Game for Giving

Good Things Come in Shrinkwrapped Packages

Duke Nukem 3D
Maybe computer games aren't a gift to feel so great about giving -- they're expensive, mass-produced, oftentimes violent, and they foster antisocial, sedentary behavior. But while many ill-fitting sweaters will no doubt be returned to the Gap almost as soon as the wrapping has been recycled, a present which transforms the regaled into a strategizing warmonger, a vintage private-eye, or becomes yet another avenue in which to pursue America's favorite dorknamic duo will keep on giving, or at least keep on keeping them from school work, housecleaning, or other not-as-amusing, post-holiday tasks at hand. So when you finally cave in to the gift of the game (the whole giving thing is supposed to be a selfless gesture anyway), avoid finding yourself bug-eyed in aisle 10 by knowing what format the game is for (i.e., PC, Mac, Sony Playstation, Sega Genesis) and how souped-up the machine is. Pay attention to the minimum system requirements listed on the box -- in fact, if the destination machine just barely meets the requirements you probably ought to find a less demanding title. The other obvious criteria include the type and quality of the game. Here are a few of our favorites for you to consider...

Command & Conquer: Red Alert (Westwood Studios, $55) is a superb follow-up to last year's real-time strategy game Command & Conquer. In Red Alert the player directs the onslaught of destruction for either the Soviets or the Allies in a series of absorbingly tough missions. Syndicate Wars (Bullfrog, $55) is another real-time strategy game, but set in the future. The player leads a brutal squadron of highly trained killers for either the corporate Syndicate or the ubiquitous Church of the New Epoch. Yet another in this genre is the WarCraft Battle Chest (Blizzard Entertainment, $70). It includes all three of the fine WarCraft games, a sure winner if the recipient of your generosity doesn't own any of them yet. Each of these fast-paced games has multi-player support built in.

For pure action that really tests hand-eye coordination there are two gore-filled shoot-'em-ups to consider: Quake (id Software, $50) and Duke Nukem 3D (Apogee, $40). Quake is a dark battle against countless hell-spawned beasts of indescribable evil, accompanied by an appropriately disturbing soundtrack from Trent Reznor. Duke Nukem takes a lighter view on its high-body count game by filling it with humor both tasteless and insightful. Each includes a multi-player deathmatch mode. Another sophisticated 3D action game has just come out entitled Tomb Raider (Eidos, $50). It does have some violence, but also emphasizes exploration and puzzle solving. The graphics are superior on a high-powered computer, and its one of the few games available with a female lead.

Tomb Raider
An even more cerebral choice is Noir (Cyberdreams $40), an interactive movie full of puzzles and mysteries set in Hollywood in the late Forties. The game runs in black-and-white, giving it a distinctive look and feel. The American Civil War (Interactive Magic, $50) is a turn-based strategy game covering the entire period of the conflict. The game's scope is tremendous -- the player must manage the economic, strategic, and political aspects of the side he or she chooses to play.

If your screen-addicted dearest loves intensely accurate flight sims then Origin's AH 64D Longbow ($65) would make an excellent gift. The graphics are fantastic, the flight model and mission design first-rate. Its a challenging game, though; even the tutorials take several hours to get through.

The new Nintendo Ultra 64 is the top as far as game consoles go; if you know someone lucky enough to have one already there are several really great titles out for it. In my opinion, Nintendo's Mario 64 ($65) is one of the best computer games ever made for any machine -- a giant requiring dexterity, imagination, and intellect. Mortal Kombat Trilogy (Midway, $70) combines the characters from all three arcade games. Although MKT doesn't break much new ground creatively or technologically, it will entertain the multitudes of young men who've dropped quarter after quarter into the arcade versions. Wayne Gretzsky 3D Hockey (Midway, $73) is an extremely well done hockey game -- the play is fast and furious, the levels of difficulty and realism can be adjusted to the player's taste, and the graphics are spectacular.

A couple of final suggestions for the humorist: Fans of British comedy would be thrilled to get a copy of 7th Level's Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail ($50), a graphic adventure unlike any other wherein players must face challenges such as "Catch the Cow" and "Spank the Virgin" in order to succeed. And if you know someone who is wooed by the inane chattering and torturous giggling of Beavis and Butt-head, then why not give them a copy of MTV's Calling all Dorks ($20), a collection of eight desktop themes for Windows 95, including fonts, sounds, wallpaper, and animated icons of the toxic twosome. Computer entertainment may not encourage PC potatoes to get off their butts. But it sure is cool. (Huh-huh... he said "butts." Uh. Yeah, cool.)

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