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The Dig by LucasArts

Picture of The Dig's box. LucasArts' new adventure game combines the directing talents of Steven Spielberg and the special effects wizards at the renowned Industrial Light and Magic for a gaming experience that lives up to the LucasArts name. Never once have I been dissatisfied with a LucasArts game, and this is no exception.

With an immense world to explore and discover, full-screen video and stereo sound, The Dig creates the best atmosphere I've ever seen - no, felt. The game is so realistic, the screens so beautiful, the sound effects so startlingly real that you begin to feel like you really are there, that you really are lost on this planet far away from home.

First off, what's The Dig about?

The Plot

The space shuttle Atlantis. In a desolated Deep Space Observatory station in hot and humid Borneo, a small blinking dot appears on the amber screen. The computer, recognizing an object that could become a threat to earth, quickly calculates the odds of impact. The lone operator's heart skips a beat as the words "Probability of impact with earth: 1 in 1" appears. He quickly places a phone call which will change your life, as NASA veteran Boston Low, forever.

Your mission, as commander of the shuttle Atlantis, is to divert the moon-sized asteroid, named Attila (after the 5th century Hun leader), and save the planet from a devastating impact. Once the wayward asteroid is nuked into a safe orbit, you and your team, consisting of award-winning journalist Maggie Robbins and internationally renowned geologist Ludger Brink, conduct a routine examination of the rocky surface.

What you uncover is anything but routine.

Borneo Deep Space Observatory. Unwittingly, you trigger a mechanism that transforms the asteroid into a crystal-like spacecraft. You and your team are hurtled across the galaxy to a planet so desolate, Brink is moved to name it Cocytus, after the 9th circle of Hell in Dante's Inferno. The bleak landscape was obviously once home to a highly developed civilization, with remnants of sophisticated architecture, advanced technology and an intricate network of underground tunnels. But no Cocytans.

Who were the original inhabitants of this once rich empire-turned-wasteland? What are those apparitions that mysteriously appear from time to time? Why have Low, Robbins and Brink been brought to this place? And how can Low keep his team from unraveling in the face of such uncertainty? To return to Earth the team must dig for answers, both on the planet's surface and deep within themselves.

Plot Rating: This story line has excellent potential and makes an exciting game.

The Graphics

Although the graphics are standard 320x240 VGA, it still amazes me how much these guys at LucasArts can pack into a small space. As with their previous two games, Full Throttle and Sam & Max Hit The Road, LucasArts has done away with any permanent on-screen interface and left the screen exclusively for the environment.

Ancient space ship wreck. There are two graphic "modes" that LucasArts has employed, "interface mode" and "video mode". For the former, it is just as their other games are done, where you move and interact in a painted background. In the latter, "video mode", the screen switches to a cartoon-like full screen movie, which is at times quite stunning, and at others a little disappointing. In certain scenes, such as in the introduction where the shuttle bay doors open, the screen becomes blocky; areas where you would expect a smooth graduation in colors are jagged. This is a result of having only 256 colors to work with. LucasArts has kept with [email protected] colors since the famous Secret Of Monkey Island. If LucasArts would provide an option for the now popular 640x480 resolution, and even better with 16-bit colors, many visual problems would be solved.

Visual effects were created by Industrial Light and Magic, the company which practically does all special effects today. Not trying to give anything away, I'll just say that these are the kind of effects you'd expect in blockbuster movies.

Graphics Rating: While the graphics are beautiful, VGA resolution is becoming outdated. If LucasArts had done this game in [email protected] it would receive 5 stars.

The Sound

One thing you'll notice in The Dig's setup program is the lack of a MIDI option. This is because LucasArts has done away with not just the AdLib standard, but with MIDI altogether and created the first quality digital soundtrack I have heard. Combining the smooth tones of Wagner compositions and realistic sound effects, the soundtrack is probably the game's best attribute. While the tones become repetitive after hours of gameplay, they are still the best to be heard on any game I've played.

The Nexus. Combined with the music are startling sound effects - and I do mean startling. When I first entered the interior of the asteroid the popping and cracking of the freshly-nuked rock sounded like it was coming from all around me - I at first thought something odd was happening to my house. The voice-overs, written by Orson Scott Card and Sean Clark, are well done; read with excellent emotion and emphasis. Robert Patrick of Terminator 2 fame voiced Boston Low. To hear the full impact of this game be sure to have a quality sound card and even better speakers - don't stick with those 50-cent squawkers that came with the system.

Sound Rating: The music is alluring if repetitive, the sound effects exciting, and the dialogue professional. With more variance in the music this soundtrack would rate 5 stars.

The Interface

The interface. As mentioned above, LucasArts has totally done away with the on-screen interface and gone with point-and-click of late. The Dig has the most basic interface yet. While games started off with many different text-only designs, the first graphics-intensive games brought about the need for a quicker interface, namely "choose-an-action-and-click".

With The Dig you don't have to cycle through the talk-walk-look-get actions. For example, if you click on a person, you talk to them. Your inventory is controlled by either right-clicking the mouse or clicking on a small box on the bottom-left of the screen. There is an "examine" tool which gives you a close look at objects, and you'll find yourself using it often. To use an object you drag it off the "box" and click on what you want to use it with. It is a quick and simple interface, one which allows you to experience the game as Commander Low rather than fight to figure out the right combination of commands. My favorite time-saving feature was the option of double-clicking on a destination (to another screen) and instantly going there instead of watching the figure walk around, which happens when you single-click.

Interface Rating: Quick and simple best describes the latest in point-and-click.

The Gameplay

The Dig traps you on an alien world where it is your task to keep control of your crew, survive, and get home. You've got your work cut out for you. Not only does your crew want nothing to do with you, but the previous tenants of the planet seem to have left, and there aren't any ships laying about to take you home.

Most of the gameplay involves exploring the alien complex and learning about the former occupants. There are puzzles to solve and clues to decipher. Most of the game moves quickly, the only sticky points being the puzzles. In these, you are presented with an alien piece of machinery which, typical with all old alien equipment, doesn't work. Your goal is to repair it - the only problem being you don't know what it's supposed to do!

While most of the puzzles could be figured out if you spent enough time at them, most will require a bit of help. The Dig felt much longer and more solid than other recent LucasArts games, I'm sure it will keep you going for at least a month. The story line is long - Alan Dean Foster even wrote a novel based on this game.

Gameplay Rating: If LucasArts had been a little less vague with the puzzles this would be 5 stars.

The Whole Shebang

Atilla explodes. I like this game. I really do. For all the little nit-picks I do, I am really impressed with it. I wholeheartedly recommend it to any computer game guru who enjoys a good adventure. It flows smoothly and keeps one entertained. One warning, though. While this game is rated "Kids to Adults" on the box, there are several scenes which made even me cringe, so I can't recommend it to kids under 12. This game comes under the same category as the movie Jurassic Park: There's no swearing, no sex, no needless violence, and (surprise!) it's still a great mature game. (DT) CEO


DATA BOX
Requirements: 486DX2-66 processor, 8mb RAM, 1mb hard drive space, VLB or PCI VGA graphics, 2x CD-ROM, DOS 6.0 or better, Sound Blaster compatible sound card, mouse.
Recommended: Pentium processor, 16mb RAM, 4x CD-ROM.

Protection: None (CD must be in drive)

Catagory: SciFi Adventure

Publisher: LucasArts

THE LAST WORD
Pros: The Dig has good artwork and one of the first quality digital sound tracks. Atmosphere is excellent, as are voice overs.
Cons: Low resolution and a limited color palette spoil some complicated scenes, while obscure puzzles make this game more frustrating than challenging at times.


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