Countdown. (computer game) (evaluation)
by Steve Hudson
Anyone familiar with the PC adventure-game scene knows that every new entry is the most exciting, most appealing, most realistic game ever. Now, from Access Software, there's an adventure that may send you in search of new superlatives. It's called Countdown, and it's great ! Countdown starts with a mystery. You're Mason Powers, American agent, held in a Turkish prison hospital. There's something about a murder ... somebody named Frank McBain ... the CIA ... the phrase 96 hours to save the world. You really have no idea what's going on, thanks to a bad case of amnesia, but that's part of the fun. Mysteries are best unraveled alone.
Countdown is billed as an interactive movie, and it definitely has impressive moves. Some you make yourself; some debut in automatic animated sequences. All of the plot develops on the game's fantastic 256color VGA graphics screens, which are undeniably first-rate.
But there's more here than a lot of pretty pictures. Countdown has a strong interactive element, too. A key game component is searching--easy to do thanks to a straightforward interface. To check out an object, simply peg it with the crosshairs and click on the desired action (LOOK, OPEN, and so on). Now and then you'll pick up something that triggers an animated onscreen flashback. Pay careful attention. There may be valuable information in those tattered shreds of memory.
Next to careful searching, careful conversation is key. Countdown's characters are a chatty lot, but you've got to get them talking first. Some can be bluffed or hassled into helping you; others respond better if you're pleasant or sincere. You set the tone with the push of a button, choosing from an onscreen list of options. Choosing the right tone can determine whether you get much-needed information or a nasty insult and a door in your face. Oh, yes-an offer of cold, hard cash may help out, too.
If you keep at it, you'll eventually escape from your cell. After exploring lots of rooms and conducting lots of conversations, you may even find your way out of the asylum. That's when you'll recover your handy-dandy CAD (spy talk for Computer Access Device). It slices, dices, and puts you in direct contact with the CIA computer at Langley, Virginia. This gives you vital access to background information and lets you do detective-style analysis, too. It even accepts E-mail, which other characters will send you from time to time.
Make it this far, and soon you're on the road. New destinations (ranging from McBain's apartment to Cairo and Jerusalem) will become available as you discover them, and the travel screen lets you visit them by train or by air. Train trips are cheaper, but air is faster. Your choice will depend on your resources and on how much time is left.
Throughout Countdown, you'll appreciate the program's broad-based approach to sound. It features digitized sound effects, music, and speech and even offers synchronized voice and sound. It supports Ad Lib, COVOX, and PS/2 Sound Adapter cards, as well as the Sound Blaster. But even if you have no sound card, better-than-average sound is available (on machines running at a 6 MHz or more) thanks to Countdown's use of the RealSound system. This patented technology allows your MS-DOS ma chine to reproduce high-quality digitized sounds without any additional hardware. It works, too, although actual sound quality will be affected by the quality of your PC's speaker and to some extent by your clock speed. The results, while far from sound-card quality, are nonetheless a big improvement over what you'd get otherwise. Countdown also offers a nosound option, handy should you decide to go adventuring during those slack times at the office.
Countdown is a massive program, but hard disk installation is almost automatic. Be sure, though, that when you shop for a copy, you pick up the package with disks in your machine's format.
Challenging without being obscure, entertaining without being trite, and realistic without being tedious, Countdown is what every adventure game should be. There's even a number to call for help in case you reach what seems like a dead end. And with world-class graphics, Countdown may be the best reason yet to buy yourself a VGA board ! IBM and compatibles, 640K RAM, VGA; hard disk and 8 MHz or faster CPU recommended, supports major sound cards and mouse or joystick--$59.95
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