How to play it right this Christmas

From the vast range of games and CD-Roms on offer this Christmas, Andy Oldfield chooses his own personal favourites among the addictive, inventive and outright maddening.

Television is bad enough, with its seemingly endless repeats, but switching from the TV screen to the computer monitor won't do much to banish the sense of deja vu. Sequels and character licensing deals are the hallmarks of most of the popular CD-Roms you may find competing to overfill your hard drive at Christmas this year.

Blade Runner

pounds 44.99 (Virgin Interactive) Win95

The cityscape of Los Angeles 2019 in the film Blade Runner is almost a defining image of cyberpunk science fiction. Westwood Studios and Virgin have translated it into a cyberspace sprawling across four CD-Roms that rewards careful exploration. There's no need for the latest 3D accelerator in your machine - every motion-captured character is 3D-rendered and the special effects such as fog, rain and fire are more than convincing on a standard 2D video card. Attention to detail impresses not only visually, but also in the audio. In games-playing terms, too, there's a lot to master, and it's not a game to play with a Boxing Day hangover - gathering evidence and solving the clues as you track down Replicants is not easy, in this massively impressive game. Patience, rather than an itchy trigger finger, is the key.

Worms 2

pounds 29.99 (Microprose) Win95

Itchy trigger fingers come to the fore in Worms 2 - although strategy should not be overlooked as you take command of a platoon of worms intent on wiping out its rivals. If you play against the computer you'll be amazed at the pinpoint accuracy of your enemy; they're guaranteed to be hotter shots than you are, and to prevail you'll need to think in terms of ambushes, or find hidden super-weapons such as the devastating Concrete Donkey. The original was addictive in spite of its graphics; the follow-up is slick and a joy to look at. The Internet play capability is horribly addictive.

Quake II

pounds 34.99 (id Software) Win95

At last, you can see what's going on in Quake without having to reset the brightness and contrast controls of your monitor. Quake II is not only brighter than the original, it's bigger and brasher, too. The missions on which you and an improved arsenal of weapons embark are complex; mistakes in one may have repercussions in another. Smart adversaries to go with smart weapons means that while running down corridors with a finger on the fire button is still an option, it's not one that will get you very far. Multiplayer options are beefed up - 32 at a time can pitch in over the Net or a LAN. Mixed news for cheat freaks - don't count on your favourite ones working in Quake II.

Tomb Raider II

pounds 29.99 (Eidos) Win95/PlayStation

Lara Croft, the polygon pin-up, is back. In Tomb Raider II her quest is for the Dagger of Xian, and to get it involves beating off the challenge of two other interested parties. The form that this beating off takes is inevitably of a gross physical nature, involving much acrobatic leaping around, shooting and looking for medicine boxes to heal the wounds inflicted by new monsters. Some of the arcade-style action takes place in the great outdoors (Venice, Tibet, China) as opposed to the tunnels and catacombs of the original, which is a pleasant change. If that's not enough to tempt devotees of the original, the developers have thrown in some Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-type traps, and augmented her licence to kill with a driving licence that comes in handy, as there are vehicles just waiting to be used.

Shadow Warrior

pounds 34.99 (Eidos) DOS/Win95

From the creators of Duke Nukem 3D comes a first-person shoot 'em up that looks strangely familiar. In Shadow Warrior, you get to play the part of Lo Wang, a master ninja assassin of 20 years' standing, who is fated to wander a number of Japanese scenarios (28 levels in all) basically killing everything in sight. You're likely to encounter such hazards to life and limb as female ninjas, koi with extra-sharp teeth, ape-like rippers, hornets and bunnies. Inaction leads to the on-screen character being reduced to such effete behaviour as brandishing chopsticks to catch passing flies - a humorous touch, apparently, although there are many more which are as ribald as anything found in Duke Nukem 3D.

Virtual Pool 2

pounds 39.99 (Interplay) Win95

Sports sims are steady sellers and Virtual Pool 2 looks as if it could emulate the achievements of its predecessor and become next year's number one sports title. Recent football sims seem to have reached the end of the line in terms of refinements, but this one has some enhancements over the original. Graphically, it's more sophisticated, but, more important, the degree of control allowed is now greater - miscues are astonishingly lifelike. The computer opponents play more interesting games. And there's a good choice of games other than the 8-ball you might play down the pub. It's hard to see how this one could be further improved.

