Montezuma's Return Preview

In this context, the first-person action-adventure title Montezuma's Return marks the game's upcoming reinstatement, by way of Utopia Technologies, after more than a 13-year sabbatical.

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To a traveler, Montezuma's Revenge is the amusing little name for a gut-wrenching illness you get the first time you drink tap water in Mexico. In that case, the introduction of a Montezuma's Return would probably not be very welcome. However, anyone who was playing games in 1984 might recall that Montezuma's Revenge was a game that originally appeared on the Atari 800 and then later was ported by Parker Brothers to the Commodore 64, Atari 2600 and 5200, Colecovision, Sega Master System, Apple II, and IBM PC. In this context, the first-person action-adventure title Montezuma's Return marks the game's upcoming reinstatement, by way of Utopia Technologies, after more than a 13-year sabbatical.

The original title's creator, Rob Jaeger, is the producer/director of the new version as well. And wherein the 2D side-scrolling Revenge was important for the mid-'80s, introducing nonlinear gameplay and arcade-style action, Jaeger claims to be trailblazing once again: "In Montezuma's Return we take real-time 3D to the next level by creating the most immersive interactive experience to date. Yes, the first-person player has fully animated 3D arms and legs (as opposed to sprites or invisible limbs in other games), but more importantly is the fact that you can use them - not only to fight, but to climb ropes, to swim in full six degrees of freedom, and to manipulate artifacts within the environment."

In the storyline, you're Max Montezuma, sort of a wily, yet gawky outdoors type with a penchant for puerile wit. As the typical, if somewhat opportunist, sole-surviving descendent of the legendary King Montezuma himself, you've decided his wealth is your wealth. So you travel to Mexico and violate the Aztec emperor's ancient temple in search of the booty and in spite of the curse the emperor once placed to ward off intruders. Throughout your journey, you gather fruit and treasure while fighting enemies to collect points within the nine levels that include nine bonus rounds for at least 50 hours of gameplay in all (the original game was about 20 hours long). From what we've seen, the levels, with names such as Spikes 'n Skulls and Monkey Madness, all seem quite large. Within each, you solve about six major puzzles and a few smaller ones that vary in degrees of difficulty. You also engage in manual combat with hordes of angry squatters in the form of Aztec warriors, humanoids, vultures, witch doctors, apes, city-sized rats, tigers, and even house cats - each trying to protect and sustain the centuries-old curse. And while Utopia has referred to the game as a hybrid of other titles such as Tomb Raider and Turok, that would be in the graphics department, as the combat mode in MR includes straight fist-to-face and boot-to-leg fighting, with no gore factor whatsoever. Of course, since this mode of combat is more strenuous, developers insist the puzzles are the real workout, of your brain, not your brawn - a philosophy that might turn off diligent fighting game players but inspire a younger audience or puzzle fans. There are also more challenging final bosses, such as the Lavalord or Montezuma himself, and about 20 comedic FMV sequences scattered throughout that push the game forward. According to Jaeger, you should encounter obstacles and activities frequently: "In the design of Montezuma's Return we were careful to never go more than 30 seconds or so without action of some kind or another. We were very careful to avoid the 'walk around with nothing to do' syndrome that you'll find in some 3D games."

Nevertheless, while there's nothing like a good story chock-full of rendered characters and a cinema-style original soundtrack, the graphics, lighting, and proprietary UVision 3D engine are what's driving this game. Three years of development have produced full six-degree movement, including real-time useable, visible arms and legs; incredible moving lightsourcing and pixel-by-pixel shading techniques; and handsome texture-mapped surfaces and objects that the standard PC configuration can handle but that 3Dfx graphics cards can really demonstrate. Also, the realistic sound reflects the space and objects you are navigating through and around. These enhancements are more than dressing, however, because they propel the game's interactivity. You can climb ropes, swim, jump, and handle attractive objects in these rendered environments, not just walk through them. Also, the character's movements are fairly smooth, a feature Jaeger attributes to the physics engine: "Now that PCs are capable of rendering full screens of hi-res 3D graphics at a speed worthy of the term real time, the future lies clearly in the quality of the physics. Our technology UVision features an incredibly robust physics engine. We can simulate whirlpools, wind tunnels, gravity, and much more. We take into consideration both air friction and surface friction. You can slide across slippery surfaces and you can plod across the sand. You can use momentum and balance to swing yourself across a series of ropes."

Utopia plans to release Montezuma's Return in August of '98, bundled with an emulated version of the director's cut of the original Atari 800 Montezuma's Revenge.

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