Games reviews

Starship Troopers

By Sean Molloy

When director Paul Verhoeven's 1997 epic space bug flick Starship Troopers hit screens, a video game was almost inevitable. What's bizarre is that it took so long for it to happen. The Starship Troopers RTS game is Microprose's not-so-timely and not-so-successful attempt to recreate the mass interstellar arachnophobia of the movie.

Starship Troopers for the PC puts you in control of a small squadron of Mobil Infantry consisting of up to 18 units pulled from a pool of up to 35 loyal troopers. Your job is to guide your units, RTS style, through various maps and missions, cleaning out bug-infested territory, capturing arachnid specimens, and rescuing troopers who've gone MIA. The game employs the standard select-and-deploy method of RTS gameplay, complete with most of the handy shortcuts. You can group entire units into one platoon, set up waypoints and patrols.

Each of your units can carry a nice array of power armour and weapons, and surviving units gain experience points, enabling them to fight better and use better equipment. Your squads can take a number of "attitudes" ranging from stealthy (creep by undetected, disturb nothing) to berserk (disobey any further keyboard input). Plus, each type of arachnid enemy also harbours some sort of weapon weakness, so what weapons you choose to equip your men with will have an impact on how efficient you are as a killing machine.

Any attempt to break up your squad beyond one giant mass will only serve to frustrate. Sure, you've got weapons and weaknesses and armour and experience points and all that nice stuff - but thanks to the limitations of the camera, the game basically boils down to "mass of a dozen guys wanders map and opens fire on anything that moves", effectively removing the strategy from real-time strategy. My guess is they made this camera design choice in order to simulate a Trooper's limited "field of vision" - and in that respect, it's successful at generating some tension.

The graphics in the game are about par for a 3D-accelerated planet-scarring romp. Despite the fact that the programmers didn't bother to use anything beyond the low-polygon count cookie-cutter 3D bag of lighting and terrain tricks, the folks at Blue Tongue have managed to recreate the look of the movie's rocky planetoid battle scenes. Still, the game looks basically the same no matter where you end up fighting . . . generic, rolling video game terrain, too-similar enemies, and a squad of indistinguishable guys dressed in green holding guns standing in the middle of it all.

The game's music is pretty passive and barely noticeable, the voice acting has none of the goofy camp charm of the movie, but a good mix of gunfire-and-explosion sound effects helps keep things lively.

While the prospect of running around and blowing the hell out of space arachnids starts off as a blast, a lack of variety, the fact that you can't save your games mid-mission, and a camera that actually serves as a One Ring-sized gameplay burden ensure that the fun won't last for long.

Product: Starship Troopers

Developer: Blue Tongue

Publisher: Microprose



In most missions, you'll want to move as one giant unit for the sake of your own sanity, but entropy dictates that your men will slowly drift apart - every now and then, call them back into formation to prevent stragglers.

Don't approach bug holes with your entire army unless you like to die. Clear out some space in front of the hole, then send in a single missile launcher trooper in "stealth" mode. Usually two shots will do.

Taking out the Plasma bugs requires some timing - wait until their wings open, then fire a rocket into their unsuspecting thorax.

No One Lives Forever

By John Marrin

No One Lives Forever manages to blend camp humour and diverse gameplay into a challenging and surprisingly well done first person shooter. You play as Cate Archer, an up-and-coming female operative in the top secret international counterintelligence agency known as UNITY. Someone has been killing off UNITY field agents, and the top brass is beginning to suspect an inside job. Your mission: track down the double agent.

Cate can't heal while on a mission, so you need to be particularly careful not to get her shot or otherwise wounded. She'll also need to utilise stealth on a number of missions, by tossing coins to distract guards, avoiding security cameras, and pulling off other equally sneaky tricks. Cate will get to scuba dive, drive an assortment of vehicles, and snipe at unsuspecting targets. Other missions let you tear around blasting just about everything in sight, but there are usually a number of twists to each level that you'll have to figure out. Cate's equipment isn't limited to weapons, either. In classic spy movie fashion, her barrette is not only a lockpick, it's also a poison-tipped mini-knife. Cate gets to use camera sunglasses, exploding lipstick, and a large assortment of other items that would make James Bond's Q quiver with delight.

