Choose Your Own Adventure
What's in Store for Fall Games
It was once noted that 90% of everything is crap. In the world of video games, it's more like 98%. It's a daunting, often unrewarding, and thoroughly geeky task to plow one's way through the myriad Web sites and magazines on the subject just to find that elusive 2% of games worth a damn. That's why we did it for you. Behold the Fall Preview, a short list of the most promising games slated to hit home systems before Christmas. Some will be great. Some will suck golf balls through garden hoses. The only criteria a game must meet to make this list is that it is well-anticipated and/or talked about, be it due to inspired innovation, exacting execution, or even shrewd marketing. As the biggest thing to happen to gaming this year, it is only fitting that Sega's new Dreamcast start us off. While the system's September launch lineup of around 20 games should be enough to hold over most anyone until the new year, there are still a few titles worth anticipating, the most intriguing of which is Sega's own Seaman. Juvenile puns on the title aside, Seaman is Sega's rather disturbing answer to Furby. Seaman starts with a few small tadpoles in an aquarium. If properly fed and cared for, and if the aquarium's environment is kept just right, these tadpoles will eventually evolve into Seamen. Seamen are fish. Fish with human faces. Talking fish with human faces. And, thanks to a special microphone attachment that will come with the game, you can engage in a free-flowing conversation with these ... things.
As you first raise them, they will listen to your language and begin to learn the words you say. Eventually they develop a full vocabulary and a distinct personality, enough so that you should be able to turn on the Dreamcast and chat with your Seaman, perhaps even confide in it as a friend. These chats will undoubtedly have their awkward and confusing moments, but the sheer novelty of it should make for a fascinating, if supremely bizarre, game experience.
For those who don't necessarily enjoy the idea of talking to anthropomorphic sperm with attitude, Sega is also releasing a conversion of the arcade hit, Crazy Taxi. The idea is simple. You are a cab driver. You pick up passengers and get them where they need to go. Roads, rules, and sanity are all optional, for your cab is indestructible. As a matter of fact, reckless endangerment of your passengers' lives is encouraged. Scaring the bejesus out of your passengers with near-collisions and daredevil driving actually nets you a few extra dollars. I recommend taking your shortcuts off the top of the parking garage. Also coming for the Dreamcast are NBA 2K, Sega's follow-up to their jaw-droppingly good NFL 2K, and possibly even Ecco the Dolphin, a sequel to Sega's Genesis classic.
Speaking of dolphins, Nintendo's next generation console, currently code-named "Dolphin," appears to be stealing some of the thunder from their current console, the N64. The fall crop of games seems to be a slim harvest as third-party developers and Nintendo themselves turn toward the Next Big Thing.
One bright spot on the N64's roster has to be THQ's WWF Wrestlemania 2000. Using the same game engine and attention to detail that made last year's WCW/NWO Revenge a blast for anyone remotely interested in sports entertainment, WWF 2000 is sure to catch all the nuances and subtle touches for which the fans watch the TV shows. Like crotch chops. Donkey Kong 64 is Rare's latest bastardization of the Mario 64 gameplay formula, and while it should prove to be a very solid and fun 3-D action game, it probably won't shake up the gaming world. Also on the way from Rare is Jet Force Gemini. It looks like Zelda with more pastels, yet it supposedly plays like the James Bond shooter Goldeneye. At the very least, it should be interesting.
In a similar situation to the N64 is the Sony Playstation. Sony has already announced the Playstation 2 for release next fall, and already the tide of original Playstation titles is beginning to ebb. Quite possibly the best game idea ever (or the absolute worst, depending on your sense of humor) is Activision's Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style. This four-player fighting game lets you take control of the famous rappers as they attempt to protect the secret of the Wu-Tang discipline from the clutches of evil. If that sounds lame, well, it is. But if you buy this game for the story, you're missing the point. You buy it so you can step into the (curiously pungent) shoes of everybody's favorite role model, Ol' Dirty Bastard. And to set a good example for the kids, the Clan made sure there were no guns in the game. Yes, there are fatalities, but no guns, because guns are bad.
If Wu-Tang doesn't strike you as the best game idea ever, then surely the Dukes of Hazzard from SouthPeak Interactive must. Take control of the General Lee and drive around all hickdom (Hazzard County) carrying out missions to raise money to save Daisy's farm, all the while dodging the lithe and cunning Boss Hog. Become Bo or Luke Duke. Drive the General Lee. Use convenient ramps to jump over obstacles. It's like you're playing the Nashville Network! Now if only somebody could make a decent A-Team game ... On the slightly less-brilliant side of concept gaming are a few more solid titles on the way for the Playstation. Dreamworks' Saving Private Ryan-inspired Medal of Honor promises to be a gritty, stylish first-person shooter set behind enemy lines in World War II, while Capcom's Resident Evil 3: Nemesis offers the simpler pleasures of "survival horror," like knee-capping zombies with a shotgun.
