Game for a laugh

Introduction

Some kinds of games have become so plentiful on the Mac that unless a new title brings something truly fresh to its genre, it can easily grow stale very soon after it comes out of the box. So this month, our Gamers Club subjects – Red Faction, from GraphSim, and Otto Matic, from Aspyr – are two outstanding new 3D-action games that boast decidedly unique features. The plot of Otto Matic was drawn straight from Hollywood B movies. The setting is 1957, and Giant Brain from Planet X is bent on enslaving Earth’s citizens. He sends his fleet of Brain Aliens to our planet so they can collect specimens, but Otto Matic comes to humanity’s rescue. Heroic Otto is able to save people by teleporting them to his escape rocket before the aliens beam them into their flying saucers, but he must physically touch them to do it. He must also collect supplies such as rocket fuel before he can launch his craft. Sci-fi silliness
From Otto’s own Flash Gordon-style rocket ship, to the spinning flying saucers, to the theremin-inspired soundtrack, the game revels in its Saturday-afternoon science-fiction origins. Where it differs is in production quality. Otto Matic sets a new standard for what the Mac can do as a gaming platform. Produced by Aspyr Media and created by Pangea Software, it’s unquestionably Pangea’s most polished game to date. It sports some of the most luscious graphics that you’ll see on this or any other platform. And Otto Matic’s whimsical and witty subject matter make the game fun for kids and adults alike. Otto is a third-person-action game – you’re positioned behind and slightly above Otto Matic as you help him navigate from level to level. Because of that, and other design details, there’s a superficial resemblance to Pangea’s game Bugdom. But this is no sequel, and it’s no rehashed version – it’s a brand-new game with unique appeal. Tooled-up
Thanks to his hollow metal body, Otto can store various weapons, including a ray gun, a flare gun, a freeze gun, and other handy destructive gadgets. He also collects power-up atoms by punching open Power Up Pods or punching out Brain Aliens. Some power-up atoms recharge Otto’s health, and others fuel jet packs in his feet that enable him to fly over otherwise impassable terrain. Otto must also collect rocket fuel, which enables him to take off from a planet’s surface. Around every corner, you’ll find yet another hostile alien or indigenous life-form ready to pounce on Otto. Fortunately, though, small radar-dish-equipped transmitters serve as checkpoints, allowing you to restart from different waypoints in each level if Otto is dismantled. However, you can’t save a game at checkpoints – an infuriating limitation. Otto Matic’s methods for getting through each level are quite ingenious. At one point he has to slide along a zip line. He combats alien clowns in a bumper-car hovercraft. He water-skis. He even grabs the controls of an alien’s flying saucer. Otto Matic’s interface is fairly intuitive. Health, jet-pack, and rocket-fuel meters all take the form of glowing coloured discs at the top of the screen. The larger the radius of the glowing disc, the greater the supply. Other handy meters show you the weapons and ammo you have, and how many earthlings are left to rescue. There’s no question that Otto Matic is a showcase Mac game. If you’re looking for a 3D-action game that’s safe for the whole family, but fun, challenging, and beautiful to watch, get this game. Red rebels
On its surface, Red Faction is in tried-and-true territory. It’s a first-person shooter in which you must make your way through sometimes claustrophobic tunnels and rooms while collecting weapons and power-ups. As Parker, a miner on the planet Mars, you toil away in the subterranean (actually, sub-Martian) mines of the giant, oppressive Ultor Corporation. When the miners are stricken by a deadly plague, Ultor’s response is to ignore the problem – miners have been treated like livestock for years. It isn’t long before the miners revolt, and you, as Parker, become central to the revolution. You make your way from the mines to the planet’s surface and then to satellites orbiting Mars as you attempt to unravel the mystery of the plague and bring down Ultor. This game exhibits a key difference from many in this genre. It’s the first to use the Geo-Mod engine, which introduces the concept of deformable terrain. Basically, if your weapon is high-powered enough, you can blast holes through walls, carve chunks out of cavern passages, or blow fissures into floors. The idea of deformable terrain didn’t originate with Red Faction, but the game’s designers have taken it further than I’ve seen before. While you’ll find the occasional structure you can’t blast apart, Geo-Mod makes it possible to blast holes through walls and floors to gain access to areas you couldn’t otherwise. Ultra-violence
Geo-Mod isn’t the only thing in Red Faction that adds a level of realism, and some of that realistic detail is, frankly, grotesque. As Parker, you’re dishing out a heaping helping of righteous vengeance to the same Ultor henchmen that have abused and subjugated you and your brothers-in-arms for years, and it’s payback time. Just like Hammurabi, you’re exacting an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a head shot for a head shot. If you’re turned off by games with a lot of gored characters begging for their lives, you probably won’t like Red Faction. Red Faction’s single-player levels require straightforward travel from point A to point B. It has the find-the-hidden-lock puzzles that are ubiquitous in third-person action games, and they’re little more than excuses to load new levels or areas in the game. There are also some varied missions and objectives you have to accomplish – you can even commandeer vehicles along the way – but ultimately Red Faction is a 3D-action game. If that’s what you’re looking for, Red Faction delivers, and it’s a fine way to introduce the Geo-Mod engine to hard-core gamers. I like blowing holes in walls. It’s destructive, violent, and oddly cathartic. The developer, Volition, did a good job in porting this game itself (rather than handing it over to a Mac game-conversion company). When launching the game, I ran into the occasional glitch that caused me to restart my Mac, but I didn’t experience any major problems. You can tweak the game’s detail levels, and so forth, in the options screens. All told, Red Faction brings some fresh features and a whole wheelbarrowful of fun to the first-person-action category. For fans of the genre, it’s worth checking out.
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