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Counter-Strike is a multiplayer only Internet game (though the various bots produced do mean you can play/practice alone), which sets itself up as a contest between two teams – the terrorists and the counter-terrorists. It is played over a series of realistic maps in a wide variety of locales, each of which has a related objective to be completed. There are a wide range of weapons to choose from, and the general design philosophy was to create a game which is a balance between realism while at the same time being fun to play. Nowadays it comes in two versions – the original which is a free add-on to Half-Life, and more recently, a standalone retail version. If you have a choice, I would definitely recommend the add-on version, as this will mean you will also be able to play the many other mods available for Half-Life (both singleplayer and multiplayer) and it is also more complete, the retail version requiring various extra downloads for copyright reasons. It is also worth noting, that although it is now out of its Beta testing stages, it is still very much a work in progress (currently up to v1.1, with v1.2 soon to be released) with each new version bringing new additions, maps etc. (as well as the obligatory complaints from veterans than version x was better). It is hard to pin down why, but I would certainly sat the Counter-Strike is definitely the best online game created so far. Perhaps one reason is that there’s an awful lot to learn, and there are always new tricks to pick up from other players, meaning that you can never really say you’ve mastered the game. Obviously, because the game is multiplayer, there are always new players to play against, and since Counter-Strike is the most popular online game, in this case we are talking about millions of opponents out there. You certainly wont have any trouble finding people to play against, as can be the case with some less popular online games. The fact that there is so much to learn, means that for a beginner it is definitely a daunting experience, and you can expect your first few games to consist of little else other than getting killed, while at the same time being unable to hit (never mind kill) anyone yourself. This can prove disheartening, but with a little bit of perseverance, you gradually see your scores improving, and this is when the game starts to get really addictive. The most important thing is not just to play, but to WATCH and LEARN. See what the best players on the server are doing, and try to emulate this. To get you started though, this guide though will hopefully offer a few useful tips to make those early games a little less painful. OBJECTIVES ========== Unlike death match games such as Quake III where getting the highest number of frags is the main goal, it is important to remember that Counter-Strike maps have objectives to be completed. While killing all the opposition team will normally win the round for you, it is important to try to complete the objectives (not only for the money it brings, but because that is the point of the game) of which there are three types: Hostage Rescue Maps (cs_): on these levels, the counter-terrorists must rescue a number of hostages (nearly always four) and return them to the rescue point, while the terrorists must obviously prevent this from happening. If all the hostages are rescued the counter-terrorists win; if the time runs out and any hostages are remain the terrorists win. One thing to watch out for on these maps is that the hostages are incredibly stupid, and need to be carefully guided round any obstacles to prevent them from getting stuck, so a keep a check on them at all times. Bomb Maps (de_): on these levels, one of the terrorists is given a pack of C4 explosives and must plant this at a one of the bomb sites (of which there are normally two). After a set period of time, the bomb will go off and the terro rists win. The counter-terrorists either have to prevent the bomb being planted in the first place, or if it is defuse it. If all terrorists have been killed, but the bomb has been planted, the counter-terrorists must defuse it otherwise they will lose the round. At each of the bomb sites there is a limited space where the bomb can be planted, but there are one or two tricks that the terrorists can use to plant the bomb in hard-to-reach places so it’s best to learn these to avoid running round like a headless chicken as a counter-terrorist trying to find the ticking bomb. Assassination Maps (as_): the least represented type of level, as_oilrig being the only one left in 1.1 on most servers. On these levels, one of the counter-terrorists is made the VIP, and given only a pistol and knife. The counter-terrorists must escort this weaker member to a rescue point to win the round. The terrorists can win the round by wiping out the opposition team, or more quickly by killing the VIP. On these levels the weapon choices are more limited, with counter-terrorists not being able to buy sniper rifles (though there’s no reason why they should), and they require good teamwork for the counter-terrorists to be successful, which is perhaps why they’re not popular on public servers. However played well as_oilrig is a very good map as were some of the other assassination maps. NB: in the past there was a fourth scenario, escape maps (es_). However these were removed from the game due to their unpopularity, so you are unlikely to come across these unless you play on custom map servers. WEAPONS ========= A simple maxim - know you weapon! All the weapons have their place, and because of the realism of the game, all can be deadly when used effectively. The most important skill to learn with any of the automatic weapons, is how to burst fire. If you simply hold the fire button down, you aren’t going to hit much as yo ur guns’ recoil will take the bullets well over the heads of the opposition. The recoil on each gun behaves in a different fashion, both in the severity of it, and the direction of the recoil. The general rule however is – short, sharp, repeated presses of the fire button work best. Obviously the longer the range, the more recoil becomes a problem, as your target is smaller to begin with, so the one exception to this is very close combat where you can go full auto with most weapons, but even here a few controlled shots can be the more deadly. Taking the main groups individually: KNIFE -------- In a game dominated by guns, the uses for a knife are admittedly limited, but this does not mean it is useless. As the lightest weapon you can carry, wielding it will enable you to run quite a bit faster than any other weapon. It’s primary use therefore is at the start of each round, as switching to it will allow you to reach the important areas of the maps before your opponents. Once you’ve played for a while you will know where you are most likely to meet enemies and so be able to switch to your primary weapon just before you reach this point. In a similar fashion, there are times during the game when switching to the knife can pay dividends, such as if you need to quickly get to a bomb site – the few seconds it saves could mean the difference between defusing the bomb and having it blow up in your face. Because of its lightness, the knife also makes some jumps that would otherwise be impossible possible (such as reaching the higher boxes in the bombsites on dust) or just easier (such as reaching the window in Italy as a counter-terrorist). As an offensive weapon, the knife is not so great (although the second attack is very powerful) especially if you’re on a slower connection, but it can be used for sneaking up on people if you really want to embarrass them! PISTOLS - ----------- A lot of people only use pistols in the very first round, when money precludes buying anything better. In this first round you have the choice of: 1. Sticking with the pistol you begin with – USP for the counter-terrorist, Glock for the Terrorist 2. Buying something a bit more powerful, most likely the Desert Eagle better known as the Deagle 3. Buying some Kevlar which will soak up a lot of the damage from most pistols. In general, it’s probably best to stick with the gun you get, as if you get killed you at least haven’t wasted any money, and if you survive for any length of time, more than likely you’ll be able to pick up a Deagle off the ground. In later rounds, the usefulness of the pistol does obviously drop off, but at times it can come in handy. Perhaps the best situation to use it is if you have been in a gunfight with an opponent, and you have both run out of ammo. It is amazing how many people in this situation will run around waiting for their gun to reload, so simply switch to your pistol and finish them off. SHOTGUNS --------------- Not a good choice for the beginner, the shotguns can be effective in certain situations, but their slow rate of fire, and the fact that they get progressively worse in accuracy over distance because of the shells being dispersed, means in general they should be avoided. The one time they can be useful, is on very tight maps that tend towards close-quarter combat such as cs_747, as they are very powerful at close range as well as very satisfying to use. But be warned, if you miss, you’re dead. SUB-MACHINE GUNS ----------------------------- The reduced accuracy in moving and firing that version 1.1 of Counter-Strike brought to the sub-machine gun category, means that this section is also fairly limited in use. You’re simply better off going with a rifle in most cases, the one exception being i f you’re particularly short of money, when the MP5 Navy is a cheap, but decent alternative that can do a lot of damage when used correctly. RIFLES --------- The automatic rifles are the most used guns in the game, and the two favourites - Colt M4A1 Carbine if you’re a counter-terrorist, AK-47 if you’re a terrorist - are the two you should concentrate on learning how to use well to begin with. Both these guns offer an excellent compromise between cost and performance, and will put down an enemy with just a few bullets, or one to the head. Though they are different to use, they are pretty evenly matched. The Colt M4 is slightly the weaker of the two, but does have better accuracy, helped by the less pronounced recoil. The main choice to make is whether it should be silenced (with the right mouse button) or not. This is down to the individual: at first I started off always silencing it, but lately I have been going un-silenced, as this is the slightly more powerful and accurate option, and the silencer rarely helps in hiding your position from the enemy, as it is clearly not totally silent. The AK-47 is very noisy, and in the wrong hands very inaccurate. At its price though, nothing can match it when used properly, and it can mean if money is tight on both sides that the terrorists have a slight advantage. Because of the very pronounced recoil, it must only be used in very short bursts, preferably of 1-2 shots. Remember that the first shot is always the most accurate, so aim this well and you shouldn’t need enough shots to let the recoil come into play. Both the counter-terrorists and the terrorists have a heavier rifle which also includes a scope for long range shooting (which in both cases slow the rate-of-fire). These are the Steyr AUG and the Sig SG-552 Commando. These offer a good compromise between an auto rifle and a sniper one, but personally, while the Sig is a good alternative to the Col t, I have never much liked the AUG. There are also a range of sniper rifles, including the infamous AWP (or AWM) which kills with one shot to the head or torso and the much lighter Steyr Scout. I rarely use these, as I prefer a more dynamic role, rather than simply sitting around sniping, so can’t really offer any tips on these. This is not to criticise those players that do snipe well, as it is a lot more difficult than some people make out, but it just isn’t my personal preference. The one thing I would say, is that if you have been sniping and then decide to start moving around, it is often better to pick up a dropped auto rifle or sub-machine gun, rather than sticking with a sniper rifle. MACHINE GUN --------------------- Only one of these, and it costs quite a bit as well as being very heavy meaning that running with this gun is very sluggish. It’s high rate of fire and very high clip capacity means that it does and excellent job of providing suppressing fire to prevent the enemy from advancing, or to provide cover for your team, but in general you’re better off sticking with one of the less expensive rifles. Is very inaccurate on full auto in the wrong hands too, and often I have sat perfectly still while someone has shot hundreds of bullets everywhere but directly at me, and then just picked them off with a few shots from a rifle. EQUIPMENT ========== Along with the weapons, it is important not to forget the range of equipment that you can also buy, as follows: GRENADES --------------- Three types of grenades: 1. Flashbang: this blinds anyone (including team-mates!) who look at the flash. The severity and length that they are blinded depends on the angle and distance the flash was seen from. These are difficult to use correctly, and notorious for players blinding their own team-mates, but they can be used effectively in certain situations. One example i s to blind a sniper, allowing you to rush their position; another is to throw them round a corner where players are camping to hopefully blind them and pick them off. Because of a few bugs, they can be a bit inconsistent though, so you always need to be careful. 