By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
As a kid, I sometimes helped assemble cash registers for my old man's tech firm. I remember two men who worked in the shop: One had been run over by a bus, and the other told my brother and me that he sometimes thought humans were actually robots, created by other (presumably alien) beings for their amusement. Army of Zin, while really just an improvement on 2002's overly difficult Maximo: Ghosts to Glory, introduces blade-armed mechanical enemies powered by spirits diverted from the Underworld. They drop to earth, chase villagers from their quaint cottages, and generally speaking, fuck shit up. Only boyish gladiator Maximo, armor-clad and bearing sword, shield, and hammer, can save the kingdom from these ghosts in machines. For geeks who warp to Middle-earth via IMAX, such retrofuturist technophobia charges fantasy's frisson. It's Bronze Age romanticism, reforged in silicon.
It always helps to have a sense of humor when collapsing paradoxes, and this Maximo does not miss: Take a big hit and your clothes get blown off, leaving you sprawled in your boxers; big-breasted Tinker, Gearmaster of the Haunted Forest, wears overalls with buttons meant to be mistaken for nips. And the action's as crisp and effervescent as Crystal Pepsi. You rescue busty maidens and cowering men, who then suggest where to chop grass and find coins or locate treasure chests that yap, dog-like, when you kick them open. Free enough souls, and you may call upon friend Grim (as in reaper) to shred mech hordes. Oh, the humanity!
FATAL FRAME 2: CRIMSON BUTTERFLY
The delicate underage twins who drift through this high-minded survival update imperil themselves all too pornographically but pop flashbulbs instead of the typical FPS plasma phallus. As Mio, you follow Mayu into a post-massacre phantasmagoriaa black, fast-cut creepfest equal to most Hollywood horrorcapturing lost souls on your camera obscura while picking up clues like newspaper clippings. There are no bosses to pelt, and the puzzles and plot kinks keep you looking over your shoulder rather than shooting from the hip.
This Final Fantasy experiment, dreamed up by market-hungry Nintendo, introduces a multiplayer mode requiring Game Boys. Loyalists will be disappointed if they attempt this threadbare adventure alone. But up to four chums, substituting GBs for controllers, will cooperate and competeand be forced to communicatein a way that redefines the term role-play. Fulfill individual bonus objectives to progress ahead of your partnersthose bastards!
(EA GamesGameCube, PS2, Xbox) 7
Enemy submarines sit in New York Harbor, tanks roll down Broadway, and femme fatale Tatiana Kempinski delivers propaganda over the airwaves: It's up to Brooklyn plumber Christopher Stone to flush the Soviet army from NYC. By passing medic kits to wounded rebels, bombing the enemy, or raising the Stars 'n' Stripes, you win the loyalty of up to 12 citizen soldiers, who accompany you through large, nonlinear levels. Don't let your freedom go down the toilet!
NEED FOR SPEED UNDERGROUND
(Electronic ArtsGameCube, PC, PS2, Xbox) 8
The newest Need for Speedintroduces the novel ability to exoticize your crappy base-model with conspicuously sporty aftermarket parts, like spoilers. (And I don't mean car-safety guru Ralph Nader.) Engine ups and nitrous tanks unlock automatically, but hustling style-points by drifting around corners and landing jumps opens almost infinite combinations of superficial customizations. No spinners, thoughrace designers have yet to reinvent the wheel.
(EAGameCube, PS2, Xbox) 9
A grimy take on football's combination of chess, ballet, and gay demolition derby: Each pro you send sprawling over benches and into walls has been beefed to cartoonish proportions, and when you've shown off enough fancy jukes and spins, a "gamebreaker" juice-up renders your crew virtually invincible. In the surprisingly good single-player "NFL Challenge" mode, you earn points to build a franchise, choosing everything from the players' mutated genes (10 attributes, plus size) to their speed-enhancing sneakers.
The first Prince of Persia was 2-D; you play The Sands of Timein four dimensions. Plummet into a chasm? Rewind up to 10 seconds and take another leap. This evolution of Enter the Matrix's bullet-time gimmick rounds out the game's spectacularly acrobatic play, which finds you running along walls and climbing, dodging, jumping, flipping, and shimmying around enemies and through obstacles. The impeccably intuitive controls make this feel as magical as it looks. With empires like this, who needs revolutions?
SECRET WEAPONS OVER NORMANDY
(LucasArtsGameCube, PC, PS2, Xbox) 6
One part History Channel, two parts Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, this flyover necessarily sucks much of the life-and-death from war history's grand sweep and anonymous tragedy. Whaddya gonna do? It's the postmortempardon mepostmodern condition. Secret Weapons' assortment of bombing runs, dogfights, and detail missions fly by thanks to an emphasis on arcade-style ease-of-play, but one simply leads into the next. And characters are rendered in black and white: Stoic American Chase (heh-heh), forbidding Germans, pussy Englishmen.
THE SIMS: BUSTIN' OUT
(EA GamesGameCube, PS2, Xbox) 9
While some games inspire religious devotion, only Sim spin-offs require it. In this saucy console debut update, you can take a disco nap, shower, shit, scooter to Club Rubb, grab ass, go homemundane or fun, everything recedes into a heartbeat of flushing, snoring, and Simlish. And whether you join the military or "counterculture," there's a path to follow; adherents to the latter, for instance, need only keep fit and charismatic. That's a world worth having faith in.