Spectrum Reviews: Interactive Media & Online Developer Product/Service Reviews

21 December 1998

Written and edited by David Duberman for editorial/ subscription inquiries, send mailto:duberman@dnai.com ________________________________________ Editor's Note If you've put off shopping for high-tech holiday gifts until the very last moment, and are still in the office to get this in time, here are some suggestions, in the form of reviews and mini-reviews. Most are games, but there's also an offbeat 3D consumer title for danceaholics, hardware items for PC users and video gamers, and an Internet utility. Happy holidays, and we'll see you in the new year! ____________________________ Today's Reviews (details below) --Dance Studio --Sin --Grim Fandango --After Dark Games --Fallout 2 --PlayStation Roundup --Microsoft IntelliMouse Pro --Half-Life --King's Quest: Mask of Eternity --Turok 2 --nYko Hyper Pak Plus and Memory CardX72 --Thief: The Dark Project --StarCraft Expansion Set: Brood War --Shogo: Mobile Armor Division --Settlers III --Lumina PCC --FTP Control --Total Annihilation Commander Pack F.Y.I. --About Spectrum Reviews ____________________________ Dance Studio An interesting departure from tools maker MetaCreations, Dance Studio is a real-time 3D graphics program aimed at kids, although you probably know a few adults who might enjoy it as well. The program starts with Hi-Top, a hip hop-talking youth, strutting around on a subway platform in a TV screen-like frame in the center of the display, with various Kai-like controls on either side. These let you switch to other dancers, such as the Spice Girl-like Velvet and Travolta clone Harvey "Staying Alive" Jones, plus three others. With each character, you can set different colors for skin, shoes, pants and shirt. Other preparatory settings let you select one of six environments, such as a warehouse or nightclub, with various lighting controls, and from six dance styles, including country or disco. While you're making your setup decisions, the onscreen character evinces impatience and/or surprise with gestures and digitized voice, an amusing touch. He or she even goes so far as to comment on your choice of clothing. Then you're ready to rumble, or rather, record a dance. You hit the tape deck-style Record button and the music starts. You can play WAV or MIDI files supplied with the program or from elsewhere, or even an audio CD, and the program comes with Mixman, which lets you create new compositions by mixing pieces of music. You control your character's movements with the keyboard, busting such moves as kicks, spins, steps, head movement and quite a few more, including switching camera angles. When you're finished, you can play and edit the dance, save it to disk for exchanging with friends, and export it as an AVI or Web-ready animation, or even in the BVH-format motion-capture file for using with 3D animation programs (the BVH export worked only after an update). For a low-priced consumer application, there's a surprising amount of sophistication here, including hardware acceleration for great-looking 3D. Kudos to developer Millennium Rush for coming up with a novel usage for real-time 3D graphics, and to MetaCreations for bringing it to market. The concept is intriguing and the design is solid, but whether it'll fly or not is up to the kids. Kids? Yo, stay alive at http://www.metacreations.com/products/dancestudio/. ____________________________ GAMES Sin "Lust" might be a more apt title for this game, whose marketing has whetted more adolescent male sexual appetites this season than perhaps any other title, Tomb Raider eleventy-seven notwithstanding. The object of said cravings is Elexis Sinclaire, the incredibly beautiful/evil, impossibly thin/voluptuous villain of Sin, recently released by Activision. Developed by Ritual, the Activision-owned software house that previously created a Quake add-on pack, the game is based on an enhanced version of the Quake II engine. The player role-plays John Blade, a Duke Nukem-style future cop hot on the trail of Sinclair's henchmen, who keep turning into scary monsters, and eventually the wicked woman herself. Sinclaire, the biochemist CEO of SinTEK Industries, is spreading an insidious DNA-altering drug designed to create a mutant army that will let her take over the world. It's up to you, as the buffed, dreadlocked, wisecracking Blade, to stop her. You progress through warehouses, sewers, chem labs and lots of other environments, battling baddies all the way. Blade's most powerful weapon is his fists, so in many cases, you can save bullets if you're able to get up close and personal with the guys who are shooting at you. Another neat innovation is the ability to switch to a third-person view, although it's seldom particularly useful. As with Duke Nukem 3D, the game has a sense of humor, although it's sophomoric at best, such as an ad for "Slick Willy's Cigars -- Gusto Como Internso." You