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LucasArts' "Afterlife"

Purgatory for Computer Gamers...

LucasArts Entertainment has gone to Hell.

No, its games aren’t slipping (in fact it has some dynamite ones coming out over the next several months); instead, it’s tackling the age old issues of good and evil - and life after death - head on with its new title "Afterlife."

"Afterlife," is a very funny trip into the "simulation" market already occupied by games like the SimCity series and Outpost. If you’ve always wanted to tell people where to go, this may be your idea of Heaven…

In Afterlife, you’re a "Regional Spiritual Director," responsible for managing the growth of both Heaven and Hell and - even more difficult - keeping track of them to ensure the Heavenly Rewards (and Hellish punishments) are doled out efficiently and the people’s vibes remain good (or bad).

Souls enter your Afterlife via gates; you zone and develop your Great Beyond’s unreal estate according to the seven deadly sins or their opposite virtues (gluttony vs. temperance, etc.). In typical sim tradition, you build roads to connect buildings and zones and once you’ve done that (assuming you’ve done it correctly), the dearly and recently departed start showing up in great numbers.

Of course, some of these dead folk don’t think they’ll stay dead for long, and to accommodate them you need to set up reincarnation stations to facilitate their trip back to the land of the living. Holy Cow!

If you’re successful in balancing all that needs to be done, you’ll be showered with "Pennies from Heaven," but be careful: you also have to make sure your netherworlds don’t succumb to several unnatural disasters, like "Hell Freezes Over" or "Heaven Nose," the latter of which sees a huge proboscis hovering over the landscape, sniffing things from existence. It snot bad.

An online tutorial gives you quite a bit of help, via the animated characters Jasper and Aria, your demonic and angelic guides. They’ll not only teach you the fundamentals, they’ll keep track of your progress and give you advice - or warnings. They both have cute, Disneyesque ersonalities, but they tend to go on at length sometimes and you can’t shut off their diatribes once you’ve started them. Still, they’re entertaining enough.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to lose track of your Afterlife. With billions of souls to punish and reward, and the game’s extensive graphing and statistical tools, it can be tempting to say "to Hell with it," and go back to the aimless thrills of Duke Nukem. And that would be a shame, because Afterlife really is quite a lot of fun.

It’s hilarious, too. The tone is set in the opening sequence, which uses clever writing rather than multimedia glitz to make its point, and continues through just about every point and click you’ll make in Afterlife.

Heckuva game.


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January 31, 2006