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Gaming Shorts -- 23 games to play. $100 to spend. 5 days to drop date. Let's make these short.

Sid MeierUs Gettysburg! lets you take command of Union or Confederate armies.

By Mark Huang
Staff Reporter

I bet you thought you were going to catch up on those problem sets and write your parents this weekend. Ha! Try buying a new hard drive, instead. Between the hundred games coming out before Christmas, that stash of downloaded porn in Temporary Internet Files, and the hundreds of MPEG audio clips you've no doubt collected (you're going to burn in hell, pirater), space, and time, will be tight indeed.

The major reason you'll be failing your classes in December is that next month will see the release of three of the most highly anticipated blockbusters of the year: Tomb Raider 2, the Diablo: Hellfire add-on from Sierra, and Starcraft. Between now and then, I know that those paychecks will be burning holes in your pockets, but think twice before giving in to the sexy, voluptuous boxes crappy games often come in. This week's review is thus dedicated to the mediocre, unheralded games that are shivering on the shelves of Electronics Boutique you may find one of them at least amusing enough to get you through the weekend.

Close Combat 2

While we're being blunt, one word: Microsoft. CC2's probably a good game, but it's boring and overly complicated as all hell. You may think that the last sentence was a contradiction. I offer Windows 95 as Exhibit B.

CC2 is real-time WWII strategy/simulation, definitely targeted towards an older, wiser, duller audience. The game offers beautiful graphics and great sound, but the learning curve is a little steep for only occasional dabblers in strategy like me. The most distinctive feature of the game is its complexity, if that's your pain: traditional macroscopic strategy, like placement and formation, is combined with microscopic worries, like morale and fatigue, to create an immersive environment of pure stress.

If you're looking for something that hovers around the same level of realism but is infinitely more fun, go to BU. Or, try

Sid Meier's Gettysburg!

Sid Meier knows how to make games. He's done it for most of his life. Trust the man.

In Gettysburg!, a real-time wargame from rookie Firaxis Software, you take command of your choice of sides during the most strategically taxing campaign of the Civil War. After selecting a side and launching the game, you'll find that the interface is immediately intuitive and the gameplay is properly paced. Graphics are rendered in a minimalist fashion, but they remain both informative and pleasing to the eye.

There's something elegant about simplicity. Gettysburg's intense focus on the art of war, rather than the art of raping the landscape and slaughtering your enemy, sets it apart from bloated games like Dark Reign and the upcoming Starcraft. In a genre that's slowly beginning to merge with action, Gettysburg! stands out as a classic example of a well-designed strategy game.

Need for Speed II SE

Electronic Arts' wildly popular Need for Speed was a hit among twelve-year-old kids around the globe, but EA violated the First Rule of Sequels when it released Need for Speed II as just a bigger, slower, more disappointing relative of its predecessor. They've attempted to allay some of the criticisms of NfS2 - namely, that it wasn't a joke, as most had thought, to require MMX and 32 MB of RAM to play - by releasing a 3Dfx-enhanced version of the game.

I have to say that I was surprised by how fun it was to play. If you're looking for a real driving simulator, try Grand Prix by Microprose, but if you just want to sit down and release some adrenaline, NfS2 might be worth your time. The graphics are superb with 3Dfx, and the cars are to die for (whoops, that's Carmageddon, sorry). NfS2 supports various multiplayer options and force feedback input devices, but the experience I had with the Microsoft SideWinder Force Feedback Pro was a nightmare: I felt as if the software was controlling me, sensing my every move, and reporting them back to headquarters for further processing. In any case, NfS2 SE offers the chance to drive a dozen different cars and race on several visually stunning tracks; a cute game.

Excalibur 2555 AD

This pathetic excuse for a Tomb Raider ripoff is like a lesson in abuse of OpenGL. Some people just shouldn't have the power to create badly formed polygonal models. From the weird plot - as Merlin's incredibly ugly niece Beth, you must recover the stolen Excalibur in the year 2555 AD - to the terrible graphics - Beth is an attractive 30-30-30 walking tetrahedron - this game was not worth the effort to port from the Playstation. Don't bother playing the demo, and definitely don't buy it when it hits, and drops from, the shelves this weekend.

Blupi's Planet

Do you see a budding Stalin in your six-year-old kid brother? Would you like to develop his precocious appetite for global domination? Blupi's Planet is Red Alert ported to the 10-and-under platform, an excellent training tool for the younguns. As a strategy game, it's both complex and intriguing: pick flowers, set off TNT; bounce the cute blobbies around, blow up the evil aliens. I found the game fascinating and entertaining, sure to be under every Christmas tree this year. I'm most impressed, however, by the fact that a Swiss company could create a wargame this good. Move over, Lara: Blupi's here!