Come Sail Away

What's new in the online gaming world? Glad you asked: In Thailand, where 600,000 people regularly—sometimes obsessively—play the massive-multiplayer online game (MMOG) Ragnarok, officials have created a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew during which all Internet game servers will be shut down, UPI reports. Here in the land of the free, a Star Wars: Galaxies player, Jedi Zarus, recently petitioned to end the MMOG's same-sex marriage option. "Legal rights aside and civil unions notwithstanding," Zarus posted in SWG's forum, "many view this as offensive to their religion." RandomSHO's response best summed up JZ's overwhelming opposition: "Offensive to their religion? What about an entire game based around the Jedi religion, which allows for super God-like powers? How is that not offensive?" As Yoda once said, "You must unlearn what you have learned." (Then again, Yoda also claimed "size matters not," and we all know that's a load of bull.)


PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN
For PC, Xbox (review copy)
Developer Akella
Publisher Bethesda Softworks
Rating 7 (out of 10)

Captain Nathaniel Hawk's booty
image: Bethesda Softworks
Captain Nathaniel Hawk's booty

Last fall, humor columnist—some would say professional funnyman—Dave Barry introduced Talk Like a Pirate Day, a holiday proposed by two snarky readers. ("As an influential newspaper columnist, I have the power to 'make or break' a national day," Barry wrote. "You may recall that almost nobody celebrated Thanksgiving until I began writing about it in the 1970s." Ha!) But it seems this summer will be the season in which sea dogs finally have their day. Bear with my liberal biases: Between big-boy plundering (cooked corporate books, outlandish executive perks, tax breaks for the rich, etc.) and American colonization abroad (Iraq, maybe you've heard of it), the stars and stripes look more and more like the skull and crossbones Jolly Roger (affectionately known by pirates as the "flaggy waggy"). Inspired by the new blockbuster movie, itself inspired by the Disney ride—the sun never sets on our synergistic empire!—this action-oriented role-playing game nicely figures the timeless cross-cultural pursuit of cold, hard cash.

Your specific role is that of Captain Nathaniel Hawk (parrots are pirates' best friends; not so doves), who starts off with first rank, a neutral reputation, and a class-six ship (there are seven classes, class one being the least maneuverable but most powerful). On land, which you navigate in either the first or third person, you choose assignments and trade goods using tips picked up from colonists at the tavern or town hall. Rounding out your 10 skills (leadership, combat, commerce, etc.) also requires sometimes frustrating sword- and gunfights on land, and difficult but much better designed conflicts on beautifully rendered seas. In the latter, you direct your crew to fire a variety of cannons at enemies, or even board their ships. Besides making personal progress, you must hire hands, choose a complementary hierarchy of mates, explore the Caribbean, and, ultimately, earn cheddar. Giving your neighbors a good buggering simply comes with the territory.



The beautiful women of Summer Heat Beach Volleyball
(image: Acclaim Entertainment)
SUMMER HEAT BEACH VOLLEYBALL
For PS2
Developer Acclaim
Publisher Acclaim
Rating 6

"Welcome to the sizzling hot world of Summer Heat Beach Volleyball, where the sunshine bakes and the booty shakes . . . and the sand is flying like a desert battle," reads this saucy sports title's manual. While it knocks off Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball—in particular, that lightweight but heavily advertised game's emphasis on knockers (shaking booties notwithstanding)—Summer Heat brings gameplay of an entirely different magnitude to the net. Namely, four times as many moves, including power spikes, drop shots, and something called a "pokey attack," which at least sounds sexier than (un)timely references to desert battles.

But the power spiking constitutes the only true action, and the preternaturally conspicuous jiggling the only eye candy. The animation sucks, and the game's most promising aspect—complex plays enabled by your teammates—is undermined by poor artificial intelligence. (Here, at least, brains count more than looks.) Recruit buddies smarter than the program for four-player mode, and they'll soon discover the relative inadequacy of characters given skills over strength. Yar! There be more to sailing than raising one's mast.


Adventure—heh! Excitement—heh! A Jedi craves not these things

Natsume will distribute an American version of Japanese game Chu-lip, in which the player must impress a woman by kissing as many other townspeople (and creatures) as possible, GamePro.com writes.

 
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