I've been stupendously underwhelmed by the CD-ROM craze. The Masters, An Interactive Journey Through Its Sixty-Year History, does nothing to change this opinion. This is, basically, an electronic encyclopedia of the Masters golf tournament. Once you get it loaded up, which is easy, it begins with some promise: Birds chirp, golfers golf, brigades of mowers sweep across the fairway in military precision, and greenskeepers water the famous Augusta course. These images, all done in a soft, sleepy focus, move languidly across the screen. Unfortunately, this is the high point.
Once at the main menu there are five icons: the Players, the Course, Legacy of the Masters, Anecdotes, and the Tournament. When you click (this is the fun, interactive part), there's the sound of, I guess, a golf ball, although it sounds more like the ping of the first video game, Pong, and you're off. Exploring the Tournament takes you decade-by-decade and year-by-year through Augusta's history. If you want to see who played in the 1936 Masters it's only a click or two away. The Players tour consists of little autobiographies of the famous people who have competed at Augusta National. Click on the Course to get aerial video and a hole-by-hole description of the layout, along with shaky computer animation of the each hole. Only half of the animation worked. The Legacy of the Masters section includes some letters written - is this multi-media or what? - by bigwigs of the past, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, et al., praising the wonderful tournament. In addition, there's some hazy video of big moments at Augusta. The Anecdotes icon, my favorite, answers questions on the tip of every golfer's tongue: What are the four most famous first names of Masters champions? Can you stand the suspense? It's Jack, Ben, Craig, and Tom.
I'm running this on a Dell 486 PC with a 12-inch monitor. Not state of the art, but the minimum needed. Maybe it would run better on a Pentagon computer. All the moving images are hazy, almost invisible in some cases. The sound is choppy, stuttering in some places. Maybe it's my CD-ROM. I'm sorry, sports fans, it's most unimpressive. Until the makers of this stuff can give you television-quality picture and sound, what's the point? Better to spend your money on a new sleeve of Titleist Balatas. - Andy Cotton
Sony Computer Entertainment
Every few years the videogaming industry transforms itself, and like a snake shedding its skin, sloughs off the old to begin again. This year marks just such a transitional phase, with both Sega and newcomer Sony introducing highly touted 32-bit consoles. Indicative of its 800-pound gorilla status in the industry, Nintendo is confidently waiting until next year to join the fray with the release of its Ultra 64. Sega's console is the Saturn, which hit the shelves in May, but has been slowed by a lack of new games. Sony has now entered the videogaming arena with the launch of the Playstation and early indications are that this may be the machine to beat, at least until the Ultra 64 or 3DO's proposed M2 become available.
The Playstation, like the Saturn and 3DO, is CD-based and offers a level of graphic and sound quality that is far beyond that of the 16-bit Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Playstation's internal architecture gives it an edge over any of its competition in the presentation of a 3-D environment, as is demonstrated in the groundbreaking game Battle Arena Toshinden. Its side-scrolling capabilities are likely not quite up to Saturn's standards, but with the current emphasis on 3-D games that may not be a particularly crippling limitation.
So what do you get for your $300? The package includes the Playstation unit, one controller, power cord, and A/V connection cable. If your older television (or VCR) doesn't have A/V inputs, a different connection cable can be purchased. Also included is a promo disc with demos (many of them playable) of games that are either on the shelves now or are slated for release in the next few months. Memory cartridges can be purchased to save games in progress. It's the software, though, that is the lifeblood of any system, and the Playstation looks to be strong in that area. Games currently available for the Playstation include:
Battle Arena Toshinden (SCEA) - A fighting game with eight different playable characters, each of whom has his or her own unique weapon, locale, and special moves. A 3-D blockbuster sure to be one of the Playstation's hottest launch titles.
Ridge Racer (Namco) - Every system needs a good driving contest, and Ridge Racer is one of the best. It was initially speculated this outstanding arcade title would be the Playstation pack-in game. It would have been a great choice.
Raiden Project (SCEA) - An overhead shoot-em-up that has more explosions than an entire summer full of movies. Anyone who fears repetitive strain injury should stay far away from this game.
ESPN Extreme Games (SCEA) - A rock 'em sock 'em racing game somewhat reminiscent of the Road Rash series. Players can choose to compete on a bicycle, skateboard, street luge, or in-line skates. The game offers a variety of colorful locales and playing rough is encouraged.
NBA Jam Tournament Edition (Acclaim) - This two-on-two hoops extravaganza featuring current NBA stars has appeared on virtually every existing system, so the gameplay itself is likely to be very familiar. The graphics and sound for the Playstation version are the best yet.
Total Eclipse Turbo (Crystal Dynamics) - A successful 3DO futuristic shooter that has been spruced up and ported over to the Playstation.
Kileak - The DNA Imperative (SCEA) - A first-person corridor game in the Doom mold, with less emphasis on shooting and more on problem solving.
Street Fighter: The Movie (Acclaim/Capcom) - Another entry in the highly popular Street Fighter series of side-view martial arts beat'em-ups.
For those looking for a lame rationalization to buy a Playstation, the machine also plays audio CDs. In any case, Christmas '95 should be an exciting one in the videogaming industry, with so many systems competing for gamers' attention and dollars. And although it's too soon to make bold predictions about who will be the ultimate winner, the Playstation is off to an auspicious start. - Bud Simons