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It is difficult to review a game that really isn't a game, an alpha or beta build of what would have one day been a game, but that is exactly what Black Ice/White Noise is. There are several revisions of Black Ice/White Noise available for the curious Atari Jaguar aficionado, but the one that is to be specifically dealt with here is revision 19 as provided in the Black Ice/White Noise Combo Pack, which not only includes the game CD-Rom itself, but also a dusk cover, and a second CD-Rom containing a Strategy Guide, some vintage web site material, and a collection of various development tools and source code for the Jaguar. BI/WN, as it is commonly known, is a glimpse into what could have been; a snapshot of the potential that, for the most part, lays untapped deep in the heart of the Atari Jaguar. Unfortunately, it was a victim of the demise of Atari, and development on it ended when Atari ended its support of the Jaguar platform.

BI/WN is a third-person action/adventure game set in the near future, a cyberpunk future in which gangs run the streets unchecked, and huge multinational corporations battle each other for power and wealth. It is into this world that the player is thrust, to forth and fight the corporations and gangs, and to bring forth a brighter tomorrow for humanity. At least that's the impression the game gives, but due to the incomplete nature of the game, it is impossible to be exactly sure. Either way, what is here is a lot of content, a vast city to explore, at least one complete mission and several parts of missions, basically a good deal to do and see.

First the good. The graphics are very good. They obviously lack the polish expected of a finished product, but for the stage of development that the game is in, they are a highlight. The character, controlled by the player, is digitalized nicely, and the city area, in which the game takes place, is large and textured in a manner consistent with the setting of a dark future cyberpunk style game. It is easy to see touches of Blade Runner in the details, or at least it will conjure memories of those types of films. Large may not adequately describe the true size of the city. Perhaps huge would be a more appropriate word to use. Either way, the truth of the matter is that it takes a long, long time to explore all the nooks, crannies, and things to be discovered. Most importantly, the exploration is fun and Interesting, especially to those with an Interest In seeing what the Jaguar could have been capable of. The video clips that are available are cool, and really give the player an Insight Into where BI/WN was going, and what it was going to be. Another Interesting addition to BI/WN was the cyberspace area of the game. Although very Incomplete, It brings a different aspect of the game to light, as well as a lot of speculation upon It's the manner In which It would have been ultimately Implemented.

Controls are fairly intuitive, and without too much trouble, the player can be off and exploring in no time at all. Menus are easy to use, at least menus in the manner of controls that allow the player to change weapons and locations. The "taxi" system makes moving from place to place quick and easy. Even the character's speed on foot isn't all that bad, and so just wandering around is quick and easy, thus encouraging exploration. It is possible to finish a quest and actually get some money and upgrade to bigger and better weapons to use on the hapless gang members that will be stumbled upon from time to time. It's all for fun though, since the player's character doesn't actually take any damage at all. It's during all this exploration when the strategy guide included in the Combo Pack really comes in handy. In all reality, it is really more of a walk through than anything else. It includes an exceptional amount of information. Everything from who's who and what's what, to detailed maps of the city and coordinates for all of the most interesting sites. More importantly, it also contains many warnings for locations that will cause the game to crash. Of note as well, is that the BIWN Combo Pack is a limited edition release, limited to fifty hand numbered copies, and thus a great item to have for the collector or Jaguar lover.

Now the bad. Ok, the game isn't completed, but since it will, most likely, never be completed, here's what is there. While the graphics are very good for the Jaguar, they can become monotonous. There are locations that cause the game to crash. Obviously this would have been corrected had the game been finished, but since the situation is what it is, this is a definite drawback. Luckily, the player that has the strategy guide at hand can avoid most of these problem areas, but there are no guarantees. The player's viewpoint is awkward. Instead of a behind the back view, the player is given a behind the back and to the side view, which is really difficult to adjust to for a while. It doesn't destroy the game, but it does take a while to adjust to. The cyberspace portion of the game is incomplete, as are most of the missions that would have been available had the game been completed. Although there are many things to see and do, quite a bit of it can be less than exciting, but again, it is simply nature of the beast when dealing with uncompleted games. There aren't a lot of these Combo Packs out there. The Combo Packs are a limited edition item, limited to only fifty copies, so they are difficult to come by for a reasonable price. The final issue is a technical issue. The game is unencrypted, and as such requires a bypass cart to use on a standard Jaguar CD player. Not a big, big deal, but it certainly limits the audience.

Now for the extras. As previously stated, the BI/WN Combo Pack isn't just a copy of the BI/WN game; it is quite a bit more. The Combo Pack comes in a standard DVD case, the kind of case that a Playstation Two game might come in, but the labeling is well done, using graphics and themes that accentuate the content of the pack. There is a little bit of distortion here an there, but overall, it is quite a quality piece of work. Inside the case there are two CD-ROMs, one with the game, the other with the bonus items, and a dust cover for the Jaguar controller. The dust cover it particularly nice, laminated and echoing the design of the labeling found on the exterior of the case, it is sturdy and quite the cool bonus for the Jaguar collector. CD-ROMs don labels that continue to echo the themes and graphics found on the other items in the pack, and thus, are well done and really create the feeling that the product is a set. On the second CD-Rom is where much of the real treasure in the Combo pack is to be found. Of note is the strategy guide, upgraded especially for this release, it is almost a necessity for the player looking to get the most out of BI/WN. There is no way to stress enough the value of strategy guide and the time it can save a player looking for the highlights, or just interested in what is what. Also of note is a collection of vintage Jaguar web pages, certainly of interest to the collector or Jaguar enthusiast. Finally is a collection of development tools and source code. Much of this is available on the internet already, but it never hurts to have everything in a nice, easy to find collection.

So, is it worth the time, trouble and money to find this Combo Pack and play this game? The simple answer is yes. The game, BI/WN, is a step into what could have been for the Atari Jaguar, a real look at what the Jaguar was really capable of. It was a game that would not have been out of place on the Sony Playstation and shows game-play and mission structure ideas that would be seen in future games such as the Grand Theft Auto series. It would certainly have been a game ahead of it's time, and as such is the greater sorrow that it was not given a chance to be completed. Alas, what is done is done. On top of game, the Combo pack also offers a wide and varied group of extras that are handy to have easy access to, whether just exploring the game, or working on a new development project. With all of this to offer, it is easy to recommend the Black Ice/White Noise Combo Pack to anyone.

4 out of 5

If you have a Jag-CD and are interested in trying out Black Ice/White Noise, you can download a legal copy BI/WN is provided through the generosity of (and with the permission of) B.J. West. Thanks again, B.J.

posted January 30, 2005.