2. HE Grenades: the standard and most used grenade which simply explodes and knocks energy off any of your opponents in range (and your team-mates if the server has friendly grenade on!) Very useful at choke points such as the central hall in de_dust, a direct hit can kill an opponent outright. 3. Smoke Grenades: probably the least used of the grenades, these are still useful in certain situations. Probably their best use is in fooling the enemy – throw a smoke grenade at a certain entrance. They will most likely sit there waiting for the enemy to emerge, or waste bullets firing blindly into the smoke, while you can be taking an alternative route to get where you need to be. Others uses are providing cover, for example if you need to retreat, or to cover an area to block the sight of a sniper. A few final points about grenades in general. First of they bounce: use this to your advantage by bouncing them off walls to get them to your enemy without putting yourself in their line of fire, but watch out that they don’t bounce off your team-mates back to you! Secondly, it is possible to distinguish what type a grenade is in midair by it’s colour (flashbang – grey; HE – red; smoke – green) and so take the appropriate action. KEVLAR ARMOUR -------------------------- This is often ignored by beginners, but it is very useful in minimising the damage done by enemy fire, and could mean the difference between living and dieing. There are two options – Kevlar alone for $650, and Kevlar and Helmet for $1000. It is true that the helmet will rarely save you from headshots, but it is still worth getting if money isn’t too tight just in cas e it does. NIGHT VISION GOGGLES ----------------------------------- The least useful bit of equipment, this is normally ignored due to its high cost and the fact that most maps are set during the day, and so are fairly light with only a few dark areas to watch out for. DEFUSE KIT ----------------- For obvious reasons this is only available to counter-terrorists on de_ maps. However since it reduces the time it takes to defuse a bomb significantly, and only costs $200, it should be bought every round except when money is very tight. GENERAL TATICS =============== SOUND ---------- It is vital to remember that everything you do in the game has an associated sound which is giving away information about your position and status to the opposition. This is probably most apparent in a tactic much underused by many players - your characters ability to walk. In case you never listened, when running your character footsteps make a lot of noise with easily gives away your presence and that’s why you got shot running round a corner before you even saw your enemy. They heard you coming, and quite rightly just waited for you to run into their sights. Walking on the other hand makes no sound, meaning that you can creep up on your unsuspecting enemy. While not much use at the start of the round, walking really comes into its own in the later stages, when the numbers are thinning out. At this point you should regularly walk for a few seconds, and listen out for any enemy footsteps (though check your radar to make sure it’s not a team-mate). If you know someone’s camping in a certain position, simply walk up to them, and nine times out of ten you’ll have the drop on them. Others sounds can also be extremely useful – such as a loud bang signalling a sniper, the sound of doors opening, or map specific sounds – such as a clicking noise meaning someone is messing wit h the lights in the sewer of cs_militia. Wearing headphones can help, as the sound is a bit more directional, and it’s also not a good idea to have music, the telly etc. on in the background so you can hear everything that’s going on clearly. CROUCHING ----------------- When you crouch, your gun has a steadier base, and your shots are correspondingly more accurate. Crouching is particularly useful at long to mid range, although at short range you’re probably better off moving to prevent yourself from being a sitting duck. Correspondingly, it is still important to learn how to move with a gun while still being to shoot accurately. CAMPING -------------- In Counter-Strike, criticisms that a player is camping, is all too often heard from dead players. In reality though, there are very few cases where this is really justified, and they have just been stupid enough to fall into a trap. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes, and if you find you are killed by a well-hidden player be more careful when you approach this area next time. If instead of moaning, you do learn from this, you will find there are very few areas where camping really pays off as a bit of walking or a surprise jump where you suspect people may be camping will often catch them unaware, and it is definitely true that a person sitting there is going to have slower reactions than someone who is prepared to attack. Also, the object-led nature of the maps, means that it makes sense for players to camp (although in this case defending is a better word) in certain situations, as follows: On cs_ maps, the Terrorists should stay close to the hostages. On de_ maps, the Counter Terrorist should guard the bomb sites, or if it has been dropped, the bomb. On as_ maps, the Terrorist should guard the rescue points. In each case listed above, the opposing team should be the offensive one who are trying to force the map objective to completion. KNOW YOUR ENEMY ----------------------------- In killing team-mates, the enemy reveals quite a bit about itself which you can use to your advantage. In the first place, they can reveal their position if you keep an eye on your radar for a disappearing dot. Although it might not be super-accurate, you should at least get a general idea where the enemy is and so be able to surprise them. Secondly watch the death statistics which appear at the top right of the screen, as from this you can see which weapons the enemy are using, and consequently how best to deal with them. Also the scoreboard is a vital aid, just for keeping you informed of the number of opposition which you face. One example would be a de_ map, when the bomb has been planted but all the terrorists are dead. Some players, having not checked the scoreboard may still be creeping around looking for enemies, when really they should be switching to their knife and rushing to the bomb-sites to try and defuse the bomb. KNOW THE MAPS ------------------------- Most maps have many different routes to get to the same place, and it is important for you to know these if you are to play effectively. An example would be a stand-off between two opponents down a certain corridor or passageway. A lot of players seem content to just strafe back and forwards for a while trying to get shots off, when there may well be a way to get behind the enemy and surprise them this way. Again the best way to learn the maps is not to run about on an empty LAN, but to use your eyes and ears while playing – watch where the good players go and take note of this. USE THE RADAR ----------------------- The radar is another important feature which is sometimes underused my beginners. This shows the position of close team-mates, the five variations being: * A white dot = a team-mate on the same level as yo u. * A upside down T shape = a team-mate is on the level below you. * A T shape = a team-mate is on the level above you. * A red dot = Location of the VIP (Shown only to CT's in assassination scenarios) / Bomb carrier (Shown to only to terrorists in bomb / defuse scenarios). * A yellow square = A team mate has activated a radio command. By using this, you know if those footsteps rushing towards you are friendly or not, and it allows you to respond to calls for help over the radio, WORK AS A TEAM -------------------------- This tip is obviously dependent somewhat on the other players on your side, and it is true that on many public servers, the game can often become nothing more than a frag-fest with each player having only the objective of topping the leader board. It is certainly noticeable however, that if you ever get a team that works well together, how easily they will dominate the game, most often leaving their opponents in disarray. An important point is to learn how to use the radio to relay information to your team, and obviously respond to and act upon any radio messages from team-mates if possible. Another basic point where beginners can sometimes slip up is in blocking team-mates. There are few things more annoying then finding your only route of retreat from oncoming fire blocked by someone on your team – you’re meant to be helping each other, not helping the other team to slaughter you! Consequently, at any point where a bottleneck could potentially occur, you’re generally best hanging back to allow space for the leading man to retreat, and taking it in turns to attack. To prevent idiots from intentionally team-killing, the majority of servers have FF (friendly-fire) off. This is probably best for beginners, but unless you stick rigidly to one server, you will come across some that have this feature on. Apart from the problems caused if someone starts team-killing, this is actually a more enjoyable way to play so it is worth trying. It is obviously important in this case to be more aware of your position, and also the positions of team-mates, meaning you have to be more organised so as not to block or get in the way of a team-mates line of fire, as well as making much more use of your radar to prevent shooting team-mates. CHEATING --------------- First of all, it goes without saying – don’t do it yourself. As with any game there are set rules, the breaking of which defeat the object of playing in the first place. While newcomers may be especially tempted to try an aimbot or something similar, because the game seems so difficult initially, even if this does help your game, in the end any kills you get will be pretty hollow, as it’s really the computer doing the work and not you. But also bear in mind, if you suspect someone is cheating, it is worth remembering that there are some very good players out there, so make sure you have some pretty good evidence before you go about accusing people. Probably the only thing worse than cheaters, is the people who accuse people unjustly of cheating. CONCLUSION ------------------- Well that’s me all tipped out for the moment, but I’ll probably add to this guide either as I remember the things I forgot to put in, or as I learn new things myself. One final thing – there’s a big difference between knowing all the things I’ve written about and being able to put them into practice. Once you’re in the middle of a gun fight, bullets flying everywhere, it is very easy for a beginner to panic and not act the way they should, which only ever ends in one result – death. The only way to beat this is to keep on practicing, but most of all have fun – it’s only a game.