Games reviews

Rune

With its Viking storyline, striking visuals and excellent level design, Rune should have been the greatest game of the year, but some unoriginal gameplay prevents it from crushing its enemies.

Rune starts off in a Viking village with a young warrior named Ragnar undergoing a ceremony to become a man. After a bout with the local combat trainer, Ragnar joins his Viking buddies on a ship, which is summarily sunk by an evil villain, killing everyone on board.

But wait! Odin has decided that Ragnar's time has not yet come and, after being revived, the young warrior soon finds himself in an underwater cavern where he proceeds to kill a menagerie of snakes and rock crabs, while leaping from ledge to ledge like a testosterone-fuelled Nordic Lara Croft.

In fact, Rune plays much like a fast-paced Tomb Raider, with levers to pull, chains to climb, and spinning blades to avoid. This isn't necessarily bad; it's just not what you would expect from a game involving Vikings. Despite having the entire history of Norse mythology as a backdrop, Rune is surprisingly lacking in character and story. Vikings ought to be tromping across the tundra, not spelunking through a grotto in Hell, fighting endless hordes of zombies.

The well-designed levels are very long, which means that the game will keep you occupied for quite a while, but it also means that you may grow tired of looking at the same scenery and killing the same monsters after a while. To its credit, Rune provides some clever puzzles, mostly involving the find-the-lever-that-opens-the-door variety, and they keep the game moving along at a steady pace.

Ragnar sports a variety of moves, from running, climbing and swimming to swinging axes, swords and other weapons, and all are accomplished easily with the mouse/keyboard setup to which first-person shooter fans are accustomed. Switching weapons in the heat of combat can be cumbersome, but not to the point of being frustrating.

The Unreal engine continues to impress and Rune doesn't disappoint graphically. The Hell levels, in partic-ular, show off beautiful Gothic-style architecture and excellent use of colours and lighting. The sparse sound effects consist mostly of Ragnar's grunts and the clang of metal weapons striking rocks. A little more music would have given the game more atmosphere and character.

Finding a multiplayer game is easy with the in-game matching service provided by GameSpy, but while a multiplayer mˆl‚e free-for-all sounds like a good idea on paper, in reality the up-close and personal combat lacks the run-and-gun excite-ment of shooters like Quake and Unreal.

What Rune does offer is a fun, albeit not too original, action/platform-style game with hours and hours of gameplay. Rune will satisfy your axe-swinging, lever-pulling, zombie-beheading urges - just don't expect anything too deep. tipsTorches make great weapons, especially on creatures that come back to life, like zombies.

If you time your attack correctly, you can also decapitate zombies to permanently end their lives.

If you find yourself stuck and don't know where to go, check the walls for cracked areas that can be smashed through to reveal passageways.

Product: Rune

Developer: Human Head

Publisher: Gathering of Developers

URL: www.runegame.com

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2

It's not the most innovative game, but with its solid gameplay and alternate-reality Cold War storyline, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 is the best 2D real-time strategy game since Starcraft.

The original Command & Conquer practically invented the RTS genre when it was released and has since spawned a whole series of games, including the hugely popular Red Alert with its story involving Russians, Albert Einstein, time travel, and a Cold War that never ended. Now, Westwood Studios takes us back to that universe with Red Alert 2, which manages to recreate the intense story, easy control, and addictive gameplay of the original.

While most current RTS games have moved into the realm of 3D, Red Alert 2 sticks with the traditional 2D isometric view. The gameplay remains the same (build a base, harvest resources, destroy your enemy), but the campaign missions offer enough unique challenges to keep the game interesting. Some require the stealthy infiltration of enemy bases, while others are simply a matter of search and destroy.

New units spice things up with the inclusion of the Weather Control Device, Cloning Vats, and the mind controlling Yuri troops, among others. Red Alert 2 balances units with a rock/paper/scissors style, which means that no single unit is more powerful than the others because each has a weakness that can be exploited by a different unit type.

Campaign missions are preceded by live action cut-scenes featuring actual professional actors, including Ray Wise, Barry Corbin, and Kari Wuhrer, making the story more captivating while adding to the production value and lending the game a cinematic quality. The acting gets a bit over-the-top at times, but this creates a B-movie feel, which fits the action perfectly.

