Front & Center
Strap In - Steel Battalion
A two-legged walking battle tank may not be feasible in a practical sense, but it certainly makes for some interesting games. Steel Battalion takes that idea and does its best to present it in a realistic and immersive light, to which end it succeeds better then any other that has yet come. Honestly, half the game is the controller, a forty-button and tri-pedaled monstrosity that’s three times the size of the Xbox itself and exudes “cockpit” better then any gamepad or keyboard-plus-whatever could dream of. The visuals are just as in tune with being inside a Vertical Tank and are less about wowing graphics whores and more about dealing with the generation of the Vertical Tank that’s being used. Older models have tiny viewing windows and display black-and-white video feed, current production gives a larger monitor and color, while the newest of the new have large screens and clearer displays.
Unfortunately the AI doesn't always keep up as well as the design, as occasionally teammates will get in the way or become stuck on buildings; though, truth be told, I rarely heeded them anyway and became a one-man force of destruction. Well, an unwieldy, ponderous one-man force of destruction, anyway. Due to its war nature, the game consists exclusively of seek-and-destroy assignments, and the lack of annoying protect missions brings warmth to my heart. While perhaps single-minded, working over other VTs while lights flash beneath my fingers and not worrying about context-sensitive nonsense is truly a beautiful thing. All the controls, the radio hookups, detaching destroyed limbs for faster movement, and having to eject or die when a VT goes down (or wave bye to that save file) are just part of the experience. Steel Battalion strains for imagined immersion and to that end it certainly succeeds, you certainly won’t find another fantasy tank title that beats this one at its own game.
Speed Up - Viewtiful Joe
In an era of free-roaming stealth action and headshots, Viewtiful Joe came out to remind everyone that 2D cartoony sidescrollers with goofy aesthetics can still win gamers' hearts. The action, based in a superhero movie world that an ordinary "Joe" enters to save his girlfriend, is fast and furious or slow and devastating, depending on which of Joe's powers you're utilizing. But the special effects are more than a throwaway gimmick. Enemies and puzzles can be polished off in style, whether it's knocking back bullets with well-timed punches or racking up huge combos in a fighting frenzy. The bosses take a little bit of thought to defeat and you'll find yourself really paying attention throughout.
As technically impressive as it is fun, VJ is the best of all worlds in a way. The sights and sounds catch your attention and capture your fancy and the gameplay is easy to pick up on, but there is enough depth to bring you back for a second or third play-through, especially on the higher difficulties. The character design, Joe's underlying underdog lovability, and the simply "viewtiful" gameplay make for a real treat.
Run Away - Resident Evil: Code Veronica
The first Resident Evil game to debut on a non-Sony platform, Code Veronica gave us a glimpse of what the young Dreamcast was capable of. From the bugs running on the wall to the zombies biting at your leg, the game's dark look draws you in to its world and the creepy story keeps you playing. You control Claire and Chris Redfield and, er . . . Leonardo DiCaprio over the course of two discs and dozens of hours of gameplay, fighting and avoiding zombies, demonic animals, near-invincible bosses, and a perverted dysfunctional family.
Veronica later came to the PlayStation 2 and GameCube as Resident Evil: Code Veronica X, so you have a choice of hardware. The atmosphere and the pulse-pounding gameplay and resource management make an excellent introduction not only to the series but to adventure games in general.
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