Die-hard computer gamers shouldn't begrudge Who Wants to Be a Millionaire its phenomenal success on the PC. It may be difficult to watch such a simple trivia game remain permanently atop the best-seller lists when much better games struggle to stay on for even a week. But the fact is that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is a credit to the industry, as it's infinitely better than the usual $20 Wal-Mart specials designed to sell cheap, underdeveloped games to novice PC users. Similarly, while the follow-up to last year's original Millionaire game adds nothing to the basic gameplay, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire 2nd Edition could have been a lot worse.
The game retains the first edition's two strongest features, developer Jellyvision and Regis himself. Jellyvision is responsible for the brilliant You Don't Know Jack trivia-game series, so it knows how to make a relatively static gaming format lively.
In this case, it means keeping the limited visual elements of the game moving. As on TV, the basic game revolves around that familiar ladder of 15 questions leading to the million-dollar prize. But Jellyvision makes sure the ladder is dynamic onscreen and that the camera view zooms in and out of the hot-seat stage where you and Reeg are supposedly sitting. Questions zoom in from the side of the screen, flip, and fade - the graphics do just about everything to keep you from realizing how incredibly straightforward the game is at its heart. Unlike on TV, you have only 30 seconds to formulate an answer in the game, but there's a lot of tension anyway. The game deliberately keeps you hanging for a few heartbeats before revealing whether you answered each multiple-choice question correctly.
The vocal stylings of the incomparable Regis Philbin are back once again, though it's unclear whether the game's star has added new shtick to the previous volume's horde of emcee asides. "You're confident of that?" "You're getting into some serious money, here." "Don't blow it." All of these Regisisms survive in this edition. Unfortunately, your host doesn't actually read the questions. He just notes your letter choice and announces which rung of the ladder you've reached. However, the game does have over 600 new questions, which should be plenty of new material even for those who played the original game a lot.
The lifelines option is the game's most interesting feature. Asking for an audience hint calls up the actual results of a 100-member group polled on that question. The 50/50 lifeline just drops out two incorrect answers from your choices. But the phone-a-friend option is the best of the bunch: The call goes to one of Regis' many pals, from a body-shop worker who gives advice on how different metals get stamped to a surgeon in the middle of the operating room who'll tell you how many ribs there are in the human body. Regis banters with his friend for a while, and some little bit of comic business goes on at the other end of the line. After repeated play, you'll find that the lifeline answers are correct more often than not, and the phone characters don't bluff wrong answers very well. Otherwise, the lifeline devices are the most remarkable features of the game, because the designers had to create a tremendous amount of material, such as polls and phone-call bits, which you'll never actually see unless you take the hint.
The "fastest finger" multiplayer qualifying round does its best to re-create the same round in the TV version, in which a crowd of potential contestants compete for the fastest response to an initial question. On the PC, each player chooses a keyboard letter. The computer then shuffles the four answers into different orders. The first player to press his or her key when the right order comes up wins, and then the standard single-player mode starts.
What's to complain about in a $19.95 game that pretty much delivers everything you'd expect from a PC version of the TV game show? It's true that the game could have been more inventive. It's surprising that the game doesn't support online play. ABC has an exceptionally good and very popular online version of the game at its web site, but the CD-ROM only allows multiple players on a single computer. Even so, at $19.95, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire 2nd Edition is a good enough value.