GRAN TURISMO 2,
What: Racing-game sequel. Details: The original Gran Turismo set a new standard for racing games on the PlayStation with its release two years ago; every other contender paled in comparison to its realistic graphics and driving physics. GT2 is basically the same thing with more cars and more tracks to run them on. Packed with more than 500 models from such manufacturers as Acura, Dodge, BMW and Toyota--wheels as historic as the Shelby Cobra and as new as the Honda S2000--this is car-geek nirvana. GT2 also features 20 detailed tracks around the world, including Tahiti Road, the Roma Circuit, the Grand Valley Speedway and Laguna Seca Raceway. Where the original GT had both the Arcade and Simulation modes of the game on one disk, GT2 dedicates one disk apiece to each mode; arcade mode is fine, but the true star here is Simulation. Just as in last year's game, players earn various driving licenses (the game offers 56 different license tests) and learn racing techniques. The more licenses you have, the more you can race, the more money you can get to buy hotter cars. The soundtrack has also been beefed up, with hard-driving music from Stone Temple Pilots, Rob Zombie, Beck and the Cardigans. (Some might deduct points for the inclusion of STP, but we'll stay out of that debate.) Bottom line: Worthy successor to the best driving game around.
-- Tom Ham
What: Political-intrigue board game gone digital. Details: The beauty of Diplomacy is that nothing is left to luck; successfully conquering early 20th century Europe depends entirely on winning your friends' support while keeping your enemies off balance. Unfortunately, in the past, successfully staging a game of Diplomacy was almost as difficult as winning one--gathering seven people together for the night-long undertaking usually required the kind of free time only students and the unemployed enjoy. Microprose's adaptation of the Avalon Hill board game makes the intrigues of Diplomacy much more readily available, allowing players to face off against computer-controlled opponents or take on other humans by sharing a computer, over the Internet or via e-mail. (Bug-fix alert: Microprose's Web site has a patch to fix screwy behavior in certain multiplayer situations.) The game interface is well crafted, making it easy to consult maps and plot strategy, and the computer's artificial intelligence is sophisticated--as it has to be for the one-player game to be at all challenging. But opponents have an annoying tendency of breaking off negotiations before you finish telling them what you want. Also, being able to watch a longtime ally's despair as you militarily stab him in the back is something no computer can re-create. Bottom line: For Diplomacy addicts, and for those who love combining strategy with Machiavellian manipulation, the game is worth conquering.
-- Anthony Zurcher
Win 95-98, $50
SOUTH PARK RALLY,
What: Potty-mouth cartoon racing game. Details: South Park Rally is the third tie-in to the comedy series in about a year, and the worst to date. That's saying something; all three SP games have been mediocre at best, befitting Acclaim's history of grabbing hot licenses and churning out bad video games. This Mature-rated go-cart racer features lots of bleeped-out cussing, more than 30 crazy characters from the show (including Kyle, Stan, Kenny, Satan and Big Gay Al) and seven wide-open tracks. With outrageous vehicles (Jesus drives a cloud) and plenty of demented features (power-ups include barf, exploding diarrhea and, well, Mr. Hankey), the game might appeal to fans of the show for a few races, but it gets old fast. It's neither fun nor all that funny, especially since the poor sound muffles most of the dialogue. And while the Windows and Dreamcast versions look great--note that a 3-D accelerator is required for the former--the Nintendo 64 version is only adequate and the PlayStation version appears horrible. It does offer a variety of multiplayer modes, but the most basic one--competing against other PC owners over the Internet--won't be available until Acclaim releases a downloadable patch for this clunker. Bottom line: Even if you're a "South Park" fan, this is only worth a rental.
-- John Gaudiosi
Win 95-98, PlayStation, $40; Nintendo 64, Dreamcast versions ($50) coming soon
Y2K, THE GAME,
What: Gaming attempt to make the Y2K glitch fun. Details: Y2K, The Game realistically re-creates the terror that happened on the first New Year's Day of this century. Unfortunately, that means it's largely a boring and uneventful experience that's only slightly more fun than nursing a post-party hangover. The game puts players in the role of Buster, a pathetic loser trapped in his newly purchased and fully computerized house. Buster was able to buy the palace for a song, and he soon finds out why: Apparently the Y2K glitch turns his robotic servants against him and he finds himself armed with nothing but a personal digital assistant (apparently that's Y2K-compliant) and trapped by locked doors and a security system that thinks he is an intruder. If this sounds like the next chapter in the System Shock series, it isn't. While an interesting setting for a shooter, this scenario is instead a puzzle game, and not a very good one. Mostly you are reduced to clicking on all the objects in the house, a process made frustrating because Buster annoyingly comments when you do something wrong. I found myself trying to run him into a robotic sweeper or an electrified wall just to watch him squirm. Unfortunately, it's as hard to get Buster killed as it is to have any amount of fun with this title--which is to say that, like the Y2K glitch itself, it's possible but unlikely. Bottom line: Y2K, The Game will bug you.
-- John Breeden
Win 95-98, $20