- Premium reviews
- Express reviews
- Reviews rated
- Ratings received
After spending many an hour scurrying around the original Castle Wolfenstein in my 386 PC all those years ago, I've been waiting a long time for this sequel to come out and I'm pleased to say that it does not disappoint. The original game, Wolfenstein 3D, is singularly responsible for creating the whole First Person Shooter (FPS) genre for the PC. From this came Doom, Quake and all the other copy-cats like Half Life, Unreal and so on. Some of these games have extended and improved the genre, so Return to Castle Wolfenstein (RtCW) had a lot to live up to, and live up to it it certainly does. The game is set in the war-torn Europe of 1943. You are B.J. Blazkowicz, a US Army Ranger working for a covert organisation called OSA (Office of Secret Actions) that is investigating bizarre rumours of occult activity being carried out by the Nazis. Castle Wolfenstein is deep inside German territory and that's where the game starts, as good old Blazkowicz has been captured and is being held prisoner there, although he has had the decency to surprise and overpower the one guard who came to escort him to his interrogation, just in time for you to take over and start the game. Once upon a time, games had awesome movie-like introduction scenes and cut-scenes, whilst the actual in game graphics were never quite so good. Nowadays, because of vast increases in processing and graphics rendering power, that is a thing of the past, and gameplay graphics and cut- scenes are indistinguishable from one another, and never more so than in RtCW. The graphics are absolutely superb, with nightfall, fog, smoke-effects and even 'ordinary' daylight so much sharper and realistic then in previous games, you can practically smell the smoke! The sound is also a step up from anything else I have played. I have a surround sound system and for the first time I felt this was actually being properly utilised by a game, scaring me witless on man
y an occasion as zombies crawled out of the gloom behind me. The game develops much like the plot of a movie, it is a bit linear, but you don't play games like this for their plot-twists. Your first objective is to escape from the castle and get back to Blighty with information you've gleaned about scary goings on near the castle regarding hideous experiments and occult gatherings. There are some interesting new features in this game, like the ability to lean so you can take a sneaky little peek around corners (borrowed from Deus-Ex) without being spotted, although you can't shoot at the same time. There's also a stamina bar alongside your health bar and this controls how long you can run for, and once you've run out of stamina you find you're not moving quite so fast - a neat little touch of realism that means those who normally play these games with the 'Always run' option enabled will have to rethink their strategy. This is definitely one game where speed is not always what you need, as the Rambo approach that could successfully be employed in the original Wolfenstein 3D/Doom/Quake games is a sure-fire way to get picked off very quickly. The bad guys (and girls) in this game are a damn site quicker, smarter and prettier then ever before, although the monsters are conversely even more hideous! The missions are also more varied and better structured, from the initial escape from the castle mission to 'infiltrate an airbase and steal a jet' type mission, forcing you to employ a lot of stealth, and that sniper-scope. The quicker, smarter and prettier enemies consist of a variety of Nazi troops, from infantry soldiers to officers to a kinky 'Elite Guard' of all female soldiers in tight-fitting black leather. Very distracting. I think I need to get out more. The monsters, and there are a few, range from the zombies we saw in Doom to some pretty hideous and scary fiends created
by the Nazi's genetic experiments. I won't say any more than that as I don't want to spoil the 'surprise'! Weapons are pretty much run-of-the-mill for the period to start with; rifles and machine guns although you do get hold of some experimental weaponry later like the venom gun which makes the chain-guns of old look like water pistols. You've probably heard of the flame thrower weapon in this game, and although it certainly looks pretty it's more of a 'novelty' weapon as it is a bit slow and limited in range. There's also a tesla gun which is basically a lightning gun which can be directed at multiple targets, once again I found this to be a bit of a 'novelty' weapon and stuck to my venom and sten gun most of the time. Old habits die hard. For those who have played the original