|Home Theater Accessories Game Systems|
|Written by Tony Kaklamanos|
|Wednesday, 01 December 1999|
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Some of you may be a bit surprised to see a review of a video gaming system here in the pages of Audio Revolution. Home video game systems can be a significant part of home entertainment and are relatively inexpensive and easy to add to your home theater.
The Sega Dreamcast is the current king of the hill and will not face any serious competition until Sony’s second generation Playstation is out (reportedly later this year). The Dreamcast is a technical powerhouse with many new and innovative features.
The Dreamcast has a 200 mhz, 128-bit CPU. Coupled with the unit’s NEC VR chip set, this allows intricate three-dimensional graphics to be drawn quickly and smoothly. Most other console games have either 32- or 64-bit processing. The Dreamcast’s 128-bit processor allows processing of data in groups two to four times larger in size. The result is faster and smoother gaming.
For audio processing, Sega went to Yamaha. Yamaha has been manufacturing some of the best mass-market surround receivers for the past couple of years, making them a logical choice. The Dreamcast features 26 Mb of RAM and a proprietary double-density GD-ROM drive, capable of storing up to 1Gb and reading it at high speed. Two other features unique to the Dreamcast are the visual memory unit and the modem. The modem is a 56k model which allows the player to compete against other Dreamcast players or to download game information or even to stream actual sports scores while playing a sports game. The visual memory unit (VMU) is similar to the memory cards in other systems, but with one big difference: this unit also has a LCD screen and controls. This credit card-sized device allows the player to download miniature games to play on the move, as well as to save game information. The VMU also allows for setting up secret plays in sports games. If all of this were not enough, Sega also includes a high-speed serial port for future expansion.
Sega has an ever-growing array of games for the Dreamcast. I was fortunate enough to test several of them. In addition to playing the games myself, I found my friends more than willing to come on over to help out. I also had a few video game "experts," the young children of co-workers, evaluate the system. (A word of advice: do not lend the Dreamcast to the children of friends, unless you want the kids to beg and harass their parents for their own units.)
The first game I played was "Sonic Adventure." I was able to choose from six characters to play. Wanting to be the hero, I usually chose to play Sonic. The game starts with a short movie scene, in which a liquid creature called Chaos is set up as the villain. The game continues as the character you select travels through various scenarios, battling a variety of enemies and uncovering treasure, encountering different challenges and settings along the way. The scenes are rich with amazing graphic and audio effects. In one section, your character is being pursued by a killer whale. The graphics, coupled with the involving soundtrack, provide strong incentive to flee. I must admit I did not do nearly as well on this game as my younger counterparts. One element of this game that really stood out was the CHAO. In an area known as the CHAO garden, players can create and raise little creatures known as CHAO. These CHAO can then be saved on the VMUs and continue to be "raised" there in a manner similar to the virtual pets of recent memory.
The role-playing games are fun, but the guys and I were looking for some good action games. Sega did not disappoint here, either. We first played some racing games, Flag to Flag and Sega Rally 2. Flag to Flag is a track racing game that allows us to race 19 different CART circuits, while choosing between a variety of CART drivers and teams. The graphics are great, drawing the player in and making the crashes that much more painful. It took a while to get used to the controls and some fiddling with the set-up of the cars. In this game, it makes a big difference how you choose to set up your vehicle. Sega Rally 2 is an off-road racing game, which is a little more forgiving when it comes to crashes than Flag to Flag. Sega Rally 2 abounds with set-up choices: there are 19 different cars, transmission options, suspension choices, etc. Once the car is set up, you then get to select your course. This game is a lot of fun. Racing around in the dirt, hitting things and watching parts of your car fly off proved to be quite addicting. It was hard to go really fast and stay in control, but everyone had a blast playing the game.
The games that really show Sega’s strength are the sports games. The games available so far are NBA 2K, NFL 2K and Rippin’ Riders, a snowboarding game. NHL2K is expected out very soon. The NFL and NBA 2K games have many features in common. Both games utilize over 1,000 motion-captured moves, which allow the Dreamcast to depict the characters much more realistically than was ever possible before. Custom plays can be programmed and teams can be chosen from an amazingly accurate database, or you can create your own team. I was amazed to see the detail of the players and stadiums. If you ever watch sports on television, you will be in familiar surroundings. The arenas, stadiums and players are very recognizable. The TV-like replays and commentaries add to the realism. The plays are very authentic and the movements of the players are much closer to the real thing than in any other sports game. The motions are not jerky and artificial; they are smooth and maintain the complexity of real life play, something most other video games lose in sports games. The complexity can make these games more difficult to master, but the tutorial and practice modes can help a lot.
Rippin’ Riders is a snowboarding game with six courses that allows the rider to perform a variety of stunts. As with the other games, this one is not easy to master and practice definitely pays off. Rippin’ Riders also resembles the previously-mentioned Sega games in the intensity of its graphics. I cannot yet vouch for the realism of the winning moves, as most of my own downhill runs have been made on my rear or tumbling end over end.
There are several other games that I tried. One noteworthy game was Armada. In this game, the player’s goal is to save civilization by defeating the Armada. The characters can develop and grow as the game progresses. My science fiction-loving friends particularly enjoyed this game, which finally made it necessary to kick one of them out after hours of playing so that I could finally go to sleep.