QUAKE III ARENA,
What: Third installment of famed first-person shooter. Details: Quake III Arena doesn't boast a compelling story line or vivid character development, nor does it offer any adventure, drama or role-playing elements. This game is all about "fragging" your opponent and being the best at it--it's death-match gaming at its finest. (Here's the plot, if you must know: Players are gladiators in the Arena Eternal, a venue created by the Arena Masters for their enjoyment. Death is not an issue; warriors are instantly restored to life and returned to battle, eventually to face the Lord of the Final Arena. Quit laughing.) Quake III Arena lets players have at it in death-match, team death-match, tournament and capture-the-flag contests against either other people or computer-controlled bots. Much like Unreal Tournament, the bots are the true stars here; the game offers more than 90 different types, including skeletons, old Quake soldiers and huge walking lizards. The graphics in Quake III Arena are better than any shooter out there; unfortunately, you need a powerful machine with the fastest Intel or AMD chip you can find to get the full experience. Online play is another issue: You can forget about playing a decent game of Quake III Arena on a modem hookup. Unless you have a cable, DSL or local-area-network connection, you're better off playing against the bots. Bottom line: If you're into death-match gaming, this one's for you. If you want a little more depth and substance, look elsewhere.
-- Tom Ham
Win 95-98 (Mac, Linux versions due soon); $40
WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE,
What: Trivia game based on the popular TV quiz show. Details: The folks behind the You Don't Know Jack series, who know a thing or two about trivia games, put together this title and did a fine job of reproducing the feel and pace of the show. Like the show, it seems as if it would only be too easy to beat the game, which starts out with such non-stumpers as "Where is Stonehenge?" and "What Mexican holiday takes place on May 5?" There's also the voice of the fickle and excitable Regis Philbin, who pipes in vintage lines: "You think it's D? That's your answer? D?" There are lifelines available when you're stumped: The 50-50 lifeline reduces the number of multiple-choice options from two to four, or you can opt to have Regis "call" a friend of his to take a stab at the question or see what answers people gave in a survey. But the replayability of this game is shaky: After a few weeks, some of the questions got to be pretty familiar, to the point where the same query was served up three games in a row. (Despite that, though, I'm still not even a virtual millionaire.) Bottom line: Not quite on the money.
-- Mike Musgrove
Win 95-98, $20
OMIKRON: THE NOMAD SOUL,
What: Cinematic adventure, first-person shooter and fighting game. Details: Omikron tries to be Resident Evil, Quake and Tekken all at the same time, and like most hybrid games it has trouble pulling everything off gracefully. Of the three elements, the adventure section, which ties the other two elements together, is by far the strongest. The plot is certainly unique: It turns out that the game itself is a trap constructed by demons hellbent on stealing your real-life soul, and to free yourself you will have to free the futuristic parallel universe of Omikron. The world is immersive and the graphics are spectacular, while the interface is intuitive and simple. Special note should be paid to the music, parts of which were composed by David Bowie and his partner Reeves Gabrels. Their contribution stands as more than a gimmick. And the puzzles in the game are not so hard as to make you quit but difficult enough that figuring them out is satisfying. Unfortunately, where Eidos could have added to a solid game, it stuck in the arcade sequences. The fighting is actually fun, but the shooting, which compares poorly to anything made in the last several years, should be terminated with extreme prejudice. These arcade sections are frequent and unavoidable to drag down what would otherwise be an excellent title. Bottom line: If you're patient enough to stand the action in this adventure, this is one trap you won't want to avoid.
-- Nelson Hernandez
Win 95-98, $50
What: Chess challenge. Details: The basics of this program remain from previous editions: You can still play formidable computerized opponents, including grandmasters who will knock that chip right off your shoulder; customized game environments offer diverse chessboards and pieces; and tutorials and strategies by Josh Waitzkin (of "Searching for Bobby Fisher" fame) provide coaching. But 7000's redesigned interface arranges features into discrete areas by assigning each to an appropriate "room." Start in the Classroom to take lessons, drills, and exams or view tutorials suitable to any level, then progress to the Game Room when you're ready to test your skills and hone your game. In Tournament Hall, you'll be rated as you work through games with similarly ranked computer personalities; voyeuristic players can set up tournaments between grandmasters past and present and watch the competition unfold. Meanwhile, the Library and Database Rooms offer some background, with notes on classic moves and analysis of over 500,000 historical games. And kids have a room of their own, in which they get a little of all these features in one place tailored to their level and needs. This room concept makes for an agreeably organized interface, but it's undermined by the multitude of features--each room gets cluttered too quickly, thanks to the sub-window each one opens when selected. Bottom line: One step closer to master.
-- Jill Weisberg
Win 95-98, $40
CAPTION: Quake III provides thrills, chills, but not much of a plot.
CAPTION: Omikron: David Bowie's star turn is no gimmick.
CAPTION: Millionaire puts Regis Philbin on the smaller screen.