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Pro Pinball & Master of Orion II

Virtual Flipper Wizards and Interstellar Intrigue

Muscling its way into the veritable cornucopia of "virtual pinball games" available for the computer is Interplay's Pro Pinball. Pro Pinball is one of the best of these wizards of cyber-pinball, though we don't necessarily agree with Interplay that it "goes beyond the pinball experience."

After all, Pro Pinball doesn't have a pall of cigarette smoke - or Generation X'ers - hanging around your PC as they would be in a real, live arcade…

Pro Pinball only offers a single table, unlike the multiple games of competitors like "Psycho Pinball," but it's an excellent realization. Despite the box's assertion of different "action-packed missions," they're really just offshoots of the main game, "The Web," and are activated when you sink the ball into a particular recess (which in our case were rare occurrences, indeed!).

The full-screen graphics are terrific, though, and you can set different views that do a nice job of approximating different players' heights. One of our staff admitted to feeling a warm dose of nostalgia when he played the table as if standing on a "virtual orange crate."

Pro Pinball has no scrolling, either; the whole board is on screen all the time, which is nice. And you can set the resolution up to 1024x768, running at 60 frames per second, which makes for a very smooth gaming experience.

As for the action itself, it's hot and heavy, with a very lifelike feel, from plunger to flippers. You can even "nudge" the table to give the ball that extra bit of help when you need it.

 Microprose's Master of Orion II - Battle at Antares" (DOS/Windows 95) updates its older sibling, and we really wanted to like it, but it didn't keep our interest very long.

It's like "Civilization" and "Outpost" (two darn good games!) combined: you develop a culture on your home world and spread across the galaxy, gaining new resources and technologies as you go. And if you run out of food, your people shuffle off their mortal coils in alarming numbers.

Naturally, "you are not alone," and some aliens don't cotton to your being in their neck of the universe. This can lead to armed conflict, which adds a touch of action to an otherwise leisurely game.

But some races would rather trade than fight, and you can gain new developments from them in exchange for your own knowledge. And space monsters crop up at the most exasperating times - destroying your ships or holding your worlds hostage.

The game setup's pretty flexible; you can change the galaxy's age and resources and its initial technological level, and there's an abundance of alien races from which to choose your allegiance.

Graphics and sound are good, though most interaction's text-based and this was disappointing.

And, unfortunately, the game swallows 75 Meg of hard drive space, even though it's CD-ROM-based! We find this unacceptable in this day of multiple-speed CD-ROM drives that should be fast enough to handle a game like this.

Still, if you liked "MOO 1", you'll probably enjoy this sequel.


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January 31, 2006