November 29, 2006

Game Dork

As The War Turns

In "Gears of War," mean aliens are nothing but big, heaping piles of ugly. Officially, each alien is a big "locus," all muscles and bald heads and ick. They're tough, too. I shoot one in the head, the chest and the collarbone, and he keeps coming at me. The nerve.

There's a lot of amazing adventure in "Gears of War." But if you're not keen on dying a lot in a game, this masochism is not for you but for hardcore gamers who crave severe challenges.

The "Locus Horde" crawl out of holes on the streets. You, a soldier, never know where they're going to pop up. But at least you have the most promising, evil gun around — a machine gun with a chainsaw attached to the end. Yikes.

Yes, you can walk up to a locus and chainsaw him to death with the tip of your gun. Sounds cool, right? Not so fast. A locus has to be shot a bazillion times to die. And if you try to chainsaw him, he might punch you to death first. You're better off just punching him first.

Isn't that weird? You're playing a high-tech, sci-fi shooting bonanza, and your best weapon of defense is clocking a guy with your elbow.

Otherwise, the point of the game is like it is in any shooter: kill, kill, punch. But unlike other shooting games, you die very easily. This is supposed to be more realistic. I guess it is. But it's also more frustrating, especially when you play the game online.

Online, when you get obliterated, you don't spawn back to life immediately the way you do in other online games. Instead, you wait for the short, minute-or-so battle to end, then another battle begins. That's too much loitering.

There's a note in the game's booklet written by the lead game designer, who claims he wanted "Gears of War" to be more realistic, a la paintball. To that end, he succeeded, except how realistic is it for your enemy to withstand rounds of bullets to the chest?

"Gears of War" could have been a classic. Instead, it's a fun, extremely difficult action world, drawn with beautifully gruesome detail. It's an intense distraction, worthy of playing but not coveting.

On the other hand, "Call of Duty 3" has no tough surprises, and that's good. It offers another bunch of "Call of Duty" battlefields that look beautiful; the smoke-filled, puffy cloud skies; deep wood grains on barns in World War II Europe.

And it's much easier to kill baddies, perhaps a little too easy at times. But when you play it online, it's more satisfying than "Gears of War." You hunt down other gamers on huge, lush battlefields with sniper rifles, machine guns and hand grenades.

Not convinced? Get this. You get to shoot Nazis in outhouses. How do you like that for an apt metaphor?

("Call of Duty 3" for Xbox 360 — Plays fun alone and online. Looks great. Rated "T" for blood, language, violence. Four stars out of four.)

("Gears of War" for Xbox 360, PS 3, Wii, Xbox, PS 2 — Plays mostly fun. Looks amazing. Very challenging. Rated "M" for blood, gore, intense violence, strong language. Four stars.)

New To You — Used Game Of The Week

"Big Brain Academy" is one of the more entertaining games for the handheld Nintendo DS. And it's both completely appropriate for kids and enticing to grown-ups.

The goals of the sub-games in "Big Brain" are to solve puzzles by answering math quizzes, memorizing and parroting sounds, and sorting through symbols. It's more fun than it sounds, just like the math-sudoku game, "Brain Age." "Big Brain" is rated "E".

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

New And Coming Soon

"Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Double Agent" comes out for Nintendo Wii after being released for other systems. It's the latest story of spy meets men he has to silently kill. The Nov. 28 release retails for $50. It's rated "M" for blood, language and violence.

"The Sims 2: Pets" brings the PC life-simulation to Sony's handheld PSP. The Nov. 28 release retails for $40. It's rated "T" for mild violence, suggestive themes and crude humor.

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

Top 10 New Games

Here are the Top 10 best-selling video games, according to retailer Blockbuster. Games are listed by title, company, gaming system and rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

1. "Gears of War" (Microsoft) for Xbox 360; rated "M" (blood, gore, intense violence, strong language)

2. "Call of Duty 3" (Activision) for Xbox 360; also available for PS 3, Wii, Xbox, PS 2; rated "T" (blood, language, violence)

3. "Guitar Hero 2" (Red Octane) for PS 2; rated "T" (lyrics)

4. "Need for Speed: Carbon" (EA) for PS 2; also available for PS 3, Xbox, Xbox 360, GCube, PSP, DS; rated "E 10+" (violence)

5. "Final Fantasy XII" (Square Enix) for PS 2; rated "T" (alcohol reference, fantasy violence, mild language, partial nudity, suggestive themes)

6. "Need for Speed: Carbon" for Xbox 360

7. "Scarface: The World Is Yours" (Vivendi Games) for PS 2; also available for Xbox; rated "M" (blood, gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs)

8. "Tony Hawk's Project 8" (Activision) for Xbox 360; also available for PS 2, Xbox, PSP; rated "T" (blood, mild violence, alcohol reference, crude humor, language)

9. "Dragon Ball Z Budokai: Tenkaichi 2" (Atari) for PS 2; also available for Wii; rated "T" (cartoon violence)

10. "Madden NFL '07" for Xbox 360

(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone;" "T" for "Teen;" "M" for "Mature 17+")

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