Tie one on. (computer games) (Product Announcement)
by Denny Atkin
When you and your friends played cops and robbers as kids, did you always want to be a robber? If so, you've got the right mind-set for LucasArts' new space combat simulator, TIE Fighter. In this sequel to the successful X-Wing, you're flying with the Imperial Navy (the bad guys), out to quash the Rebel Alliance's quest for freedom.
The basic structure of the game is similar to that of X-Wing: You fly a series of missions that are part of a larger campaign. But TIE Fighter is more than just X-Wing with you flying for the other side. Designers Lawrence Holland and Edward Kilham have made the simulator look very realistic through the use of great-looking Gouraud-shaded spacecraft. My biggest complaint with X-Wing, the linearity of the battles (I often felt like I was playing Lemmings in space), has been addressed, and you can now review briefings from your ship's cockpit.
There are six ships to fly in this one: the TIE fighter, TIE bomber, TIE interceptor, Assault Gunboat, TIE Advanced starfighter, and a mysterious secret TIE craft. The early version I previewed for this column has only the regular TIE fighter, but a few missions in that showed me that this is a very different game from its predecessor. The TIE is quite maneuverable, but with no shields, new strategies are definitely called for.
Stellar Outpost. If your interstellar interests are more grounded in the realistic than the fanciful, you'll want to be sure to check out Sierra's Outpost CD. This Windows game puts you in command of a colonization ship that holds the last remnants of humanity, searching for a new world after the earth has been destroyed. The game was created by Bruce Balfour, a former NASA employee, and is based upon NASA research into future space projects and on planetary science and theories of interstellar spacecraft design. No warp engines or hyperspace here--you've got to deal with reality.
The animated sequences that introduce the scenario and that segue between portions of the game are among the most impressive I've ever seen on a personal computer. The SVGA animations will likely inspire the same sort of awe that 2001: A Space Odyssey brought to audiences decades ago.
You start the game by deciding which planet you're going to attempt to colonize and by outfitting your expedition accordingly. After choosing a spot to land on, you must establish a self-supporting colony and use research and manufacturing to expand it. The actual gameplay is reminiscent of that in SimCity 2000 and Wesson's Moonbase, but building a self-sufficient city on a hostile alien planet requires unique strategies. For instance, you'll very likely build most of your colony underground, so you end up keeping track of a multilevel outpost. Space exploration advocates and environmental simulation fans will likely lose themselves for hours in this challenging, fascinating simulation.
Walk on the Ocean. As I was wrapping up this column, I received two European releases from Ocean that you'll want to be sure to check out; the domestic versions will be available by the time you read this. As a flight simulator fanatic, I've found it difficult to pull my head out of the cockpit of TFX: Tactical Fighter Experiment long enough to finish this column. You'll fly the F-117A Stealth Fighter, the F-22, and the Eurofighter 2000 on missions in Bosnia, Somalia, Libya, and Columbia as part of a UN tactical force. The graphics in this simulation are outstanding, both in performance and detail. The smooth movements as you change your view give the game a "you are there" feel--if you look to the side, the view pans, rather than jumping. I've never seen clouds so realistic in a computer game, and the planes look fantastic. The simulation is no slouch, with good flight modeling and intelligent enemy tactics. Falling between the ultrarealism of Falcon 3 and the arcade action of Strike Commander, this game should appeal to most PC pilots.
Also new from Ocean is Jurassic Park. Following the film's story line, you must round up the kids, escape the nasty dinos, and get off the island alive. Unlike the spectacular TFX, Jurassic Park is a mixed bag. The game is worth playing just for the fantastic Doom-like texture-mapped corridor scenes where you must evade the 3-D-rendered T. rex, velociraptors, and dilophosaurs, but the tedious overhead-view treks around the compound that are interspersed with the breathtaking 3-D segments feel like a dull 8-bit Nintendo game.