The programmers and designers of Quake will probably be suitably encouraged by the reaction of one newcomer to this type of game. "This is disturbing," she said, paling visibly after discovering the fire key, "it's like you're actually killing things."

If you thought the blast-everything-that-moves approach pioneered by the likes of Wolfenstein, Doom, Doom II and Duke Nukem 3D were the heights or depths of PC-based political incorrectness, it is time to revise your estimates. A new engine from id Software at the heart of this 15-rated game enables a more graphically intense, atmospheric plunge into mayhem than before. With worldwide pre-orders approaching 1 million, it is a plunge a lot of people will be making.

Inevitably, there is a story-line of sorts underpinning the action. Just as inevitably it is less a story than a rationale that will not hold water for critics of the violence involved. Scientists have been tinkering with teleporters. However, an enemy, code-named Quake, has "slipgates" of his own and has been using them to seed weird death squads from other dimensions into this one. And they are successful death squads - you are probably the only survivor. Your mission is to enter a slipgate and pay a return visit.

"You pump a round into your shotgun, and get moving," the manual explains. And that is all you really need to know. Everything you come across is a target or something you can use against targets. It is a simple philosophy.

Unfortunately, a related philosophy is held by the zombies, Rottweilers, Death Knights et al that will attack you. Not subtle philosophies, but then subtlety is not much use when faced with a homicidal 8ft cannibal monster with a chainsaw and a bag of grenades - a rocket launcher is more effective.

Like its predecessors, the game view is through the player's eyes. But from a technical point, the view has never been better. The creators at id claim the new engine is "next generation technology" and it does not seem an idle boast. The three-dimensional graphics are rich and convincing. Whether stalking labyrinthine tunnels (there are acres of the things) or swimming underwater, the textures and detail of the scenery and monsters you meet along the way are enough to make you pause and take a good look - not a wise move should you wish to stay alive.

Heavy metal riffs, explosions, electrical discharges, bullets, grunts and screams have been staples of this genre for several years and they feature here, too. In Quake, the fidelity of the sound is outstanding, crisp and precise - even on an old 8-bit SoundBlaster Pro.

It is with the background soundtrack, however, that Quake really shines. As a way of aiding the player to suspend disbelief and enter imaginatively into the life of the unwholesome scenario, it is difficult to fault.

As you come out of the other side of the slipgate and hope the monsters are on a lunch-break, there is a low-key but building collage of spooky sounds and half-heard whispers that would have done the more menacing moments of The Shining proud.

It is at such times that the warning in the manual that there are no cheat codes in the game takes on despairing overtones. Fortunately, it is less than the whole truth. Hitting the tilde key brings a console into play and while that is on screen commands can be entered which affect the gameplay.

Search the Internet and you will find lists of commands that will let you choose weapons you have not yet found, turn gravity to zero, become invulnerable and generally swing the odds away from favouring your sudden demise.

There is provision for hooking computers together with serial cables so that people can wander this vast game together, either co-operatively or against each other in "deathmatch mode".

Software like this makes demands on hardware. A Pentium processor is recommended, although a DX4/100 will suffice. Even a DX2/66 will run it at a playable speed if it has a fast video card and decent RAM cache. But it has to be a PC. Doom may be belatedly available on the Apple, but there is no sign of Quake on the Mac horizon yet. Expect the sales of Apple's DOS-compatibility cards to increase.

Quake (id Software). Full registered version (pounds 39.99) available from retail outlets. Shareware version available online, see or GO UKDOWNLOAD on CompuServe. Minimum requirements: CD-Rom drive, 486 DX4/100 processor (Pentium recommended), DOS 5 or better or Windows 95, 8Mb RAM (16Mb recommended; 16Mb needed running from within Windows 95), VGA graphics, 80Mb free hard disk space for full version - 30Mb for shareware version.