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'1602 AD' Discovery of New World Too Simplistic; 'Jedi' as Bad as Movie

May 25, 2000|AARON CURTISS

Oh, if we had it all to do over again. What if 20th century sensibilities could be applied to the exploration of the New World? Would it happen differently? A game like "1602 AD" for the PC ought to let the curious find out.

But sadly, "1602" forces players to play under the same belief structure as the earliest explorers. Land exists to be exploited. Nature is mankind's servant, there to be subjugated. Indigenous people offer valuable raw materials, until they get in the way.

Under these rules, it's impossible to do anything except what's expected: Knock down trees, build farms and either trade with or attack neighboring towns to expand power. So what could have been a sophisticated combination of real-time strategy and empire-building becomes a relatively simplistic build-and-conquer game.

Players begin aboard a ship in a randomly generated chain of islands. Much time is spent at the beginning of the game sailing from island to island and exploring each in search of valuable raw materials. Once the perfect island is found--one that not only has a rich mineral base but also can host an array of crops and livestock--players claim it as their own by building a warehouse.

From that humble warehouse sprout wood shops and weavers and the other essential crafts required for a 17th century outpost. As their settlement grows, players can engage in trade with neighboring islands or build a navy to beat others into submission. Random attacks by pirates and other settlements keep things interesting.

But it's all pretty simple. A leads to B leads to C. The flags under which these settlements sprout is a generic mix. It would have been truly cool to use real nations and build into the game all of the political and economic situations current at the dawn of the Age of Exploration. Neighboring islands settled by old enemies would then have centuries of bad feelings, making diplomacy almost impossible without the blessing of the mother country.

In fact, there's no sense that players are from anywhere. They just begin the game aboard a ship in what I assume is the western Atlantic. Creating a history-based game with actual historical details would have been very cool.

Instead, designers took the easy way out and used a standard civilization builder and added a few 17th century costumes and buildings. They virtually ignore native populations--except to enable players to trade with them or go to war with them. How about making the mix a little more complicated? Remember, most Native Americans didn't die from European guns. They died from European germs.

The "discovery" and conquest of the Americas were a complicated era. But "1602" makes it all seem so simple.

"1602 AD" requires a Pentium 100 with at least 16 megabytes of RAM and 120 mb of available hard drive space.

"Jedi Power Battles"

I had two words for "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace": Hated it. A year later, little has happened to dull my dislike for this worst chapter in the "Star Wars" saga. And my private pain will no doubt continue as long as games like "Jedi Power Battles" keep rubbing my nose in "Episode I."

"Jedi Power Battles" has a promising enough premise: Become a Jedi and wield a lightsaber in a series of fights all over the "Star Wars" galaxy--from the pastoral planet of Naboo to the urban nightmare of Coruscant. But premise does not a great game make.

Players work through 10 levels on their way to a showdown with Darth Maul. I gave up long before I ever got there. The cause of my frustration: awful control that makes it nearly impossible to fight effectively. My Qui-Gon Jinn spent more time walking into walls than he did hacking up battle droids. And it wasn't just because of my spastic playing style.

When armed only with a lightsaber, the nature of battles is by necessity close. Can't pick off bad guys from across the room. Being that close to the enemy demands controls that are more refined than the average game. But average controls would be an improvement over those in "Jedi Power Battles."

In the end, my feelings for "Jedi Power Battles" parallel my feelings for the movie on which it is based: great concept, killer characters, lousy execution.

"Battlezone: Rise of they Black Dogs"

"Battlezone: Rise of the Black Dogs" for Nintendo 64 is a decent enough tank combat game, but it's nothing great--and only barely worthy of bearing the name of one of thxe oldest franchises in the video game business.

"Battlezone" dates back to the days when vector graphics were cutting edge. Sure, it was simp, but it was fun. So fun, in fact, that it was resurrected--twice, so far--on the PC when the hardware could truly do it justice. "Rise of the Black Dogs" is more than just a port of the PC games, although it borrows heavily.

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