Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, March 04, 2004








PC game review
Uru: Ages Beyond Myst

Publisher: Ubisoft. Developer: Cyan Productions. Genre:
Adventure. Release Date: November 11, 2003.
Requirements: 256 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, 32 MB VRAM,
2000-MB disk space, and DirectX v9.0

Ten years ago, graphical adventure games were turned on their ear by Myst. Designers Robyn and Rand Miller produced a distinctive game in which you explored a colourful, fascinating world from a first-person perspective. Millions of sold copies and countless knockoff games later, Myst remains one of the most popular computer games of all time. Myst was also one of the first games to drive players to get CD-ROM drives. The latest game in the series, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst (formerly known as Myst Online), had originally been intended to add an all-new innovation to the genre: Uru Live, an online multi-player version of the game. You were supposed to have been able to pick up Uru and play it over the Internet, exploring the ruins of the ancient D'ni civilisation with thousands of other players.

However, this functionality wasn't available at the game's release and is still not widely available. The full-fledged online version will launch at an unspecified future date.

Fortunately, the single-player version of Uru is a very good game in its own right, despite being rather short. The fully 3D game lets you play as an explorer drawn to an excavation site at which the ruins of the lost D'ni civilisation have been discovered. Using various tomes, you travel across four different realms, or "ages," to collect seven different parts of a magical symbol that must be compiled in order to complete your adventure in each age. To this end, Uru takes an unusual approach with its control scheme and presentation.

Uru is the first game in the series that lets you actually see your character from a third-person view--a character you generate at the start of the game by choosing your appearance and gender. This doesn't have much relevance in the single-player game, though having a unique-looking character may prove more significant in the multi-player portion. Uru also has absolutely no inventory system your character does not carry any items and therefore won't encounter any inventory-based puzzles (though there is one puzzle late in the game that requires you to carefully transport a swarm of glittering fireflies that "stick" to your character's body). The game also has hardly any interface elements. You carry the mystical Relto tome to return to your own personal hub area between the different ages. You can pull up some game menu options, but these appear at the bottom of the screen as small icons and disappear by default so that your view of your surroundings is completely uncluttered.

Some of Uru's puzzles are a bit more annoying than others. as mentioned, your basic goal in each area is to find the seven parts of a hand-shaped symbol to complete your adventure in each area. These symbols are often hidden behind corners or obscured by environmental objects that must be moved (or moved to) by solving puzzles. Uru's puzzles are generally challenging, and it even has a few jumping puzzles, though you can't die--if you fall into a pit, for instance, you'll simply get whisked back to your hub area. To the game's credit, the puzzles at least start off simple, then become increasingly difficult. But toward the end, several of the game's logic-based puzzles require careful analysis and lots of trial and error--in some cases, to the point of being very, very annoying. This is especially true of the few physics-based puzzles that Uru has to offer--since you don't have an inventory in which to carry things, you're sometimes required to nudge nearby items (such as rocks, bones, and chairs) into certain positions. The game uses a control scheme reminiscent of a first-person shooter (you move by walking forward, walking backward, turning, and sidestepping), but it's too imprecise to handle nudging objects effectively. While solving these puzzles, you'll spend an undue amount of time coaxing objects into place while fervently wishing the control scheme weren't so clumsy or that you could just reach down, pick up that rock, and put it on the pressure plate yourself.

Since you're exploring the ruins of an ancient culture, you're completely alone for most of your adventures. That means there are no helpful characters to provide tips, and the game has no in-game hint system either, so you'll usually walk into a room filled with strange symbols and be expected to figure out what to do next. You'll also find out about the game's story only through scattered journals and other writings that you recover in different areas. Much of it, however, deals with long-forgotten characters of the D'ni race--characters whose intricate and storied lives will probably seem completely meaningless to you if you're not already familiar with the series.

Beginners and veterans alike will appreciate Uru's exceptionally high production values. Using a careful eye, you can spot minor inconsistencies in Uru's visual presentation--the lack of ground shadows on your character, how tides of water in certain places clash without affecting each other etc. Still, Uru is all about its colorful and imaginative environments, which are uncluttered by any interface elements and adorned with incredibly clean textures.

Why does everybody loves

Ray Romano admits that he always knew he could make his friends laugh, but he never really gave stand-up comedy any serious thought until one fateful open-mic night at a New York comedy club in 1984. He did well, the bug bit hard, and Romano was smitten. After stints at odd jobs, including futon mattress delivery boy and bank teller by day, and journeyman comedian by night, he decided to leave the 9-5 ranks and pursue comedy full-time, eventually winning a stand-up comedy competition sponsored by a major New York radio station that same year.

