Whether it's racing, shooting or are-pee-gee'ing, there's a ton of games to play this month, and the TNL staff is prepared to tackle just about any title given to us. Well, maybe. It seems that the deluge has hit us hard, and we're currently up to our necks in titles, we're sure you're the same way. You know the old saying, right? "So many games, so little time." It's as if they want us to go and declare bankruptcy or something. Luckily, we haven't gone that far just yet, but who knows...
As you may have noticed, several of the games for our Gaming Report this week contain links. Simply click on any of them to find the corresponding review on our site. It's fast, easy and we don't send you a service charge fee for using it. Make the most of it!
∑ ∑ ∑ TNL Staff
I got a bunch of new games this week, so I've been keeping pretty busy with this and work. I got Need for Speed Underground, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Metal Arms: Glitch in the System and R: Racing Evolution.
First, let's start with R: Racing Evolution. I love the Ridge Racer games to death, especially Ridge Racer Type 4, but this is so far removed from the core foundations of the series it's scary. For those who haven't been keeping tabs on the game, it's now more of a sim racer than anything else. Gone are the sweet powerslides and explosive tracks. Enter a somewhat sterile title that adheres to more traditional track design. While the game isn't terrible, it's disappointing that Namco had taken such a drastic turn with the series. The only thing that makes me think this is a Ridge Racer game are the sweet FMV cutscenes and the nice music.
On the other hand, Need for Speed Underground is definitely one of the best racers I've played in a long time. The race types are varied throughout the career mode, which make things really interesting. One race mode has you going around a track, with the last place driver being eliminated after every lap until there's one left. The actual driving mechanics are very arcade-like, a lot like Ridge Racer back in the day. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that NFSU is the game R: Racing Evolution should have been. It's that good. The sense of speed is unreal in this game. Like 1080 Avalanche for GameCube, the whole screen blurs the faster you go, so if you're going 120 m.p.h. down a straightaway, everything will become a blur except for your car. It looks really cool, and gives you a sense that you're driving way faster than you actually are.
I started playing Prince of Persia this week, and it's a great game presentation-wise and visually. The mechanics for the game are also very sound, which is expected since the game was developed by Ubi Soft Montreal, the guys who made Splinter Cell. A lot of the puzzles are really fun to solve, and they aren't nearly as frustrating as they might seem before you try them out. The developers really did a great job in this respect. The only thing I don't like is the combat. It gets repetitive at times because when you defeat enemies, they respawn 3 or 4 times. Very annoying.
Finally, due to Teddman praising this game to no end, I decided to go out and rent Metal Arms. The game reminds me of a crazier, more humourous version of Halo. You control a little robot droid who's thrust into battle against another army of robots. You can also take over other robots and do certain tasks with them. In one area in the first stage of the game I took over a robot, shot out the covers protecting a generator, and then threw myself onto it, causing this huge explosion that killed every robot in the entire room. I walked in and no one was alive, very sweet!
Another couple of weeks have yielded more slow progress on the games I'm playing as well as a pile of games that I'm not playing but would quite like to get to some day. The fall season is possibly the worst time to be a gamer, despite appearances. I used to believe that you couldn't have too many good games until I realized that yes, I actually do have too many to fit into the time I have to play them.
Bought but not (or barely) played: .hack//Infection, Zone of Enders 2 and Disgaea. Thank you, TRU Buy 2-Get 1 Free deal. I had already gotten myself Disgaea and put in a night's worth of play, and liked it enough that I got a second copy for my sister for her birthday. I'm reluctantly putting it on hold for a bit, though. I liked this enough that I don't want to ruin it by playing it when there just isn't time to do it right.
Gridrunner ++ recaptured me just when I was getting over it by the release of a special edition, Gridrunner ++ Arse on Fire. It's a souped-up version that runs faster, with a bigger viewing area, and most addictive of all an Endurance mode. One life, a larger concentration of enemies, good luck. Very few games make me count points and exploit every game trick I can find, and Gridrunner ++ is one of them. Sadly, the Arse on Fire version is now gone from the web, being a Llamasoft special limited thing.
