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VALLEY WEEKEND | VIDEO GAMES

Reincarnation Puts New Life in Old Titles

Three favorites gain better sound and faster play by making the leap to PlayStation.

September 12, 1996|AARON CURTISS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Who says there's no such thing as reincarnation?

In the video game business, titles regularly are resurrected on different platforms. The practice is so common that advertising boasts regarding the size of a particular rig's library can be deceiving.

How many of those titles are original? Probably not many. But sometimes these new versions are much better than the originals as designers tweak the old code to exploit new hardware. The results can be astonishing. Better sound. Smoother video. Faster play.

For example, I dusted off a few old favorites that recently made the leap to PlayStation to see how well they fared against the originals and was amazed at how much cleaner and slicker they were.

I started with Return Fire, which is perhaps the best game ever written for 3DO. The head-to-head action of heavy-duty, armed-to-the-teeth combat of Return Fire defies description. It is video gaming at its visceral best, complete with helicopters, armored personnel carriers, tanks, jeeps and a classical score that makes apocalyptic warfare feel as uptown as a night at the ballet.

So I was more than a little skeptical when I fired it up. How could it be better? Like I always say, it's the little things that go a long way. And this version of Return Fire from Time Warner Interactive cleaned up the little things. Like better movies between victories. It also sounds cleaner than on 3DO. Control is much easier with the PlayStation joypad.

Even if 3DO dies, Return Fire will live on.

Next, I tried Bullfrog's Magic Carpet, the PC classic that's part thrill ride, part strategy adventure. Magic Carpet was one of those games in which enjoyment was dependent almost entirely on the speed of your PC. I played it first on an old 486 and got frustrated quickly. When I upgraded to Pentium, though, I understood how beautiful and challenging it could be.

On 32-bit game machines, slowdowns aren't a problem and the processors handle Magic Carpet's rather large graphics demands quite nicely. Some of the detail seemed to be missing, but terrain slips smoothly beneath the carpet. Control, however, is not as refined as with a joystick and keyboard, and I found it difficult to maneuver during the all-important battles.

Finally, Top Gun: Fire at Will from Spectrum Holobyte rounded out my weekend with a gut-wrenching tour of the heavens in an electronic F-14. Designed for the PC, Top Gun truly shines on PlayStation. The control is as logical as any flight-sim I've played, and the targeting screens are the most helpful and unobtrusive since Namco's Air Combat.

My only beef with Top Gun is the amount of time and disk space designers devoted to cheesy intermissions that detract from game play. Why is it that so many games show off how well they can do full-screen video with a bunch of no-name actors reciting dialogue that make The Tick sound like the Bard?

Ditch the cinematics and give me more game.

For the most part, more game is what the reincarnations deliver. Hidden tricks and souped-up presentation make them pretty good buys even if you've already got the original.

Best of all, though, reincarnated games ensure that winner titles won't fade away if the platform for which they are originally written bites the dust. In the current here-today, gone-tomorrow market, that's something to be thankful for.

Staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games every Thursday. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send letters to The Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Or send e-mail to Aaron.Curtiss@latimes.com

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