The 2D graphics are nothing spectacular by today's standards, but the colourful and detailed environments make up for the lack of technological advancement. The individual troops are cleverly animated, but their small size often makes them hard to distinguish during the heat of combat. A rockin' soundtrack provides the backbone for the action, and good voice acting and the sound of explosions and gunfire add to the fun.

The simple interface means controlling the action is a breeze. An easy-to-navigate menu lets you queue units or call in reinforcements from anywhere on the map, and building your bases and commanding your soldiers is as easy as pointing and clicking the mouse (you'll need to use a few keyboard commands, as well).

While it's no technological marvel, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 provides plenty of gameplay and offers enough awesome RTS action to satisfy old fans and newcomers alike. tipsGarrisoned buildings turn the colour of the enemy currently inside. Keep an eye out for these coloured buildings or your troops will be easily picked off as they march past.

One of the great strengths of the Allied forces is the ability to call in reinforcements via airdrops. Do this quickly and often.

Assign Harriers to a separate group (Control + number) to make it easier to select them and call in airstrikes on enemy buildings.

Product: Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2

Developer: Westwood Studios

Publisher: Electronic Arts

URL: http://westwood.ea.com/games

Zeus: Master of Olympus

Zeus: Master of Olympus is the latest city-building game from the creators of Pharaoh and the Caesar series, and it delivers more great city-building action with enough twists on the genre to keep fans playing for hours. Like its predecessors, Zeus puts you in charge of a budding city - this time in Ancient Greece. You must lay down roads, build houses and farms, collect taxes, and deal with all the other minutiae that comes with ruling a city.

Disasters strike in the form of mythological beasts, like the Hydra, Cyclops and Minotaur, and in order to deal with these bad guys you need to enlist the aid of a hero. But before a hero will come to your rescue, you must first meet some specific requirements. For example, Hercules requires, among other things, that you have ample gymnasium access for your citizens.

Of course, it wouldn't be Ancient Greece without a few gods, and they make an appearance as well. You can build sanctuaries to specific gods, who will in turn bring good fortune to your city. If you build a haven for Aphrodite, for example, she will make your city more appealing and increase your population.

In Zeus, you can choose to play in an open-ended "sandbox mode" or through one of seven adventures, ranging in difficulty from fairly easy to very challenging. Each adventure is broken into several episodes with unique objectives, and when the objectives for an episode are reached, rather than start a new city from scratch, you continue developing your current city with a new goal. This helps break up the repetitive nature of the game by creating more of a sense of progress.

The world of Zeus is colourful and "bristles with activity. Detailed anima-tions bring the city to life - you can "see workers pushing carts, herding sheep, delivering water, and generally going about their daily business. The buildings have a cartoonish charm without being overly cute and you can see at a glance what goods your storehouses have on hand, or which residential areas are thriving and which ones need work. The world is also filled with the sounds of a bustling city, from the sawing of the timber mill to the grunts of athletes fighting in the stadium.

Building and managing your cities is accomplished mostly with the mouse, and you'll be laying down roads and buildings with ease. A panel on the right side of the screen is easily navigable and lets you sort through the many buildings or display maps to see any potential problem areas in your city. You can also access an assortment of menus to control tax rates, wages, distribution, and other micro-management needs.

With the various adventures, sandbox modes, and tons of micro-management, Zeus: Master of Olympus will keep city-building fans occupied for hours, and with its simple control and multiple difficulty levels, it's a great introduction for newcomers as well.tipsDon't build too many industries until your city has a large enough population to fill all the job vacancies. Otherwise, your businesses will suffer and citizens won't migrate to your city.

When another city offers you a gift, by all means accept it, even if you have to build an extra storehouse. You never know when you'll need extra goods to appease a neighbour or a god.

Keep residential and industrial areas separate and use roadblocks to keep vendors and maintenance folks from wandering away from your neighbourhoods.

Product: Zeus: Master of Olympus

Developer: Impression Games

Publisher: Sierra

URL: http://zeus.impressionsgames.com/

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Brian Wright

PC World

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