Games & CD-ROMS

Aaron v Ruth

pounds 39.99, Mindscape

Windows 95

The legendary status of Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth is such that even many of those who are most indifferent to baseball have heard of them. It's doubtful, however, that this simulation needs their names attached in order to sell.

You can have teams of all-time greats swinging for glory in historical ballparks, but ultimately sims depend on how they play, rather than the theatre that's set up for them - and this one plays very well. While it allows you to adjust just about every variable you can think of - and probably some that never occurred to you - the basic controls for pitching and batting are simple and do not take much memorising. The result is that you can be playing within minutes and then explore the deeper stuff, meddle with tactics, investigate player biographies and so on.

The games on screen are over more quickly than those on the ball park, too: appealing to the impatient as well as the anorak is no mean feat.

Birds Of Britain & Europe

pounds 49.99, AA Multimedia

Windows 3.1 or later

Sound, video and animation are put to good use in this guide to 427 bird species. The interface is anchored to a virtual museum that lets you wander around and discover things either at random or in a more structured way, from avian taxonomy and how to attract birds to your garden, to examples of birdsong. It's easy to build up a comprehensive profile on any of the birds in terms of behaviour, migratory patterns, likely habitats etc.

Where this scores over paper encyclopaedias is in its use of multimedia. Using books and binoculars, I've laboured for years trying to work out whether they were swifts or swallows flying over my garden. The sound files here solved it in an instant - swifts, for sure.

Dark Earth

pounds 40, Microprose

Windows 95

It's not often that so-called developments in adventure gaming advance the genre. This innovative CD-Rom developed by the French group Kalisto, however, makes a brave attempt. Using a proprietary 3D engine, the third- person action takes place in real time from various camera angles, with some nifty full-screen motion video scenes to stylishly expand on the most important bits.

For once, the description visually stunning is appropriate. Even the shadows are impressive. The characters you encounter and have to interact with in this post-apocalyptic world are more than merely one-dimensional ciphers and react according to their predisposition and the way they're approached. A strong plot and plenty of tension mean that the story line is, unusually, important rather than being a lame rationale tagged on at the end.

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