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CD-ROM REVIEW : Distortion Doesn’t Hit All the Right Notes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Legendary computer game designer Joe Sparks has a reputation as a detail-oriented perfectionist, which explains why his long-delayed brainchild Total Distortion is just now hitting the stores, four years after his team began work on the CD-ROM.

It also might explain why this satirical, futuristic game--aimed squarely at the MTV generation, with its ultimate goal being the creation of a hit rock video--is so visually and aurally spectacular.

It seems that every time you click your mouse while playing Total Distortion, something happens that is surprising, amusing, visually stunning or just plain clever. And technically, the game is a marvel--it’s a great pleasure to play a disc that although chock-full of effects and features, runs so smoothly.

What’s missing in this sea of ingenuity and craft, however, is a sense of wonder or any other artistic/emotional resonance that would make Total Distortion truly memorable. Its satire is without heart, its numerous puzzles lack a unifying vision and its characters are uninvolving.

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I was intrigued by the game during the several hours I spent trying it out but was left with no driving compulsion to devote the weeks of free time it would take to explore all the layers and facets that Sparks and his team have created.

The CD-ROM begins with a handful of entertaining videos that explain the story line and game play. It seems an alien invention has appeared on Earth that allows humans to travel to other dimensions.

The character you play uses an ample inheritance to launch himself or herself (the player chooses the gender) as a video producer. Your mission is to travel to different dimensions to gather unique visual and sound elements that can be used to create popular videos.

Along the way there are numerous puzzles and pitfalls. Villainous creatures known as guitar warriors have to be beaten back by secret chord combinations generated from your own on-screen guitar.

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It’s fun, but after a while also draining. Kind of like watching MTV for long stretches.

Total Distortion is available in both Windows and Macintosh formats, and one bit of advice to those who might want to buy it: Shop around. A quick check with several mail-order houses produced prices for the game ranging from about $50 to $80.


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