Earth and Beyond

Platform: PC
Rating: 7/10

Earth & Beyond is a sci-fi role-playing adventure game, the latest -- and perhaps greatest, so far -- of the massively multiplayer gaming environments. We barely scratched the surface; but judging by the chart of the known galaxy (a poster of which is included in the boxed version of the software.) there's a lot of beautifully rendered space on these servers to explore. Multi-user environments have come a long, long way since the text-based MUDs and MOOs of old and with the vast resources of EA behind it, Earth & Beyond is a realization of much of the potential in internetworking for creating virtual worlds -- or, in this case, parts of a virtual galaxy.

This title is rated Fans Only here but that would apply to many types of fan, including those interested in RPG, the sci-fi literary genre, multiplayer games and/or playing at online socialization. Fans of fantastic vistas might also want to check in for a peek. The galactic landscape in E&B can be breathtaking. A more general gaming public beyond that may not be too interested in what amounts to a fancy online club with an up front membership fee and monthly dues.

Too bad for them though. Great sounds and exquisite graphics are almost a given with good game companies these days but the visuals here are safely over the top. The game is stable and fairly nimble over dial-up connections. And rightly so, since all the hefty processing is done by your local machine. The client install takes a 2-gigabyte bite out of the hard drive.

Flying, grouping and fighting in this vast 3-dimensional galaxy are simple in the seamless interface. E&B also shines in the area of communication, essential for an online game. The choice of channels is highly granular, with game-wide chat channels available for New Players and for each race/profession combo, and you can set up password-protected private channels. Though social aspects of the galaxy are emphasized, you can, if you prefer, turn off all the channels and venture around without any chatter at all.

In sum, Earth & Beyond is a must play, and see, for those who value time spent adventuring out there in the virtual galaxy.

Note: This game is rated T(I) for Teen (interactive) but the terms of service on the web site mention that you must be 18 or older to have an account. And players must agree to a strict code of conduct, as they should be.

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