I've put in some play on Midway Arcade Treasures, and though it's a great collection I'm feeling a bit mystified- I could have sworn I read that Moon Patrol would be on it somewhere. Moon Patrol is one of my all-time most played arcade games, and though I admit that maybe it's a bit dated it holds a warm and/or fuzzy place in my heart as the game that ate the most quarters after school, back in the day. You see, arcade games used to be popular enough that convenience stores all had one or two in there (my local 7-11 did a great job for a few years, actually) and for some reason the convenience store across the street from the library had five at a time. It was like an after school paradise where $0.25 could buy 30 minutes worth of entertainment, if you were good enough. It took forever but eventually, I was.
Both Gamespot and IGN said Moon Patrol would be in there, with IGN saying they played it during a game test. At least I know I'm not delusional, but now I need to track someone down and find out where my game is. Urge to kill... rising... I also found Silent Bomber on a trip to the Boston area and did some trades for Doshin the Giant (PAL) and Star Soldier (JPN) for Gamecube. Both are great, both are getting reviews, and life is good.
Something tells me I shouldnít have had all that turkey. Makes a soul lazy and lethargic, and as one tends to gorge on stuffing and other delights, they will gorge in other areas. I know I did; I still donít remember the last time I played so many videogames. It was to the point where I questioned my own utility in playing so much.
The biggest accomplice to a weekend well wasted was Final Fantasy X-2. Sure, itís cheesy as hell. Sure the job system, the most promising part of the game, is busted. Sure itís a cash-run and fanservice extravaganza. Yet for some strange reason, playing it was like playing Final Fantasy III again. I was compulsively playing, half-betting I could finish it with 100% before Monday. Only hit 45%; lame.
Blame the shortchanged dream on Mario Kart: Double Dash and F-Zero GX. Playing the two back-to-back, uninterrupted, for hours on end reminded me how much I like racers. I do so miss playing kart games, arcade-style racers, even the simsÖThanksgiving was a blissful wakeup call of the speed-freak weapon-based gamer within. Now, on to Warp PipeÖ
There were small touches of Wild Arms 3 and Disgaea along the way, but the one game that easily became my personal fav of 2003 is Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. From the moment I turned it on until today, itís a companion on the bus, during breaks between classes, and to tide the RPG hunger over when the PS2 is occupied. Oh, and itís funny; oh-so funny. The amount of attention to the lack of attention paid to Luigi is brilliant. If you even thought Paper Mario was good, you should have Mario & Luigi already. But Iíll get superfluous over it in the review. Until then!
Final Fantasy X-2 (PS2)
After hearing so many good things about FFX-2, I decided to give it a try myself. Although the "singing Yuna" intro threw me off a bit, I was rather impressed with the first few hours of the game. First of all, the graphics are very nice. There is noticeable improvement in the character graphics, especially the facial expressions. And of course, the FMV scenes are gorgeous. The music so far is decent, though nothing for me has compared to the song during the opening credits. The storyline seems interesting, the new battle system is a lot of fun, and it's nice to visit old characters and locations again.
Overall, FFX-2 is very refreshing. It blends old with new in a fun and interesting way. I would highly recommend it to any fan of the original.
Metal Arms: Glitch in the System (Xbox)
Now this is what fun in video games is all about! I don't remember the last time a game has so completely taken me by surprise at how damn good it is... This little third-person shooter came out of nowhere and is delivering the giddiest gaming experience I've had all year.
Metal Arms has often been described as "Ratchet & Clank meets Halo" and I'd say that's a very apt comparison both in terms of the gameplay and the quality of the overall package. As you guide Glitch on his one-robot mission to defend the good folk of Droidtown in Rambo-style warfare against the evil Milbot empire, the game just keeps getting better and better. Newly founded Swinging Ape Studios really hit one out of the park with their first development effort.
The core of the game's shooting and platforming action is very sound, but what really elevates Metal Arms are all the little embellishments that Swinging Ape has dressed it up with. The wide selection of ingeniously desiged, upgradeable weapons and gadgets makes combat so intuitively kickass. The sense of humor is hilarious - cute robots that swear like sailors, a gruff Rip Torn-sounding General who phones in advice during battle, and zany, way over-the-top violence. This game has loads of personality. The vehicle interludes are as fun as the main shooter gameplay, and there are over 40 long mission stages, plus a deep multiplayer mode? This is going to be a very satisfying game in terms of bang for the buck.
There are a lot of high-quality, high-profile games out there for the holiday season, but Metal Arms snuck in under the radar and blew me away like a slingshot-propelled core charge upside a milbot's rusted domepiece. Don't miss out on the sleeper hit of the year... Like the tagline says, "This 'bot's got nuts of steel."
