The game's the same

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A s a look through any comic will tell you, there are only half a dozen basic jokes. Well, it begins to look as if there are no more than half a dozen basic computer games, too. The crush of people trying to get into last week's big computer games exhibition, The European Computer Trade Show at Olympia, made me think I was in for some serious excitement. It was all a bit of a disappointment.

Don't get me wrong. I like computer games, and the games on show are getting faster and more involved - but they are all still the same old games.

You can fight in outer space or Arthurian nether worlds, you can fight invading aliens, you can fly aeroplanes or you can develop new cities/empires/islands/buildings. There really is very little else.

Even the newest departures - interactive movies and games played with Internet connections - seem locked into traditional shoot-'em-up worlds. Perhaps new forms of adventure require old ideas before they find their feet, but that does not explain the tiredness of standard PC games.

The classic at the show was Hexen, a new variation of the wildly popular Doom. Doom is a simple, blood-and-gore futuristic shoot-'em-up. You wander down dark corridors blasting everything that moves, occasionally picking up tools and ammo. It is not cerebrally taxing, but for those who like shoot-em-'ups with a feeling of tense claustrophobia, it is addictive. Hexen uses core software licensed from the original version of Doom. Technically, Hexen is wonderful and the images are great. However, the only innovation is to set it in an ancient castle (plenty of claustrophobic corridors). And that is about it. You end up with Doom with cudgels and swordsinstead of guns.

Perhaps I am being too curmudgeonly. Games you can play communally, over your network or over the Internet, are getting better, and that has to be healthy. Flight simulators are now two a penny and are so good you will soon need a G-suit. And the all-time-greatest building-up game, Civilisation, will be available for Internet soon.

But if the cinema can reinvent itself continuously with new genres, why cannot the computer games world find some genuinely new ways to entertain us? As our games-playing technologies get more powerful, I just wish more effort could be put into the story rather than just prettier, faster effects.