UNREAL CHAMPIONSHIP 2: THE LIANDRI CONFLICT, Midway/Epic Games
The latest Unreal title looks a lot like earlier first-person-perspective Unreal titles, but underneath the familiar scenery you'll find an innovative approach to multi-person game play that combines first-person shooting and third-person fighting in a seamlessly linked, relentlessly intensive experience.
As a result, battles here involve more than the usual plasma rifles and rocket launchers -- you have to be quick enough on your feet to switch to and from melee weapons and even hand-to-hand combat. For example, an opponent you're chasing down may suddenly jump up, vault off two walls, flip around in midair -- then slice you in half with his sword because you didn't react in time. The perspective switches automatically from first person to third person and back, depending on what type of weapon you wield. You can also deflect attacks, even those from guns of various kinds -- just press block at the right instant, and laser blasts will be thrown back at their source. Kill the shooter in this manner, and a roar of "Rejected!" will rumble through your speakers. Equally stylish audio and video effects saturate the rest of this game; it's worth plugging an Xbox into a high-definition TV just to see the shimmering sparks thrown off by clashing weapons.
Mastering all these elements of attack and defense isn't easy and can get frustrating, although the single-player mode helps to get you primed and ready to play against other humans. (Otherwise, the single-player option's lesser challenge and lame storyline make it pretty much forgettable.) Over a local network or online via a broadband connection, you can enjoy all of the standard multi-player setups -- death match, team death match, capture the flag and survival -- plus two new ones. Overdose plays like football with machine guns; you grab colored spheres and try to score by running them to the other end of the playing field, while Nali Slaughter involves slaying as many docile creatures as possible before your enemy takes you out. With 40 multi-player maps to choose from, players can stay busy for a long time. -- Tom Ham
This strange, strangely compelling game requires you to attach three fingertip sensors to whatever hand you don't use with your mouse. These plug into a turtle-like device, which in turn connects to a USB port on your computer, allowing the game to read your heart rate and your skin's electrical conductance.
The game then sets you down in a paradise-like garden, where you meet the first of many mentors, then invites you to find more than 40 puzzles that are supposed to be played through this odd biomechanical interface. For example, you're supposed to juggle colored balls by laughing or singing to keep your energy up, reignite a dying fire by breathing on it, make something levitate by meditating to achieve inner peace (no, really) and level out a balloon's wild flight by controlling your overall biorhythms There are more than 40 such puzzles in the game. It's not at all clear how the game is supposed to know if you're breathing properly, but somehow it does.
The Journey to Wild Divine is also a teaching tool; your mentors explain meditation and breathing techniques, which in real life can help you stay calm despite the best efforts of everybody else in your office.
For all its eye-opening features, though, this game suffers from one minor problem and one not-so-minor issue. First, its sensors don't always work: My wife's fingers were nearly too small for the sensors, while a type-A, high-strung friend could not do any of the relaxing puzzles at first (although he eventually got it right, which I suppose is the point). Second, this title is absurdly expensive for any game, even considering the extra hardware it includes. The Eldorado Springs, Colo., developers plan to offer other bio-feedback games using this same system; a demo of one comes on this CD.
A soundtrack CD features a playlist of relaxing music, just in case the game itself does not get you closer to inner peace. -- John Breeden II
Win 98 SE or newer, $159, www.wilddivine.com