Beta games. (Gameplay) (Column) (Buyers Guide)
by David Atkin
This is not your father's "GamePlay" column. Starting with this issue, "GamePlay" will be the spot where you can find hands-on looks at the newest games for your PC.
Until recently I was editor of COMPUTE's special Amiga section. When the Amiga edition shut down, my bosses noticed that I played games on nearly every electronic platform out there (I'd be a gourmet chef if they'd invent a flight simulator I could play on my microwave oven) and decided to make me entertainment editor. My mission with this column is to snoop out prerelease copies (called betas in the industry) of new games so that you can find out what's new and hot at your local software emporium. The games I'm seeing a couple of months before they're released will often have just reahced the shelves of your dealer by the time you see this column.
Waving the checkered flag. One of the hottest games for the holidays is sure to be IndyCar Racing, designed by Papyrus and distributed by Virgin Games. Papyrus designed the 1989 Electronic Arts hit Indianapolis 500: The Simulation, and if you liked that game, you'll love this one. You'll drive 800-horsepower IndyCars around tracks ranging from the oval at Michigan International Speedway to the corkscrew curves at Laguna Seca.
You can hust hoop in the car and start driving, or you can stop by the garage first and adjust your car's handling characteristics by changing the suspension stiffness, wing angles, gearing, tire hardness and pressure, camber, and more. There's even a dyno room where you can custom-tune your car's engine.
>From there it's off to 1 of 12 tracks to qualify and race. When you first hop in the cockpit, you'll likely get run over by the other drivers because you'll be sitting there gawking at the amazing scenery. Although IndyCar Racing uses flight simulator--style polygon graphics, Papyrus texture-maps the objects with realistic bitmaps. The track is replete with skid marks and grooves, and the cars are covered with authentic sponsor stickers. You'll find yourself slowing down on the curves just to read the advertising billboards! When you scrape the walls or wreck, realistic smoke whiffs from your car. I recognized buildings that I'd driven past in real life when I was driving the Long Beach Grand Prix course--IndyCar Racing has some of the bestlooking, most realistic graphics in PC-game history. When watching replays of your race, complete with camera cuts, you'll feel like you're watching the race live on TV.
Driving is a blast with a joystick, but it's especially fun with CH Products' yoke controller. There are varying realism levels: On the easy levels you can pretty much just worry about steering and braking, but with realism active, you'll find that rain, wind, and temperatures all affect car handling. There's more here than I have room to talk about, but suffice it to say that this is the game to come home and play after a frustrating afternoon in stop-and-go traffic.
Golden oldie. If you were around for the birth of the personal computer industry, you may remember the incredible batch of games that Electronic Arts entered the market with. These classics, such as M.U.L.E., Pinball Construction Set, Archon, and Seven Cities of Gold, may not have been as sophisticated as today's PC games, but they were eminently playable and good for months of fun.
Now two of those classics have been updated for today's PCs. Archon is coming soon from SSI, promising SVGA graphics and new play options. EA has taken a more preservationist approach with its Seven Cities of Gold Commerative Edition for the PC. The game now brandishes enhanced sepia-toned VGA graphics and smoother gameplay (you no longer kill natives just by bumping into them), but otherwise, it remains faithful to Dani Bunten's Commodore 64/Atari 800 classic.
You're a fifteenth-century Spanish explorer out to conquer the New World. You explore territory in search of gold and New World goods, which you can take back to Europe and use to bring back an even larger and more powerful expedition. You can trade with the natives or conquer them--it's up to you. But if you take the violent approach, word will spread, and your explorations may become increasingly bloody. Once you've conquered the Americas, Seven Cities can generate new, random worlds for you to explore. The game is simple to learn and play, and it's great fun. Kudos to EA for bringing back a classic.