After nearly a decade as a journeyman stand-up comic, Ray Romano came to television audience's attention with a 1991 appearance on "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson". Shortly after, his career began to ascend. With his dark looks, nasal 'Noo Yawk' accent and deadpan delivery, Romano offered commentary mixing familial humor with off-beat observations, focusing away from political and topical humor. He impressed late night host David Letterman enough for Letterman to develop a sitcom to showcase his unique talents.

Born on December 21, 1957 in Queens and raised in the borough's middle class Forest Hills, Romano attended high school with Fran Drescher. After graduating in 1975, he worked at various jobs (gas station attendant, bank teller, futon deliveryman) while dabbling in comedy, making appearances at open mike nights at various clubs. In 1987, he decided to pursue stand-up full-time. Two years later he won $10,000 and priceless exposure in a New York comedy contest that jump-started his career. After his appearance with Johnny Carson, Romano was featured in HBO's "The 15th Annual Young Comedians Festival, hosted by Dana Carvey" and went on to perform in several other comedy showcases.

David Letterman was so impressed with the comic's 1994 appearance on his talk show that he had his production company Worldwide Pants develop a sitcom based on Romano's observational family comedy. "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS, 1996- ) was tailored to reflect Romano's upbringing and talents. He was cast as a married sportswriter with three children whose pushy mother (Doris Roberts), out-there father (Peter Boyle) and idiosyncratic brother (Brad Garrett) are neighbors.

With relatable true-to-life dialogue, multidimensional characters and wacky, fact-based situations, "Everybody Loves Raymond" was a rare series, a family sitcom that managed to be fresh but not overly edgy. Described by many critics as "'Seinfeld' with kids", the show lacked its predecessor's zany inhumanity and instead had a touching but skewed focus on relationships. "Everybody Loves Raymond" also steered clear of the grating preciousness all too common in family sitcoms, presenting scenes with children that were engaging and realistic, not saccharine and exploitative. While the network highly touted the sitcom and critics praised it, its Friday night time slot was hardly a ratings grabber.

A switch to Monday nights beginning in the 1997-1998 season proved just what the series needed, and the show built up an impressive audience despite competition from major contenders "Monday Night Football" (ABC) and "Ally McBeal" (Fox). Going from ratings rankings in the 80s to frequent appearances in the Top Ten, the flourishing sitcom finally won Emmy recognition in 1999, when Romano was nominated as producer and lead actor. The following year he repeated in those categories and also grabbed a writing nod, continuing his run of Lead Actor, Comedy Series nominations in 2001. A self-described "stand-up comedian with a day job", Romano's acting skills increased as the series progressed, and Raymond Barone the TV character began to develop his own distinct persona. Romano made his feature debut with a voice acting turn as a wooly mammoth in the animated "The Ice Age" (2002).

Did You Know?
Ray is married to Anna and they have four children, Alexandra, twin boys Matthew and Gregory and Joseph.
Ray is 6'4" tall.
In real life his brother is a Sergeant for the NYPD. They posed for a recruiting poster together in 2001.
Ray won $125,000 for the NYPD D.A.R.E. Unit on the "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" celebrity episode.
In 2001, Ray made $19 million annually for his sitcom 'Everybody Loves Raymond.'
Ray met his wife at his first job as a bank teller in 1985.
He won a comedy contest sponsored by a local New York radio station in 1989, which basically started his career.
It was David Letterman who signed Ray a deal to write a sitcom based on his stand-up comedy.
He is also the author of the New York Times best-selling book based on his comedy, "Everything and A Kite."

Movie Review

Barbershop 2:Back in the business

by Gorkha

A barbershop is a place for a community get together, good natured ribbing, talks on politics, heartfelt discussions and a lot of one-upmanship. And of course at times people cut hair also. This is the basic theme of the movie. In 2002, Ice Cube took that idea to star in and produce the surprise hit "Barbershop" set in a neighborhood place on Chicago's Southside.

Surprisingly the sequel happens to be better than the first one. Hardly no other movie has achieved this feat since Terminator 2.

First of all Ice Cube happens to play a tough guy in almost all his movies busy shooting up people in gangland wars. Here he plays an ordinary family man who chooses a small business inherited from his father over a gangster's tainted money.

Synopsis: Well, frankly the plot is rather loose. Ice Cube is great, once again, as the intelligent good-hearted mediator of all the crazy antics.

