In the not so distant past, videogames typically concentrated on providing a solid single-player experience while occasionally including a multiplayer feature as a bonus. With the rise of the online gaming community, that philosophy has flip-flopped, giving birth to a whole new hybrid of games designed specifically to be played against dozens of human competitors simultaneously across the Internet. The first-person shooter (FPS) genre, largely responsible for current well-spring of online activity, is spearheading this evolutionary movement with such notable multiplayer PC titles such as Quake III: Arena and Unreal Tournament. Not to be outdone by a competing platform and undaunted by the lack of Internet access on the Nintendo 64, Acclaim releases its own console interpretation of the strictly multiplayer experience, Turok: Rage Wars.

Actually the third release bearing the Turok name, Rage Wars unlike its two previous efforts, jettisons the traditional one-player mode for full-featured multiplayer options instead. That's not to say that there isn't any semblance of a single-player game. It's just that the single player experience referred to as 'trials' more or less recreates the multiplayer experience in a series of matches with computer 'bots' simulating human opponents. The only catch is that in order to access all of the game's features; they must be unlocked by arduously and repeatedly completing 'trials' with each of the selectable characters in the game. While on paper, it sounds like good incentive to have players earn the features; it quickly becomes a tedious exercise after going through the somewhat same routine for the third or fourth time with different characters.

As for the actual multiplayer modes featuring two- to four-player versus or team match-ups with either humans in control or computer 'bots' filling in the missing spots, the results are fairly solid and I have few complaints. Although the music is sparse, the graphics and animation are more than competent. Only hints of slow down will occur during full four-player matches in particularly open stages. Moreover, the stages are well designed and confined in order to promote confrontation and minimize cowardly tactics. Controls are also responsive and handle with considerable ease if you're used to playing FPSs on the Nintendo 64.

There are a variety of different styles of play like typical deathmatches with victories decided by either kill counts or time limit. There's also interesting variations like monkey tag to which one out of the four players is randomly reduced for to the defenseless 'monkey' after each kill who is hunted for points. Then there's the capture-the-flag mode with which many PC fans still hail as the definitive reason for multiplayer gaming. I found Rage War's version of capture-the-flag unique because the home base to which the flag is delivered to for points, is shared by competing teams, which takes emphasis off territorial defense and makes the whole affair more of a relay race to carry the flag back and forth. Regardless of the differences, there's still some interesting depth in the mode and a good diversion from the typical deathmatches making it a welcome addition to the overall package. There's also a time trial mode and frag fest mode (special requirements for victory like getting a certain amount of kills with only the shotgun) that adds to the diversity, but must be unlocked before being available.

Yet even with the capable production values and all the variations of different modes, devoted multiplayer games like Rage Wars rarely get too deep as far as gameplay goes. Its the streamlined simplicity of the design coupled with the boundless online population that really gave games like Quake II its 'take on the world' competitive appeal. Take away the epic battles with dozens of combatants around the world simultaneous going to war and you're left with a four-player multiplayer that's decent, but gets old fairly dull after extensive play and lacking that sportsmanlike spirit. So unless you plan to organize your own little league of friends for an all-out season of carnage, expect to tire of Rage Wars after some prolonged play because the one-player modes are tedious and the multiplayer modes just aren't enough. Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui
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