game, you'll still find the hot and cold meals and beers around which can restore health and stamina (as well as the traditional medikits), but they seem to have dispensed with the dog food as well as the dogs, which I found a bit surprising! I haven't played it online yet as that sounds like another game in itself. If previous experience is anything to go by, that will be a truly awesome experience and one that I'll update this op with later on. This game has pedigree and was practically a classic even before it was released. You're missing out if you don't play it! *** Some tips - Use that lean key to see around corners - you can't get spotted when leaning - Destroy any alarm sirens you see as they'll get triggered if/when the enemy spot you and will alert the entire area - Be sparing with the experimental rifle you get given mid-way through the weapon, although it's practically a guaranteed one shot kill weapon (and silenced) you get very little ammo to start with and you'll find even less out there - Th
e silenced sten sub-machine gun overheats very quickly so don't keep your finger on the fire button for too long - Some of the end of level monsters can be difficult to kill (surprise, surprise), I found that getting up very close (I'm talking point-blank) and circling them is usually the quickest way to dispose of some of them System Requirements: Windows 95 (Release 2) or above 3-D accelerator card (with 16Mb VRAM apparently) Pentium II 400 or AMD Athlon processor 128 Mb RAM 16-bit high colour video mode 800 Mb disk space free Mouse/Keyboard/CD-ROM drive Web site: http://www.castlewolfenstein.com
I have to admit that I have a real soft spot for PCFormat magazine. The first ever edition came out shortly after I started university on my first computing course (the current edition is its 10th anniversary edition), when floppy disks actually were er...floppy, and I’ve kind of grown up with it in the world of computing, helped on the way by the well written and genuinely useful articles and reviews in this magazine. I’ve enjoyed it immensely from that first edition, even though it seems to be mellowing out just a little now since those younger, louder and brasher days - although that’s probably in response to a widening in the background of its readership, as back in the days it first came out the PC was pretty much exclusively geek territory. PCFormat covers all issues related to PCs for the home user. Therefore you won’t have to wade through long dull articles on the newest network hubs or commentaries by bearded chaps on why the dot com bubble burst to find something of real interest. If you use a PC at home then you, or someone in your family will find most of the articles useful. Once upon a time, PCFormat was totally games-centric but over the years, as the capabilities of the PC grew and grew so has PCFormat’s focus and you’ll find reviews of printers, cameras, security software, articles on reclaiming deleted files, how-to sections on web and graphic design, tips on using MS Windows and an excellent (and often quite hilarious) help section where users problems are resolved by the rather acidic Luis Villazon (that’s his real name, apparently). As an ex hard-core gamer I would never buy a game/joystick/video card for my PC until I had read the review of it in PCFormat, even if that meant waiting, because, to coin a much over-used phrase, they tell it like it is. Big reputations don’t seem to carry much weight at PCFormat, so if the software or hardwar
e being reviewed is crap, they’ll say so. If it will blow your mind, they’ll say that as well. You’ll usually find the cover disks (CD or DVD versions) have demos of some of the software being reviewed (as well as full versions of useful software) so you can make up your own mind as well. The magazine is put together by people who know their stuff, and more importantly, understand their readers; they worked out years before anyone else that people don’t just use their PC for spreadsheets but do a whole lot more, like play games, surf the Internet, publish web sites, print photos, do their homework on, upgrade with newer ‘bits’ like memory, graphics cards etc, and have been putting together a magazine which can cover all these things and in a way which won’t put off the inexperienced user, whilst also covering for their more ‘geeky‘ readership with e.g. articles on overclocking your motherboard. Although I think they went too far this month with a step-by-step guide on designing your own PC case! So, if you use a PC at home, and as something more than an abacus, and want to be kept abreast of what’s good and what’s not so good for the PC then buy this magazine today!