True Crime: Streets of L.A. (Xbox)
Add a full point or two to any review score for this game if you live in Los Angeles. I've been having great fun driving down familiar streets and finding landmarks, friends' houses and apartments, movie theaters and stores I frequent, liquor stores I've passed out in front of, etc. I even had the pleasure of crashing a Hummer into my old apartment building in Westwood!
Considering the ambition of the undertaking, Luxoflux did a commendable job modeling a faithful virtual version of L.A. Often they nail things down to the detail. For example, there was a Ralph's Supermarket in just the right place on Wilshire, and several times I'd think, "There should be a McDonald's right about here..." just to see a "Burger n' Fries" joint pop up at the end of the block. Even some locations that are under construction in real life are under construction in the game.
Westwood is one of the most realistically rendered areas. Having spent a lot of time there, I was amazed at how intricately they replicated it. I was able to cruise by the Mann Village and Bruin theaters, jungle the lawn at Veteran Cemetery, fire some drive-by shots at Eurochow restaurant, and gate-crash the parking lot of the Federal Building. I'm impressed.
Now besides the local color value, I think True Crime is a very fun game on its own merits. Some knock it because it doesn't offer all that the similarly-style Grand Theft Auto games do (no optional taxi missions or rampages here), but why would you want a clone of GTA? The driving, fighting, and shooting gameplay engines are all solid and superior to GTA in many ways, even if they are derivative of other games. And though it can take awhile and isn't necessary to complete the game, upgrading your car, gun, and martial arts will result in a significantly deeper and more fun playing experience. I don't think most of True Crime's harshest critics tried that approach. True Crime stands on its own as a different take on the "crime city" genre that GTA started.
And I have to say that driving against traffic on the 405 while shooting out a suspect's tires feels wonderful after getting home from the real life experience of L.A. area rush hour gridlock... It's video game road rage therapy! I give the game two West Sides up.
This last week saw me fighting a pretty decent cold. Slogging my way to class and work was about all I was capable of doing mentally. There was a birthday party for a friend to attend though. I got him Mario Kart: Double Dash... it was fun for the most part, but damn if those blue shells of death arenít annoying as all hell. So much for superior racing skills. I can see how the game got the score it did from IGN. That doesnít mean the game is bad though! I think a lot of people equate low scores with bad games. I gave Max Payne 2 a C+, and it was a great game. Sometimes a game has to live up to some high standards to win the gold.
Rainbow Six 3
Maybe itís the near constant barrage of ads on Comedy Central, but I put in some time with this game again. Iíve been playing nightly 2-player co-op with a friend. Sometimes it can be very fun, other times itís a bit stacked in favor of the terrorists. Iím not a fan of magically appearing terrorists. Iím also curious why the game has so many guns, yet only a few are any good. Perhaps if you could customize your weapon with your preferred sight/scope ectÖ then the over abundance of guns would make more sense.
We keep talking about playing with other people, but have yet to do so. Mostly because my connection is already a fragile thing, I wouldnít want to slow other people down. Online envy aside, I do wish the game was a bit more graphically crisp, but then again the Rainbow Six series has never been a looker. If I wanted crisp graphics Iíd play Counter-Strike... Hmm... thatís not a bad idea. Still, RS3 has been pretty darn fun to play and the integration of the headset is amazing. Iím curious to see if the new Splinter Cell will also use the headset in its single player mode.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
While it wonít be winning my GOTY nomination, itís an amazing game. For me combat killed the princeís chances of a GOTY sweep: itís fun to do flips and spins and slashes and so forthÖ but the game just tosses too many zombies at you. Killing five to six is funÖ twenty zombies later itís boring. The fact that you have to "suck up the sands" out of the zombies is also an issue; especially when the game has six zombies swinging for you at once. Towards the end of the game I was getting damn right tired of having to fight my way through near endless hordes of zombies. Boring to tears it was.
Combat woes aside the game is very fun. Itís the only platformer I can remember actually beating. I loved the Ďsand visionsí that subtlety let you see how to get past obstacles. The controls were also very slick and for once there wasnít anything blocking my progress that seemed passable. No invisible walls to speak of. I did run into a bit of trouble with one rope swinging puzzle, and there was one puzzle near the end of the game that seemed damn right stupid. Still, an amazing game that in my opinion puts UbiSoft in the top tier of video game publishers