Can the Web be a viable avenue for multiplayer action games? The folks at Mpath sure think so, and after playing with Mplayer for a few weeks, we’re inclined to agree.
Mplayer is an Internet-based service currently available for Windows 95 only. At the time of this review, pricing was tentatively set at $9.95 per month plus $1.95 per hour. Supported games include Command & Conquer, MechWarrior 2 (for Windows 95 only), Terminal Velocity, and Warcraft. Upcoming titles include Deadlock, SimCity 2000, and–the big one–Quake.
Client software for Mplayer is available on Mpath’s Web site (www.mpath.com) via a link to Happy Puppy, the popular Internet gaming site. Alternatively, you can request the software on a free CD-ROM from Mpath.
Setting up the Mplayer client is not difficult, but it could be a lot more intuitive and less time-consuming. If you want to play Command & Conquer or MechWarrior 2 on Mplayer, you should make sure you have installed the full, commercial version of that game on your system. Then, when you install the Mplayer client, you can “Mplayer-enable” these games to work over the online service. Mplayer-enabled versions of Terminal Velocity and Warcraft are included on the Mplayer CD-ROM. Over time, as you continue to log on to Mplayer, the service will notify you of available upgrades, which can be downloaded and implemented automatically.
Online MechWarriors should be impressed by Mplayer’s performance, which suffers only occasionally from lag and warping. To play games on Mplayer, you first connect to the Mpath Web site using your Web browser and an ISP connection. From here you can choose one of the supported games, which takes you out of your Web browser and into that game’s chat lobby. Though it may not sound too complicated, this launch process can last several minutes–it needs to be streamlined in a big way. We hope the recent merger between Mpath and Catapult Entertainment, developers of the slick Xband PC online gaming service, will lead to a smoother, more intuitive client. One positive step would be to eliminate the Web browser from the process, as on Xband PC.
From a game’s chat screen, you can create rooms for other players to enter (rooms are Mplayer’s equivalent of DWANGO’s teams). To initiate a four-player Command & Conquer match, for example, you create a room that two to four players (including yourself) can enter. Once players enter your room, you can launch the game. We liked the ability to set a flexible number of users. At the time of this review, Mplayer and TEN were the only services that allowed users to launch a game without waiting for a specific number of users to join.
Like TEN, Mplayer had no moderator model in place during our tests, though we’re told one may be in the works. It may not be necessary, as Mplayer had the friendliest atmosphere of the four services and the chats were generally very cordial.
The chat screen is nicely customizable and includes some cool features, such as a pager for private messages and a voice messaging option that lets you speak to other players using a standard microphone plugged into your sound card. This voice feature is also available in most of Mplayer’s games.
Once Quake goes up on Mplayer, the service could draw the same sort of captive audience TEN has with Duke Nukem 3D. During our tests, however, we often had trouble finding anyone to play. In fact, we rarely found more than a handful of other players online at any time during the week. Weekends saw the most activity on Mplayer.
Once we found someone with whom to play, we were impressed with Mplayer’s performance. Both Command & Conquer and MechWarrior 2 ran smoothly. We saw occasional pauses in both games, but nothing as infuriating as what we saw on TEN. MechWarrior 2 displayed some “warping” (other players seem to move in short, quick bursts as the network updates their positions), but again, it was never enough to frustrate or annoy. In relative terms, Mplayer’s performance was better than what we experienced on Kali and TEN but not quite up to the direct-dial quality DWANGO offers.
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