Et Tu, Brute?

The good people of St. Louis County, Missouri, know art—"the Lou" is home, after all, to superstar rapper Nelly. But apparently the area's politicians do not share this discernment. They recently passed an ordinance banning sales and rentals of "mature"-rated video games to minors. Unconstitutionally, it turns out: A federal appeals court overturned the law last week, according video games the same First Amendment protection as books, paintings, and other art. CNET.com quoted the judges as saying, "The county's conclusion that there is a strong likelihood that minors who play violent video games will suffer a deleterious effect on their psychological health is simply unsupported in the record." I wonder which record they meant—Nellyville or Country Grammar?


BRUTE FORCE
For Xbox
Developer Digital Anvil
Publisher Microsoft Game Studios
Rating 8 (out of 10)

Brute Force—set in 2340, when the human Confederation clones great soldiers from the past—suggests a term previously unused in gaming: third-person omniscient shooter. You control a four-member squad, inhabiting whoever you believe best suits the team's needs: "Feral" Brutus perceives hidden enemies and channels Vengar's supernatural killing powers; "human synthetic" Flint resists gas attacks and acquires targets using special eye implants; Hawk sneaks almost invisibly; and Tex carries big guns. Racing games often allow you to choose third- or first-person, sports games let you jump from player to player, and shooter Metroid Prime changes point of view according to which form you take (erect, or rolled into an armored ball). But only Brute Force gives you the choice between a scaly, bellow-ing alien and a sniper with fake—sorry, synthetic—boobs.

Still, you'll probably wind up relying on sarcastic badass Tex, who appears to have been cloned from some descendant of the Bush dynasty. For all the possible methods—Hawk knifing unsuspecting baddies, Flint making long-distance head shots, Brutus appealing to his alien deity—brute force seems to trump them. But leadership counts, too. Whoever you're playing as, the group members must follow your commands to either stand their ground, cover you, fire at will, or move to positions of your choosing. (Unfortunately, you cannot order them to deploy their special powers. Play with one, two, or three of your friends, though, and they'll put your comrades to their best uses.) And with their waving grass and bubbling lava, Brute Force's graphics are even richer than its game-play possibilities. Those synthetics keep looking better and better.


THE HULK
For GameCube (review copy), PC, PS2, Xbox
Developer Radical Entertainment
Publisher Universal Interactive Studios
Rating 6

I practically flew into a rage just trying to obtain this game. First, Universal wouldn't overnight it to me, and then I was rudely refused an instruction booklet when I rented a copy from Blockbuster. "I beat it in one day and didn't even need the manual," a clerk loudly announced. My retort was too clever to repeat here, but the incident got me thinking: What if I could turn green and muscular, then hurl this woman through the store's plate glass window—wouldn't that be awesome? After beating the game in a half-day (nyah nyah!), I realized that yes, it would indeed be awesome.

There's no moral to The Hulk's story—which feebly extends the forthcoming flick's plot—but action-wise, might makes right. As the angry green giant, you stomp around lairs, labs, compounds, and bases, busting up floors and grabbing just about anything to use as weapons—pipes, cars, people, even tanks. Shit cracks, dents, and explodes satisfyingly and without end. The similarly endless streams of soldiers and fearsome gamma dogs are sometimes wearying. Still, lifting up little guys by their necks, tossing them off roofs ("Ahhhh . . . !"), using your hand-clap sonic attack (enemies clutch their ears, swaying), and reducing your surroundings to rubble stay surprisingly fresh. But the levels in which you play the Hulk's sulky alter ego, Dr. Bruce Banner, suck: He only gets to slink around, avoiding guards and solving simple puzzles meant to evoke computer hacking. Me no like! Arrrrrgh!


May we suggest Kill 'Em All?
In 2005, Vivendi Universal will release an as-yet-untitled combat game drawing from "the ideas and the inspiration and the identity" of Metallica, promised Luc Vanhal, Vivendi's president and chief operating officer, in The Washington Post.

 
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