by Robert A. Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
One credit you have to give Atari -- they are just as capable as any other video-game company in devising silly, recycled, and stereotypical back stories for their titles. Take I-War as an example; its story is set in a worldwide computer network that's responsible for the operation of countless everyday tasks. When "mutant databases" start clogging the "I-Way" with excessive "data pods," the ensuing lag threatens to put an end to Civilization As We Know It. Humanity's last hope is for the player to drive his "anti-virus tank" into the net, clear the congestion, and save the world. Right...
Forgettably hackneyed science-fiction plot aside, I-War is a first-person action game for the Atari Jaguar. The player pilots his tank in the I-Way's cyberspace, searching for data clusters in twenty stages while battling an assortment of enemies. Three basic tanks are available, and there are power-ups and extra weapons to be found during the game. Finally, there's also a two-player competition mode, three difficulty settings, and the ability to save a game to the cartridge for later play.
Let's see: you're piloting a futuristic vehicle in an abstract polygon landscape. Your mission is to find a number of missing pods while fighting against various enemy craft. When you get all of the pods, you head for the exit and go to the next level.
Sound familiar? It should, since beneath all of the cyberspace mumbo-jumbo, I-War is a close relative of the first Jaguar game, Cybermorph. Atari seems to have a fixation on the entire "action-exploration" realm, as this cartridge is a continuation of the trend set by Cybermorph, Hover Strike (cartridge and CD), and Battlemorph.
This would be fine if I-War added something new or different to the genre, but it doesn't. If anything, I-War simplifies the idea somewhat. Your tank is fast, but not particularly maneuverable; with simple weapons and simple terrain, combat often becomes a case of standing against an opponent and pounding the fire button to destroy it before you take too much damage. Stages consist mainly of small enclosed rooms connected by teleportation pads, and puzzles are primarily searches for switches to flip. The game gets a little more interesting in higher levels with more complicated room links, but it isn't enough to completely hold the player.
Game controls are responsive, though some commands have little value. There are five camera views available, but only the cockpit view is of any real use, and the map and the radar have limited use at best. The difficulty settings change primarily how much damage the enemies can take. This makes memorization of the levels easier, and the replay value drops as a result. On the plus side, the default difficulty is reasonably challenging, and few players will be able to finish the game quickly.
Finally, I-War offers a simultaneous two-player mode, where the screen is split in two and each player tries to be the first to destroy all of his opponent's tanks. This is a bare-bones contest: you can't change your tank configuration, set handicapping or game options, or even select different arenas to fight in. It feels like a gratuitous, tacked-on feature, and is certainly not enough reason to buy the cartridge.
The virtual world of I-War is a throwback to science-fiction novels and movies from the early '80s, like "Neuromancer" and "Tron." Everything is drawn with a mix of textured and Goraund-shaded quadrangles and triangles, with printed circuit patterns or bright neon hues. The style is a tad antiquated, which isn't a problem, but the bright colors and abstract designs are. Some zones are garish to the point of being shocking, and experience is needed to distinguish friends from foes. To its credit, the game maintains a fairly high frame rate most of the time, and assorted special effects make nice contributions to the game's look.
The sounds, on the other hand, are more up-to-date. Explosions, weapons fire, and other events are paired with a wide variety of effects that have an appropriately "modern" approach to them. The only throwback is the computer voice that announces mission status; its flat monotone is laughably crude, and it can be irritating in critical situations. Finally, the in-game music consists of a number of high-quality techno-rock tracks. While not up to the stellar levels set by Tempest 2000, they are still very enjoyable, and a great incentive to pump up the volume.
I-War is not a bad game per se -- it's just not a particularly good one, either. While it mines the same action-exploration vein of other Jaguar titles, it is not as rich or as complex as its predecessors. The graphics and sounds are nice, though players might be dissuaded by the abstract visuals. Players who want a simple, uncomplicated tank battle might enjoy this game, but others will want to take pause before enlisting in the I-War.