The top 25. (computer games)(includes related article) (Buyers Guide)
by David Sears
Winter--a time for glowing hearths and heirloom quilts and, for some of us, long evenings spent with mugs of cider and a cherished PC. This is most certainly the best time of year to play. Maybe you'll try a few games of Populous or Star Control, but if you're like most gamers, you look forward to Christmas and the frenetic activity of entertainment software houses. The must-have RPGs of summer and the hottest simulators of spring fade from memory now, lost in the swirl of new product announcements and the buzz of seasonal industry hype. But doubt remains. Did you miss something important this year?
Probably. Over the last 12 months, digital entertainment took some tentative steps forward. In spite of the dual threat and promise of CD-ROM products, disk-based games continued to grow, both in megabytes and range of play.
We stormed the stars and walked alternate earths; in most cases our journeys were limited only by the size of our hard drives. We played in tree forts, and we solved mysteries worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself. Simulations made a strong showing against the more traditional hack-and-slash dungeon exploitation ventures; the philosophers in us all secretly rejoiced. And then, the lemmings came back. For computer owners with a little time to kill, here's a look at the highlights of the last 12 months. With luck, some of these replayable beauties--though forgotten for the moment--still wait for you on the shelves of local software boutiques.
Better than the movie and somewhat shorter than the novel, Dune (from Virgin Games) proves that adaptations aren't always inferior to originals. As Paul Atreides, players mine life-prolonging spice, ride the wild sandworm, and reclaim the desert planet Arakis. A no-problem interface puts you instantly at the heart of play; haunting melodies and visionary images courtesy of the European design team Cryo put Dune near the top of a long list of ecomanagement world-conquest games.
Flying a more realistic F-16 flight simulator could prove hazardous to your health. Once Spectrum HoloByte worked the kinks out of this military-inspired wonder, armchair pilots everywhere held their breath as they pulled multiple G's and fought the good fight in the days after Desert Storm. Thanks to Spectrum HoloByte for the reminder of how dangerous modern warfare can be and for making a trip to the Middle East safer than the drive to work.
Sometimes the gods make a mistake, and this time, they've given you a shot at equality. Just defeat four nasty guardians and hordes of monsters, plus reclaim an inhospitable, unnamed city, and the big boys on Mt, Olympus will issue you a membership card, complete with requisite immortality. The Bitmap Brothers did another outstanding job for Konami.
H. R. Giger makes his small-screen debut with DARK SEED, and players learn that smaller is no less fearsome. The designer for the movie Alien opened his disturbing portfolio for CYBERDREAMS, and together, they remade the world into a very menacing place. As Mike Dawson, you attempt to pierce the veil between light and shadow and uncover the threat of alien invasion. Poor Mike--you're victim number one. A moody soundtrack and simply gorgeous backgrounds unite in DARK SEED for a combination that's tough to beat and difficult to put away.
Didn't this one appear first on the 8-bit machines of the last decade? Maybe so, but the leap from simple sprites to dizzying, high-speed 3-D texture mapping more than updates this 1980s classic for the impending turn of the century. Trapped behind enemy lines, you possess the secrets the Allies so desperately need to win the war. Your duty? Escape! More than a bit on the violent side, Wolfenstein 3-D surprises not only with its bloody combat but with the idea that a game this good can be shareware. Apogee Software outdoes itself again.
Aces of the Pacific
Do the names Zuikaku, Hiryu, and Akagi mean anything to you? If not, you haven't flown for World War II Japan in Aces of the Pacific, Dynamix's realistic flight simulator. Anyone interested in alternative history can watch it unfold from the cockpit of a Zero; the more patriotic will fly American planes. Either way, you're out to earn commendations and come home in one piece. With plenty of history behind it, a nostalgic manual, and exhilarating bombing runs, Aces earns its wings among the very best flight simulators.
Star Trek: 25th Anniversary
Capturing the essence of the original series, down to the almost brotherly antagonism between Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy, Interplay's Star Trek: 25th Anniversary finally gives us the chance to take the helm of an Enterprise we can believe in. Jim's still overly dramatic; both the Klingons and the Romulans demand satisfaction; Harry Mudd's making trouble. Each episode presents the away team with stringent puzzles and a dose of humor that will only leave Trekkers ready for more.
Out of This World
Ripped from this planet by an atomic accelerator gone bad, you find yourself in a cool blue world. Polygon-based graphics lend surprising realism to this cinematic masterpiece, and as you fight your way through what seems a very believable continuum, you'll wonder what all the fuss over the disappearing lone-wolf designer was about. Based in France, programmer, artist, and designer Eric Chahi went against the grain to present us with a one-man show rivaling the megabudget wonders of California. Of course, Interplay did produce and distribute it.
Oh No, More Lemmings
Perhaps better described as a game extension rather than a new game, Oh No, More Lemmings seemed much like its predecessor, so the new levels caught us flatfooted. The sadists at Psygnosis thought up fresh, devious ways to grind, mince, and otherwise eradicate our favorite pack of rodents, with levels ranging in difficulty from tame to wicked. Each new microadventure requires more both from players and from our cute little brollytoting, bridge-building friends--and saving vermin from certain death never before held such charm.
Even if you don't like baseball, you'll probably enjoy Hardball III. The closest thing to actually sliding for home plate, complete with the digitized announcing of noted commentator Al Michaels, Accolade's newest ringer can make you feel like it's the top of the ninth with bases loaded every time. From batting practice to league championships, this game has everything a sports fan could want except the peanuts and Cracker Jack.
Least serious of all the software toys from Maxis--and therefore probably the most fun--this simulation nonetheless shows us the darker side of life in the backyard. Alternately queen, worker, and soldier, you lead your arthropodal colony to victory or extinction. Unlike in SimCity, you actually try to run the humans out of their house rather than make their lives more comfortable.
