of Pangea Software's Nanosaur 2: Hatchling. Now available for purchase, Nanosaur 2 proves to be a worthy successor to its 1998 ancestor.
The game's most interesting addition is support for 3-D gaming with red and cyan anaglyph glasses (included with the CD version). It's a neat gimmick that works well. With only three single-player levels, the game is short. But it compensates by offering six multiplayer games -- both players take turns on the same Mac. You'll get even more mileage out of the 3-D glasses if you have Pangea's previously released games, Otto Matic and Bugdom 2, which have also been updated with stereoscopic support.
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