S.T.O.R.M. from American Softworks
Jacques Cousteau would only want to visit once

Rating: graphics 96, sound 91, interface 75, fun factor 30, overall 73

In the year 2055 mankind has polluted and overpopulated the world with nuclear waste and toxic fossil fuels. While man's destiny looks bleak, there's hope that this cycle can continue with the discovery of Praxillium; it's a rare mineral that can supply vast amounts of energy without any detectable radioactive waste. The only place it was found was 3 miles under water 400 miles south-east of Newfoundland. Soon after the Bureau of Advanced Energy Research (B.A.E.R.) setup a drilling site for the Praxillium, the site was destroyed--presumably by the Nuclear Energy Office (N.E.O.). BAER has hired you to pilot the Submersible Tactical Operations Reconnaissance Module (S.T.O.R.M.) to the Praxillium site to find out what happened.

Storm Beneath overly politically correct undertones, the letters of S.T.O.R.M. really should stand for "we Should have Thought it Out before Releasing it to the Masses". Beyond the incredible graphics and wonderful sound effects lies a 2-D engine with many overlooked flaws that should never have seen the light of day. The story line places the fate of the world in the hands of an untested bubble of a ship that explodes easily and has too many engine failures. Maneuvering through a labyrinth of coral, sharks and N.E.O. agents your goal is to make it to the end of the level without dying; too often you are forced to replay each level 20-30 times before you make it through. Forget about running out of ammo, it's the interface that hinders most of your progress.

The story line of S.T.O.R.M. is setup fairly well with one giant corporation hindering the only hope for mankind's survival (as most Corps are often want to do). The story really falls apart when you think about where this drilling sight is and what you have to play through to get to it. It seems rather odd that you must travel through a labyrinth of coral to get to your destination. How on Earth did the drill that you're checking on ever get to it's destination taking this route? Even if it didn't take this route, then why am I forced to? Why are you all by yourself for the first part of the mission? Surely there are other military options that would ensure the safety of STORM for a few hundred meters down instead of making it a target for everything. It may be just a game, but you keep asking yourself these questions while playing. Where was the continuity director?

A lot of time was spent on the graphics and it shows. STORM has some of the best graphics I've ever seen for a 2D scroller. Everything has been rendered with exquisite detail from the movement of the ship and the aquatic life to the cut-scene animations that give you a close-up of this quasi-3D environment. Running in 640x480, the high resolution graphics make this game sparkle. If you have the horsepower you can enjoy parallax scrolling, detailed backgrounds and a wonderful array of animated sprites. If not, you'll still get to enjoy the incredibly realistic anemones, sharks, and squid.

Storm Storm's other strong point is the music and sound effects in the game. The music is often moody with strong aquatic overtones. The sound effects are very good with bubbles, Anessa's voice (that's your onboard computer), and the eerie calls of whales in the distance. Sometimes the voice acting feels a bit strained, but it's still pretty good.

The interface for Storm is intended to keep things organized, but only confuses the player. Movement is accomplished by pressing the appropriate arrow key, and pressing the spacebar makes the ship fire; this is all very straight forward. What's so confusing is when you want to turn around_you have to press the ALT key and then one of the arrow keys to change direction. Why not just have a key to make you switch directions? Even worse, the weapon selection is on the number keys 1-9 and the ship functions are on the Function Keys F1-F10. So there you are fighting with torpedoes and you want to switch to lasers; instead you hit the F2 key one row above the number keys and the robotic arm comes out. Later when you want the robotic arm to come out you press what you think is F2, but hit the F3 key and now your scuba-diver is out swimming. If only the option to define which keys do what was available this wouldn't be such a problem. As it is, the game gets very frustrating.

Storm I wonder why I was never given the choice for how difficult I want the game? Most, if not all games of this sort usually do. Storm's has but one difficulty level_impossible. What's sad is that when we previewed Storm we told ASC that the game was too hard and they told us that they had already toned down the difficulty quite a bit. They should have kept on going. As it is, the game is so hard that it takes all the fun out. One hit from a falling barrel and your ship explodes. Run out of energy, your ship explodes. You end up playing each level so many times that you start to dread the next level. After a while I changed my strategy and made a bee-line to the end as fast as possible, ignoring all the enemies along the way. This worked great for 2-3 levels, then I got to a level where that _was_ the goal. Unfortunately, you're in a radioactive level where your shields start going down as soon as you start. You barely have enough time to get the radioactive barrels out of the way (shoot them ormove them) to get to the shield-renewal. Then you have to race through to the next one. It took me over 30 tries to get it done once and that was a fluke. By this time the fun had completely disappeared and the frustration level soared. In short, I didn't care for Storm.

STORM is a very ambitious attempt at a 2D arcade scroller with incredible graphics. ASC got the graphics part right, but completely missed the mark on fun. Dying a thousand deaths to complete a level is not my idea of a fun time. Complicate this with the horrid keyboard layout and Storm becomes a game that I cannot recommend. Give me a way to change the difficulty level and a way to set the keyboard layout and I would like the game more. Until then, keep fishing.

-- Louis Stice
-- louis@psyber.com

System requirements: 486/66, 8MB Ram, 10MB hard drive, 2x CD-Rom, SVGA, Sound Blaster or Compatible
Recommended: Pentium, 4x CD-Rom