Crisis in the Kremlin
Who knew Gorbachev would need to hit the classifieds even before Gorbachev himself? Spectrum HoloByte and the programmers of Crisis in the Kremlin, that's who. Another one for the deep thinkers in the crowd, this simulation lets you play hard-liner, reformist, or nationalist, each with the best intentions for what was once the U.S.S.R. Who knows what will happen next? Take matters in your own hands, monitor the digitized newscasts, and hope you can feed your people this winter.
The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes
A grisly London murder might mean a new modus operandi for Jack the Ripper, or it may bear the mark of an altogether new killer. Either way, Sherlock Holmes must eliminate a long list of the impossible to solve the case in this Electronic Arts interactive mystery. More than mere extraneous characters, Dr. Watson and the Baker Street Irregulars help bring a treasured literary figure to life, even if they can't resuscitate the hapless victims.
Humanity never found evidence of life in our solar system--other than native earth flora and fauna, that is. Then it stumbled upon the abandoned Heechee Gateway, a platform to the stars. Someone else is out there, and there must certainly be something out there worth taking. Sign on for a potentially fatal mission, and you might return a wealthy explorer. Or maybe you'd rather remain planet-bound after all. Legend Entertainment's hybrid of parser and point-and-click interface turns out to be an asset to gameplay, and the hi-res color graphics seem fitting accompaniment to this adaptation of Frederick Pohl's popular science fiction work. Distributed by Accolade.
Eye of the Beholder II
An adventure inspired by D & D, Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon didn't show much innovation plotwise, but SSI couldn't hope to improve on the interface. Distributed by Electronic Arts.
Spectrum HoloByte lifted the bandages to reveal a spiffier Tetris. Either this attractive update or its beautiful cousin Super Tetris would make a fine gift.
The Adventures of Willy Beamish
To feel like a kid again, try Dynamix's The Adventures of Willy Beamish and thwart the despicable Leona Humpford's wicked plans.
Ever wonder what spaceflight in the 1980s was like? Strap yourself into Virgin Games' shuttle simulator, and discover all the joy and all the difficulty of leaving the earth behind.
Rules of Engagement
If you hanker for galactic conquest, there's no better space-combat simulator than Rules of Engagement from Mindcraft. Distributed by Electronic Arts.
Perhaps you'd prefer to use catapults instead of energy weapons. The newest release of Interplay's Castles II lets you do just that, as well as build your own fortress of stone. Now politically correct, Castles even offers you the chance to play queen rather than king.
Go back to the dungeons with Origin's Ultima Underworld, superior visually to all other spelunking hack-fests; texture mapping seems to be the hottest thing these days.
Global Effect makes clear how difficult world management can be if the other guy won't cooperate. This simulation from Electronic Arts makes you think twice about the future.
Links Pro 386
Anyone with a 386 or better can hit the greens with Links Pro 386 from Access. When it comes to golf, nobody does it better.
For days of adventure, the belated but worth-the-wait Ultima VII brings back the Avatar for another tour of Britannia. Origin scores another hit.
Nurture cultures or burn them; either way, mankind marches to your beat in Civilization from MicroProse.
Everything You Want
No matter where you look, you'll find excellent games for every taste. The lucky person who gets a great game gift will be ready to take on the new year with ambitions unleashed, skills whetted, and imagination stoked.
Links Pro 386--69.95 Access Software 4910 W. Amelia Earhart Dr. Salt Lake City, UT 84116-2837 (800) 800-4880 Gateway--$59.95 Hardball III--$59.95 Accolade c/o Starpak 237 22nd St. Greeley, CO 80631 (800) 245-7744 Wolfenstein 3-D--$50.00 Apogee P.0, Box 476389 Garland, TX 75047 (800) 426-3123 DARK SEED--$69.95 CYBERDREAMS Distributed by Merit Software 13635 Gamma Rd, Dallas, TX 75244 (800) 238-4277 Aces of the Pacific--$69.95 The Adventures of Willy Beamish--$69.95 Dynamix 99 W. 10th, Ste. 224 Eugene, OR 97401 (800) 326-6654 Eye of the Beholder II--$59.95 Global Effect--$49.95 The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes--$69.95 Rules of Engagement--$59.95 Electronic Arts 1450 Fashion Island Blvd, San Mateo, CA 94404, (415) 571-7171 Castles II--$59.95 Out of This World--$59.95 Star Trek: 25th Anniversary--$59.95 Interplay Productions 3710 S. Susan, Ste. 100 Santa Ana, CA 92704 (714) 545-9001 GODS--$39:95 Konami 900 Deerfield Pkwy. Buffalo Grove, IL 60089 (708) 215-5111 SimAnt--$59.95 Maxis Two Theatre Square, Ste; 230 Orinda, CA 94563-3346 51b) 254-9700 (800) 336-2947 Civilization--$69.95 MicroProse 180 Lakefront Dr. Hunt Valley, MD 21030 (410) 771-0440 Ultima VII--$79,95 Ultima Underworld--$79,95 Origin Systems 206 Wild Basin Rd., Ste. 107 Austin, TX 78746 (512) 328-0282 Oh No, More Lemmings--$49,99 Psygnosis 29 St. Mary's Ct. Brookline, MA 02146 (617) 731-3553 Crisis in the Kremlin--$69,95 Falcon 3.0--$79.95 Super Tetris--$49.95 Tetris Classic--$44.95 Spectrum HoloByte 2061 Challenger Dr. Alameda, CA 94501 (510) 522-3584 Dune--$59.99 Shuttle--$49.99 Virgin Games 18061 Fitch Ave. Irvine, CA 92714 (714) 833-8710