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) Format: DVD Type: 2 Discs: both DVD 9 - Dual Layer, Single Sided. Region: 2 (UK and Europe) Case: Cardboard fold-out box Country: USA Studio: Columbia Tristar Home Video Genre: Epic/Biography/Drama/War Running Time: 218 minutes Rating: 12 (no cuts made by BBFC, rated 12 because of extras) Picture Format: Widescreen, 2.20:1 Anamorphic: Yes Audio: English, German, Spanish (all 5.1) Subtitles: English, Spanish, German, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Hindi, Turkish, Danish, Arabic, Bulgarian, Swedish, Finnish, Icelandic, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Greek, Hebrew. Menus: English Extras: Making of Documentary, Original Theatrical Trailer, A Conversation with Steven Spielberg, Footage from New York Premiere, Four Featurettes, Advertising Campaign, Lawrence’s Journey, Filmographies, DVD-Rom – Archives of Arabia The FILM ------------ The film begins by watching the British soldier T.E. Lawrence at the time of the First World War. Initially shown as clumsy and uninterested with his clerical job, his enthusiasm is sparked by a temporary post with the British Arab Bureau, and more than anything the desert. It is not long before his charisma and leadership skills have enabled him to gain the trust of the Arab forces, through which he is able to unite the various factions in their mutual battle against the Ottoman Empire, although his seeming affinity with the Arabs causes friction with his British commanders, and ultimately himself. It’s a terrible cliché, but it’s fair to say that they don’t make them like this any more. The sheer scale and authenticity of what director David Lean was attempting to bring to the screen would be baulked at in the conservative modern climate, which only serves to make what was already one of the greatest films of all time, even more special. Thankfully what we get here on this DVD is no t a butchered, truncated print, but the fully restored version which includes a lot of footage originally thought to be lost and which was approved by Lean. As with most classics, it’s a case of all the elements coming together perfectly with an intelligent and thoughtful screenplay by Robert Bolt; a perfectly judged central performance by O’Toole, as well as an excellent supporting cast; amazing colour photography by Freddie Young; and overseeing everything David Lean’s totally assured direction meaning that the film never flags once, despite running 218 minutes. Speaking of the films’ length, this does mean that this title is split across two discs. Although on the surface this may seem like a minor annoyance, the fact that the original film had an interval when it was first shown at the cinema has enabled the manufacturers to make this natural break in the film the changeover point, meaning that it is very unobtrusive and doesn’t in any way spoil the film. I imagine it won’t be too long before multiple-disc machines become the norm (after all, the manufacturers have to find a way to make us spend more money), meaning this change will most likely become even less noticeable. The DVD ------------ *MENUS: The menus make good use of short clips from the film, and in general are easy to navigate with a neat transfer of dust that wipes across the screen when a selection is made. There are fifty-six chapter stops which is plenty, even considering the film’s length. The only improvement I would suggest it that a longer clip of music could have been used so that it didn’t loop quite so often. *VIDEO: The restoration done on the film is virtually without fault, revealing the wonderful compositions of Lean and his cinematographer in all their glory. For a lot of people, whose only knowledge of this film comes from TV broadcasts of dodgy prints in dreaded full-screen , this cleaned up print in its original aspect ratio will come as a revelation – it really is like seeing the film for the first time. Of course it can never match the overwhelming effect of this film viewed on a large cinema screen, but as far as home viewing goes, this is definitely as good as it gets. It is true that there are a few small problems. One of these is that three of four of the long shots have two lighter vertical bands moving up and down the picture (apparently caused by the heat of the sun cracking the emulsion); the other that there are a few barely noticeable jump-cuts in the footage which has been restored, but these are very minor details when the overall work that has been done on the restoration is taken into account, and can be excused as unavoidable. It is definitely better to have all the restored footage in there, than to omit it over these tiny issues. *AUDIO: Although people may be surprised to find a 1962 film presented in Dolby 5.1, this is simply a remix of the original 6-Track soundtrack, which was the standard for 70mm prints at the time. While it clearly never going to match a modern soundtrack, because of the advances which have been made over the years, it still does a good job and makes decent use of ambient surround sounds, with dialogue being nice and clear. Lets not forget Maurice Jarre’s magnificent score either, perfectly evoking the expanse and beauty of the desert with its main theme and well deserving of its Academy Award. Because some of the sound had been lost from the footage which was restored, it meant that the dialogue had to be re-recorded. Thankfully this was done with the original actors under the supervision of Lean, meaning that despite the time that has passed it is impossible to hear where this has taken place. It is also excellent to hear that the original overture, interval and exit music have been preserved and are presented in full, keeping in line with the very thoughtful presentation this film has received all round. *EXTRAS: Unlike some titles, this one does live up to its label of Special Edition, being blessed as it is with a good number of high-quality extras. We begin with a Making of Documentary, which has been made exclusively for this DVD, and is fairly substantial affair at around an hour in length. Using a mixture of archive interviews with the likes of Lean and O’Toole, along with new video interviews from among others Omar Sharif, editor Anne V. Coates and art director John Box, it manages to cover all the major angles in detail and there are many interesting anecdotes along the way. The Original Theatrical Trailer is a longish affair (nearly 5 minutes) which does a good job of setting up the enigma that is Lawrence’s character, as well as showing off some of the more action orientated elements of the film. I’m sure audiences of the time must have been pretty amazed when they saw this for the first time. A Conversation with Steven Spielberg last around ten minutes, and describes how this film was instrumental in Spielberg’s development as a filmmaker, and how he later came to be involved in the film’s restoration. Seeing this, it’s seems a little surprising that Spielberg doesn’t do more commentaries as he is a very natural talker, and obviously very enthusiastic about films. Maybe he just doesn’t like talking about his own? As well as explaining the reasons why the film could never be made today, he also tells a story of how at the first screening of the restored film, David Lean talked him through the making of the entire film. What a commentary this would have made! Footage from NewYork Premiere is a short newsreel showing the stars and celebrities turning up for, surprise surprise, the NewYork Premiere. The Four Featurettes are as follows: ‘How Camels are Cast’, ‘In Search of Lawrence’, ‘Romance of Arabia’ and ‘The Making of a Classic’, the titles pretty much explaining what they feature. These were released as a build-up to the film, and as is typical for pieces of this period the commentaries at time do sound a bit dated, but certainly they are all still worth a look and the Making Of featurette does cover a few more areas to complement the more extensive one mentioned above. The Advertising Campaign highlights how advertisements for the film have changed over time, as well as varying from country to country. For example, Omar Shariff was notably absent from the initial campaign until this film made him a star, whereupon that situation was quickly remedied. This section is full of excellent artwork, and the narration guides you through it well. Lawrence’s Journey is an inventive little feature which plots the course of Lawrence’s movements through the desert over his three year campaign, with all the major events having associated text and images to look through. A very interesting section, this also highlights how expert a storyteller Lean was in being able to guide audiences seamlessly through this long and complicated tale. The filmographies focus on the stars, Lean, and the producer Sam Speigel. They’re selective rather than comprehensive, but they look good enough, and it would probably seem slightly odd not to have them. As its name would suggest, the DVD-Rom – Archives of Arabia feature is only available to those with DVD drives in their PCs. No complaints about the section itself as there is quite a lot of information and photographs here, all of which are very interesting to look through. The only thing is that I’m not entirely convinced that it was necessary to make this section exclusive to PCs, as it would seem that a DVD player could handle the navigation just as well, so a number of people may well be excluded from viewing t his unnecessarily. *PACKAGING: The fold-out packaging certainly looks impressive, and gives the title the appearance of something more special than your standard Amaray case. My one gripe is that it’s made out of cardboard meaning it’s obviously not the most durable thing in the world. I would of much preferred the outer case at the very least to be made out of plastic which would offer better protection. As well as the large amount of information on the disc itself, the packaging also includes a twelve-page booklet which includes text from the original 1962 souvenir booklet which explores the legend of Lawrence as well as a section on the making of the film. A nice addition to the overall package. *OVERALL: I would have quite happily bought this disc just for the film itself, as the richness of detail it possesses means that repeat viewings really do bring something new each time. The excellent selection of extras are just the icing on the cake meaning that even at its RRP of £25 (though shop around and you can save quite a bit) this disc is excellent value-for-money and one of the few discs that can truly be labelled as a must have.
Microsoft are hailing this mouse as ‘the first major advance in mouse technology since the 1960s’, the big change being that rather than a rubber-ball being used to track your movements, an optical sensor is used instead. Microsoft’s claims are somewhat exaggerated, as optical technology has been around for a number of years, although admittedly this is probably the first time it has marketed directly at the mass market for the average user, rather than just being directed at niche or specialist markets. The technology has improved over the years too, and the high scanning rate of the sensor (1,500 times a second for those that are interested) means that this mouse will work on pretty much any surface, although I feel that most people will still continue with the familiarity and comfort of using a mouse mat. So what does this optical technology mean for the average user? Firstly cursor movement is much smoother and more consistent, with none of the skipping or sticking which occurs with rubber-ball based mice. While this level of performance may not be absolutely vital in Windows based programs, I certainly notice the difference when I’m away from my computer and struggling to cope with the unresponsiveness of a standard mouse. This improved performance really comes into its own though for anybody who also uses their PC to play games on, particularly if you’re into first-person shooters – targeting your weapons has never been easier, and this may just give you the edge in multi-player games. It has to be noted that it is possible to move the mouse faster than its sensor can track, and some professional gamers have apparently had problems with it for this reason, but I think for the vast majority of users this will never be an issue, and I certainly haven’t experienced any problems with this in use. The second major plus is that it eliminates the need for cleaning. Anybody who has struggled with the fiddly b usiness of trying to get rid of the dirt which builds up on the rollers of a standard mouse will really appreciate what a bonus this is. It was also a big chore, with the dirt building up again a few days after cleaning, with this really compromising the performance of a standard mouse. Because the optical sensor is recessed into the base of this mouse, it means you can appreciate the improved performance which this mouse already has, without even needing to think about cleaning. The software you get with the mouse is quick and easy to install, and allows you to bind different functions to any of the buttons, of which there are five – two standard ones, a wheel which can also be pressed down as a button, and two extra ones on the left hand edge of the mouse. This setup of buttons and the way the mouse is contoured, does mean that the mouse is geared towards right-handed people only and as far as I’m aware Microsoft don’t make an alternative. The mouse is also quite a bit larger than most standard ones, so if you have particularly small hands, the buttons on the left-hand side might be a bit of a stretch, but personally I find it the perfect size with all the buttons within easy reach. The two extra buttons are initially programmed to be used as back and forward buttons in web browsers or any similar programs, though as I said before they can be reprogrammed to pretty much any function you want. I have left them at their default settings of back and forward, and once you get into the habit of using them, they are very useful and another thing which you miss when going back to a standard mouse. I have nothing but praise for this mouse, I certainly wouldn’t voluntarily go back to using a standard mouse, and I can imagine that it won’t be long before all manufacturers start to concentrate on optical technology making the rubber ball a thing of the past. The only slight negative is the cost, with the mouse coming in at arou nd the £40 mark, but as always it’s a case of you get what you pay for. You do also get a five-year hardware warranty, which means you should get a good number of years use out of it without seeing any compromise in quality which can’t be said for many of the cheap mice available. If you spend any appreciable amount of time using your computer, I would definitely recommend this mouse.
