Space titles all worthwhile
By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
Exploring, colonizing and conquering the galaxy serves as a backdrop for countless video games.
Why? "Space," wrote the late Douglas Adams in his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "is big. Really big."
Any one of three new space titles "Unreal II: The Awakening," "Freelancer" and "Master of Orion III" would make a stellar addition to any game collection.
The titles are all priced around $50 and require a relatively up-to-date computer with 3-D graphics capabilities. Check system requirements on the package before you buy.
Microsoft, for Windows, rated T for teen, www.microsoft.com/games/freelancer; out of 5 stars.
The word epic describes "Freelancer," Microsoft Game Studios' latest title, thanks to its strong narrative and virtually limitless game play opportunities.
In this ambitious space adventure, players assume the role of a 30th century free-lancer who is a bounty hunter, savvy trader or ruthless pirate. While players explore the galaxy and earn credits through legitimate trade or piracy, the game features a larger, more structured mystery that involves saving human colonies from a deadly threat.
Hundreds of unique characters litter this massive, seemingly open-ended universe. Plus these characters have a dynamic "memory" so their conversations and actions will vary depending on the missions chosen, and players' success or failure in completing them.
The game can be played in single-player mode or friends can combine efforts online. "Freelancer"also includes more than two hours of in-game cinematics.
'Unreal II: The Awakening'
Infogrames, for Windows, rated M for mature, www.unreal2.com;
"Unreal II: The Awakening" is a 3-D shooter that pays as much attention to a compelling single-player storyline as it does blasting enemies with futuristic weaponry.
Players assume the role of Jon Dalton, an ex-marine dispatched to protect a host of bizarre worlds from more than a dozen kinds of creatures and enemy soldiers. Goals include rescuing hostages, escorting civilians and destroying rival fortresses.
A larger objective hovers preventing an ancient power from being awakened.
When not traveling, the Dalton character is stationed on an orbiting ship where he can interact with other crew members and prepare for future journeys by conducting research and acquiring appropriate weapons. This is also where much of the evolving storyline takes place.
"Unreal 2" doesn't have any multiplayer support for online matches. But the bundled "Unreal Editor" will add longevity to the game because it lets players create custom worlds in which to play.
'Master of Orion III'
Infogrames, for Windows and Macintosh, rated K-A for kids to adults, moo3.quicksilver.com/;
Infogrames' sequel to the previous "Master of Orion" titles will satisfy fans looking to "eXplore, Xpand, eXploit and eXterminate."
How players choose to dominate the galaxy is entirely up to them. They can use espionage and war, diplomacy and politics, or cutthroat economics. Regardless of the route they choose, players must use their governments, citizens and leaders as pawns to help achieve these goals.
"Master of Orion III" is a "turn-based" strategy game so, like chess, players must plan their moves before executing them.
The game can be played against the program's artificial intelligence (A.I.) or against up to seven other opponents via the Internet.
"Master of Orion III" features 16 unique races, multiple weapons and ships, and a dynamic galaxy generator so no two games will be the same.
This title is a perfect pick for those who prefer strategy over action.