Daily News from New York, New York on November 22, 1998 · 924
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Daily News from New York, New York · 924

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New York, New York
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Sunday, November 22, 1998
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924
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to m "T p II rpfr V?-"7" SOFTWARE SAMPLER TEST DRIVE en HI a -Q e " n 1 (foam By iain Mcdonald Special to The News enogears, Square Soft's latest v role-playing game, was released quietly in the U.S. after enjoying moderate success in its homeland, Japan. It seems the company responsible for the hugely successful Final Fantasy VII was debating whether to release the title here at all, because of some sensitive religious content. Luckily for fans of role-playing games, it decided to go ahead. While the company is best known for its work with the Final Fantasy series. Square consistently has been pumping out other high-caliber games in other genres. Xenogears may well be one of its best efforts. And when it comes to the story line, the game certainly is its most ambitious. Rather than taking place in a traditional medieval or fantasy setting, Xenogears is set far in the future and has a decidedly science-fiction theme. The game begins with a gorgeous yet confusing intro using anime, the Japanese animation style. It depicts a spaceship that apparently has had its computer systems taken over by a hostile force. As the crew abandons ship, its own weapons fire on it The desperate captain initiates a self-destruct sequence, and the ship falls in a fiery wreck to a planet below. From the wreckage emerges a strange woman with extremely long hair. . The intro, while effec tively setting the tone for the game, does very little to ex plain what's going on, leaving it up to the player to find out. It's this ambiguity that draws the player in. The game involves a character named Fei, who lives in a tiny village named Lahan. From talking with other characters and exploring the town a little, it becomes clear that Fei ended up in Lahan under strange cir- r I 3. V-vi cumstances and with amnesia. Soon enough, Fei is in the middle of a centuries-old war between two nations. Not knowing who he really is, Fei does battle against both sides and a godlike race that has teamed up with one of the nations. During the course of the game, players lead Fei and his cohorts through various cities, caves, castles and outdoor environments, doing battle with bad guys and saving the good ones, all while trying to discover exactly who he is J-and why he's involved in this mess. In Xenogears. players can expect many random encoun ters with . strange beasts, ro bots and humans. Battles take place in the usual turn-based sequence of events, utilizing magic, weapons and plain-old fists. Square, however, has made it a little more interesting with the use of a time meter (seen in Final Fantasy VII) and an all-new combo system. This innovative addition lets players string together moves into massive attacks capable of dealing damage. Spicing things up are Gears, enor mous humanoid robots that have unique abilities and can launch different types of attacks. Graphically, Xenogears is a strange mix of full 3-D environments and 2-D characters. While in most cases it works very well, the characters don't look very good in camera closeups. The most impressive visuals occur during the hand- drawn animation sequences that drive the plot. They were pro duced by Production IG, the same company responsible for the anime classic Ghost in the Shell. TfT) L 1 V I. jTTJVh 4 'WHh J y I jf , IN XENOGEARS Fei (below I.), the amnesiac hero, gets caught up in a futuristic war featuring Gears (I.), enormous humanoid robots. Xenogears, with its unique game play and visuals, is very good. Add in the incredibly complicated, engrossing story line dealing with authority, religion, war, fate and more and it's exceptional. Without a doubt, it's one of the best role-playing games on the market today. PRODUCT INTO Xenogears Publisher: Square Electronic Arts http:www.squaresoft.ea.com Developer SquareSoft http:www.squaresoft.com Platform: Sony PlayStation Price: $45 Rating: (out of four) Sc!o gets big picture right, but is no blazer Each week in TechZone, the editors of Home Office Computing magazine review new technology. This week, it's a Pentium II notebook. Gateway Solo 5150 www.gateway.com (800) 846-2000 Price: $3,450 RAM: 64 MB Hard disc: 6 GB Drive: DVD II Modem: 56 Kbps PC Card Notebook weight: 6.8 pounds Rating: (out of four) ne of the first things we noticed about the Gateway Solo 5150 was its huge 14.1-inch active-matrix screen. - - This drive-in-movie-size display permitted the designers to endow the Solo 5150 with a large keyboard, touch pad and roomy palm rests for typing. The Gateway's touch pad has two distinctive features. First, it's well-behaved and not overly sensitive. Second, it has a rocker switch between the left and right buttons that functions like the scrolling wheel of the Microsoft IntelliMouse. In theory, this lets you quickly scroll up and down a Word document or Web page. In practice, it worked irregularly, and the placement of the rocker switch gave us a tough time reaching the primary mouse button although we grew used to the layout. The Solo offers smooth DVD video, aside from occasional horizontal lines, but relies on a hardware decoder instead of tapping the Pentium II's horsepower: In order to play a movie, you must insert Gateway's MPEG-2 decoder into one of the system's two PC card slots. Sound from the unit's speakers was fairly tinny, but the sound was fine with earphones. The Gateway's modular design won't let you use both floppy drive and DVD drive at the same time. If you want to install new software from a CD-ROM, for instance, you must remove the floppy disc from the modular bay and slide in the DVDCD-ROM drive. Thankfully, the system is hot-swap-pable, meaning you won't have to turn off the unit in order to switch drives, although we were distracted to note the CD-ROM access light flashed each second or so, as if it were running in the background while we worked on other tasks. Also, the keyboard seemed sluggish; when we typed at full speed, the unit would need a second or two to catch up. Despite its fast processor, raw speed isn't one of the Gateway's strengths. Overall, the Solo 5150 has a few nagging shortcomings, balanced by some impressive features its screen is gorgeous, its modular design saves a few precious ounces of travel weight and it posted the longest battery life in our tests, chugging along for three hours and 45 minutes on a charge. 1998, Home Offica Computing ilif.l'i it Ti'f ilti i i itiififit'i'i liixtt'4i)it litZtiiUlli iX&AJi

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