Leon (1994) Format: DVD Type: DVD 5 - Single Layer, Single Sided. Region: 2 (UK and Europe) Case: Amaray Country: France/USA Studio: Buena Vista Genre: Crime/Thriller Running Time: 106 minutes Rating: 18 (no cuts made by BBFC) Picture Format: Widescreen, 2.35:1 Anamorphic: No Colour: Technicolor Audio: English (5.1), Spanish Subtitles: English, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish Extras: Nothing! The FILM ------------ A professional assassin, known as Leon (Jean Reno), takes a young girl under his wing, Mathilda (Natilie Portman) after her family are murdered. She manages to convince him to train her in his profession, in an attempt to avenge the death of her four year old brother. Compared to his more recent work, Bresson’s Leon was made for a relatively small budget but in no way does this show. It features a strong cast, including another entry in the long list of Gary Oldman psychopaths, and as you would expect from Bresson, the visuals are fantastic, with many impressively staged action scenes. Behind all this, the story is good, even though it is highly implausible, and this quirky element of a hitman taking a twelve year old girl under his wing is very endearing. The DVD -------- *MENUS The menus for this disc are very basic, and look pretty poor. There are plenty of obvious ideas for making a interesting animated menu – such as having the menus options as targets which you select through a telescopic rifle scope – so this shows a real lack of imagination, which is sadly carried over into other aspects of the disc. *VIDEO: The first example is with the video. The transfer is actually very good and is presented in its proper aspect ratio of 2.35:1, but the major niggle is that it’s not anamorphic – made all the worse by the fact that other regions (including the French release) all have got anamorphic transfers. So while it still looks good even on a widescreen TV, you know that it could look quite a bit better, and is indicative of the way many studios treated the UK market initially, although thankfully this situation appears to be getting better over recent times. *AUDIO: At least there are no major complaints about the audio - dialogue is always clear, and the surround channels are used well when they are used, although the soundtrack is nowhere near as dynamic in this respect as the best discs. *EXTRAS: Zero, zip, nought. Multiply all these together, and you’ll have the highly unimpressive answer to the question of how many extras you get on this disc. All you can say is that it’s very disappointing, although you wouldn’t really expect anything less from Buena Vista. *PACKAGING An Amaray case, along with a thin slip of paper telling you the chapter stops on the disc. *REGION 2 vs. REGION 1 This film has recently been re-released in America in a version known as the ‘Integral Version’, so if your player has multi-region capability you might want to consider this. The main addition is twenty minutes of extra footage, which have been integrated into the film. It is worth pointing out that this is not a directors cut, as rather than it being the normal case of a producer being a bit over-eager with the editing scissors, the version on the Region 2 release of the disc is actually the version that Bresson approved. This extra footage has been added purely due to the phenomenal response that this film generated from fans, but having said that, opinion is divided as to which version is the best – many prefer the extended Integral version, while many others prefer the more mysterious portrayal of the Leon character in the original version. If branching technology which allowed you to select which version you wanted to watch had bee n used, then this would not be an issue, but as it stands, it’s hard to say which version you’ll prefer, and so which disc to recommend. It is also worth noting that the original pressing of the Region 1 disc had problems with the surround channels, so if you do decide to go for this version, make sure you get a recent copy to avoid this. *OVERALL Discs like this always prevent something of a problem. While Buena Vista have seemingly done everything they possibly can to ruin it – including a non-anamorphic transfer and no extras to speak of - these ultimately are not going to spoil your enjoyment of what is a great film. While hopefully this disc will be given a re-release on a disc that does it proper justice at some point in the future (though don’t hold your breath), as far as Region 2 is concerned, this is the best option at the moment, and for the film is still highly recommendable.
I have ordered from Jungle a few times, and always been happy with their service. They sell a large range of products, with their site being split up into several sections as follows: Jungle Beat – music Jungle Vision – videos and DVDs Jungle Play – computer and video games Jungle Talk – mobile phones Jungle Power – home entertainment such as TVs and camcorders Jungle Computers – hardware and software The site itself is excellent, easy to navigate and there is always plenty of information about all the products which they sell. There is also the opportunity for customers to write their own reviews of products, which are always useful to look through if you’re just browsing. Once you have made an order, you get various emails to tell you how it is progressing, and there is also an excellent order tracking service on the site, which gives you exact descriptions at what stage your order is at. This takes it up to the moment the parcel is sent, so the one improvement I would suggest is for them to give you the parcel number which would then allow you to track this with the Royal Mail, although maybe that’s just me being a bit obsessive. When it comes down to delivery, Jungle are not the fastest around, and before the parcel is sent you can expect to wait a few days for your order to be accepted – either they are very busy or the system they use for processing orders is a bit slow. When your order has been accepted, the say delivery takes 3-5 days, so you can expect to wait around about a week between making your order and actually getting the goods. While this could clearly be faster, at least there is free delivery on everything. There is an option to pay an extra fee of £4.99 for express delivery, which is a next day service. This is a one-off fee of £4.99 per order, which is pretty reasonable, but it has to be noted that next day, means the day after the orde r has been accepted so in reality these can take a few days. I have used this service once, and the goods I ordered did come the day after the order had been confirmed, so if you need an order quickly it is worth trying. The quality of the prices does tend to vary between the different sections. If you’re looking for computer software or hardware, it’s always worth checking Jungle as their large buying power means that prices are very competitive. Music too is reasonably well priced, but I have found DVDs to be very expensive, with discounts of only 50p off the RRP. I’d advise sticking with one of the dedicated DVD retailers such as Play247 in this case. They do run a loyalty scheme called Jungle Jewels, where you are given a point for every pound you spend, and also occasionally for filling in forms about their service. These can then be redeemed against a limited selection of items – so limited in fact that there has never been anything I wanted, but if there does happen to be something you want the savings are quite reasonable and a good point is that you don’t lose the points by redeeming them so these will continue to build the more you spend. One time when I had to deal with customer service (because I’d mis-entered my credit card details), I sent them an email to cancel this order and within an hour or so I got an email saying this had been done. Very impressive considering the way some firms treat emails. On similar lines, the help section on the website is very detailed and covers all areas. All in all then, if you are looking for anything computer related I would recommend checking out Jungle.com. As I have said, they are not the fastest online retailer when it comes to delivery, but if you’re prepared to wait, the free delivery means that the prices are generally very good.
Fargo begins with a vast snowscape, as a car slowly appears over the horizon, and a title proclaims – this film is based on a true story. Actually it isn’t, but instead comes from the minds of two of the most inventive filmmakers working in Hollywood – the Coen brothers. Because they make such efficient use of resources, and bring their films in for extremely small sums of money, the Coen brothers are in the enviable position of being able to make films free of studio control, and the results are always worth watching – funny and intelligent, without ever coming anywhere near pretension which is so often the result when filmmakers are let loose. In their impressive output, Fargo stands as their masterpiece so far, combining all the best elements of their other films into a cohesive whole which was one of the highlights of the last decade, although it was overlooked by many and never really got the recognition it deserved. Fargo’s story focuses around the character of Jerry Lundegaard, a car salesman, brilliantly played by the fine actor William H. Macy (watch as he tries to squirm his way out of a lie involving a layer of rust-proofing, or the illegal serial numbers he has sent to the GMAC). Lundegaard is desperate for money to invest into a business scheme which in his eyes is a cert. After failing to talk his wealthy father-in-law into investing, he comes up with the perfect scheme - have his wife kidnapped, and then when his father-in-law pays the ransom he can split this with the kidnappers and invest his share. As would be expected, such an amateur gets in completely over his head, and after a series of mishaps (which I won’t reveal, not to ruin your enjoyment) his initially simple plan spirals totally out of control, and attracts the attention of super-efficient cop Marge Gunderson. Apart from those already mentioned, all the performances in this film are top class, and include among others Steve Buscemi (m ost famous for his work for Tarantino, although he is a prolific character actor) as a nervous, lowlife crook; Harve Presnell as the grisly father-in-law; and Frances McDormand in an Oscar winning role as Marge. As well as the Oscar for McDormand, this film also won one for best original screenplay. The Coen brothers are famous for the copious attention with which they prepare their scripts (meaning that they rarely need altering during shooting), and the result is an expertly paced film which never drags for the hour and half which it is on screen. It is a pleasure to watch such fine actors working with the great material the Coen brothers provide, and it entirely understandable why big name actors are queuing up to work with them, even despite the large paycuts they inevitably have to take. What really makes this film is the humour: unlike a lot of films this is not blatant or cheap, but really subtly done – it’s more down to understated expressions or the wonderful dialogue which perfectly captures life in a small Minnesotan town. Individual moments seem perfectly believable, but the cumulative effect is a highly stylised and funny take on life, and the more times you watch, the more you will pick up meaning that with repeat viewings, this film gets funnier every time. On top of this, the use of a snowbound Minnesota, provides plenty of opportunity for some stunning photography by Roger Deakins (whose other films include 1984, Mountains of the Moon and The Shawshank Redemption), and it really is best seen in its original widescreen format with the compositions fully preserved. The music is also great, perfectly complementing the story. For those of a sensitive disposition, it has to be pointed out that the film is quite violent in places, and has its far share of bad language - so if these sort of things don’t appeal to you, you might want to steer clear - though personally I don’t understand why anybody would fi nd these things objectionable if they’re used to tell a great story. As is typical of the Coen brothers’ output, there is a strong moral message running throughout the film, with all the bad characters getting their comeuppance in the end, and this follows through to an ending which after all the death and destruction unashamedly fixes on the very ordinary Marge and her husband as they contemplate the future. Unlike much of Hollywood’s output though, it still avoids seeming false and tacked on, and is perfectly in keeping with the feel generated throughout the film. For those who have managed to miss this great film, I would definitely recommend watching it at the first opportunity that you get. For those looking to buy, the choices are somewhat limited. You can no doubt pick it up on VHS very cheaply nowadays, but who really wants VHS in this day and age? There is a DVD available (though it is hard to pick up now as it seems to have been discontinued), but this is somewhat disappointing anyway. Being one of the first discs that PolyGram released, the picture is good (and obviously better than VHS) but there are the occasional glitches, all the more noticeable against the white background which is present for most of the film. The film is not in its original ratio either – 16:9 instead of 1.85:1. While admittedly the difference between these two formats is minimal, it does mean that a small amount of picture is missing. Clearly they have done this so the film plays full screen on a widescreen TV, but since the black bars would be tiny, this is not necessary and a bad decision in my opinion. At least though, it is anamorphic, and Region 2 is the best choice here and not the American disc which is in 4:3 ratio. The extras you get are also disappointing - just brief biographies and filmographies for the principal cast. Having said all this, there is no way you can ruin a great film, so this disc is still good – I just hop e that at some point in the future it gets a re-release on the better quality disc which this film deserves.