can manipulate environmental objects to a limited extent, for example, when you need to ram through a fence with a bulldozer, and there are several instances where you must log onto computers using a simple menu system. At one point, if you dial a phone, you get the message, "Hello and welcome to voice jail; you are now on hold." A few in-jokes cause one to chuckle, such as the evil scientist named after a notorious game-industry publicist. And there are a few embarrassing goofs, such as when "they're" is spelled "their." (Don't they teach contractions in high-school English anymore?) The levels are well designed and nicely varied, and some details differ from game to game in order to provide replay value. The game looks great in hardware-accelerated 3D, especially with a Voodoo 2 card, and the in-game innocent female bystanders are guaranteed to keep the typical hormone-ravaged player interested until he catches up with Sinclaire. In fact, she doesn't appear at all until you're well into the game, in a real-time cut-scene, where her low-polygon bod barely resembles the sexy image on the box cover. Perhaps the game's greatest flaw is its slightly confusing control system, where you're never quite sure what will happen when you press the U ("Use") key. All in all, while Sin isn't terribly original, it's great fun, and a compelling gaming experience. I give it an A for playability, and recommend it to all those who found Quake II too dreary-looking and same-old same-old. Confess your sins at http://www.activision.com. ____________________________ Grim Fandango Starting way back with Maniac Mansion and the Monkey Island series, nobody does humorous adventure games better than LucasArts. The tradition continues with Grim Fandango, which takes place in the legendary Mexican land of the dead, but is anything but moribund. For his principal inspirations, designer Tim Schafer credits the Mexican legend and the movie Chinatown. Our hero is Manny Calavera, a skeletal underdog of a travel agent whose job it is to sell trips to the ninth underworld, the ultimate afterlife goal for deceased souls. Manny's trying to work off a debt incurred by his less-than-perfect life. All of a sudden, he sees his chance in the form of a beautiful, but dead, babe, but then it eludes his bony grasp, and his pursuit comprises the adventure herein. Along the way, Manny meets various nicely fleshed-out (as it were) characters, including Sal, a revolutionary underground leader, and Glottis, a huge but lovable demon who serves as Manny's driver. Using the keyboard, and a joystick or gamepad if you like, but no mouse (!), you guide Manny to solve puzzles while fighting corruption. The inventory-based puzzles are mostly pretty logical and fun to solve, but a few are relatively obscure; fortunately, help in the form of walkthroughs is available on the Internet. The graphics, spread over two CDs, consist of real-time 3D polygonal characters against beautifully pre-rendered backgrounds. Grim Fandango supports hardware accelerators, but mostly looks fine even rendered in software. I like how the Lucas artists solved the facial-animation problem via simple animated bitmaps on cylindrical heads; it's not as cheap-looking as you might expect, but actually endearing. And the voice characterizations are mostly excellent. The game's most memorable aspect is its sense of humor--not at all tasteless, considering the subject matter--and the paradoxical atmosphere of hopeful resignation. If you've enjoyed LucasArts' previous adventures, you're bound to like this one, but if you've never had a taste, you could do worse than starting here. Grim Fandango may not have you rolling on the floor, but it'll bring a smile to your lips while they're still attached to your skull. Roll them bones at http://www.lucasarts.com/products/grim, and while you're at it, pick up the soundtrack CD; it's a nice one. ____________________________ After Dark Games Sierra/Cendant-owned Berkeley Systems is best known as the company that gave us the flying-toaster screen saver, and digital trivia lovers know them for their seemingly endless series of You Don't Know Jack games. Now BS has come out with After Dark Games, a collection of 11 small, more-or-less addictive time-wasters in categories such as Puzzle, Arcade, and Word, some of which are themed on the famous flying toasters. For example, Toaster Run, an attractive if difficult game, lets you fly a toaster through a series of challenging, isometric rooms in search of a lost baby. It resembles the paper airplane puzzler of a few years back. By far the most fun for me was Bad Dog 911, a word game in which you must form as many words as possible from six letters within a time limit. To its credit, the game doesn't shorten the time limit at the more difficult levels; it just uses more obscure, crossword-type words. Also fun is Mowin' Maniac, a Pac-Man-style maze game where you can actually mow down the