And for those too shy to buy real pornography, Eidos has recently released Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. Once again the horrifically busty Lara Croft beats the premise of "Indiana Jones with tits" into the ground as she jumps, shoots, and pouts her way through all new levels. And if the idea of a polygonal object of lust doesn't unsettle you enough, the player will start the game in control of a 16-year-old Lara. Now that's just creepy. Tomb Raider is also being released on the PC, but with the veritable avalanche of quality software on the way for the workhorse of video games, it is likely to be a weed among roses.
The biggest and possibly most fragrant of the PC bouquet is Lionhead Studios' Black and White. From the magnum opus of gaming, guru Peter Molyneux (Populous, Dungeon Keeper), Black and White thrusts the player into heaven on earth just to watch him screw everything up. As a would-be sorcerer, the player enters this Eden and uses his power to subjugate or guide the locals. What makes this game so interesting is that the players will remake this world in their own image, whether they want to or not. The choices they make, be they good or evil, will alter the look and productivity of both their people and their land. A just and noble sorcerer will control a beautiful, bountiful paradise filled with good citizens, but a harsh and ruthless tyrant will blacken and decay the land, twisting the peasants into grim mockeries of humanity. The world of Black and White can be altered by either the sorcerers' own spells, or by the hand of their Titans. A Titan in Black and White is a skyscraper-sized Tamagotchi with anger management issues, an avatar of sorts. Their behavior and appearance are governed by the player's actions, but the player his little real control of them. Each Titan merely observes how the player acts and then wanders the world imitating its master. While Black and White is remarkably ambitious (there is far more to the game than could be recounted in this capsule preview), Peter Molyneux has a strange habit of living up to his ambitions.
If the idea of shaping heaven in your own image is a little too daunting, then perhaps The Sims is more your speed. Essentially a life simulator from Will Wright (SimCity), The Sims gives the player control over a family of virtual people (the Sims of the title). The player decides the Sims' personalities, their living environments, their careers, and even their friends. Creating a successful and happy family of Sims will no doubt require heaping amounts of care and time, much like creating a healthy city in Wright's classic SimCity. While the idea of living a virtual life could be viewed as an added hassle to one's real life, Wright has a special knack for making his games fun above all else. Of course, the most fun part of SimCity was calling down a flurry of horrible natural disasters to quickly bring ruin upon a great metropolis. Imagine the sinister thrill of taking a picture-perfect Donna Reed family that required untold hours to create, and then having dad go to jail for possession of narcotics, letting brother drop out of high school to hop freight trains, and setting up mom and sis with a prostitution ring.
Because a PC preview guide just wouldn't be complete without a hyper-violent first-person shooter, it must be mentioned that Activision is looking to push the blood 'n' guts envelope with Soldier of Fortune. Based on the magazine of the same name (huh?!?), Soldier of Fortune promises to bring you into the "secret and deadly world of the modern-day gun-for-hire." Sigh. Insane rednecks aside, the game should be an entertaining and cathartic trip to new heights of violence. As for the rest of the PC lineup, Red Orb Software's Warlords: Battlecry brings the popular turn-based strategy game into the world of real-time, while Blizzard's Diablo II should burn through its share of mouse pads with heated point-and-click action. Oh, and then there's this real pretty game from Id, the makers of shareware pioneer Commander Keen. It's called Quake III Arena, and it should enjoy a rare simultaneous release on both the PC and Macintosh platforms.
Sadly, with the way things look right now, Quake III Arena could be very lonely on Mac gaming shelves. Sierra just recently announced the cancellation of the much-anticipated Mac version of Half-Life, and Mac-exclusive games are rare, at best (see sidebar). Perhaps the best reason to be a Mac gamer this winter is Bungie software's Oni. While it is another simultaneous release for PC and Mac, developer Bungie has a history of making exceptional Macintosh games that equal or surpass their PC counterparts. Conceived as an anime-inspired, run and gun, 3-D action game, Oni follows Battle Angel Alita lookalike cop Konoko as she tries to infiltrate a nefarious criminal syndicate. Bungie, makers of the Marathon and Myth series of games, have a reputation for busting genres and successfully incorporating new ideas into their games. With its equal emphasis on gunplay and fisticuffs (a simple idea as yet unexplored), Oni should at least provide a welcome alternative to the flood of Quake clones saturating the market. Beyond Oni and Quake III Arena, the bulk of upcoming Mac games are conversions of games PC owners have been enjoying for months. Foremost among these are EA Sports' much-hyped Madden NFL 2000, Graphics Simulation's Baldur's Gate, and MacSoft's version of the Tom Clancy-inspired tactical shooter Rainbow Six.