I guess we’re all worried about hackers getting onto our PC and getting access to our personal data. I’ve been waddling around the Internet for a few years, so here’s my two cents on the matter. The Risk First off, don’t believe all that you read in the newspapers. The hyped up articles written by these hacks are factually incorrect at best, deliberately misleading at worst, often bestowing mythical (and impossible) acts of hacking on the offending party. Second, if you’re just a normal surfer (i.e. you don’t run a high profile web site), you are not really a major target. Hackers are after maximum publicity or maximum rewards, so stealing some passwords off the PC of Mr or Mrs Smith is not really going to provide any self respecting hacker with an adrenaline rush. Thirdly, if you only connect for a few minutes every evening and a couple of hours at the weekend you simply won’t be ‘on-air’ for long enough for a hacker to find you and do some damage to you. If you’re not connected to the Internet, you’re not vulnerable (to hackers). The Precautions If you take sensible precautions you are likely to be quite safe from attack. What are sensible precautions? - Always run anti-virus software and keep it up-to-date - Don’t download software that is not from a reputable source - Don’t run attachments included with emails from people you do not recognise - Treat ALL attachments with suspicion. Viruses are quite capable of emailing themselves on, so even if you recognise the sender ALWAYS scan attachments for viruses - Always check for security updates for vulnerable applications like email programs and browsers and install them immediately Why take these precautions? A lot of viruses are not your classic ‘Hollywood’ viruses that turn your computer into a toaster (it i
s practically impossible for a virus to cause physical damage anyway), but instead are trojans which run silently in the background and open a back door into your PC and then advertise the presence of this back door on your system to anyone on the Internet listening out for the signal, i.e. the hacker. Do you really know what that MP3 file-sharing widget you downloaded from that shady web site last week is actually doing? If you are suspicious of a file that you have been sent or application you want to download (or even one that is already running in the background), spend a couple of minutes on the web doing some research in it. Go to a search engine like http://www.google.com and type in the name of the file and hit Search. If it is harmful in anyway the results of the search will tell you all you need to know. If you are fairly sure the file is a virus go to Symantec’s web site and search for it in their online encyclopaedia at http://securityresponse.symantec.com/avcenter/vinfodb.html. If it is a virus it will be in that database; you probably have more chance of winning the lottery than you have of being the first to be exposed to a brand new virus that is not in their database. The site will also give you instructions for ridding your PC of the virus. A lot of viruses are written to take advantage of known security loop-holes in email clients and browsers. If you don't keep these applications (and an anti-virus application capable of detecting these viruses) up to date then you are exposing yourself needlessly. If you use any version of Microsoft Windows prior to XP you are inherently vulnerable because these operating systems are designed to look pretty and be easy to use rather than secure. The first thing you should do is go to this site http://grc.com. This is one of the best web sites on the Internet when it comes to all things related to security, especially for those of us running Microsoft Windows
. When you go to this site follow all the links to something called “Shields Up” and run both of the Shields Up tests. These tests will attempt to scan your PC across the Internet and tell you what it finds. I won’t regurgitate the information you will find on this site but basically, it will tell you how exposed your system is when you connect to the Internet. Read it and take heed, you may be shocked by what it reveals. Addendum: To answer a valid question in one of the comments to this op: GRC (Gibson Research Corporation) are a reputable organisation and the Shields Up tests will not do any harm to your PC - just expose vulnerabilities. Depending on the results of the Shields Up tests you may want to make your machine even more secure. That is the job of the firewall. Firewalls Firewalls are basically software applications permanently running in the background on your PC and their job is to act as a gateway. Nothing gets in or out without the permission of your firewall and this is something you control by setting rules. It can be a bit daunting but there are some user friendly firewalls out there now and Windows XP comes with its own one. If you have a permanent connection to the Internet or are connected for long periods a firewall is essential; with a firewall you can make your presence on the Internet invisible. If you cannot be seen you cannot be attacked. I use an application called BlackICE by a company called Network ICE and I’m very happy with it, although I would not recommend it for new users. There are some reviews on it on Ciao and I’m toying with the idea of doing my own. McAfee and Norton now also include firewalls in their security packages so they might also be worth a look. So there you have it. The Green Cross Code for the Internet: - Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date - Regularly check for any security patches for vulnerabl
e software - Check out software you want to download beforehand - Hide your computers presence on the Internet I hope some of you found that useful. Happy (and secure) surfing!
