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Byline: BOB LOW

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City PC 5/5

IF you've got any gaming sense you've kept a sense of proportion and ignored most of the rabid hype about how this is `the greatest game the PS2 has ever had so go get it, steal it if you have to, but don't blame us'.

It is true, but the only real way to play this is on the PC and those with only a PS2 will lose out, the same way that buying a shaky pirate copy of the latest LOTR movie, shot over the shoulder of some sweaty extra at the rushes, ruins the experience of the real thing.

It has been out on PlayStation2 since Christmas and, in gameplay, nothing has changed in Rockstar's classic.

Visually, everything has.

The revamped DX9 engine adds to the experience immeasurably - there's draw-distance, for a start.

Unlike the PS2 version, Vice City on the PC stretches to the horizon and if you can't see something clearly it's because you are short-sighted.

Mouse control makes it easier to get the full experience.

Console players rarely look anywhere but ahead, since it's a pain to manoeuvre the view round to the rear without good reason.

But this means you are missing out on all the antics of the pedestrians - the motion- capture fun that goes on after you have passed on by on roller skates wearing tight pink Spandex and headbands, for example.

He scoots past you and, a few feet behind, falls flat on his backside.

If you don't take the time to stand and stare 360, you miss a lot of the designers' little jokes.

This version of bad-guy Tommy's tale takes place, of course, in the Vice City of the title, a loving recreation of Miami Vice right down to the pastel shades, folded jacket sleeves and shoes with no socks.

Where Liberty City in the first one looked good but offered nowhere to go but the streets, Vice City lets you move around inside buildings and even buy your own properties when you get enough cash.

One good thing is that life goes on, no matter where you are - even if you duck into a building to escape the cops, go through the loading sequences and come out again - the cops will be there, patiently waiting.

You also get a shedload of new vehicles, notably helicopters and motorbikes, not to mention the obligatory Florida lifestyle speedboat.

There are six helicopters and a slew of two-wheeled ultra-machines, from the ridiculous Faggio scooter to the classic Harleys.

Yes, you can make a fool of yourself and pull wheelies.

Yes, you can fall off the back as a result and do serious damage to your character - which is a shame, since Tommy has grown up.

Instead of being just a stooge for the bosses, Tommy Vercelli is now a made man, Goodfellas-style.

So much so that he has a speaking role for the first time - and the voice of actor Ray Liotta.

All in all, Vice City is better than the original, itself now hyped as the best game in the world.

And it is best of all on the PC.

Nascar Racing 2003 PC 2/5

LET'S face it, the real deal is fairly boring - loads of superfast cars drive in a circle until something forces them to slow down for a bit.

So, despite all the licences, all the tracks, all the drivers and everything from this US event, it's hard to hide the fact that three feet of Scalextric could provide twice the fun for the same price.

With boxy graphics and dull gameplay, even driving the wrong way elicits a mere disqualification and there are no spectacular crashes, since the on-coming cars dunt you aside with no damage to anyone. And, true to form, the Americans use the word "international" a lot in describing NASCAR, the same way they use "World Series" to describe baseball.

The truth is, few people outside the US give a toss for NASCAR, except when some top driver admits he's lost the edge and gives up. Still, the gauges look nice.

Neighbours From Hell PC 3/5

UNLESS you are Osama bin Laden hiding out in a cave, we all have neighbours and, chances are, some of them are Mags Haneys.

But what if Celador or another enterprising lot had hired Mags and wired up her neighbours' homes? Her job, live every week, would be to antagonise them for the delight of a TV audience.

Enter Woody, who must play tricks on his neighbour to make a studio audience laugh, without being caught.

It's not at all clear why. The neighbour is unpleasant, apparently, but all he really does is look a bit lonely and lost while the vicious Woody runs about ruining his life.

The game is in 2D, but it does work despite that, managing to convey a 3D world quite well.

The game unfolds in episodes, like a TV series, so by the time you get to Season Three, the poor victim will be a complete psycho.

Masters of Orion III PC 2/5

OH, give it up guys. You've had three goes at it and, if it ain't working now, it's beyond repair.

This latest outing for the turn-based space strategy series proves conclusively the old saying about better the devil you know.

Having nodded at complaints about over-complexity and time-consuming micro-management, developers Quicksilver replaced it with "macro-management".

It means the AI does all the book-keeping for you but, since it is rotten at it, you spend even more time searching out mistakes and fixing them. It also means you lose track of who's doing what and where.

Concentrating on the ship-to-ship battles is a joke, since the real-time combat graphics are so small you can't see the ships at max zoom. It was just about playable in the last one, but this achieves what I would have thought impossible -it's a step backwards.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 1, 2003
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