What's hot in games, gizmos, and websites due this fall

By EW Staff
September 04, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Labor Day’s the starting gun for a new season of movies and TV, but the stakes may be highest for the interactive industries. It’s not just that people are settling back in front of their computers after months on the beach. It’s that the end of summer is really the beginning of Christmas: For multimedia companies, the holidays represent a make-or-break chunk of change. This year, plenty of games, CD-ROMs, websites, and gadgets hope to break through and make it into your home. Here are the ones we think may pull it off.

Virtual vixen Lara Croft returns on Nov. 21 for more daredeviltry in TOMB RAIDER III. The heroine rambles through India, Antarctica, even Area 51 with more weapons (rocket launchers!), new moves (a speed dash to help with those Indiana Jones-style death traps), and a slight makeover: Richer detail finally gives Lara ears instead of nubs. But don’t get any ideas from the sequences with sandy beachscapes: Ms. Croft does not appear in any thongs.

When edgy webzine WORD shut down last March, fans mourned one of the Web’s smartest literary ventures. Now it’s been rescued by … a Texas fish-oil company. Will corporate cash ruin Word? Says 39-year-old editor Marisa Bowe: ”We’re not going to change.” It reappears at http://www.word.com on Sept. 28.

It took time, but Apple may have finally reinvented itself. The utterly droolable iMAC has Internet access, a nice price ($1,299), and a PowerPC chip. There’s no floppy, but you can buy a Zipdrive for $150. With its elegant design and transparent turquoise case, iMac would hit the runway if Kate Moss could wear it.

Launched in July, the Uber-toon CARTOONNETWORK site (http://www.cartoonnetwork.com) goes nuclear this fall with ”Web Premiere Toons,” a Net-only series with Emmy nominee Gary Panter of Pee-wee’s Playhouse fame producing the first episode. Until then, animaniacs can tap into the online archive of 2,000-plus characters, read Space Ghost and buddies on breaking entertainment news, or surf the Favorites area to find an homage to Scooby-Doo. Rowrrific.

On the minds and shopping lists of most PlayStation gamers this fall will be METAL GEAR SOLID, a late-October release Sony found so impressive that it’s handing third-party developer Konami $1 million plus for marketing. The spy thriller follows a covert operative on his mission to save the world (naturally) from supersophisticated enemy agents. Solid as a rock.

Disney pays homage to its roots with late September’s WALT DISNEY: AN INTIMATE HISTORY OF THE MAN AND HIS MAGIC, an interactive CD-ROM biography ripe with artifacts from the legendary animator’s life. Tied together with a user-friendly virtual-museum interface, the multimedia collection pools together essays, animation cel art, a hyperlinked database, and audio interviews with Uncle Walt himself. Users also get a chance to see Disney’s private life up close, thanks to some home movies of his family life that were unearthed for this production. Sure, it’s somber and eerie, but it’s a must for novice and expert Disney buffs.

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