Out of the many PC gaming magazines available, if I had to recommend one it would be PC Gamer. It has all the standard features of reviews, previews, features, and cheats, all of which are well written and presented. They also set out certain standards which you can expect such as only reviewing finished games, playing each game for at least 2-3 days and making sure that every game is reviewed by someone familiar with the genre. Unlike some magazines which mark virtually all games very highly to flatter designers, the reviews do always seem pretty honest. However, you might be sensing a but coming, and you would be right to do so: But … there is nothing in the magazine which can’t be found on the Internet, which makes you wonder why you should bother spending £5 (or £6 for the DVD edition) on this, or any other magazine. In the past the Internet was expensive, but with more and more people moving towards unmetered access, this cost becomes harder to justify. While it is true that standards on the Internet can vary, there are many good sites which do an equally good job as PC Gamer, a few good examples being www.zdnet.com and www.gameplay.com/spank. These sites do have a big advantage in that they are updated daily with new information, as opposed to magazines released on a monthly basis, which, because of printing times, are always slightly out of date. Another advantage that the Internet can offer, is that for any single game, you can find multiple opinions and comments on it. While I have said that the reviews in PC Gamer are very well written and detailed, often taking up about eight pages for the most important games, they still only represent the opinion of one person, and with gaming being such a subjective experience, even a very high rating does not mean you’ll necessarily you’ll agree, so it’s not always useful on advising you where you should spend your money. The amount of information available on the Internet should mean you can make a more informed decision. The one advantage that magazines do have at the moment is the fact that they can put lots of demos on their cover discs, and PC Gamer is no exception. While these demos will almost certainly be available for download over the Internet, the slow connection speed which the majority of users have at present means that the wait is very rarely worthwhile for the few levels you normally get. But this is obviously going to change pretty soon as people begin to move to faster connections, and then I can’t help but feel that most of the magazines will by this stage have become pretty redundant. Also the vast majority of the demos themselves are pretty average – and some are so poor you wonder how the people who made them ever though that a demo could actually help sales – so there is a question over the value of these discs themselves anyway. To sum up if you’re looking for a PC gaming magazine, then I would recommend PC Gamer as the best choice. If you like it, it is definitely worth taking out a subscription as it will save you quite a bit of money over a year and mean you get access to the subscription only section of the cover discs. However, if you’re looking for the latest information on games and are reading this (and hence have access to the Internet), then the Internet is probably the best, and cheapest option for finding whatever you want (try DooYoo for a start!)
Deus Ex has been described by many as the next evolution in gaming, but while it is a very good game, this is going a little too far. In the game you play a special covert operative called J.C. Denton who works for the security force UNATCO, the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition. Your first few missions involve trying to wipe out various terrorist group strangleholds, but pretty soon the plot throws you into a conspiracy and your allegiances change. While the plot is pretty good as far as computer games go, your control over its outcome is limited to one or two points where you have to make a decision, and even then the changes are not major. Without wanting to reveal too much, it would be nice when the first part of the conspiracy is revealed to you by your brother if you had the chance whether you wished to stay with UNATCO or not. A good touch though is the way characters in the game comment on things you have done, and change their attitude towards you. For example, if you kill a lot of terrorists in the first mission, some people will be pleased about this, others will criticise you. Before you can begin playing though, you will first need to set the game up, which, if you take a look at any of the Deus Ex forums has caused many users a problem, though it has been overplayed somewhat. The main problem is that the designers geared the Unreal graphics engine towards working best with glide compatible cards, even though the majority of users don’t have these. The only other recommended standard for running the game in (and the one I use) is Direct 3D, but the support for this is not as good as it should really be. Running the game for the first time, I tried the tutorial, and the graphics were pretty jerky and slow, and after a few minutes play the game crashed. The official patch is now available, and after downloading and installing this, it has run much better and never crashed again, but there are still times when it runs a bit sl owly and you feel this wouldn't be the case if it had been programmed correctly in the first place. When you get the game running decently, it’s not exactly clear why the graphics require so much power. There are one or two very impressive locations throughout the game, but on the whole the graphics are not spectacular, and because the game is entirely based at night, they can look a little dull and bland at times. Also the wounds your weapons make on opponents is very poor by the standards of other recent games such a Soldier of Fortune, with no damage showing until you kill someone, at which point you see a pool of blood spreading outwards from them, always from the same place. Before anyone accuses me of sadism, it’s just that you expect a little more realism in a modern game of this sort. The sound on the other hand is extremely good, doing an excellent job of creating atmosphere while you play. The only point I would note is that with only two speakers, it can be difficult to tell exactly which direction sounds (such as guards footsteps) are coming from, which can clearly be very important. This is not a fault as such, just a limitation of my setup, and would presumably be much improved if you have the chance to use the 3D sound setting. The game itself plays as a cross between a standard first-person shooter, and more stealth based games such as Thief. If you’re used to playing fast paced games such as Quake or Unreal, this game will take some getting used to, as it is pitched at a much slower pace – with a lot of walking involved to avoid attracting the attention of guards. On the whole the balance between these two genres is pretty well done but there are a few problems. Although in theory you can use stealth to sneak your way through the levels, in practice this is very difficult, and most of the time I found myself having to kill all the guards to stop them from setting off the alarms or causing inconv enience. A large part of the problem is that it is difficult to tell exactly how exposed you are, and in this case meters warning you if you are in sight or making too much noise, would help to bring out the stealth elements much more. You begin with a fairly basic (and noisy) pistol, but as you would expect there are plenty of new weapons to be picked up, ranging from assault rifles and energy prods to a mini-crossbow which can fire a range of darts. Unlike most of these games though, the weapons you pick up take up space in your inventory (the larger the weapon, the more space it takes), meaning that the way you play the game will depend on what you decide to carry. Because the character you play is partly mechanised, there is also opportunity to upgrade yourself with the augmentation slots, introducing various new improvements such as the ability to run silently or turn invisible. You are limited in the number of updates you can make, so again you have to be careful which you choose, although some, such as the one which heals wounds do seem a little too powerful, and the make the game a lot easier. Deus Ex also employs a system of skill points, which can be used to improve various things such as your ability to hack computers, or improved accuracy with weapons. New skill points are gained as you progress through the game, but they are in very short supply. This is good point however, as it means that rather than being able to upgrade all your skills, you have to specialise in certain areas, meaning that each time you play, your character will develop differently. All these points mean that the game does have a decent replay value, as you can develop different skills, or carry different weapons and play through the levels with different strategies. The levels themselves (including New York, a Hong Kong market and Paris catacombs) do a pretty good job at recreating the various locations which the plot takes you to throughout the game, but I found the amount you could interact with them was fairly limited – occasionally you can switch on a desk lamp, or throw a plant pot or vase, but that’s about as far as it goes – nothing really that hasn’t been seen in other games. There are generally a few ways to complete any objective in the game by using different routes or strategies, but even so, there are times when you wish there was still more freedom and not so many invincible doors locked with keypads (the codes to which are always left conveniently lying around in datacubes). Also, the multiple route idea can work against the game at times – it is annoying to discover what you think is a new passage, only to find that it leads right back to where you started from, especially if you’ve used up some lockpicks or multitools to get there. The AI of your terrorist opponents is generally pretty good, but there is still plenty of room for improvement in this area. The terrorists seem extremely sensitive to the sound of footsteps, but far less so to gunshots – for example if you a miss a sniper shot from quite a distance away, there is often no reaction. Also if you shoot a guard a few times without actually killing them, they’ll run away dripping blood, but will eventually stop and just stand around waiting for you to finish them off – no last ditch attempts to hide or finish you off. They do also all seem to be suffering from amnesia – kill one of them and any others will run around frantically for a while, but if you’re well hidden they will soon stop and go back to doing what they did before, even walking over the dead bodies of their comrades. The official patch also brought multiplayer support to the game, but I have to say that I have not played this much at all, as it seems to be trying to twist what is fundamentally a singleplayer game into something it’s not. There are a number of other multiplayer mods in development, b ut I’m not entirely convinced any of these will work particularly well either – we will have to wait and see. At the moment, the number of new singleplayer maps available is also slightly disappointing – I’ve only found one so far, called Rydberg Field, which was any good; but by this stage of the game’s life you would expect a bit more. If I have concentrated more on the negative aspects of Deus Ex in this review, it is because there are plenty of places where you read reviews which do nothing but praise this game which can lead you to believe that this really is a big leap over anything you have played before. The reality is that there are plenty of good ideas here, but nothing really which you haven’t seen before. But while it is not particularly revolutionary or always totally successful it is still an extremely good game, and one that I would still recommend. Once you get over the limitations which are imposed on you, the gameplay is extremely immersive and hours can fly by very quickly. I have now played through the game about four times now, and each time noticed something new, so there is plenty of life in the game itself, although as I have mentioned, new add-ons to the game are a bit scarce at present. The planned sequel will apparently leave the basics in place, and concentrate on increasing the level of freedom, interactivity and characterisation – all of which sounds very promising and will hopefully introduce a totally new level of gaming, which the first instalment tries for, but just misses.