barriers. Zapper is a neat trivia game, and Rodger Dodger's somewhat indescribable challenge involves capturing stationary spirals while evading moving red things, whose paths you can change by manipulating barriers. There's more, but I don't want to spoil all the fun. If you enjoy using your head, you're bound to find a good deal of value in After Dark Games, even if they're not all to your liking. Fly your toaster at http://www.afterdark.com. -------------------------------------------------- Fallout 2 When I reviewed Fallout a little over a year ago, in the first edition of Spectrum Reviews (November 3, 1997), I made no secret of the fact that I liked it a lot. That title was three years in development, but even though the sequel, Fallout 2, took only a year, it's a terrific game. Like the original, it's a classic single-player role-playing game, viewed from an isometric overhead view. When I started playing it, the range of available possibilities made me think about how linear most games are, even vast role-playing games like Final Fantasy 7, which guide you along a preset path. There's a value to such dumb entertainment; you don't have to think much, just follow along and admire the scenery as you go. But games like Fallout 2 are crafted for those who like to think, and take risks, and just explore. It's all here; sex and violence, money and fame, political intrigue and gang warfare, and lots more. Of course, Fallout 2 isn't completely open-ended; there is a goal, but unlike most RPGs, it isn't to vanquish the big bad mean guy/creature who's trying to take over the world. The game takes place in a science-fictional (we hope) post-apocalyptic future, where the few who tunneled themselves away to avoid a worldwide nuclear holocaust are just starting to emerge. The world of Fallout 2 isn't exactly a hospitable place; in fact, it's practically impossible to survive. That's why your tribe has sent you out to attempt to recover a Garden of Eden Construction Kit (GECK), a tool that will restore the balance of nature in the primitive village, and give folks a chance to pass their genes on to the next generation. This acronym, by the way, is actually somewhat emblematic of the game, as you do lots of other things with geckos. The GECK is hidden in a secret vault, and your main goal is to retrieve it. On the way, you encounter lots of folks, friendly and hostile. Your responses to their challenges, whether in turn-based combat or menu-based conversation, determines how you fare in the world of Fallout 2. Fallout 2 is probably Interplay's best title of 1998, and one of the best games of the year from any publisher. If you have trouble making decisions, you might want to stick with black-and-white game worlds like that of Quake and its ilk, but if you're ready for something different, and can afford to spend the time it takes (you'll do lots of saving and restoring), Fallout 2 will make you happy. Come in from the nuclear-winter chill at http://www.interplay.com. ____________________________ SHORT TAKES PlayStation Roundup A veritable barrage of PlayStation product hit the retail shelves in the last month, and most of it, alas, is less than memorable. It's nice to see, though, that just about every new title supports the new Dual Shock controller's vibration function, and in most cases the force-feedback effect enhances gameplay. Perhaps the best-looking PSX title we've looked at recently was the latest installment in Sony's Crash Bandicoot saga, subtitled Warped. Developers Naughty Dog continue in the vein of the last two, creating a colorful, attractive mien for their two-dimensional platformer with a 3D look. This time the doggies took their inspiration from more exotic environments, including galloping along the Great Wall of China on tigerback (as Crash's girlfriend), and an underwater scuba dive. As before, some levels let you go at your own pace, while others force you to keep moving or die quickly. If you're riding a creature or vehicle, of course, you go at your mount's pace, but in other levels you're chased by a big monster, so have to keep running. If you're an experienced bandicoot, you'll love this one, but it's pretty difficult, so it may not be the best place to start. ____________________________ Also from Sony is Spyro the Dragon, a cute 3D platform game. Spyro is a juvenile fire-breather, but this fairly challenging game isn't necessarily just for kids. Spyro's grown-up associates have been frozen by an enemy in various locations, and it's the little one's job to find them all and liberate them. Each time he thaws a dragon, he receives a piece of useful advice, and along the way players find various types of power-ups, treasures and hidden areas. It's a very nice game, but not as compelling as it might have been. ____________________________ Speaking of 3D platformers, if Psygnosis' ODT, subtitled Escape ... Or Die Trying doesn't give you acrophobia, nothing will. You