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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | GAMERS' CORNER

In Playoffs, Its 'GameDay' by a Field Goal

October 19, 1998|AARON CURTISS

Football season has once again descended, and with it the usual crop of gridiron video games. Each annual wave is better than the last, as designers squeeze more graphics, better plays and smarter artificial intelligence into every game.

With so many similar titles crowding the shelves, it can be confusing, and a number of fans--of football, not me--have asked me to pronounce a winner. I usually steer clear of this debate because it's a no-win situation, sort of like being the ref at a USC-UCLA game.

Fans of Electronic Arts will spit on me if I give the thumbs-down to the Madden franchise. And they surely will whine if I bless the GameDay series. Yet that's exactly what I'm going to do.

But not before making it clear that the differences between these games are so slight and the tastes of gamers so particular that newcomers to any of the various series will be happy with the play, the artificial intelligence and the realism. My personal tastes just happen to run with what the designers at 989 Sports cooked up for this year.

In fact, fans have two choices. "NFL GameDay 99" on Sony PlayStation and PC provides traditional football, with all the extras. "NFL Xtreme" drops players into a professional pickup game with five on each side and few rules to get in the way. It's a sandlot game with pro players and a huge crowd.

Graphically, both games rock. The players--many of them motion-captured--move with impressive realism, and even with everyone moving in different directions the action is smooth.

As with any simulator, players can build teams through the draft or by trading--keeping in mind those pesky salary caps. But it's on the field where these games excel. With PlayStation's analog controller, control on "GameDay 99" is smoother than it's ever been. It's a pity "NFL Xtreme" doesn't have analog functionality.

Both work with the force-feedback controllers, making a sack at least feel like something--even if it is just a little vibration in the palm of the hand. Someday--perhaps in "GameDay 2009"--true fans will enjoy force-feedback concussions.

Until then, players can enjoy clever opponents, sizzling graphics and awesome control in either "NFL Xtreme" or "NFL GameDay 99." So there. I did it. As usual, my e-mail address is at the bottom of this column for those who disagree and feel the need to set me straight.

'Aero Gauge'

Any regular buyer of video games knows the Moment. It's that faint flash of uncertainty in the instant before the guy at the Toys R Us security booth stamps "Taken" across the receipt, the nanosecond before 60 bucks disappears forever.

I was suffering through the Moment recently when the game dude flipped over the copy of "Aero Gauge" I was buying and mumbled something about it looking cool. Sure hope so, I said, as he sealed my fate with his "Taken" stamp.

By the end of the day, "Aero Gauge" had joined a stack of forlorn games that once held so much promise, once looked so cool. It's not so much that "Aero Gauge" stinks outright. It's a decent anti-gravity racer. But there's not much to it.

A "Wipeout" knockoff, "Aero Gauge" gives players more freedom of movement than most racers, but its four tracks are fairly easy to master, and I couldn't find many differences among the various ships offered for racing. It doesn't even work with Nintendo 64's Rumble Pak peripheral.

"Aero Gauge" ostensibly has a story about how a collection of unlikely heroes takes part in the futuristic Sky Step races sponsored by the International Formula Assn. Who cares? The game is about racing, and the story is at best marginal.

Gamers who dig fast, mindless racing might enjoy a weekend rental of "Aero Gauge," but surely it is not worth the 60 clams I shelled out. Look for it soon on the bargain rack next to "Robotron 64," which I snagged the same day for $20 and haven't stopped playing yet.

'Timeshock Pro Pinball'

Pinball on console machines rarely comes off very well. The physics of the ball's random motion are too hard to reproduce faithfully on a television screen. But "Timeshock Pro Pinball" does a pretty good job of it.

Unlike most video pinball games, "Timeshock" on Sony PlayStation renders the entire table on a single screen, eliminating the need for annoying scrolling. Players see everything, although the score screen is either awkwardly placed in the middle of the table or hidden at the top.

Ball motion is dead on.

Too bad the game only features one table. I played my wrists sore but still wanted more.

*

Times staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games every Monday in The Cutting Edge. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send e-mail to aaron

.curtiss@latimes.com.

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