West Side Story (1961) Format: DVD Type: DVD 9 - Dual Layer, Single Sided. Region: 2 (UK and Europe) Case: Amaray Country: USA Studio: MGM Genre: Musical Running Time: 139 minutes Rating: PG (no cuts made by BBFC) Picture Format: Widescreen, 2.35:1 Anamorphic: Yes Colour: Technicolor Audio: English (5.1), French, German, Spanish, Italian (all Mono) Subtitles: English, Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Polish Menus: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish Extras: Trailer The FILM ------------ The rivalry of two gangs (the Sharks and the Jets) begins to escalate, and turn to violence as they fight for control of a small patch of streets amongst the slums of New York. As the deaths mount up though, the gang members slowly begin to realise the futility of their enmity. This modern-day reworking of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet started out life as a Broadway smash before being treated to one of the most successful adaptations from stage to screen. On the year of its release, 1961, it swept the Oscars (winning a total of ten awards) and really has dated very little since, so universal are its themes. The poor status of the film musical over recent years means that modern audiences may not be particularly accustomed to this genre, but it is well worth a look, even to people who might shy away from the thought of singing and dancing gangsters. The DVD ------------ *MENUS: The menus are static and silent, and really about as basic as they come. Admittedly they do the job, but do pale in comparison to some of the animated ones which are becoming increasingly frequent. A good point though is that unlike many discs, the menus are available in a number of different languages, and not just English. *VIDEO: Considering the age of the film, the quality of the transfer is exceptional with br ight, vivid colours and very few marks on the print. An excellent job has been done by all concerned with the restoration. Vitally, it is also presented in its proper widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, preserving Jerome Robbins choreography and the compositions of cinematographer Daniel Fapp exactly as they were intended it to be seen. *AUDIO: Clearly musicals are as much about the sound as the picture, and in keeping with this the audio has also been restored. There do seem to be one or two places where the sound fades slightly for a second or two, but apart from this I have nothing but praise for the work done in this area - a comparison with the trailer reveals how washed out and tinny the deteriorative effects of age have made the original soundtrack. In addition to this, it has also been remixed to support the Dolby Digital 5.1 format (though note this is only applies to the English version, the other languages all remain in mono). Views differ on whether older films should be given this treatment – personally I am in favour, as older soundtracks do tend to sound a bit lifeless in comparison to newer ones, but clearly the best solution to please everybody would be to include the original sound on a separate track, an opportunity that has been missed on this release. *EXTRAS: The extras on the disc are disappointing. All you get is the original US trailer, which mainly serves to highlight the atrocious quality of the original print in terms of both video and sound. For a film of this status I’m sure they could of done better, and something like the documentary of Bernstein recording the soundtrack would have perfectly complimented the film. *PACKAGING The disc comes in an Amaray case, and as is standard for MGM, includes a well-presented informative eight-page brochure. This mainly focuses on the original inception of the stage version, and how this was later adapted for the screen. *OVERALL: A fantastic adaptation for cinema of one of the greatest musicals makes this a pretty much essential purchase, and the excellent restoration work that has been done means that this is the best the film has looked and sounded in ages. Admittedly, it is poorly supported by extras, but ultimately you buy a disc because of the film, so on balance this disc still receives a good rating, and is in my opinion well worth the money.
Taxi Driver (1976) Format: DVD Type: DVD 9 - Dual Layer, Single Sided. Region: 2 (UK and Europe) Case: Amaray Country: USA Studio: Columbia Genre: Drama/Crime Running Time: 109 minutes Rating: 18 (no cuts made by BBFC) Picture Format: Widescreen, 1.85:1 Anamorphic: Yes Colour: Metrocolor Audio: English (Dolby 2.0), German & French (Mono) Subtitles: English, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Icelandic, Hindi, French, Dutch, German, Turkish, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Greek, Norwegian. Menus: English Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Documentary, Photo Montage, Storyboard Comparison, Original Screenplay, Advertising Materials, Biographies. The FILM -------- A former Vietnam soldier (Robert De Niro) takes up a job driving taxis round the worst areas of New York in an attempt to combat his inability to sleep and profound loneliness. After a failed attempt at a relationship with a politician’s aide, Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), he determines to clean up the streets himself, in the process becoming an urban hero. After the success of Mean Streets in 1973, De Niro and Martin Scorsese got the chance to team up again (with the addition of writer Paul Schrader), and produced one of the defining films of the seventies. Although it was extremely controversial on its release, by modern standards it is not particularly violent (the violence being mainly limited to a few minutes towards the end of the film), but because of it seriousness and truthfulness, it still comes across as very hard hitting and effective. With modern society becoming increasingly isolating and disconnected, the number of people who can relate to the central character’s alienating experience of the world is only likely to grow, meaning this film is just as relevant today as when it was first released. The DVD ------- *VIDEO: The transfer onto DVD is excellent, with the film lo oking surprisingly good considering its age with no artefacts to distract from your enjoyment. One point to note though, is that the colours of the climatic shootout were originally toned down to appease the censors by lessening the effect of the blood on show. The restoration for DVD potentially offered an opportunity to correct this, but sadly the original print has deteriorated too much to be usable, and so this was not possible. *AUDIO: The audio for the English language version is the original stereo mix, though both the German and French tracks are in mono. This saves objections from purists, but I always believe that to make full use of the DVD format, new 5.1 or DTS (or both!) soundtracks should be provided along with the original on a separate track so people have the option. Definitely the final sequence would be improved by a remix, but in general the street scenes would most likely have a better ambience too. Having said that, by itself, there is nothing wrong with the soundtrack, especially considering the fact that it features another great score (his last) from one of the most inventive and important film composers - Bernard Herrmann. *EXTRAS: The extras on this are not only impressive from the point of view of the number you get, but equally each one is well executed and in total they provide comprehensive coverage of the film’s production and reception As per usual you get the theatrical trailer. The most notable thing about this is that it does seem to be trying to mislead audiences into thinking Robert De Niro’s character is going to attempt to kill Cybill Shepherd. Consequently, the actual film was bound to have something of a surprise to audiences the first time they saw it. The documentary is a very extensive look (70 mins in total) at the making of the film and covers almost every aspect you could conceivably think of, including a very detailed through look at the special effect s (or editing tricks) employed in the climatic shootout. One of the most comprehensive and interesting documentaries I have seen on a DVD. The photo montage gallery displays various production photographs concentrating on Scorsese and his actors. Over the top of this, the DVD producer gives a few more anecdotes which failed to make it into the documentary. The only slight criticism I would have of this is that the photos could perhaps be better matched to the commentary. For example, when he talks about Bernard Herrmann, this could be backed by some pictures of him. However, taken separately, the voice-over and photos are still very good. The next extra focuses on the climatic shootout, and cuts together the original storyboard drawings with still shots from the film, and shows how close the final result was to Scorsese’s original conception of it. Another excellent extra is Paul Schader’s original sceenplay complete with coffee-cup stains. While I was a little unsure of how well this would work, it never being the most comfortable thing in the world reading large amounts of text on screen, thankfully it has been broken up into lots of sections which means you can read a bit at a time. A neat feature is the ability to jump from the screenplay into the appropriate part of the film (and back again) so you can see what changes were made during production. This is probably my favourite extra on the disc, as it really does give you extra insight into the film and the script is an excellent read. The next extra is another montage gallery, this time showing the various posters and promotional material that was used to advertise the film. Finally we have the seemingly obligatory biographies, which cover the main cast and Scorcesse. These are pretty basic, covering only awards and a filmography for each of those featured, but they are at least well presented. *PACKAGING The disc comes in an Amaray case alo ng with a simple sheet which simply lists the chapter stops of the main film (does anyone ever use these?) *OVERALL Most importantly of all, this film has had an excellent transfer to disc, with the only possible improvement being a new remix of the soundtrack. On top of this, it comes as something of surprise at the sheer number and quality of the extras that add a lot of value to this disc, and make it an essential purchase.
