INDIANA JONES AND THE
INFERNAL MACHINE, LucasArts
What: Indy-themed action/adventure game. Details: The Nazis are history in this first-ever 3-D Indiana Jones small-screen adventure; instead, the year is 1947 and the bad guys are communists out to rebuild the Infernal Machine that was once housed in the Tower of Babel. As Indy, players must search the globe and recover the four pieces of the machine before the Russians, using the third-person perspective that Tomb Raider popularized. This title focuses on puzzle solving--searching for hidden doors, figuring out how to jump from ledges and picking which floor tile to throw the stone at. These conundrums are broken up by an occasional action level that requires Indy to drive a Jeep, commandeer a mine cart and plunge into some whitewater rafting. He also gets to use his pistol and, naturally, his whip--it functions as both tool and weapon but can only be used while Indy's standing still. Graphics (with the required 3-D graphics accelerator card) and sound are superb, but be aware that you won't hear Harrison Ford's voice, nor does Indy's face particularly resemble the visage from the movies. And once you've beat the game, there's really no replay--just like the Tomb Raider series it otherwise surpasses. Bottom line: Have fun, but make sure you don't lose your hat.
-- John Gaudiosi
Win 95-98, $40
FLIGHT SIMULATOR 2000,
What: Desktop cockpit. Details: Microsoft's Flight Simulator 2000 offers much more than its predecessor, including two additional aircraft--the Boeing 777 and the Concorde--and a feature that lets you log on to the Web and get actual current weather conditions downloaded into your flight. The main improvement, though, is the enhanced detail and flow of the scenery; instead of a sheet of blue or gray to represent the sky, layers of realistic colors rise up from the horizon. The game also now contains graphics for 20,000 airports, up from 3,000 in the old version, so you can fly to far more places--even if landmarks in only six major cities have been significantly upgraded. But those cities! From the air, you can read the scoreboard at Wrigley Field. And the lines of structures such as the Sears Tower are much cleaner and smoother, so hot-dogging is less risky. I succeeded in flying between the antennas atop the tower, dipping the right wing of my Cessna and hanging on for dear life, something you just wouldn't dare in the jumpier ether of the old version. Not all the scenery has been revamped--taxiways still lack the details of their real-world counterparts, and the grass looks more like a salad than a lawn. But after all, the point here is to stay in the air, not on the runway watching the grass grow. Bottom line: The version touches down in one piece, if not quite on the center line of the runway.
-- Nathan Abse
Win 95-98, $60
MISS SPIDER'S TEA PARTY,
Simon & Schuster Interactive
What: Colorful game program for children ages 3-7. Details: In 1994, David Kirk's "Miss Spider's Tea Party," with its jewel-hued 3-D illustrations, appealing story and poetic phrasing, was published to the acclaim of parents and kids alike. Now Kirk has adapted the best-selling book, which has spawned a series of spinoffs, for the computer. It has positively lush animation in the same vibrant tones; the same charming, gentle hostess; the same simple, catchy rhymes; and some entirely appropriate toe-tapping music. Miss Spider, who is a kindly soul and doesn't eat her guests, wants to invite eight insect friends to tea; the object is to finish the tasks that will allow the guests to proceed to the party (help the beetles cross the river; straighten up Grampy spider's photo album, pick out the flowers for the bees to pollinate). The difficulty levels can be adjusted, and once the tasks are completed, children get to print out an invitation to the party. As with the book, there's no educational value here, but there is plenty of fun. The game has two flaws, though. One is unevenness: Some activities are much more engaging than others, some are too easy, others are too tough. The other is, well, bugginess: It crashed, froze and stuttered too often. The program struggled on my older PC, even though the system meets the basic requirements, and also had problems on a new, better-powered machine. Still, like Miss Spider herself, the game captivated the children we introduced to it. Bottom line: A fairly well-spun web that needs to be debugged.
-- Elizabeth Chang
Win 95/98, Mac, $20
CAPTION: Indiana Jones: Whip it good.
CAPTION: Flight Simulator improves the view out the cockpit.
CAPTION: Miss Spider: Not quite perfect to a tea.