By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
Last week, they fought in line in Cecil County, Maryland over the Xbox 360, like they were polygons in Devil May Cry III But there were real injuries in this one. OK, the Xbox 360 rocks, but it's no cause for fisticuffs. That's especially true since one of the dirty little secrets of the industry is that the early games in the hardware lifecycle are often wankerama. That's because developers haven't figured out how to take full advantage of the box: this complex engineering process sometimes takes years.
First off, dispense with QUAKE 4; it's not that enthralling on the 360 because the whole concept is of Quake isn't that new. Forget AMPED 3 unless you're one of those addicted snowpunks who feel Adrian Benepe should make a mountain of flakes in Central Park for you to board all winter long. Amped 3 is a convoluted game whose graphics aren't all that.
If you're trying to choose between NEED FOR SPEED: MOST WANTED and PROJECT GOTHAM RACING 3, put on the old Jordans and speed to the store to get the former. PGR3 is a good game, but it feels sterile like Mr. Clean made it. Living in Manhattan as I do, I don't feel the graphics are detailed enough. Of course, I demand a lot: for every store to be labeled, and for every bit of grunge and rust to be shown. I want to smell the acrid stink of the city, and I don't with PGR3.
Need For Speed: Most Wanted, on the other hand, makes racing feel alive: you feel challenged and you yearn to win. You even get geeky about it, yearning to learn more about the mechanic that makes your car win. As you speed, you can almost feel the wind whip through your hair. You can almost smell the pine as you drive through forests.
In KAMEO: ELEMENTS OF POWER, you're a warrior who rescues something called the Elemental Ancestors and tries to destroy the Dark Troll King (no, not Tom Delay). It has such a great amount of varied characters into which you can morph, I felt like I had multiple personalities straight out of "Adult Psychopathology and Diagnosis" (in a good way). The rich graphics really show off the 360's heft, so much so that you might get a crush on the prettier characters. When I stopped fighting and looked at the environment, I felt as though I could see detail for miles and miles, like I'd had a Lasik procedure and my eyes were super-human.
GUN, a jaunty game of six guns, jealousy and retribution set in the Old West, is also available for the other boxes. But here, the graphics are full of stunning panoramas, especially in the HDTV format. You'll be riding a horse a lot as in Dark Watch, but the beauty and terror you see as you gallop make up for the slowness of riding a steed. You won't wake up miming Duvall in True Grit and say, "I call that bold talk for a one-eye fat man" to your significant other. But that's a good thing.
CONDEMNED: CRIMINAL ORIGINS, a game made exclusively for the 360, has an FBI agent tracking down lascivious serial killers. You'll feel as though you're inside Silence of the Lambs, but not Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. In other words: it's creepy, eerie, bloody fiction. Of course, having written a book on serial killers, I damn well know this isn't really the way multiple murderers act in real life. That's a strike against the game since the developers should have done serious research. But Condenmned showcases the way serial killers are portrayed in movies and on TV, as monsters borne of evil and Freddie Krueger.
As Joanna Dark, beautiful bounty hunter and star of PERFECT DARK ZERO, you'll shoot through graphically intense locales around the world. During this time, you'll wish the thin script was written by Charlie Kaufman. Hey, even Shane Black would do. But PDZ really shines online, when you engage in two-player coop mode. You'll move stealthily though all the missions as in the single player game, but the developers have added some surprise, puzzle-filled challenges for you.
Can you hear me roar? I'm just a little disappointed with PETER JACKSON'S KING KONG. While the game's graphics are really florid and occasionally scary (it's like Lost on steroids), the gameplay seems short. Yeh, I love the opening scene, rocking on the ocean à la The Perfect Storm. But it's not that interactive, and it could have been. While it's fun to play as the giant ape, the final scenes including Kong and the Empire State Building should have been imbued with more passion (especially since Jackson wanted to do Kong more than Lord of the Rings ) . . . and mo' better gameplay. In other words, it needs more intelligent design.
Overall, though, caveat emptor. These, generally, are games that cost $60 a pop, 20 percent higher than most games. Be warned that none will induce geek rapture in your soul during every moment of play. But on the occasions that they do, the feeling is pretty darn like Siddhartha Gautama approaching nirvana. Which is not to say you'll follow the four noble truths and becoming a wandering ascetic. Then, you'll have to give up the 360.
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