Everybody always talks about the British sense of humour, but without a doubt, over recent years, all the best sitcoms have come out of America – Seinfeld being one of the highlights. It is difficult to say exactly what makes it so funny, if you could define this you could bottle it and make a fortune by selling it to the many desperate British producers, but I’ll do my best to describe it. So what’s it about? A common answer is – nothing, which doesn’t sound too promising. But what people really mean is that it is about seemingly very minor things, things so small that they shouldn’t be important, but of course in real life it is exactly these minor things that are important, and go a long way to defining who people are. There are simply too many great episodes to choose from, so I’ll simply point you in the direction of an excellent episode guide at - http://epguides.com/Seinfeld/ - if you want to get a feel for the sort of things featured in the show. The series focuses around four main characters – Jerry Seinfeld, George, Kramer and Elaine – four adults desperate to have meaningful relationships, but prevented from this by their own insecurities. Definitely the highlight in my opinion is George, excellently played by Jason Alexander, as a short, fat, bald(ing) man whose sheer desperation is at times both painful and hilarious – definitely one of the most tragic characters since Hamlet. As with most of the best series (think the Simpsons) the world around them is also populated by many other richly drawn characters, this time the highlight being George’s hideously unbearable parents (Jerry Stiller and Estelle Harris) – a few moments screen time with these, and the enigma that is George is explained. Scripts are always sharply written and well observed, but what most consistently impresses me is the intricacy of the plotting, with the writers managing to cram so much detail into such a short space of time. Generally within each episode there are three or four plotlines running concurrently, and the ways these interact with each other is often ingenious leading to some great payoffs, and ones that you don’t see coming. The scripts are consistently funny too. Once you get to know the characters there are very few jokes that fail to come off, which can’t be said for most comedies. As I said at the beginning of this review, explaining what exactly makes this show so great is a hard task – the best thing I can say is that if you haven’t caught it yet, then watch it for yourself and see what you’ve been missing. But that leads me on to the reason why you may well have missed it - the scheduling is atrocious. When you consider the vast expanse of nothingness that is prime-time television, it is a scandal that a programme of this quality gets put on at around midnight (the time tends to constantly change). Also when BBC2 do get round to showing a series, they tend to show it every weeknight, almost like they want to get it out and the way, meaning that runs are short and sweet (there probably isn’t all that long to go if you want to catch the series that is running presently). The one advantage to this, is that it is a good feeling to know that you are among an elite group of viewers whose viewing is not dictated by the schedulers, and personally I don’t care how late, or how irregular something is - if it’s good enough I’ll make sure I either watch or tape it, and I think in the case of Seinfeld you should do the same. Useful Web Addresses --------------------------- FAQ - http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Set/7217/faq.html#1.4 Quotes - http://netnow.micron.net/~philco/seinfeld/seinfeld.htm Trivia - http://www.geocities.com/TelevisionCity/1470/seinfeld.htm Analysis - http://www.uta.edu/english/mal/sein/seinfeld.html Official Site - ht tp://www.spe.sony.com/tv/shows/seinfeld/
If you’re looking for the cheapest Region 2 DVDs around, then nine times out of ten, Play 247 are the best choice. Their pricing policy is fairly straightforward – for discs with RRPs of £19.99, they charge £14.99; and for those priced normally at £15.99, you get them from Play for £11.99. This goes the same for pre-orders, as they don’t seem to make any special offers for these, but at these prices they are still normally the cheapest. The reason why they can generally undercut other retailers is that they operate out of Jersey, and so don’t need to pay VAT. As well as the cheap prices, their range is also very comprehensive, meaning that if it’s available, they will almost certainly stock it. They do also sell Region 1 titles, but as they are normally priced at £17.99, it does mean that there are cheaper options in this case. Recently they have also started selling CDs, and these are competitively priced, with chart CDs from £8.99, although there is a note on the site ‘Please note that our CDs are imported from North America and that track listings may differ from those on UK releases.’ The website is fairly simple, and allows you to search for a certain title or browse through different genres. When you’re browsing all the titles appear on the same page, which means there can be quite long lists sometimes, but I prefer this approach rather than having to flick through lots of individual pages to find a title you want (especially if that title is right on the last page). Similarly, when you get to the individual pages for titles, the details provided are often quite simple and are sometimes missing things like what extras are on a disc, but generally when I’m buying a disc I know what I want, and so these are not really necessary. Your account details, including your card number, are held securely, meaning that once you have entered these with your first order, subsequent orders are q uick and easy. After placing your order, if it was shown as being in stock, you can expect to wait around 3-4 days for it to come. Not the quickest around (in this case, being based in Jersey works slightly against them), but I’m willing to wait a little longer to get the disc cheaper. All titles are sent individually, and by recorded delivery. For me this is the only negative point, since if you are out the discs won’t be left (fortunately I haven’t missed any discs yet) and as the opening times of the collection points are in the morning when most people are at work, it can make picking up packages awkward. Since recorded delivery is not guaranteed, I’m not sure why firms use it anyway. The other point to note, is that may have to pay customs on titles over £18. Because titles are sent separately, this does not affect individual discs, but it does mean that if you are buying a box-set you may be better looking elsewhere. The discs come packaged in ziffy bags, and I have never have I had a damaged case or loose or scratched disc from Play. To sum up, if you are looking to buy Region 2 discs, Play 247 makes most of the price comparison sites redundant as they are virtually always the cheapest. On top of this, I have never experienced any problems ordering from them, and the discs arrive quickly and in excellent condition, meaning that I would recommend them without hesitation.
When it comes to buying games off the Internet, Gameplay is the only site I use. They have a massive range of stock (PC plus all the console formats), and prices are generally the cheapest you will find. Even in the cases where they are beaten on price, they do also offer a price match scheme, where they will match or beat competitors prices. Delivery is free, and orders generally arrive in 2-3 days by standard mail. Not being recorded, packages are left if you out which I think is an advantage. There is also an option for next day delivery service, at a extra cost of £4.99, but never having been that desperate for a game I can’t comment on this. As well as games, they also stock a comprehensive range of accessories, such as joysticks, mouse mats and wheels, and these are again very competitively priced and unlike some stores delivery is still free, even on the heavier items. On top of this they do also stock Region 2 DVDs, but personally I find that Play 247 is generally a few pounds cheaper in this case. The site itself is extremely good (if a little slow at times), and is much more than just a shop also including a magazine section, a very long list of forums, and also an online gaming section called Wireplay. For some who may feel that the reviews are likely to be biased to sell games, I haven’t found this to be the case, and the fact that users can add their opinions to either reviews or the product description in the shops means that both sides of any argument are generally to be found. The product reviews are generally fairly short, and the one improvement that I would suggest is a bit more detailed information when it comes to the specifications required to run PC games as these can be a bit vague at times, and I suspect weighted towards the minimum rather than the recommended requirements. Once you have made an order, you will get a confirmation of this by e-mail. You can then follow the order’s progress on the site with the tracking system, and once the order has been sent you receive another e-mail confirming this. They do offer a returns policy, which states that if you are unhappy with a purchase for any reason you can return it, as long as it is still in perfect condition and you ring for an authorisation number within 48 hours of receipt. I haven’t needed this myself but as far as I know, Gameplay do cover the cost of the return postage so this is a totally free service. As I said at the beginning, I only use Gameplay when buying games off the Internet. This loyalty is down to the excellent service, cheap prices and a good-looking, easy to use site. Because of this, I have no hesitation in recommending this site.
