International Sports Challenge. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Empire flexes its software muscles with this collection of six Olympic-style sporting events. The game hearkens back to the golden age of 8-bit entertainment and Epyx's hugely successful line of multiplayer athletic contests for the 64. Though technically superior, this new breed still suffers from many of the same old problems: unbalanced gameplay and needlessly complicated control systems. Like most efforts in the genre, the results are a mixed bag of several excellent simulations and a few unfortunate duds.
The program supports up to four players in either one-on-one or round-robin competition. Choose from any combination of individual events--diving, show jumping, swimming, cycling, and shooting--or play them in sequence with the grueling 26-mile marathon. This multiplayer event accurately simulates the often painful elements of long-distance running, from speed and rhythm control to refreshment breaks and inclement weather.
Diving offers a choice of one- and two-meter springboard, five-meter plat-form, or medley competition. More than 40 total dives are available, with various degrees of difficulty and scoring potential. Unfortunately, all dives are preprogrammed, so the challenge is not to do your personal best but to master the event's bizarre, irksome control mechanism.
Show jumping delivers an exciting new twist on this equestrian event, rendered in solid-fill polygon graphics from a first-person, in-the-saddle perspective. Levels of competition include Gymkhana, National, International, and World. You maneuver your steed around an enclosed obstacle course, garnering points for clearing fences of various difficulty. Though not as invigorating as the steeplechase, the event excels through brisk animation and realistic sound effects.
Swimming is another high point, providing the game's only true head-to-head competition. Options include 50-100-, or 200-meter races, using the breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle, or 200-meter medley. The control system is surprisingly elegant. Strokes are driven by left-right joystick motion, with breathing regulated by the fire button. Three levels of difficulty assure long-lasting challenge.
Drag out an old joystick for the cycling competition. Vigorous left-right wiggling of the stick pumps the pedals through 1000- and 2000-meter courses in sprint or pursuit racing. Fast first-person polygon graphics enliven this tedious one-player event, which features three levels of competition.
The shooting competition should prove most popular, by virtue of its simple rules and immediate rewards. Styles include skeet, trap, boar (moving), and target shooting. This section features smooth animation and colorful bitmapped graphics.
The game has more than its share of quirks. While it has unobtrusive manual-based copy protection, it doesn't allow hard drive installation. The game only recognizes DFO:, which means you must swap the game's four disks quite a bit. The 56-page manual rattles on about the rules of the actual sports, most of which don't apply to the software. Consequently, the information provided is often incomplete or outright false. Finally, the game's graphic designer takes for granted that all players are male, despite using female figures to illustrate much of the manual.
In a year of Olympic fever, International Sports Challenge earns points for being the first out of the gate. The game's overall lack of polish, however, will prove its downfall among the fierce competition.