A "challenging and exciting CD-ROM game from COREL"?! You mean the WordPerfect and clip-art people are trying to frag it out with the likes of Duke and Quake? What are they going to use, you may well ask, templates and macros? Well, not quite, but Ashes to Ashes, their unimaginative though entertaining knock-off in the first-person shooter genre, is not going to scare anybody at id quite yet. Still, this game's use of exterior settings, 3-D terrain, and multiple vehicle types makes it refreshing enough to hunt down when it hits the bargain shelves - in...oh, say, about three weeks.
In the 22nd century, international conflicts are settled by professional warriors who blast it out in spacious outdoor arenas throughout the world. Something has gone awry: Soldiers are exhibiting unpredictable behavior, world peace is threatened, and you are the lone gunman who is airlifted into these arenas to exterminate the mercenaries. Eight different arenas, from desert to bayou to lunar terrain, contain multiple levels (50 in all) in which your only task is KETM (kill everything that moves) until you collect three "evil brains" from enemy carcasses and advance to the next level.
Even for a genre whose back stories tend to be flaccid afterthoughts (Does anyone know or care what Quake is about?), I must say that A2A's premise and level goals stand out as remarkably inane. I came upon no secret areas or puzzles, just a lot of armored robots and vehicles to pick off, power-ups and ammo to grab, blah, blah, blah. The evil brains do talk back to you with clever quips, but these grow old by the third level. And the CD-based soundtrack employs offbeat, out- of-context tunes like Conga riffs in another misfired attempt to add lightheartedness. Visual and sound effects are of the standard blast-and-burst variety - nothing especially atmospheric or immersive. Your enemies - soldiers in bioarmor and power suits, flying on cycles or in orb-shaped tanks - are equally uninspired.
Ashes to Ashes could be dismissed out of hand as a thoughtless knock-off if its 3-D terrain modelling and multiple vehicles weren't so genuinely refreshing. The Win95 graphics for the ground-level, outdoor combat are not especially detailed, but they are glass-smooth and offer a good sense of open-air battle, not unlike last year's Terra Nova. The early terrain is bland and undulating, which allows for enemy soldiers to emerge from behind a hilltop quite nicely. But it is in the upper levels of valleys and mountain plateaus where the landscape adds an intriguing tactical element. Reconnaissance of enemy strongholds from behind protective terrain becomes possible, as does finding good defensive positions.
Complementing the varied terrain is your ability to hijack five enemy devices like armor suits, Assault Cycles, and Roller Tanks, each with distinct weaponry and movement that are useful in different terrain situations. Cycles allow you to assault elevated structures and cross mountains, while the tanks can plod and blast through amassed soldiers. Switching among vehicles, especially as the ground contours become more complex, is a welcome change from the usual corridor march-and-shoot conventions. Alas, none of the levels is intricate enough to exploit this innovation fully.
The multiple vehicles and terrain modeling of Ashes to Ashes do energize an otherwise shallow clone with variety and some depth. But at full price, and compared with other action games currently on the store shelf (if it ever makes it there), Ashes to Ashes offers too little, too late for most action gamers. The demo is worth a look, and a $20 price would make the game a reasonable buy. In the end, however, here is a perfect candidate for diminished stardom in the bargain bin.