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THE CUTTING EDGE | Gamers' Corner

'Descent' Soars; 'Superman' Hovers

July 22, 1999|AARON CURTIS

Coming home from vacation can be traumatic. The only saving grace this year was that no sooner had I plopped my suitcase on the bedroom floor than I fired up "Descent 3," the third version of the groundbreaking PC game that still makes some people sick with its fluid 360-degree engine.

In this case, nausea is a compliment--and the hurl factor in "Descent 3" is off the scale. Even after 10 hours in an airplane, I couldn't get enough of "Descent 3"; its elegant motion and blasting pesky patrol robots were the perfect antidote to Baggage Carousel 3.

Other PC games long ago duplicated the free-form play of "Descent" and created enhanced environments that took advantage of all the latest hardware improvements. So it was easy to be skeptical that "Descent 3" would break new ground.

It does.

In previous versions of "Descent," players left the game's mazes only in pre-rendered cinematic sequences. Last year's "Descent Freespace" hooked up gamers craving more flight-sim-style play. The fusion engine of "Descent 3" marries the two styles of play--allowing players to zoom seamlessly out of tunnels into open flight areas.

Granted, some of the exterior environments feel a little cramped. But the overall effect is wonderful. Players swoop gracefully through shafts and corridors, catching a glimpse here and there of the outside world. And suddenly, there it is--teeming with thuggish robots, but eerily beautiful under alien suns.

"Descent 3" is a game to be played for the sheer joy of it. Yes, there's a story, but it's not inspiring, and players can skip through the cut scenes without losing a smidgen of play value. You know, something has gone terribly wrong down in the mines and you're the only pilot good enough--and crazy enough--to take on the mission.

From the heads-up display to the control of the ship and from truly intelligent enemies to enchantingly gloomy environments, "Descent 3" is the sort of game that makes gamers happy.

"Descent 3" requires a Pentium 200 with at least 32mb of RAM, 300mb of hard drive space and a graphics accelerator. The game will not run without graphics hardware, but it works fine even with the built-in chips--such as ATI's Rage Pro--common in most newer PCs.

'Superman'

Superman debuted on home game systems in the 1970s on the Atari 2600. In those days, I thought the game and its blocky graphics were technological wonders. How much better can it get? I wondered then.

Twenty years later, with "Superman" debuting on Nintendo's 64-bit console, I found myself asking a variation of that question. How much better is it?

Graphically, there's no comparison--although the Nintendo 64 version is plagued by fog that shrouds everything not right in front of the Man of Steel. In terms of play, though, this new "Superman" falls short.

It's not that much fun. Superman does all the stuff you expect him to, but it feels mechanical and contrived. Yes, it's a game, but with a franchise as old as Superman, I expect more than simple, task-based missions.

'Ape Escape'

The jewel case of "Ape Escape" for Sony PlayStation boasts that the game is the "first and only" to take "full advantage" of the system's Dual Shock analog controller. That's great news for those of us who bought the $30 peripheral when it hit shelves a year ago.

"Ape Escape" is a surprising three-dimensional game in which players zip through time to capture a band of mischievous monkeys. Seems their leader plans to use a time machine to change history and make monkeys the planet's dominant species.

Players assume the role of the cutesy Spike, who uses a variety of fanciful weapons--such as a stun club and a time net--to zap the monkeys back to the present. The worlds are bright and animated, and the game represents a new level of programming achievement as PlayStation begins its slow journey into night.

The only thing that might make "Ape Escape" even better is a cheat code that allows players to change the Spike character to Charlton Heston. That would be cool.

*

To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send e-mail to aaron.curtiss@latimes.com.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Essentials

Descent 3

Platform: PC

Publisher: Interplay

ESRB* rating: Teen

Price: $39.95

Bottom Line: Yippee!

*

Superman

Platform: Nintendo 64

Publisher: Titus

ESRB* rating: Everyone

Price: $59.95

Bottom Line: Tedious

*

Ape Escape

Platform: Sony PlayStation

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

ESRB* rating: Everyone

Price: $39.95

Bottom Line: "Planet of the Apes" meets "Donkey Kong"

*Entertainment Software Ratings Board

Next Week: "Links Extreme," "Ultimate 8 Ball" and "World Driver Championship"

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