choose your role as one of four passengers on the Nautiflyus, a balloon flying a valuable thing somewhere. You've crash-landed atop a tower, and must find gas to restore the balloon. It's a dark and spooky game, and much of the time you're moving in areas where one false step sends you plummeting to your death. There's a fair amount of complexity, with the ability to use magic, redistribute experience to your various abilities (armor, weapon and spirit), different types of weapons and more. If you like challenging games with a difference, ODT could be your cup of tea. It's also available for the PC. ____________________________ Also from Psygnosis is the less successful Psybadek. Hoverdisk riders Xako and Mia stunt-trick their way through 3D-looking worlds with 2D paths in their search for friends to rescue and enemies to destroy. Alas, the game seems unfinished (perhaps rushed to market?), with relatively long uneventful periods and little reason to continue. Even the enemies seem lackadaisical. Among the stunts you learn as you go along are SuperStomp, 360 and 720, Fire Ring and Elektra Storm. I gave up when I was unsuccessful at stomping an annoying penguin after several tries, due to the poor control. ____________________________ Fortunately, Psygnosis' follow-up to Colony Wars, their popular Wing Commander clone, is a great deal more fun. Subtitled Vengeance, the sequel offers over 40 space- and planet-based missions, plus a storyline with over 19 acts and six different endings. The visuals are great, and the gameplay is nicely balanced. If you've ever played a space combat game, you have a pretty good idea what Colony Wars: Vengeance is like, which is not to condemn it; it's an excellent, if not terribly innovative, example of its genre. ____________________________ Too late to review, we received Psygnosis' latest PlayStation title, a 3D puzzle game called Roll Away. According to the press release, the game lets you fly a beach ball through hundreds of geometrically askew puzzle tracks, which decorated in such themes as psychedelic, Martian, ice, forest, Aztec and Mayan. We'll let you know more about this one in due course. ____________________________ I was never a big fan of the original Asteroids, finding the control scheme less than intuitive (basically, I sucked at it). Now that Activision has released the update with vastly improved graphics, I'm still not a big fan, but I found the new version quite enjoyable. Gameplay is considerably enhanced, with lots of new power-ups and surprises, including a hidden version of the original. ____________________________ Another new Activision title is Apocalypse starring Bruce Willis (was it a movie too?). As the Brucester, you play an action hero who's broken out of jail and travels a mostly 2D trail through a 3D-like environment (starting to sound familiar?). Not an extreme amount of imagination exerted in the game design, but it's reasonably addictive, dumb fun with lots of stuff that blows up real good. ____________________________ Like Crash Bandicoot, Eidos money-coining Lara Croft is now out and about in her third adventure, imaginatively titled Tomb Raider III. You start out sliding down a steep incline onto sharp spikes, and then it gets harder. It's the biggest Lara outing yet, and I like that you can play through the five huge worlds--India, London, Antarctica, the South Pacific, and (oooo!) Area 51--in any order. New moves include speed dash and monkey swing, and Lara can now take rides on a kayak and quad bike. And besides her bazookas, Lara can fight foes with a grenade launcher and a rocket launcher. As with previous Tomb Raider games, it's also available for PCs, with optional 3D hardware acceleration. ____________________________ Last but not least, we have Konami's Metal Gear Solid, which received a thoughtful rave review in Next Generation magazine and is selling great guns as a result. Unfortunately, Konami only sent us a demo version with a poorly Xeroxed manual, so I didn't get very far with it. It does look promising, though, with an emphasis on stealth over brute force, but it's assuredly not easy. ____________________________ Microsoft IntelliMouse Pro Microsoft's IntelliMouse was based on a brilliant idea: Turn the middle mouse button into a wheel that you can use for scrolling from any part of the page. It works in word processors, Web browsers, email programs and just about any other software that uses a scroll bar. By not forcing you to move the mouse around so much, it saves wear and tear on your wrists; a true ergonomic innovation. Not quite so innovative, but an improvement nonetheless, is the second generation, IntelliMouse Pro. The primary new feature is rubber sides for a better grip, plus an improved profile with a raised left side. The shape still doesn't do anything to assist with keeping the wrist raised, the main source of RSI. Still, it's got a much better feel, so if you've been putting off