Black & White
By Jake the Snake
By creating a beautiful living world in which you can do almost anything - good, bad, or in between - Black & White miraculously pulls you in and doesn't let go until you've sacrificed many hours.
The heart of the game is to expand your influence by converting villages with miracles - fireballs, lightning, rain, food, and more. You also have a giant creature - at first a gorilla, cow, or tiger - which you teach to be your physical surrogate. Thanks to impressive A.I., your creature grows incredibly smart and powerful depending on how you respond to his actions (with slapping or stroking), and it does some surprising things without your prompting.
What makes Black & White so impressive is the feeling it gives of tinkering with a real world. The islands have forests of individual trees; oceans filled with fish; fields of cows and sheep; changing weather and light; and you can view it all from almost any angle.
So clear your calendar and dust off your dormant megalomania. It's time to show the people who's boss.
Graphics: Black & White is the best-looking RTS - if not PC game - yet. In seconds, you can zoom in to see the roots of an upturned tree or a villager kissing his girlfriend, then zoom out to see the whole mist-shrouded island.
Sound: When you zoom in on a cow, you hear it moo. Cast a water miracle, and you hear a harp playing as the water patters to the ground. Your inner voices are always speaking to you, too - Evil with a tough Bronx accent and Good with an angelic lilt.
Controls: The control scheme is masterful. You can do everything from making villagers breed to slapping your creature, all with the mouse (not to mention panning and zooming the camera anywhere and everywhere). The coolest touch is casting miracles by moving your mouse in a specific shape.
Fun Factor: Black & White is a huge, wonderful game that defies comparison to anything other than an incredibly complex Tamagochi or a virtual ant farm populated with people. Even after many hours (which go by like minutes), you'll still be amazed at the things you and your creature can do.
Product: Black & White
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
By Johnny Dimmerswitch
Set between the events of Fallout 1 and Fallout 2, Fallout Tactics will put you in charge of a detachment of soldiers from a splinter faction within the paramilitary Brotherhood of Steel. After the Master was destroyed at the end of the first Fallout, the remnants of his Mutant Army headed off into the wastelands of the American Midwest. Your group has to try to stop them.
While the previous Fallout games were dark, epic RPGs, Micro-Forte has decided to move Fallout Tactics into the tactical combat genre. Fallout Tactics promises both "classic" turn-based combat and a new "continuous turn-based" system geared for multi-player gameplay. The plot will unfold over the course of 20 single-player missions, with random encounters mixed in for good measure. Players will also be able to take their squads online to do battle in any of the five different multi-player modes, including one called Tip the Brahmin!
Many elements from Fallout Tactics will be familiar to Fallout veterans. The attribute and skill systems will be nearly unchanged. Squad members will improve with experience, increasing their skills and earning perks along the way. Many of the weapons, like the Avenger Minigun, will have also been carried over from previous Fallout games. One new feature will be the ability to drive vehicles - and even run over opponents if they get in your way.
Product: Fallout Tactics
The Moon Project
By Cap'n Beefcake
It's the year 2150, pick your faction: the Eurasian Dynasty, United Civilized States, or the Lunar Corporation. The story: something about Earth's destruction, Aliens, Aztecs, a secret project and the moon . but who really cares, anyway? There's lots of building, exploring, researching, and battling taking place in TopWare's The Moon Project, a real-time strategy game with 3D graphics.
Like Ground Control, The Moon Project utilises a three-dimensional camera control function to enhance the visual effects. You can choose your affiliation, and battle through the scripted missions in the single-player game or pick from one of the many big and pretty maps for single- or multi-player skirmishes.
The Moon Project also has a lot of customisation functions, so gamers who like to tweak can create new unit types and battle scenarios. Things to look forward to include an expanded map editor and a tool to create your own game interfaces. Also, there's "EarthC", the script language to design individual story campaigns and edit unit values and behaviour. If you're an RTS aficionado, The Moon Project may be one to watch for.
Product: The Moon Project
Developer: TopWare Interactive
By human tornado
The popularity of games like Diablo and Baldurs Gate have made others stand up and take notice. Gas Powered Games is prepping its take on medieval mayhem with Dungeon Siege, a real time RPG/action hybrid that looks good enough to eat.
Scheduled for a September release, Dungeon Siege is a true 3D game with 3D terrain and characters. A full particle engine gives realistic lighting effects from explosions and spells. In addition, the game features dynamic loading, which constantly updates the environment so you won't see any load screens when entering a new area.
Gamers start out simply as a male or female character, and slowly build up skills and acquire items. Transporting treasure and items in Diablo and Diablo II is limited by what you can carry, but Dungeon Siege will let gamers hire a helping hand to carry loot. Either a human or a pack mule can hoist items for you when you're overburdened. Combat is in real time, but you can let characters act for themselves when encountering beasts, or give them explicit orders to follow. If managing a whole party is too much in real time, gamers will be able to pause the game to issue combat commands. Characters can fight with weapons as well as use magic and there will be a number of defensive (such as heal) and offensive spells in the game.
Gamers can use a single character to hack and slash through Dungeon Siege, but you know the saying: the more, the merrier. In Dungeon Siege, you can build parties of up to eight different characters, which involves a bit of strategy. You have a number of party formations available, and can set waypoints. Outflanking the enemy and using the terrain to your advantage can prove useful at times.
You can manage the whole party by yourself or team up with eight humans and play multi-player games online. Multi-player games vary from short and specific quests - such as rescuing a certain individual or capturing a castle - to longer campaign-style games. When you're done with the single-player adventure and have tired of multi-player gaming, you can create your own characters, spells and adventure environments, which should extend the gameplay.
Dungeon Siege looks to take the action RPG genre one step further with a host of graphical and gameplay features that should add up well.
Product: Dungeon Siege
Developer: Gas Powered Games
Microsoft Train Simulator
Train lovers eager to sit in the driver's seat of some of the world's most famous trains and navigate some of the most scenic routes will get their chance in Microsoft Train Simulator.
The game comes with six of the world's most famous train routes pre-rendered and ready to ride. You get the high-speed Amtrak Acela that runs the Northeast Corridor route, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, the Flying Scotsman of Great Britain, the Kyushu Railway Company's Hisatsu line on Japan's Kyushu island, the busy Odakyu Electric Railway commuter lines in Japan, and, most famous of all, The Orient Express that crosses the rugged Austrian Alps.
The precisely modelled train cabs have fully working gauges and controls. You can try your hand at monitoring the complex analog levers and switches of steam locomotives (where you'll do everything but shovel the coal yourself), or gear up for some high-tech bullet train action on Amtrak's new route. You can take a train out for a simple cruise and let the computer drive, or pick from one of many train challenges, such as delivering passengers or cargo on time in bad weather.
The game uses real world terrain information, so every hill is authentic. In addition, gamers will be able to create their own track layouts and landscapes, populate them with a heap of different objects like buildings, cars, and trees, and post them on the Internet to share.
Pack your bags and don your engineer's cap: Train Simulator pulls out of the station and onto your PC this spring.
Product: Microsoft Train Simulator