By Victor Godinez / The Dallas Morning News
Battles in outer space
COLONY WARS III: RED SUNS
System: Sony PlayStation
Suggested price: $30
Number of players: 1
The Colony Wars franchise, one of the best in the space combat genre, is known for top-notch graphics, razor-sharp control and thumb-busting difficulty. The third installment, Colony Wars III: Red Sun, surpasses previous efforts while tempering the difficulty just enough to keep you coming back for more punishment.
Red Sun takes place in the distant, violent future and features you as a mercenary flying and fighting for cash that you can use to purchase ships or upgrade your weapons.
The story is linear, eliminating the optional branching story lines that were a hallmark of previous installments but that required you to invest a good chunk of your life in uncovering all the possible endings.
Red Sun also allows you to save your game after every mission, a feature that was frustratingly lacking in the previous games and forced you to constantly replay levels you had already conquered.
Red Sun's graphics and sound are overwhelming, immersing you in a universe that you would think could only be created on Sony's more powerful PlayStation 2. The music deserves special recognition, as the dramatic, orchestral soundtrack evokes the epic scope that the game tries to convey.
Fortunately, controlling your craft is just as much fun as looking at it, and dodging through the levels set underwater, on land and in space is intuitive. Several of the missions are much more intricate than what most shooters offer and require you to follow mission directives rather than simply winging off on personal vendettas, guns blazing.
When it comes to strategy, stealth and fast-and-furious flying action on the PlayStation â€“ indeed on any console â€“ Colony War III: Red Sun is one of the premier titles available.
Recommended for all ages.
Victor Godinez is a staff writer for The Dallas Morning News.
Back with a vengeance
LEGEND OF ZELDA: MAJORA'S MASK
System: Nintendo 64 (Expansion Pak required)
Suggested price: $60
Number of players: 1
Majora's Mask may be the most inventive and puzzling adventure game of the year. If you've come to expect a straightforward challenge from the Zelda series, prepare for a big change of pace. Trust me â€“ it's worth it.
After losing his ocarina and horse to a masked thief, Link wanders into a new world in search of his goods, only to find himself on a new quest to save the world in 72 hours â€“ or one hour of real-time.
Since Link can go back in time, this time constraint isn't so bad, but it adds a challenge never before seen in a video game. If Link doesn't pay attention to the clock, he'll be late to challenges, and going back in time costs a few items. Thus, players must time-travel wisely to win.
This game is loaded with tricky side quests, some of which will really tax your brain. Luckily, the challenge never becomes frustrating, thanks to a nice scheduling system. So don't buy a strategy guide â€“ Majora's Mask always shows the way before it gets too difficult.
In terms of pure action, Zelda's innovative battle system has returned with refinement, thanks to different battle styles, tougher enemies and deeper dungeons. The graphics engine now uses Expansion Pak power, meaning more simultaneous enemies, more lighting effects and more viewing distance.
I'm hard-pressed to find a more impressive package of adventure this season.
Suitable for all ages.
Sam Machkovech is a student at the University of Texas in Austin.
Two, two, two games in one
STAR TREK VOYAGER â€“ ELITE FORCE
System: PC CD-ROM
System requirements: Windows 95/98/NT, 650MB free hard drive space, 64MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM, Pentium 233 MHz, Direct X 7.0 included
Suggested price: $49.99
Number of players: Up to 8 via modem, serial connection, LAN, Internet
Although Star Trek Voyager â€“ Elite Force begins with the typical intro to an episode of the Voyager TV series, it's surprisingly entertaining. Unlike the TV series, the game has depth and doesn't rely solely on the Star Trek name to carry it through.
The first-person shooter has a single-player story line in which you are a member of a new task force designed for especially dangerous explorations. Of course, you get all of the Star Trek gear from phasers to phaser rifles and some weird alien weapons as well.
The object of the game is simply to keep you and your team members alive on your missions. You run into all of the species, new and old, that appear in the Voyager TV series. And the character voices are performed by the entire Voyager cast (minus Jeri Ryan). Unlike in most shooter games, the best route in Elite Force isn't to just blow stuff up. Many levels require stealth and thought to complete.
But the real gem on this CD is called the Elite Force Holomatch, which is like getting a second game on one CD â€“ and this is where you blow stuff up. Holomatch allows you to compete in a holographic death match against the Borg, Species 8472 and the entire Voyager crew. There are several versions of the Seven of Nine character with or without Borg implants.
And for disappointed Voyager viewers like myself, there's the great opportunity to put a photon torpedo to Neelix, Janeway, Tuvok and the others on the lengthy list of annoying characters. Rated for ages 13 and older.
Rufus Coleman is a writer for the University of North Texas in Denton.
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