George Cole plugs in his console and switches on the latest computerised interactive adventures
This Christmas, children everywhere will have their eyes glued to the television screen, but they won't be watching a video. Instead, they'll be playing computer games that will amuse, thrill, delight and - at times - frustrate them, not to mention their parents, who do want to watch a video. The interactive games are generally played on consoles, compact machines that plug into a television and are operated by a joy-pad control.
The biggest-selling console, Sony's PlayStation (more than six million have been sold in the UK alone at around pound;80-90 apiece) has some cracking games out this Christmas. Although most games players are young males, more and more games are being designed to appeal to both sexes. It's worth bearing in mind that prices vary by as much as pound;10.
One of the most eagerly awaited PlayStation games will be Tomb Raider: the last revelation (Eidos, pound;40), scheduled for release today. It features the curvaceous heroine Lara Croft, who has become something of a cultural icon. This is Lara's fourth adventure and you might think she would be getting a little tired by now, but the game's designers have come up with more extraordinary adventures for her, and her legions of fans are unlikely to be disappointed.
Another long-awaited game is Final Fantasy VIII (Squaresoft, pound;45), an awesome four-disc adventurestory. The full-motion video clips are superb and the game will keep even the most agile games player amused for many hours. Football fans will be putting FIFA 2000 (SCE pound;29.99) near the top of their list, as this game offers no less than 450 teams, dozens of classic games and hours of entertainment. If you like football, that is.
For younger players (aged 4-8) comes The Smurfs (Infogrames pound;35). This aims to help children get to grips with both the PlayStation and gaming, and might well come in handy for any grown-ups who have yet to master a joy-pad.
Sega's Dreamcast (pound;200) is the latest games console and the most powerful on the market. Sega's Sonic Adventure (all Dreamcast games are around pound;35-40 each) sees the little blue hedgehog back in action, while Sega Rally 2, a fast-action rally game, looks and feels like an arcade game.
Midway's Ready2Rumble boxing game is one of the biggest-selling Dreamcast games and it's easy to see why. It's funny, has great graphics and offers hours of fun.
Sports make popular games subjects. Uefa Soccer (Infogrames) is another soccer game, with amazing graphics and a vast range of teams and tactics to choose from. Video System's F1 World Grand Prix is a turbo-charged racing game featuring drivers such as Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen.
For younger players there's Pen Pen (Infogrames), a racing game using cartoon penguins.
Nintendo has two consoles on the market, the N64 (around pound;80) and the hand-held Gameboy (around pound;30 to pound;40). The latter is powered by batteries and uses a tiny LCD screen. It has low-resolution graphics and a tinny sound, but its games are so compelling that you forget about this.
Addictive gameboy fare includes Worms Armageddon (Infogrames, pound;25), a fun-filled strategy game involving armies of wiggling things. But the biggest Gameboy title this year is likely to be Pokemon. There are two Pokemon games, Red and Blue (Nintendo, pound;25 each), and both basically offer the same game play but with different monsters.
The aim of the game is to fight, collect and nurture your Pokemon, and you can be sure that come Christmas, thousands of children will be doing that and little else.