Set in the swinging 1960s, the visuals in NOLF are colourful and fun to look at. Bad guys wearing stereotypical red fez hats, white suits, and sunglasses chase Cate through Morocco, while sombre East German soldiers blast at her in Berlin. There are plenty of innocent bystanders in many of the missions, so you need to avoid civilian casualties, making the game more than just a frag-fest.

The Lithtech engine has come a long way since its first incarnation, and the textures, even when zoomed up close through a rifle scope, are amazingly crisp. Character animations are solid as well: guards roll to dodge gunfire, and enemies have many slow and agonising death animations. The only hit against the graphics are that the character models are a bit low on the polygon count, and sharp angles on legs, arms, and faces detract from the experience. Still, NOLF is a visual feast, and the graphics are backed by a swanky soundtrack that borrows from classic spy films and changes according to the action onscreen. In addition, the voice acting is well done with a lot of corny, but still funny, jokes and one liners.

One downside to NOLF is the multiplayer game limitations. There are only two options available: deathmatch and team deathmatch. You get to pick from a big selection of skins for your player, but the scenarios are very stripped down, with little object detail. The lag time can also be incredibly stifling on a 56Kbps modem. Still, you can't run down other players with a snowmobile in any other online game!

Overall, No One Lives Forever succeeds on two levels. First, it's a really fun and challenging first person shooter that makes you think before you shoot. Secondly, the humour, characters, and sense of style create a world that is more memorable than most recent PC games.

Product: No One Lives Forever

Developer: Monolith

Publisher: Fox Interactive



Crouch below video cameras, wait until they make their sweep in the opposite direction, then make your break for it.

Throwing coins is very useful for distracting guards, just be sure the coin lands in the direction you want the guard to look!

Go for headshots whenever possible, especially against soldiers who are harder to kill.

Gunman Chronicles

By John Marrin

Rewolf's Gunman Chronicles tries to bring back some of the magic of Half Life and succeeds pretty well. Using the Half Life engine as the driving force behind it, Gunman Chronicles tells the story of The General, who has gone slightly loopy after being left behind when a raid against genetically engineered mutants went bad. Now he's heading up the R+D on mutant life with a vengeance, and since you were responsible for ditching him five years ago when you ordered a retreat, he has a few nasty surprises in store for you . . .

Gunman Chronicles blends a decent story into the action. You blast aliens, mutant dinosaurs, and enemy soldiers loyal to The General as you make your way past different obstacles. Typical of most first person shooters, the puzzles are pulling levers in the right sequence, or hunting for a hidden passage, but, overall, the game holds you in its grip.

Some of the alien enemies will look familiar to Half Life veterans. While many are definitely custom made for Gunman, others move and attack in old recognisable ways. The human enemies use cover well but they also now dodge fire pretty well with tuck and roll moves.

To fight them, you've got an arsenal at your disposal. Everything from a knife to a rocket launcher to a shotgun to a Polaris Blade that fires a nasty energy beam can be brought to bear against the enemy. Your rocket launcher and some other weapons have a number of different firing modes, letting you pick the best one for each situation. The various guns and other goodies you can pack (in addition to the occasional tank driving rampage, and mounted machine-gun riot) give the game a good dose of adrenaline, but, on the whole, the enemies seem to be sparse.

Rewolf has tweaked the Half Life engine to the max with some nice textures and lighting combined with solid level design. The audio backing the visuals has good fidelity, with deep bass and solid mid tones, and overall the sound has a very dense feel to it. All is not well in the Gunman Chronicles, however: there were quite a few times when the game would stutter and hang for a few seconds before resuming normally. A couple of unexpected crashes (which weren't repeatable) and two minor clipping problems are the only dings against the production quality.

Gunman Chronicles doesn't break any new ground, but it's a fun diversion. The single player game is a bit slow at times, but the great visuals and decent story will pull you through. Multiplayer mayhem extends the replay value a bit.

Otherwise, Gunman Chronicles is a worthy title if you hanker for a reheated FPS experience. It's like day old pizza: still delicious, but still pizza.

Product: Gunman Chronicles

Developer: Rewolf

Publisher: Sierra Studios



Forget about fighting this guy the first time you meet, just duck behind the boulder when he fires his first volley, then run up the ramp and escape unharmed (relatively).

Keep moving when you encounter the dropship: it packs a punch, but its energy-based weapons can't keep up with you if you run. To destroy it, fill the plasma well first, then fire the whole works when the ship is right over it.

Sniping can be very effective (one shot, one kill), but remember to stay behind cover or you're toast.

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