Games reviews - December 1999

Nocturne (preview)

Pulp Fiction, Men in Black and Castlevania collide with a silver bullet in Terminal Reality's upcoming gothic adventure Nocturne. A gloomy, atmospheric third-person adventure that combines Resident Evil's predetermined camera angles with Tomb Raider's action and a first-person-shooter control structure. This single player game transports you to a shadowy version of the 1930s, where you'll meet some of your worst nightmares. US President Roosevelt has convened a special, secret agency, dubbed the Spookhouse, to deal with the growing threat of the supernatural.

The general public is too fragile to comprehend the rise of monsters, so, as society clings to its cushy image of reality, you'll deal with the other side as a Spookhouse agent - and werewolves and vampires are only the start of it. Just wait'll you hear the zombie cow say "moo".

Nocturne consists of four episodes, each a complete story with a number of sub-missions. You'll travel from a haunted western town to an uncomfortably crowded graveyard to the depths of Hell on assignments from the Spookhouse. This gothic slant on your typical third-person action format offers a variety of challenges, including hunting monsters, finding relics, rescuing humans and unravelling diabolical plots in the heart of evil. Your character, The Stranger, packs an expanding repertoire of weapons that includes Lara Croft-style double-fisted handguns (distinguished from Lara's by laser scopes), but his mysterious background and enhanced physical prowess make him far more dangerous.

The pre-rendered, fully polygonal environments in Nocturne spare no technological expense. Special effects such as flashlight strobes and gently sifting fog add to the ominous tone as your laser scopes desperately penetrate the dense shadows. The game prompts you to check your gamma settings at the outset and you'll be glad you did: the first sign of an assailant just may be red eye-slits that emerge from slumber. Each new camera angle brings more hiding places for death and you'll find Nocturne's inhabitants far quicker and more lethal than Resident Evil's slowpoke zombies.

Nocturne's cinematic package is rounded out with a soundtrack that lets the eerie environments speak for themselves. All of the in-game dialogue is spoken in performances that will let you taste the characters' fright or demonic confidence. However, rather than numb you with rockin' tunes, this game sets its mood with whistling winds, rumbling trains, echoing footsteps and subtle growls. You never know where the next scare is coming from. Consider this The Blair Witch Project of computer games.

The interface will feel both familiar and unique to players of Tomb Raider or first-person shooters. You can control The Stranger with a keyboard, mouse, gamepad, or a combination of these, but the constant danger of attack from any angle requires the precise, quick movement gamers have perfected with the likes of Quake II or Half-Life.

Nocturne also offers an optional Tomb Raider-style auto-aiming feature, which may be considered the game's only difficulty increment. Luckily, you can save your game at any point, so careful gamers won't be too frustrated by sudden assaults from the shadows. If horror's recent resurgence has you eager for new thrills, stay tuned. - Hugh SterbakovProduct: NocturnePublisher: Gathering of DevelopersWeb: www.godgames.comRainbow Six Rogue SpearSpecial Operations Forces hit a target silent and hard, never allowing the target to regain its senses. And such was the effect when Rogue Spear, the sequel to the first-person strategy/shooter Rainbow Six, infiltrated our offices. We were overwhelmed. We played the multiplayer game far into the night.

Oh, by the way: the single-player game isn't half-bad, either.

As in the original game, you take control of a top-secret fighting force bent on ending terrorism. Operating in secrecy, you'll travel all over the world, from New York to Kosovo. You play through 18 missions set in 16 real-world locations. You'll rescue hostages, prevent water contamination and, eventually, save the world. The single-player portion, like the first game, starts with the planning stage and then lets you play out your plans in the action phase.

So what's the rumpus? Well, for starters, the Rogue Spear team has added so many new features, weapons and items to the Rainbow Six engine that it'll take weeks for fans to incorporate the new strategies into their gameplay. You can throw Smoke Grenades to conceal movement, activate Heartbeat Sensor Jammers to negate enemy sensors and lay down False Heartbeat Pucks to give off fake signals to confuse and ambush your enemy.

You now have access to foreign bullpups (rear-mounted cartridges) like the Steyr Aug and the Enfield L85A1 - a blessing to anyone who knows just how accurate the bullpups are - and high-powered sniper rifles (PSG-1, Barrett 82A1 and the WaltherWA2000). Every weapon per-forms realistically and even the tiniest of details have been worked into the code. Your weapons will only zoom in as far as their real-life scopes allow, and their rates of fire are limited to those of their real-life counterpart - a notable improvement over Rainbow Six, in which every rifle had the same scope and rate of fire.

Rainbow Six fans will be happy to see that their prayers for a "moving crouch" feature have been answered. (You can run as well as walk in this position.) Players are also now able to lean around corners to take pot-shots at enemies.

But, it doesn't stop there . . . Rogue Spear has new weather effects: rain and snow, new "death spasm" animations and finally the ability to see each person's ping via a lag-meter from the multiplayer pre-game room. A very nice feature indeed! And if that wasn't enough, the game ships with a mission editor in the box!

And on top of all that, the audio quality in Rogue Spear is fantastic! You can hear every footstep, tune out in the sounds of rainfall and even hear sirens and traffic from urban rooftops. Each gun has its own sound effect and the grenades have never sounded better.

There are some minor problems with the game. Take for example the fact that the AI often displays inhuman accuracy and as a result will nab you in the head . . . with a pistol . . . at long range! There are problems with clipping and the fact that you can get stuck on certain maps: can't move crouched through the doors that divide both sections of the Train Yard map and I've seen players get stuck under the wings of the 747. Rogue Spear is almost perfect.

So I'm back where I was last year about this time, neck deep in Rogue Spear multiplayer. While the single player is fine and dandy, multiplayer is what it's all about. With over a dozen new weapons, items and maps to wage war on, Rogue Spear is the best thing to happen to shooters since Quake. Yet, Redstorm needs to convert the old Rainbow Six maps for use in Rogue Spear multiplayer . . . Considering how popular those old maps are - "Amazon" was an instant classic - it was foolish not to include them in the sequel.

In the end, Rogue Spear is hot and I'll be playing it for months to come. You just can't beat all the new features. If you buy one game during the holidays, pick up Rogue Spear. I think you'll like it. - Nash WernerProduct: Rainbow Six Rogue SpearPublisher: Southpeak/RedstormWeb: www.redstorm.comRainbow Six Rogue Spear: tipsWith the "hands-free" Stand Alone Heartbeat Sensor, you're now able to drop one near a door and switch back to your rifle and wait for the enemy to turn his back. It's even nastier in multiplayer, where you can drop the Stand Alone in a high-traffic area and lay wait in ambush.

In multiplayer, always try to catch your opposition off guard. Imagine what they'd anticipate you to do and then quickly change your route, jam their sensor signals, or frag them from around the corner with the new "Lean" feature.

Learn the maps! I cannot stress enough how much advantage I have over people who don't know the new maps. Learn each choke-point, memorise each starting position and quickly find ways to stop people like me who know the maps well by cutting off their expected route of attack.

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