Wind Breaker

Sarcastically deployed by countless "clever" writers such as myself since the onset of Gulf War II, the once sublimely arrogant phrase "shock and awe" shriveled like the Republican Guard. But Sony, bless its earnest corporate heart, was not content to let the proud campaign name fade into cloying anti-war cliché. Up until last week, the conglomerate—having applied to trademark the locution one day into Desert Storm Deux—planned to release a PS2 game in online, video, and PC formats titled, you guessed it, Shock and Awe. Some potential customers, needless to say, found this in poor taste. Afraid of tarnishing their image as an industry-swallowing behemoth fixated on the bottom line, Sony apologized and killed the game. How unfortunate. The coalition of the willing might've counted among its virtual supporters broadband-connected nations that don't have "Micro" in their names.


The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
For GameCube
Developer Nintendo
Publisher Nintendo
Rating 9 (out of 10)

The Legend of Zelda's Link realizes where that spider went.
image: Nintendo
The Legend of Zelda's Link realizes where that spider went.

Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of the Rings, Marilyn Manson, The Legend of Zelda, online anything: What connects these cultural artifacts, besides fans who can't get laid? For fear of getting whacked by the trench-coat mafia, I'll not attempt to summarize sci-fi and so forth, only suggest that geek genres are as much about human potential as escapist fantasy. These fictions don't concern character (Luke Skywalker might as well be Rambo) but complex alternate realities—all the better for intellectually curious misfits. Who can't get laid.

And what better medium is there for cardboard cutouts traipsing through three-dimensional wonderlands than the video game? Anyone who's sat through The Two Towers and loved it knows—or believes, anyhow—that immersion, not action, is everything. (They're used to not getting action.) The Legend of Zelda franchise, generally considered to be gaming's greatest series, follows the same meandering trail. Not chapter of a narrative so much as vignettes connected by general setting and mood, the progression's installments have always relied on elastic trajectories through mysterious worlds interspersed by diverting games-within-the-game, battles, and discoveries of objects whose uses reveal themselves later. For fans, this is better than the sex they're not having.

The shrewdest new aspect of The Wind Waker is its cartoonish graphics. Flawlessly executed, the sweetly surrealistic look evokes classic titles from earlier platforms, sugar-high Saturday-morning tube, and Japanese anime's threatened innocence. In search of his kidnapped sis, main character Link boards a dragon gondola who sadly admits he has the "power of speech" but no sail (not, at least, until Link scores him one). Considering the depth of gameplay, it only makes sense for The Wind Waker to take place principally on a minutely detailed ocean, under, above, and on top of which await innumerable, non-linear challenges and rewards. Balancing action and immersion, you conjure your own story. But you still can't get laid.


Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell
For Xbox, PS2 (review version), GameCube
Developer Ubi Soft
Publisher Ubi Soft
Rating 8

Hyper-realistic but for its untimely focus on Eastern European terrorists, this new-for-PS2 Xbox fave shares its meditative movement with The Wind Waker even though you're sticking to a strict script. Let's plot this version's one unique level. As NSA agent Sam Fisher, a classic Clancy badass, you must tap a nuke facility's communication center, which links Georgia's corrupt government (that'd be the former USSR, not home of Hotlanta) to a boring, non-Al Qaeda terrorist cell. I'd tell you more, but then I'd have to kill you.

Ha ha ha! Only kidding. (That is, unless this poison newsprint already came off on your hands.) Using your night- or heat-vision goggles, optic-cable cam (for full body searches, colons included . . . you wish!), lock picks, electric shocker, handgun with silencer, grenades, and intimidation tactics to get keypad codes, you must creep through the complex shooting surveillance cams and hiding the bodies of attentive guards you've capped or KO'd, then distract an automatic heat-sensing gun turret with a flare and trigger a meltdown alert. That sort of thing. If this game were any more realistic, you'd have to hold in your farts.


Strangely, You Don't Get to Shoot a Clubgoer in the Face and Pin Your Crime on Shyne

Sean "P. Diddy" Combs is planning a game modeled on his life as a big-shot hip-hop executive, the New York Post reports.

 
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