Shockwave: review by David Liu

Review by David R. Liu <>


Shockwave represents the best effort to date on any system to integrate a movie-like plot, complexity, and total experience with intense and challenging gameplay. A must buy.

I hate hype. In fact, if it weren't for hype, think how much better this world would be. 3DO would be well-received by the media instead of stepped on; its stock value would be steadily and slowly climbing instead of warp-nining to almost $50 then plummeting to $9 then rocketing to $16 leaving investors feeling like Duncan Imperials.

Shockwave has had its share of hype. "A Sci-Fi Movie Experience" proclaims the 3do Software Catalog. EA pronouced the game a "revolutionary space fighter epic." Interneters have heralded the game as possibly one of the best video games EVER. I was pretty skeptical, and when I first saw Shockwave at CES in the worst light possible (no cinemas, just flying around a relatively plain-looking desert) I rolled my eyeballs and thought "Oh great, more hype terminating in a disappointing reality..." I was wrong.


Of course I still bought the game as soon as I returned (after all, isn't the point of life to buy and review 3DO games for Internet?). The first thing I noticed (besides the lofty price) is that the box advertised that all sounds were encoded with Dolby Surround Sound. Putting the disk in to my 3DO (attached by S-VIDEO to a 34" picture tube Sony XBR and Dolby Pro Logic receiver linked to 7 speakers and a subwoofer, NONE of which is mine), I was immediately grabbed by the cinematic introduction. These cinemas DO live up to the hype.

Amazing NASA photos composited with rendered 3D graphics and not-too-bad acting. Just eye-candy? Hardly. Even more than Wing Commander, these lengthy cinemas (which can be skipped by pressing stop on the controller) create a very engrossing and admittedly realistic feeling of actually being involved in the scenario.

And the scenario is intriguing, if a little far-fetched: the year is 2019, and the US has just launched the OMAHA, an orbital spacecraft carrier complete with a squadron of F-177 fighters, which look like the love children of the stealth fighter and stealth bomber. Lo and behold, a vast alien armada descends on the earth, rendering its ground-based forces totally useless and placing all the major areas of the world at their mercy. You play the role of a rookie lieutenant pilot and member of the Omaha F-177 squadron. Your mission (surprise surprise) is to rid the earth (and later the moon) of all alien forces.


The actual gameplay of Shockwave is a mixed beast. While you can roam around freely on the surface of the planet, turning freely, barrel rolling, and making any number of passes at targets which you missed the first time around, it is certainly NOT a hard core flight simulator. For one, you have only a small window of altitude in which you can rise or fall. You only have three weapons, your laser guns, your missiles, and your ship (which you can use to ram the enemy if you feel so arrogant). Yet the result is a very nice balance between arcade game shooter and realistic flight. True, you cannot go to any arbitrary point on the earth, leave orbit, or visit the moons of Jupiter. But you wont want to since the action is much more intense than most flight simulators, with an average of say 3 or 4 enemies in your immediate vicinity at once. The action is fast and furious and VERY challenging; fortunately for many there are 3 difficulty settings.

Shockwave consists of 10 missions, each of which takes 10-20 minutes to finish if you play perfectly. Of course the actual number of hours it will take to finish these missions is probably 30-100 for the average gamer; they are for the most part very challenging. These missions are sequential and integrated well into the story. Shockwave automatically saves up to 10 games into nvRAM, including your name, mission number, score, and ranking (difficulty level).


Graphically, Shockwave as a whole is probably the finest 3DO effort to date. The cinematic sequences are better than Cinepak quality though not MPEG quality; the computer graphics are stunning, and all terrain and ENEMIES (unlike SWC) are texture-mapped polygons. The variety of enemies is large, with more and more unique looking and behaving aliens introduced with each successive level.

Your cockpit shows a dazzling array of instruments, most of which actually function. Your shields, laser ammo, and fuel are prominently displayed on bars of red, green, and blue; your finite missles are also shown as purple LED-looking lights. There is also an altimenter, an attitude indicator for those who can't tell ground from sky, and an odometer for computing gas mileage. Or something like that.


The most impressive aspect of Shockwave, however, is its vast attention to details. The cinemas actually reveal VERY important information about your missions and about the vulnerable points of your alien enemies, as well as telling a unified story about our desperate efforts to defend the earth. When your ship loses all shields, one of many things happens to you; you can wake up on an operating table, die from heart failure, be ejected in a space coffin, etc. If you totally lose and are killed, I believe your game gets erased from nvRAM. The cinema if you lose the game is truly movie quality in graphics and especially in sound and music.


And speaking of audio (no pun intended), the Dolby Surround Sound sound effects and music during the cinemas is truly remarkable. The sound during the actual missions is somewhat less impressive, however. There is no in flight music soundtrack (I guess you'll have to put on a walkman like "real" fighter pilots in the movies are supposed to), although there is a well-done computerized female voice which briefs you regularly as well as transmissions from your carrier, fellow pilots, and news anchors across the globe. All cinemas in flight can be terminated with the stop button.


Overall, Shockwave is truly the first game to successfully in my opinion integrate an intense action game with a cinematic storyline and FMV which contributes rather than detracts from the game. As developers continue to find the elusive recipe which results in a successful marriage of film and game, these titles will undoubtedly get even better. Shockwave is a groundbreaker in this respect, and those who play it through the first few levels will not be disappointed with their $60+ investment-- and with their $500+ leap of faith into an entertainment platform which is just recently beginning to reveal its true potential.