Dogz II

pounds 19.99 (Mindscape) Win95

Recognising that virtual pets are the biggest work displacement activity yet designed to clutter a hard drive is a good enough reason for many to consider buying one. Child pressure is another. Dogz II lets you keep canines in your Pentium. Feed them, teach them how to do tricks, download goodies and toys for them from the Net. Watch them frolic around your desktop, peep out from behind the window of the application you're working in and go exploring through your folders. Pleasantly pathetic, really, even if they do double as neat screen savers. The faint-hearted will be pleased that pooper scoopers are not necessary.


pounds 39.99 (Interplay) PlayStation

According to the manufacturers, the initials MDK, do not stand for "murder, death, kill" -\ but they might as well do. Alien Stream Riders are afoot and intergalactic hero Kurt Hectic has to save the Earth from destruction. Fortunately, Kurt has a sniper gun helmet and a powersuit with attached parachute so that he can run, fly in short bursts and unleash vicious volleys of bullets, bombs and grenades. He has to be careful, though. Indiscriminate destruction of aliens can lead to them reproducing tenfold. The action, though, is essentially non-stop blasting that is exhausting for anyone foolhardy enough to pick up the joypad in the first place - and many will do just that. Earlier this year it was a best-seller on the PC; the PlayStation version is just as frenetic.

All Star Soccer

pounds 44.99 (Eidos) PlayStation

Whereas most football sims aim for gritty realism or chase the Statto vote, All Star Soccer goes for the oddball approach. As a soccer sim, it's perfectly average. However, you can build weird teams of mismatched individuals, dress them eccentrically and see how they perform. The built- in character assassinations reflect terrace humour well: the Keegan perm caricature is particularly noteworthy. The humour carries over into play, too, the Cantona tackle is something else - it's enthusiastic enough to be at home in a Kung Fu movie. The commentary is first rate, as well. It starts off with standard cliches and then goes off at quirky, surreal or plain corny tangents: "Good atmosphere here: 70 per cent nitrogen, 20 per cent oxygen ..." Should appeal to all those who miss Skinner and Baddiel's Fantasy Football.


pounds 39.99 (Disney Interactive) Win95/ PlayStation

The platform game genre, although legendary, is not quite as old as the Greek legends about Hercules, it just seems that way to members of the MTV generation. The feel of Disney's cartoon version of Hercules is faithfully re-created in the video game of the same name. Starting off as a 2D platform game, it experiments with moving in three dimensions as you progress, completing obstacle courses, leaping, ducking and pulverising your way from level to level. It does what it does well, but the inclusion of some video footage does not hide the fact that it doesn't try for anything original. Not that the kids at whom it's aimed will be concerned by that, they're more likely to bemoan the fact that it has only 10 levels - should keep them occupied for a week or so, though.

Star Fleet Academy

pounds 39.99 (Interplay) Win95

Star Fleet Academy on the other hand will last even a determined games player for ages, being spread across five CD-Roms. The player assumes the role of a trainee at the academy, where, alone or with other trainees, a series of missions are undertaken to gain experience and Star Fleet qualifications. The missions are a mixture of strategy and shoot 'em up games, with plenty of room for variation depending on the choices made, such as which class of Starship to command, etc. Technically, the games are accomplished rather than innovative, but the presentation is good and the intercut video scenes do fit satisfactorily into the storylines to be explored. Appearances by characters from the original Star Trek, such as Kirk and Chekhov, help to ensure that junior Trekkies continue to boldly go where their parents have gone before.

Final Liberation

pounds 39.99 (Mindscape) Win95

The Warhammer Epic 40,000 universe is familiar to many role-playing war gamers. It has benefited from the input of leading science fiction writers in its evolution as an established RPG scenario. Its transition from book and board to PC screen in Final Liberation is one that should appeal widely - the live-action video and computer graphics suit the subject matter well. Basically a war game in space, where humans on the planet Volistad have to retake lost ground from Orkish invaders, it works well as a generic Warhammer game but retains enough mainstream appeal not to alienate traditional war gamers. Appealing to both camps is a neat trick to pull off.


pounds 29.99 (Channel Four) Win95/Mac

Aimed at kids of nine to 14, Backtracks allows easy exploration of how music, sound and video imagery can be combined to produce various effects. It's a hands-on package based on 30 video clips, 32 music tracks and 45 sound effects that can be edited via a simple interface. Various projects are suggested, such as making adverts, making title sequences, and making TV trailers. It's a piece of multimedia software that blurs the boundaries between serious work and mucking about having a good time.

European Video Atlas

pounds 9.99 (Attica) Win3.x/Win95

There is homework to be done, even in the school holidays. European Video Atlas is a useful resource for teenage kids doing geography or economics. It's an EU multimedia atlas using ITN video footage and stills as well as a bundled gazetteer and a databank of statistics comprehensive enough for GCSE-level economic forecasting. Trevor McDonald is always on hand to guide you through the screens, which are less fussily laid out than in software such as Encarta.

Microprose (01454 893900); Eidos (0181-636 3000); Interplay (01628 423666); Activision (01895 456700); Mindscape (01664 481563); Disney Interactive (0181 222 1571) Channel 4 (01926 436444)

BBC Multimedia (0990 484849); Attica (01865 791346).

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'

Arts & Entertainment
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit