Down in the Dumps

Philips Media, pounds 44.99

Before you play this, put your sunglasses on. The graphics will knock your socks, tights, stockings or other non-specified close-knit footwarmers, clean off. The best segments are little short of cinema-quality cartoons.

The game itself is a straightforward quest, set in a rubbish dump, of course. The idea is to find pieces of a spaceship damaged or lost when the Blub family, cartoon extraterrestrials, crashed to earth. The Blubs are a sort of space family from hell: mutant Simpsons on LSD. Standing between them and the pieces they need are the Bad Guys, also from outer space, and downright nasty compared with the Blubs.

As well as directing Blubs to collect the missing bits of spaceship, there's a secondary, green quest to clean up the dump and improve the environment. The instruction book (more of that later) contains an open letter from the Blubs warning us "flat-headed" earthlings that protecting the environment is matter of survival.

There's lots going on throughout the game to keep you occupied, but some of the humour wears thin in fairly short order. The creatures are hideous and the random acts of violence generally merit the 15+ age rating on the game.

Now then, that instruction manual. It covers four languages, but the English section wasn't particularly clear. Perhaps it is better in the other languages.

People, like me, who have not played an interactive quest game before will take a little while to find their way around the screen menus, which are hidden most of the time.

Anyway, read the manual carefully before setting out on the first search. The alternative is to waste, as I did, several hours wandering around scenarios aimlessly.

One feature I've not seen on any computer game is an optional "camera" which films things as you go along. You can then replay the resultant "video" at your leisure.

You'll need a pretty fast PC with a nifty CD-Rom drive to get the most out of . I was using a Pentium 100 machine with 4X CD drive and, frankly, although the machine was quick enough the CD-Rom slowed things up. Thankfully, there's none of this Windows 95 malarkey to deal with and with a decent sound card and speakers the audio is as good as the moving pictures.

Great graphics, good fun, but just a little too wacky for my tastes. Where did I put my copy of Dark Forces?n

Peter Victor

Philips Media (0171 911 3030)


McGraw-Hill, pounds 29.95

And weird it certainly is. With only an on-screen moving eyeball, you find yourself in a corridor in some sort of interstellar submarine with doorways, ladders and curious windows to explore. Some open, others don't, and a few require the solution to a puzzle to allow entrance.

The 3D graphics and sounds are of high quality and are highly evocative of weirdness. The whole environment is designed to appeal to fans of the paranormal, with each door leading to a fresh series of tales of the unbelievable. Bigfoot, premonitions, showers of frogs ... the material is all presented in impressively loving and weird form, well researched and written in convincingly restrained style.

It's quite hopeless if you're trying to look up any particular topic, as the whole adventure game format ensures that you stumble across each piece of weird information. It's all just the sort of thing that we rationalists treat with the utmost scorn, but the style of the product sets just the right tone to get away with it. I never knew before, incidentally, that showers of fish are called "fafrotskies".

The designers say they wrote their own compression routines to fit the maximum possible information on to the disc, and they appear to have worked extremely well. You get 45 minutes of video, 3,000 images and more than two hours of audio.

"Some environments can only be reached by teleport," the user is warned. The only question is whether this display of Fortean mysteries deserves such a professional treatment. Brilliant technology; what a pity it's mostly such nonsensen

William Hartston

McGraw-Hill (01628 23432)