getting a wheel-based mouse, and you want to go with Microsoft, I recommend spending the extra bucks (about $60 street) for the Pro version of IntelliMouse. ____________________________ Half-Life After noting that early reviews of this eagerly awaited title seemed overwhelmingly positive, I purposely didn't read any further so as not to spoil any surprises the game might hold. I suggest you do the same, but don't delay getting what will be undoubtedly be at the top of every "Top Ten Action Games of 1998" list. It may not be as pretty as Unreal, but it's a better game by far. The monsters are truly scary, and the user interface is ingeniously implemented. A bit of advice: Even if you're an old hand at first-person shooters, don't bypass the short-and-sweet "training course"; you just might learn something. If you want to develop your own version, a level editor is included. Bottom line: Half-life is a perfect example of great game design that grabs the player by the short hairs and doesn't let go for a moment. Developer Valve has set a new standard for this game category, one that will be very difficult to top. Get a half-life at http://www.sierrastudios.com. ____________________________ King's Quest: Mask of Eternity It's not exactly "King's Quest meets Quake," but the latest edition of Sierra's venerable graphic adventure series is a major departure, with real-time polygon 3D, real-time fighting, and best of all, accessible gameplay. I found the puzzles in the previous King's Quest games to be fairly arcane, but in this incarnation they make sense. The user interface is well thought out, the graphics look very good (especially with a Voodoo 2 card), and players will enjoy such innovations as a rope and hook that let you climb walls. Truly an enjoyable game. Find out more, including about Sierra's commendable 90-day satisfaction-guaranteed policy, at http://www.sierrastudios.com. ____________________________ Turok 2 The original Turok took everyone by surprise as a vast, addictive first-person shooter for N64 in a mostly outdoors environment. Phase 2 of Turok's virtual adventures, again from Acclaim, find the comic-book, Native American hero back on N64 (with a Color GameBoy version, too!) in a more capacious cartridge (some 32MB worth, as opposed to 8MB in the original) but somewhat more claustrophobic quarters, moving through buildings and courtyards as he vanquishes more dino-oid bad guys, uncovers lots of more-or-less obvious puzzles, and ultimately saves the universe once again. It's fairly conventional, but lots of fun for all that. Special notes: At press time, Turok 2 is one of only two games that takes advantage of the new N64 RAM expander, giving a 640x480 display mode that looks much better on a big-screen TV, and it has a split-screen Death Match mode for up to four players. The only drawback is the humongous save-game size, taking up most of a memory pack; all the more reason to get nYko's Hyper Pak Plus (see review below). Find more at http://www.acclaim.com. ____________________________ nYko Hyper Pak Plus and Memory CardX72 If you have a Nintendo 64, you may bemoan the bad design decision that forces you to switch controller packs every time you want to use force feedback or save a game. Fret no more, Bunky, because Chinese accessory maker nYko saves the day with its Hyper Pak Plus. Powered by two AAA batteries, it's a single controller pack with switches that let you convert its functionality between a four-bank memory storage unit and two strengths of force feedback, or, as Nintendo calls it, rumble pack. It works great, and is a true convenience for N64 owners. For users of Sony's PlayStation, nYko offers what may be the largest memory card in existence. There are so many great games for PlayStation, that, if you're an avid gamer, you may be in constant agony over decisions about whether to delete saved games or buy new memory cards. The Memory CardX72 offers 72 15-slot game-save banks, with an LED readout that lets you know the number of the current bank. You can switch only at the memory card-management screen by holding the Select button while pressing the L and R buttons. No batteries required; most PlayStation owners will find this an essential tool in their gaming lives. For further information, go to http://www.nyko.com. ____________________________ Thief: The Dark Project If you're looking for a first-person actioner with a difference, seek no further. In this latest outing published by Eidos, Looking Glass, the first-rank development house responsible for such classics as Ultima Underworld and System Shock, has eschewed the ultra-violence approach in favor of stealth. Players embark on a series of adventures woven into a story of seduction, betrayal and revenge. You start out as a novice thief, learning your chops in a well-designed interactive training course. Your first "real-world" mission is to rob a nobleman of his precious jewels while causing minimal commotion. You carry weapons, but ideally you don't need to use them. Looking Glass did a fine job on this one, from the nicely textured 3D environments to the integral use of 3D audio. Nice touches are an onscreen indicator that shows how visible you are (stick to the shadows to play it safe), the ability to use various methods of achieving your goals (e.g., blackjack the guard or pick his pocket to get the key), and the beautiful but space-saving cut-scene visuals consisting of rotating and zoomed bitmaps. Also, for higher skill levels, instead of just throwing more enemies at you, the game gives you additional goals, such as stealing more and avoiding killing. Thief comes in the standard Eidos slant-sided box, but Tomb Raider it ain't: It's much better. Steal away at http://www.eidos.com. ____________________________ StarCraft Expansion Set: Brood War If you've finished your favorite sci-fi real-time strategy game and are suffering a powerful thirst for more action, publisher Blizzard has served up what you're craving just in time for holiday hijinx. StarCraft Expansion Set: Brood War provides players with 26 new scenarios in three campaigns, new worlds to conquer, and six scary new units. Among the latter are the Dark Archon, a Protoss energy being that controls its enemy's mind; the Lurker, a Zerg heavy support unit that attacks from its underground lair; and scariest of all, the Medic, a Terran filed surgeon. For multiplayers, the set also offers 100 new maps. ____________________________ Shogo: Mobile Armor Division Released not long from relative newcomer Monolith Productions, Shogo's marketing material employs the epigram, "Forget what you think you know about giant robots." Indeed, I've found most giant robot games to be overly complex, detracting from their enjoyability. Shogo is much better; it's actually more like a first-person shooter, sending you on a series of missions loosely based on a relatively forgettable storyline. The missions start out easy, but quickly become quite difficult. In some of the missions, you go in one of four Mobile Combat Armor units; in others you play on foot. The great-looking 3D environments, both indoor and outdoor, offer realistic lighting and eye-catching effects (read: explosions), and offer up over 30 types of more-or-less clever enemies plus 18 available weapon types. Other nice touches are the anime-inspired visuals (including suit design) and the theme music, a pleasant combination of house and traditional Japanese styles. Shogo is an excellent example of its genre, and a pleasant surprise to boot. Multiplayer, you ask? Of course; on Internet, LAN and modem. Visit http://www.shogo-mad.com. ____________________________ Settlers III Not having had a chance to check out the first two in the series, I'll have to judge Settlers III on its own. It's a god-type strategy game with a decidedly European flavor, having been developed in England. As "champion of the Gods" for the Romans, the Egyptians or the Asians (the gods are depicted in humorous, cartoony cut-scenes), you manage resources, build settlements, trade and make war; you know the drill. There are over 100 buildings to construct, 30 different trades and various other functions with an icon-laden user interface for both control of and feedback from the game. Most of the icons have tool tips, but some don't, leaving you puzzled as to their function. Likewise, the involved interactive tutorial explains some things, but you're left to figure out the purpose of other actions on your own. One nice feature is the ability to center a building's area of activity, thus maximizing its efficiency. Other impressions: The principal new feature is the ability to play over the Internet with up to 10 players, but I didn't get a chance to try this out. With a game this complex, you need a detailed, printed manual, but publisher Blue Byte opted for an online version, which uses your Web browser as an interface, and is accessible only from the game's starting screen. When you go to construct a new building, the available area fills up with overlapping replicas of the building image, possibly obliterating valuable information (like ore concentration discovered by geologists). As far as I can tell, in-game controls like changing the overall speed and turning off the music aren't available. I could go on, but I'll spare you. This series obviously has its fans, whose suggestions contributed to the design of Settlers III, but I'm afraid I'm not one of them. If you are, you probably don't need me to tell you to check this one out. Settle yourself at http://www.settlers3.com. ____________________________ Lumina PCC If you've been looking hungrily at those all-in-one fax/copier/printer units for your SOHO, but aren't sure you can justify the cost, especially if you've already got a printer, Lumina has just what you need. It's basically a scanner with Copy buttons (black-and-white and color) that hooks up between your PC and printer. If you just need to copy a document, you can do so without tying up the computer; there's even a Zoom button for enlarging the page. Thanks to the bundled software, you can also use it as a fax machine (send only, with a fax modem), and even at only 300 x 600 dpi optical resolution, it does a creditable job of scanning. The bundled software provides fairly good OCR, plus a nice electronic filing application and an image editor. The included automatic document feeder is fairly compact, and works quite well. Only a couple of quibbles: I can't fax a stored document, only one that I've just scanned (this may have something to do with my modem software); and it's impossible to print unless the unit is powered up. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a power switch; fortunately, it goes to a low-power mode if you don't use it for a while. I just keep it plugged into a multi-switch surge protector, and turn it on when I need it, which turns out to be fairly often. This baby gets quite a bit of use around the Spectrum office, and I recommend it highly, especially at the generally available bargain price of a couple hundred bucks. Copy me at http://www.luminapcc.com. ____________________________ FTP Control Twice recently I was unable to log onto commercial FTP sites using Netscape's browser, but FTP Control got in both times without breaking a sweat. This cool, robust app from Iceland-based Transsoft (http://www.transsoft.com) works just like a two-pane file browser, with one pane for a local directory and the other for a remote one. Transferring files is as easy as dragging from one window to the other. When creating a new profile (for a site you log onto regularly), checking the Anonymous Login box automatically inserts your email address as the password. The multithreaded program supports background file transfers as well as scripting for batch transfers. There are lots of advanced features, but if you don't need 'em they're easy to ignore. This is the best FTP program out there by a long shot, and you can't beat the $29 price, either. If you're feeling adventurous, try the new, free 3.0 beta, which adds multiple, simultaneous open FTP connections/sessions, ZIP compression and more. ____________________________ Total Annihilation Commander Pack Cavedog Entertainment's Total Annihilation Commander Pack has got to be one of the best deals of the holiday season. For the price of one game, you get the latest version of this insanely successful real-time strategy game, plus two official expansion packs: Battle Tactics, with 100 quick missions to help you get ready for the more advanced scenarios in TA itself; and The Core Contingency, with 75 new units, 50 new maps, 25 new missions and six new worlds. As if you needed more, Cavedog throws their 275-page printed strategy guide, and a real flamethrower! (Just kidding on that last item.) If you or yours enjoy games like Warcraft II and Command & Conquer, but haven't yet discovered this gem, here's the perfect place to start. More details are available at http://www.totalannihilation.com. ____________________________ F.Y.I. About Spectrum Reviews Spectrum Reviews, a sister publication to Spectrum, is published approximately every other week for the interactive media professional community by Motion Blur Media. It offers original reviews of software, hardware, books, Web sites, events and more. Software categories covered in Spectrum Reviews include Web authoring tools, content creation tools (e.g., 2D/3D graphics apps, audio/video production/editing tools), Internet email and Usenet news clients, multimedia clients such as RealSystem, consumer multimedia titles, and, of course, games, both local and online. In the hardware realm, we cover 2D and 3D graphics accelerators, game controllers, mass storage products and more. If you would like to submit a product for coverage in Spectrum Reviews, please send an email inquiry to mailto:duberman@dnai.com Send review product and press kits by mail to Spectrum Reviews, Attn: David Duberman, 2233 Jefferson Ave., Berkeley, CA 94703. Publisher's note: We are now accepting limited advertising. If you'd like to offer your company's products or services to Spectrum's elite audience of Internet and multimedia professionals, send an email query to mailto:duberman@dnai.com, or telephone 510-549-2894 during West Coast business hours. If you contact companies or organizations mentioned here, please tell them you saw their product/service in Spectrum Reviews. Thanks. (c)Copyright 1998 Motion Blur Media. All rights reserved. No reproduction in any for-profit or revenue-generating venue in any form without written permission from the publisher.

©Copyright 1998 Motion Blur Media. All rights reserved. No reproduction in any for-profit or revenue-generating venue in any form without written permission from the publisher.

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