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'Nuclear Dawn' Melts Down to a Yawn

August 03, 2000|AARON CURTISS

Saying "Covert Ops: Nuclear Dawn" plays a lot like "Resident Evil" is the same as saying Skippy tastes a lot like peanut butter. This spy thriller for Sony PlayStation is about as bald a rip-off of "Resident Evil" as they come.

Replace Raccoon City's zombies and demon dogs with a terrorist-filled train zooming across Europe, and that's "Nuclear Dawn," a game so full of irritating interruptions that it probably should have been retitled "Nuclear Yawn."

Players assume the role of Jack Morton, a 29-year-old Air Force stud charged with protecting the French ambassador to Russia, who is heading home aboard a special train called "The Blue Harvest." Wouldn't you know it, a gang of terrorists takes over the train and holds the ambassador hostage for $20 billion.

As the sole surviving security officer, Morton must rescue the ambassador. Why it's an American soldier who has to save the French ambassador on his way home from Russia is beyond me. The French soldiers must have been on their union break when the terrorists attacked.

In any case, Morton stalks through the train in search of bad guys and the various items he needs to snatch the ambassador from the clutches of Boris Zugoski, head of the "Knights of the Apocalypse." It's really not that hard. The bad guys are pretty stupid.

For instance, I hid in a dark corner as a hooded terrorist searched a galley car. When he turned his back, I made Morton leap out and fire off a few rounds from his handgun. Problem was, I missed.

In a game with any kind of artificial intelligence, that would have prompted the bad guy to spin on his heels and fill me full of lead. But in "Nuclear Dawn," the apparently deaf terrorist just kept right on patrolling. So I lined him up in Morton's sights and let him have it like a fish in a barrel.

Overlooked details like that plague "Nuclear Dawn."

Visually, the game is a winner, squeezing everything it can out of PlayStation's antiquated innards. The camera follows characters, although sometimes too closely. This technique is supposed to build suspense, and it works in games with a decent plot and nerve-racking action.

But in "Nuclear Dawn," it just means the players can't see all the things they need to. And because "Nuclear Dawn" mimics the "Resident Evil" routine of backtracking and looking for items to unlock new areas, players need to see quite a bit.

One nice innovation is the ability to get a quick peek around corners to see if terrorists are lurking. It sure beats just jumping blindly into a corridor crawling with machine gun-toting meanies.

Sadly, it's not enough to save "Nuclear Dawn," which ends up a meltdown.

'Motocross Madness 2'

The good folks at Microsoft would like you to know that if you drive your motorcycle off a sheer 200-foot cliff, you might injure yourself. At least that's the gist of the "don't try this in real life" warning that precedes "Motocross Madness 2," an absolutely awesome sequel to the quintessential PC dirt bike racer.

This is more than a sequel. It's a redefinition of the game.

Key differences include a slew of new tracks that are some of the most interesting and lifelike environments I've seen in a racing game. Players can race through the Sonoran desert or the Bolivian foothills--all the while pulling tricks that can be recorded for later viewing.

Best of all, though, are the crashes. These are more than simply falling off the bike. Bike and rider go flying for what seems like hundreds of yards and then skid across the dirt in ways that look like they really hurt.

Yeah, it's redneck entertainment, but there's a little redneck in all of us just waiting to burst free. "Motocross Madness 2" coaxes it out.

"Motocross Madness 2" requires a Pentium II 300 with at least 64mb of RAM and 200mb of available hard disk space.

'Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards'

I think there were a few guys in my college dormitory who would understand "Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards" for Nintendo 64. They were the same guys who fancied themselves the Future Pharmacists of America. For the rest of us who didn't inhale, though, Kirby remains a puffy pink enigma.

And never has Kirby been stranger than he is in "The Crystal Shards." It seems the fairy planet Ripple Star has been gobbled up by a mysterious Dark Matter aiming to claim the fairies' shining Crystal. But a fairy named Ribbon has secreted it away to the planet Pop Star, where she stumbles onto Kirby, Nintendo's own little marshmallow boy.

Whatever Kirby really is, I cannot imagine him saving the universe. But that's essentially what he does in this side-scrolling action game in which each new level is more sickly sweet than the one before. What makes "The Crystal Shards" more than just another jump-and-run action game is Kirby's ability to internalize the powers of his enemies.

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