This time, Calvin's (Ice Cube) shop is finally paid for or in their own terms it is "solid". The problem is that competition is also solid. The dry cleaner, corner grocery and a lot of old shops are being replaced by the modern electronically sterile places that sell drink from a machine. Worse still Calvin finds himself in a fix when a huge franchise called Nappy Cutz is opening across the street from his family-owned business, a business that's been cutting and cutting up since 1958.

Nappy Cutz has a huge joint fitted with state-of-the-art equipment, massage chairs, funky drinks and in this day and age, a Web site. Calvin's place has, in his words, "real people, real conversation and, most of all, real barbers." As if that is not enough nappy is assisted by a corrupt local politician.

Well, there you have it. The plot is not very substantial. In fact, it's the type of movie where you just revel in the different wacky characters.

The movie has other stuff going on, too. In flashbacks set in the late 60s, we see how the outrageous Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) first came to the shop. Isaac (Troy Garity) has finally reconciled with the fact that no matter how "black" he becomes he is still a nice Jewish boy. Also he has become the best cutter in the shop. Underlying and unpredictable romance between tough girl Terri (Eve) and womanizing Ricky (Michael Ealy) are worth looking out for.

.And then there's the new next-door neighbor in the adjoining beauty shop - Queen Latifah in an extended role as a sassy beautician. She is so good in this movie that there will be a spin-off starring her in "Beauty Shop".

It's a movie that's affectionate, smart and hilarious offering a warm-hearted camaraderie between lovable characters. With the exclusion of gross jokes this happens to be a good family-values comedy.

The Punisher
Compiled by Gorkha

The Punisher is a grim story dealing with a lot of death. The comics have their copious amount of blood dripping down very sequence. What's great about this comic is that it does not deal with grim reality with kid gloves. You get cold, hard visuals with a touch of sarcastic humor. Too bad none of the bookstores keep this title in stock for me to waste my money on.

The basic plot is that he is an ex-US marine whose family was killed in Central Park, New York, when they inadvertently witnessed a gangland execution. The mobsters murdered Frank's wife, Maria, and their two children, Frank Jr. and Barbara. Frank was left to die of his injuries.

On that day, Frank Castle vowed to use his skills and experience to wage a one-man war on crime. He set out to punish all criminals, and more often than not, that punishment takes a very lethal form indeed. Castle has been sent to prison on numerous occasions in the past, including the notorious Ryker's Island, but has always managed to escape.

He had an expert computer hacker helper named Linus "Microchip" Lieberman who, after many years of friendship, started having disagreements with Castle's methods, resulting in the break-up of their working relationship. Frank went mad over this and, in a fit of rage, was involved in a gunfight with rogue SHIELD agent Sudden Death, which resulted in the death of Microchip, as well as Frank's incarceration by SHIELD agent Col. Nicholas Joseph Fury.

While incarcerated, Frank was brainwashed through hypnosis into believing that Col. Fury was the man who killed his family, which started him on a suicide run, resulting in the apparent death of Fury and the re-incarceration of Castle. Due to a frame-up by the mercenary Bullseye, Frank was sentenced to death by the electric chair, which he survived with the intervention of the Geraci crime family. Not long after, Castle joined the family in order to infiltrate their ranks and destroy them from within. His arch-nemesis, Jigsaw, with help from Tombstone, Firefox, and the Hatchetman, destroyed the Geracis when their dying Don betrayed them. In revenge, Frank killed Jigsaw and Tombstone while letting Hatchetman escape after renewing his honour by killing Firefox.

In what has been termed "Onslaught", Frank helped SHIELD agent George Washington Bridge in the evacuation of the crashed Helicarrier, after which he was given a field assignment to make up for killing Fury. At the end of this mission, Frank was given amnesia by the concussive force of the destruction of the Mutant Liberation Front's base. He started regaining his identity when he protected the Montoya family from weapons dealers. As his memories returned, he continued his war on crime until, one fateful day, he killed himself.

Though his time on earth was not yet up, to atone for his sins he returned as an "avenging angel" who killed devils and could materialise any weapon he desired from his overcoat. While in this angel guise he teamed up with Wolverine in an adventure to save mankind from Revelation.

Having redeemed himself, the Punisher returned once more, this time to wipe out the powerful Gnucci gangster family. He uses a lot of close combat weaponry. All them happen to be big ugly scary looking guns. His allies include Spider-Man, Daredevil, Captain America, Wolverine and even The Incredible Hulk.

The Punisher was inspired from a character in a novel called War Against The Mafia, written by Don Pendleton and published in 1968.

The character of 'The Punisher' first appeared in 'Amazing Spider-Man' number 129, published in February 1974.