This game has come under a lot of criticism, particularly from fans of the original game who complain that despite being in development for over four years, it is nothing more than a minor update to the previous version – more Grand Prix 2.5 than 3. But while this complaint may be somewhat justified, Grand Prix 2 was still far superior to any of the many, many F1 games which followed, so a tweaked version of Grand Prix 2 is not necessarily such a bad thing. So what exactly has been changed? One of the biggest omissions from Grand Prix 2 was that it didn’t have variable weather – it was always totally dry. This has been rectified for this instalment, and is without a doubt the most realistic handling of rain ever seen in a driving game. As well as making the cars extremely difficult to handle (and giving you admiration for the drivers who manage to keep their cars on the track in these conditions in real life) it also behaves exactly like real weather. This means that in races, certain parts of the track can be dry, while others are wet. It can also start or stop at any point in a race or qualifying. As you would expect the graphics have been given a major overhaul. Compared to some modern games, GP3 is not particularly demanding when it comes to required specifications, so as long as you have a reasonably modern PC you should be able to run the game at a high resolution, in which case the graphics are extremely good. For those with slower PCs, the lower resolutions are pretty blocky, but then again this is likely to be the case if you tried to run any modern 3D simulator. Definitely the highlight of the graphics engine is how it handles racing in the wet, even down to including reflections of the trackside in puddles on the track. But while generally the graphics look very good, there are a few exceptions which seem to be hangovers from the previous engine of GP2. The marshals are 2D and look very flat and lifeless, in particular looking a little ridiculous when pushing your car off (particularly when once a marshal pushed my car off using an invisible rear wing, since it has been broken off during the race). More of a problem is that the detail level of the cars is not quite up to the same standard as the tracks – in particular the McClarens and even more so the Ferraris look extremely bland because they lack cigarette advertising (though if you look further down in this review, you’ll see there are ways to rectify this.) Force feedback has also been added. While at first the wheel and joystick support wasn’t great – certain devices had problems with handling and the setup screen was also pretty poor – the patch to version 1.13 did cure most of these problems. While it’s still not perfect, it’s certainly much better. In addition there has also been numerous other additions, such as the way your tyres put down rubber, meaning that during a race, a racing line gradually builds up, or the way cars have real-time shadows. All things which you might not immediately notice, but as you do, you’ll become more and more impressed by this game. The handling of the car in GP2 was always what made it so great, but this has also been improved again for GP3 - the Arrows team have tested this out, and rated it very highly, which clearly highlights the level of realism we are talking about. All the customisable driving aids are still here (steering help, ideal line etc.), meaning that even newcomers will be able to pick this game up and play straight away, while more experienced drivers can turn these off and gain complete control. The car setup screens too remain similar, with various levels of detail allowing you to alter everything from ride height to dampers on the car - learning how to set-up your car is vital if you want success on the higher levels. With all this attention to realism, the problems with the game do seem slightly odd. For a start, your car does seem far too sturdy and as much down to chance whether bits will break in a crash than anything else. This does mean that it is a bit easy for the player to bump computer cars off the circuit in overtaking moves without being penalised, not something you really do intentionally, but you would be more careful if you knew that your front wing would be lost if you made contact. There are various editors which can be found on the Internet to alter this, but none are entirely successful, as there seem to be problems inherent in the game design which haven’t yet been resolved. The AI of the computer cars is probably the best around, but while in general they act sensibly, it is still not perfect. Two examples - if a car gets stuck behind you after a spin, it will constantly try and ram you in an attempt to get past you; also computer cars tend to immediately pit for wet tyres in the rain. A few more unforced errors from drivers would be more realistic too. While it is fun to drive and try and improve your times, the game also lacks a bit of structure in that there is nothing that really seems to make it worthwhile to race a full championship season. A definite improvement would be the addition of a career mode in which you worked your way up though the slower teams with the ultimate goal of getting in one of the front line cars and racing then for the championship. Although it sets itself up as a true recreation of the F1 season, something which is bound to annoy fans of the sport is that the rules are not followed exactly. One example of this is that there are no proper ten-second penalties – if you jump a corner for example, your car is simply slowed down for a fixed length of time. In general the excuse given for these variations from the rules of the sport or reality is that they improve gameplay, but surely that is down to the individual to decide and really it should be a case that you choose to set up the game to be as realistic as you want it to be. Perhaps the biggest complaint people are going to have, is that the data is all based on the 1998 season, and with the teams and drivers constantly changing in F1 this is not really acceptable. Both the earlier instalments had fanatical support from users on the Internet however, the open architecture of the game meaning it was easy for people to modify the game. Fortunately this has remained true for this release meaning that it is easy to update all the cars, drivers tracks etc. to the current 2001 season, and the work done by these people (such as Ralph Hummerich on his 2001 carset, and Matti Laitinen’s track pack) is quite phenomenal, and far surpasses the original in-game graphics. Another complaint (as can be seen from the comments to this review) was that in the original version you can’t hear the engines of other cars. This has been rectified with the release of Gpxpatch 1.22 (a free add-on), which now generates 3D sound for all your competitors, as well as many other improvements such as TV style statistics such as split times, and track sets. The best place to get this, and all the updates mentioned, is: http://www.alphaf1.com/gp3/ In this day and age, the omission of Internet play is also pretty poor. While a race full of human opponents may have been unviable, because of the speed of the Internet at present, even the option for four or eight people to race against one another would have been a massive addition to the game, and one that significantly increased its value. There is LAN support, but this unlikely to be much use to most people, and not having tried this myself, I can’t comment on its performance. To sum up, this is without a doubt, the best of the modern F1 simulators – nothing else comes close for realism of driving. It is true that there are still quite a few niggles here, particularly annoying si nce most of these were in the previous instalment, but when you’re racing round the famous streets of the Monaco circuit, or desperately trying to overtake someone in an attempt to gain the lead, all these problems are forgotten because this is simply one of the most enjoyable games of all time. For fans of GP2 then, there is enough here to make it worthwhile upgrading (once you get this game, you won’t be going back to GP2). For newcomers, buy this and see what you’ve been missing! Edit: the official GP3 add-on is expected to be released anytime and will include the following features: * Official FIA 2000 license including all teams and drivers * Two new tracks: Indianapolis and Sepang * Updated original tracks to match the 2000 season including new ad banners * New track details: Catch fencing and camera crews on the track * Debris collisions: Eg. hitting a wheel on the track will damage your front wing * Pit to car radio messages (only some useful messages) * 3d audio: hear sounds also from the other cars. Uses EAX standard and you can hear reverbs from tunnels and pits. * Full replay mode: Use the function keys to rewinds, pause, etc the game. Up to 1,5 hours are recorded. * New game mode - Quicklap: Useful if you have two setups for one track and you want to test them under the exact same condtions. Makes the game also more fun if you just want to have a quick competition with your pals with one computer. Basically the lap starts behind the S/F line with full speed and ends when you have crossed it again. * GPaedia: a GP3 encyclopaedia. Made in cooperation with Arrows F1 team to show eg. how the setup up your car, what are bump rubbers, etc. * New startup video * Hardware requirements are excatly the same than with the original Grand Prix 3 As can be seen from my review, most of the features have already been added to the game for free by various programmers (and those that aren’t are apparently being worked on), so the fact that Microprose are charging for this add-on is a bit annoying and I doubt I will be buying it.
People criticise Microsoft a lot, but the primary reason for the success is that generally the software they make is of a very high standard – Encarta DVD Reference Suite 2000 is no exception. The primary advantage of DVD is of course the fact that it eliminates the need for disc swapping which really limits the usefulness of the CD version. The fact that all the programs are on one disc also ensures that they are well integrated. Taking the individual programs one by one: *ENCARTA DICTIONARY There are three main sections to the dictionary. The first is what you would expect – you type in a word and you get a definition. These are all comprehensive, often with notes on usage and many definitions have the useful feature of a button you can click to hear the word pronounced. The second is a thesaurus, which pretty much explains itself. The third is a quotations section which makes it extremely easy to find a suitable quotation for any occasion, as well as just being fun to browse through. There are also two additional sections: English to French and English to German translation (both work either way). These are nice to have, but it would obviously be better if a few more languages were added. Although I have described the dictionary as being divided up into sections, these all work together seamlessly, so if you type in a word you will get a definition, synonyms, quotes and translations (although you can of course use filters to look for something specific). Probably the best feature of the dictionary is that it adds an icon to your toolbar. After selecting a piece of text in any windows program, you can then click on this to get a quick definition, synonym, quote etc. instantly. Very useful. *ENCARTA WORLD ATLAS Obviously the basic function of an atlas is to list places, and in this respect Encarta World Atlas is extremely good. You’d be hard pushed to find a place which isn’t listed. The dynamic map is probably the best feature, allowing you to rotate and zoom in on a 3D globe using a very intuitive control system. For larger cities there are street maps, and a good number of articles, photographs and so on. There are also many effects which you can apply to the map: for example you can overlay climate figures, languages or even look how the Earth looks by night. There is also a comprehensive number of articles about geography itself. These may back bring bad memories of geography lessons for some, but they are well written and of course will be invaluable for those at school at the moment. Some of the other features are less impressive though. The multimedia map is supposed to allow access to the multimedia content, but I found this slow and fiddly to use. Also while the still pictures and audio are fine, I was disappointed to see that the video was shown in a little box and of very poor quality. Isn’t this meant to be DVD? The world tours of full of interesting facts, but navigation is a bit fiddly as once you click on picture to see it full size there is no back button. You can get back by clicking the heading of the thing you were just looking at, but this does seem a bit inconsistent. The world compare feature certainly makes comparing statistics easy, but I imagine this will be little used by many users, mainly being of value to students. The virtual flights sound like a good idea (you get to fly over the continents in a plane) but sadly there is virtually no detail in the landscapes meaning that you simply fly over green land with the names of places suspended in the air. Very boring really. Last up is a geography quiz, which is quite good fun, and will certainly improve your knowledge of geography. In all this is a good program with lots of useful information, but I would say that the user interface could be improved quit e a bit to make accessing that info much easier. *ENCARATA ENCLOPYEDIA This is really the major programme on this disc, and its quality is extemely high. Unlike the slight niggles I had with the atlas, navigation is very easy, and all the information is well laid out and presented. Admittedly if you have had a previous version of Encarta, you will notice that a lot of the information is the same, but there have been a significant number of updates meaning that this is still worth a purchase. Thankfully the video in this section can be viewed full-screen, and while it’s not quite up to the quality you would expect from a DVD movie, it is far better than the video you get in the atlas section, or that available on previous editions of this encyclopaedia. My major criticism would be that the range on offer is not particularly extensive. As so often seems to be the case, the vast majority of these seem to be on wildlife which while interesting, do seem to be over represented. After all, you can turn your telly on virtually any time of the day and see a wildlife programme! Some of the more interesting and unusual clips are a bit from John Grierson’s Night Mail and quite a long clip on Peking Opera. As ever, more clips would be nice, but obviously there is a limited amount of space. Unlike the extra features on the atlas, pretty much all the extras on this program are very good: from the virtual tours which allow you to look round 3D photographs of various places; to the interactivities which provide insights into various topics; all of these significantly increase the value of this disc. As you would expect from a modern encyclopaedia, the program expands it content by making use of the Internet. First up is the yearbook feature, by which you can download new articles which are then integrated into the program. These is all made very easy to do by the program (it automatically checks what needs downl oading and then does this) and the fact that yearbook articles appear on the content pages of articles means that they are easier to find then they were in the past. The second major Internet feature is the links section which obviously takes you to related sites on the Internet. Sensibly, you are not taken directly there, but pass through another page by Microsoft which ensures that the links are always up to date and if any sites stop working an alternative can be offered. The links are all high quality, and I have found many interesting and useful sites which I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. *EXTRAS There are also a number of extra programmes on this disc. First is research organizer which is helpful to students when preparing reports or essays. You also get reference suite which has links to all the three major programmes I have detailed above. Useful if you want to find out what information is available on a particular topic. *OVERALL All in all this is a very high quality disc packed with useful and interesting information. In quality of presentation and content, it far exceeds any of the other titles I have looked at in this field, so I would strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a top quality reference title.