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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | Gamers' Corner

You'll Get Attached to 'Parasite Eve' Mystery

November 02, 1998|AARON CURTISS

Word for the day: "mitochondria."

Before one can truly appreciate the beauty and intelligence of "Parasite Eve," the word must be understood. Quite simply, mitochondria are the tiny organelles that produce most of the cellular energy we need to live.

In some respects, their biochemical composition more closely resembles that of simple organisms, such as bacteria, than the makeup of complex organisms, such as humans--leading some scientists to suggest that the more complex cells "swallowed" some of the simpler cells millions of years ago and essentially put them to work.

The biology lesson is over, but the premise behind "Parasite Eve" is that all mitochondria are, in fact, the product of a single sinister--and very patient--organism waiting to explode and take over the human race.

That clever science-fiction scenario is only the beginning in a game for Sony PlayStation that packs three discs with lush graphics, haunting music, addictive play and a mystery that players actually want to spend time solving.

The latest digital story from the geniuses at Squaresoft, "Parasite Eve" begins on Christmas Eve in a New York City opera house. In the audience is NYPD Det. Aya Brea, who watches as the young diva on stage transforms herself into a nasty freak.

Players take control of Aya and guide her through New York in an effort to crack a mystery that's millions of years old. So few games actually create environments and plots that players care about. But as in games such as "Myst" and a handful of others, "Parasite Eve" demands that players pay attention, concentrate on what's happening and prepare for what's next.

The perspective is third-person, and a variety of constantly changing angles gives the game a true cinematic feel. As Aya delves deeper into the mystery, she gains more experience and strength. In that regard, "Eve" treads familiar ground for role-playing games.

Gorgeous pre-rendered scenes advance the story. Dialogue is printed across the bottom of the screen, and it's not badly written--not the normally jumpy Japanese translation that makes most role-playing games a chore.

Once begun, "Parasite Eve" is the kind of game that stays with players, compelling them onward. With the lights out and the sound turned up, it's downright creepy.

"Cruisin' World" and "GT 64 Championship Edition"

Nintendo 64's hardware and cartridges allow the system to deliver some of the fastest play on the planet. And for racing games, speed matters. Two very different kinds of racers demonstrate the possibilities.

"Cruisin' World" is the kind of simple racer with spiffy graphics, perfect for grab-and-go drivers who don't want to spend hours figuring out how to tweak their cars. In many respects, that's what its predecessor, "Cruisin' USA," was too. But "Cruisin' World" is a much better game.

The way to play is on a big screen with three friends and the sound turned up as high as possible. Each driver gets his or her own window on a screen cut into quarters.

For technical racers, "Cruisin' World" fails to offer much challenge. Even the expert courses are fairly easy to beat, and the novice tracks are little more than variations on an oval. That's fine, because "Cruisin' World" doesn't hold itself out as anything but a great party game or a perfect first racer for younger players.

"GT 64 Championship Edition," on the other hand, offers both a lot less and a lot more than "Cruisin' World." There are fewer tracks: just three with minor variations. But players can--indeed, must--customize their cars to meet the conditions on various courses.

Players can swap everything from transmissions and suspension and must time their pit stops carefully to remedy wear and tear. It's not nearly as comprehensive as a gem like "Gran Turismo," but GT 64 is not a bad weekend rental.

"Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines"

Finally, a strategy game in which strategy actually matters. "Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines" serves up typical top-down strategy play a la "Warcraft," with a twist.

As the name suggests, players command units dropped behind enemy lines. It's not a futuristic alienscape where play unfolds, but the World War II battlefields of Europe. Enemy troops are smart and vicious, with the ability to hear as well as see infiltrating troops.

Victory demands cunning use of stealth and decoys. For amateur tacticians, it's a welcome challenge. "Commandos" requires a Pentium 120 or higher with 16 megs of RAM.

*

Times staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games every Monday. To comment or to suggest games for review, send e-mail to aaron.curtiss@latimes.com.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

ESSENTIALS

Title: Parasite Eve

Platform: Sony PlayStation

Publisher: Square/Electronic Arts

ESRB* rating: Mature

Price: $44.95

Bottom line: A gem

*

Title: GT 64 Championship Edition

Platform: Nintendo 64

Publisher: Ocean

ESRB rating: Everyone

Price: $59.95

Bottom line: As technical as it gets on N64

*

Title: Cruisin' World

Platform: Nintendo 64

Publisher: Nintendo Sports

ESRB rating: Everyone

Price: $59.95

Bottom line: Simple pleasures

*

Title: Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines

Platform: PC

Publisher: Eidos Interactive

ESRB rating: Mature

Price: $44.95

Bottom line: Not for simple minds

Next Week:

"Game Boy Color"

"Heart of Darkness"

"Spyro the Dragon"

"Rugrats Adventure Game"

* Entertainment Software Rating Board

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