Created and developed by Gerry Conway and John Romita, The Punisher set out to kill Spider-Man, acting on the mis-apprehension that Spidey was a criminal. The treacherous Jackal attempted to persuade The Punisher to kill Spider-Man, and The Punisher, believing the Jackal was a crimefighter like himself - and that Spidey was a villain - fought a fierce battle with Peter Parker's alter-ego before being convinced of his innocence.

The Punisher went on to make various guest appearances in a host of Marvel titles, including Daredevil and Captain America, but it wasn't until 1986 that he was finally given his own comic book series.

In 1989 a Punisher movie, starring Dolph Lundgren. For this year there is a new movie to be released April 16th, 2004. Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) is a man who has seen too much death in his life, first as a Delta Force Op and later as an FBI special agent. He has managed to beat considerable odds, and is finally moving out of the field and into a normal life with his wife and son. On his final assignment, Castle plays his undercover role perfectly, but the operation spins out of control. This places the FBI on the wrong side of Tampa businessman Howard Saint (John Travolta) and his glamorous wife Livia (Laura Harring). Notwithstanding their glossy social profile, the Saints are no genteel Florida couple; behind their copious wealth are violent beginnings, underworld ties and a chilling capacity for brutality. Castle's worst nightmare is about to come true, as Howard Saint and his lieutenants unleash hell at the Castle family reunion. But Castle, to his everlasting torment, survives. Drawing upon all he has learned in 20 years, Castle sets in motion a brilliant plan to punish the murderers. He takes up residence among in a dilapidated tenement building on Tampa's industrial waterfront, where his fellow tenants include Joan (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), a waitress at a nearby diner who is trying to put her life back on track. Castle's neighbors become his last link to the idea of human community and warmth. It is this makeshift family forgotten men and women with no one to protect them - who enable Castle to find the one thing he least expects: redemption.

Starring: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Laura Elena Harring, Samantha Mathis

Thomas Jane

The next Punisher

Other than having a female surname Thomas Jane seems to have everything else right. He first caught the attention of moviegoers in 1997 as Beat writer Neal Cassady in the Sundance-screened, Cinemax-aired indie "The Last Time I Committed Suicide" and a memorable supporting role as a cocaine addict who concocts a plot to rob a drug dealer in "Boogie Nights". By that time, though, the actor had already amassed an intriguing and eclectic resume. Having been raised in Virginia and his native Maryland, Jane was a 17-year-old high school senior when he was "discovered" by two Indian producers searching for a light-haired young man to star in a Romeo and Juliet inspired love story to be shot in Madras, India. Offered the part, he dropped out and took the gig. Although he reportedly could have pursued his career in Bollywood, Jane returned to the USA, reportedly to reunite with his girlfriend in Maryland.

He didn't stay put for long, though. Bitten by the bug, the aspiring thespian relocated to Los Angeles the following year. Once in Southern California, he found the going a bit tough, reportedly enduring homelessness in pursuit of his art. Gradually, Jane landed roles with local theater companies (going on to co-found The Space Theater). He broke into American films with a small role in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (billed as Tom Janes). Other bits followed (including the 1993-filmed "At Ground Zero" in which he was billed as Tom Elliott, which some sources indicate may be this private performer's real name). Following a three-year hiatus, he resumed his career with a role in "The Crow: City of Angels" (1996), now billed as Tom Jane.

Jane next landed his first high profile studio lead as a shark wrangler in "Deep Blue Sea" (1999). Suddenly, his attractive visage was being featured in magazines and he was being touted as the next big thing. While he demonstrated he could handle a romantic lead opposite Elisabeth Shue in "Molly" (also 1999), few bothered to check out that opus when it played at the multiplexes. In "Magnolia" (1999), but the actor delivered a nice turn as a hotheaded detective assisting the cool Morgan Freeman in a murder investigation in "Under Suspicion" (2000). The small screen actually provided Jane with one of his best roles, real-life Yankee baseball legend Mickey Mantle in "61*" (HBO, 2001). Writer-director Billy Crystal told TV writer Bart Mills of the New York Daily News (April 22-28, 2001): "Tom couldn't play baseball - not even close. He couldn't catch or throw, and left-handed he couldn't hit an underhand toss." Crystal hooked the actor up with Reggie Smith and in less than two weeks, his abilities were up to par.

Continuing his ascent to stardom, Jane next graced the big screen as part of a romantic triangle opposite Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie in the period thriller "Original Sin" (2001). He followed up with starring roles opposite Samantha Morton in "Plain Jane" (lensed 2001), based on a short story by playwright Arthur Miller, and Cameron Diaz in the romantic comedy "The Sweetest Thing" (2002).



home | Issues | The Daily Star Home

2003 The Daily Star