There’s no doubt that when it comes to looks the iPAQ H3850 is the classiest PDA available. Combine that with 64MB RAM and 32MB ROM, an excellent 65,536 colour screen (offering a resolution of 240 x 320), a headphone socket and microphone and an infra-red port and you soon realise that its beauty is not just skin deep (a full specifications listing can be found at http://www.compaq.co.uk/products/ipaq/pocketpc/h3850/specs.stm). The 3800 series is the latest incarnation of Compaq’s iPAQ series of PDAs. The other model in the series is the H3870 - the only difference between the two is that the H3870 is Bluetooth enabled - which is great except that Bluetooth devices won’t be widespread for a while yet so the extra cost (about £60 on average) is hard to justify. I picked one up a couple of weeks ago and although I was slightly sceptical about how useful it would be on a day to day basis I was pleasantly surprised at how practical I found it - I have no doubt it will soon be indispensable. Part of the reason for that is that the Operating System (OS) it runs is PocketPC 2002 - Microsoft Windows for small devices. This means you get cut down versions of Outlook, Excel and Word pre-installed as well as access to countless ‘pocket’ versions of other Microsoft Windows software from various web sites. You keep your data synchronised with your desktop PC via a cradle provided with the iPAQ and connected to your PC either by a serial or USB connection (infra-red connectivity for syncing is also possible but I found that problematic and gave up in the end). A small synchronisation program (Microsoft’s ActiveSync available on a CD provided with the iPAQ) starts up as soon as you insert the iPAQ into the cradle and synchronises your iPAQ data with your PC. Input into the iPAQ is via a stylus and either an on-screen keyboard display or handwriting recognition software - Microsoft Transcriber which comes p
re-installed is surprisingly good at understanding my squiggles - when I can write without my palm coming into contact with the touch-sensitive screen. A mini-keyboard which you can clip onto the front of the iPAQ is available as an accessory. Optionally, you can also make voice notes to yourself via the built in microphone. Don’t be too impressed by the memory that comes as standard - PocketPC is a miniature version of Microsoft Windows so it is a bit bloated and after you install a few more apps you don’t have much memory left to play with. If you intend to carry a lot of space hungry files around like music files you will need to increase your memory capacity which can be done in a number of ways; microdrives, SD (Secure Digital) cards and CompactFlash cards. CompactFlash memory cards are cheapest but you will need to buy an external jacket. An SD memory card can be inserted into a slot at the top of the device itself and requires no additional hardware, but SD memory is expensive and difficult to get hold of. Microdrives are miniature hard-disks and again need a jacket (PCMCIA or CompactFlash) to be purchased as well. As they are mechanical devices they tend to be power-hungry so your battery life will be affected. The PCMCIA and CompactFlash jackets can be used to plug in extra devices like network cards, memory, hard-drives, modems, spare batteries etc, although they will add weight and bulk to the device. If you want to surf the Internet you can either do this via your PC when the iPAQ is in its cradle or via your mobile if it has an infra-red port and modem - I have a Motorola T250 cellphone and got this working with the iPAQ surprisingly easily, although the less than stunning max connection speed of 9600bps means this method is really only useful for sending and receiving email. Alternatively, faster connections are available through GPRS cellphones and add on cards (and Bluetooth enabled devices - one day!). If yo
u really want to impress your friends, buy Microsoft AutoRoute 2002 (to get hold of Microsoft Pocket Streets 2002 for the iPAQ) and a GPS receiver for the iPAQ and you’ll have yourself a mobile direction finder which will tell you exactly where you are on the map being displayed on the iPAQ. Not only is it cheaper than anything you buy for similar in-car systems, it’s also portable! Spend a few quid more and you can buy a full navigation system for your iPAQ which will give you voice directions. On the downside, the H3850 is a bit expensive (average price of £500 inc. VAT) and accessorising it via jackets can add to its size and bulk meaning you can’t exactly slip it into your pocket anymore (but the enhanced functionality should make up for that). Some of the accessories themselves can be pricey and difficult to get hold of, but do shop around - on the web a 64MB SD card can be picked up for £54 inc. vat - one of the ‘major’ high street retailers will sell you one for £99! The stated 10 hour battery life is also a little on the optimistic side - you have to be a real scrooge to get your iPAQ to last anywhere near that long and software which monitors your battery life and available memory is a must-have. The OS (PocketPC 2002) is what you’d expect from Microsoft, big, slow and somewhat flaky - you’ll find yourself resetting your iPAQ rather more than you like as PocketPC decides it is going to hang. But Microsoft Windows users will be used to that anyway. If, like me, you have trouble remembering things and tend to scribble things down on loads of post-it notes the iPAQ will be invaluable. Corporate users will like the connectivity options and the fact it runs a cut down version of Microsoft Windows meaning it can be used virtually as a laptop - as long as you’re not doing a lot of typing! And that’s the crux of it - this little thing is a miniature laptop - practically all the advantage
s of a laptop (especially with a miniature keyboard plugged on top of it) and a lot less bulk and weight. All in all, the iPAQ H3850 is a hugely impressive, very slick machine and I would recommend it to anyone.
BT Openworld (or BTInternet as they were then) have been my ISP for 4 years now. I was initially attracted to them because they started with a bang and got rave reviews for their great service and they quickly hoovered up a lot of disgruntled surfers who were with ‘smaller’ ISPs at the time – I was one of these long suffering surfers, putting up with good old Demon Internet (anyone remember them?) for a few years before that. I connected then with a modem and I still do today, via their BT Openworld Anytime Monthly package. This package allows free Internet access 24/7 for a flat monthly fee of £14.99 via a BT only telephone line, you also get 10 email addresses, and 50Mb of web space. Please note, this is not just a review of BT Openworld’s Anytime subscription service but also a look at the options available for moving on from it into broadband connections. I’m writing this to give people who are thinking of switching to broadband some more information about making the switch, as this is what I am on the verge of doing. I’ve researched the issue and come up with some interesting findings which I’ve put in this section, although I think more people may find this useful than just BT Openworld users. I haven’t moved to broadband myself yet as I’m moving house and I don’t want to be tied into a one year contract and paying an exorbitant monthly fee for a service that seems to be declining and an ISP that behaves with incredible arrogance; arbitrarily banning users it feels spend too long on line (after promising them unlimited access). Fortunately, oftel are coming down hard on BT so broadband prices are plunging and with DIY broadband now available (meaning you don’t have to get a BT engineer come around and rip you off to the tune of £150) surfers will soon have a real choice as to who their provider is. BT have also been forced to drastically cut how much it ch
arges rival operators to access its exchanges, as well reducing the number of occasions a BT engineer is required to be present when a rival operator is visiting the exchange (and thus the fee BT charge them for that 'service'). Oftel have also forced BT to dispense with the 1 year sign up for broadband services – cutting this to one month, although rival operators will probably pin users down to a 3 month sign up. All this means that the market for broadband services is finally opening up and prices charged by rival ISPs will continue to drop as costs for rival operators to BT start to decline. As I indicated earlier, I’ve been with BT Openworld since early ’98 so I’ve had a fair amount of time to evaluate their service and it’s had its ups and downs and now it is definitely on a downer. Connections at various times of the day usually end up with an engaged tone and need 4-5 redials which simply is not acceptable in this day and age – the numbers of new users getting online is probably not at the avalanche level it has been for the last few years – and anyone who is not online by now is in no hurry to ever get online. When you do finally manage to get connected, spontaneous disconnections occur with surprising regularity, especially at peak periods. So, if you are looking for an ISP right now or are looking to switch, here’s my advice; first, switch your email account to a free one like Yahoo! or MSN. This means your email account is independent of your ISP, thus circumventing the biggest disincentive for switching; most users adopt an email address provided by their ISP and feel they are stuck with their ISP as a result. Seting yourself up with a free email account ensures you won’t miss any emails that would have gone to your ISP provided email address when you switch. It also ensures your email is accessible from anywhere that offers Internet access. If you like having a
‘hardcopy’ of your email downloaded to your email application on your PC (e.g. MS Outlook) you will find that most of these free email address providers like Yahoo! provide a forwarding facility or POP3 access so your email application can download your email directly from the servers of the free email address provider – this also means you use up less space with your free email account thus avoiding any space usage limits. Another advantage of setting up this kind of account is that should you be unhappy with the ISP you have switched to, dumping them and moving on will be relatively painless; this method is even easier than keeping hold of your existing mobile phone number when switching network providers! If you're worried about how long these free email address providers like Yahoo! and MSN will be around for, all I can say is that they've already been around longer than most ISPs. Once you have set up your ISP independent email address or addresses, all you then need to do is fish around for an ISP that provides the type of access you want at a reasonable price. This counts out BT Openworld as there are other ISPs out there who offer high connection speeds and a higher level of service for a lower monthly fee. Personally, I’ll be trying out Blueyonder. In a nutshell, the regulators and the government are pushing broadband take up hard and are forcing BT into making big reductions in costs for access to its broadband hardware by rival operators. This will be passed onto customers by competing ISPs, which should render BT Openworld uncompetitive on its existing pricing (Blueyonder is already significantly cheaper – down to £25 a month if you use any other Telewest service). Set up an ISP independent email address and you can pick and choose the best value for money ISP based on what I have said here and other reviews on competing ISPs. But, beware, in my experience the service prov
ided by any ISP goes in cycles. The ISP getting rave reviews today may be getting slated in a few months time because it has become a victim of its own success, and vice-versa.