By Amy Nicholson
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Calum Marsh
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Inkoo Kang
By Voice Film Critics
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
The long-awaited and long-delayed KINGDOM HEARTS II has finally landed. With synchronicity that often isn't seen between Hollywood and game makers, Disney has teamed up with the RPG magicians Square-Enix, the people who make the Final Fantasy series. They've lent everyone from Mickey Mouse to Johnny Depp as crusty Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean to unleash a really thoughtful and deep adventure story. It makes the delay completely worth the wait.
This is a game of full of modern myth, Disney style, in which you travel between various worlds to help the local hero, whether it's Mickey or the Little Mermaid. From the voice acting (which includes James Woods as the big-voiced ruler of Hell) to the soundtrack which includes the Little Mermaid's Jodi Benson, the game is full of pleasant surprises. You'll also meet some of the greatest characters from the Final Fantasy series. Plus, Square-Enix has made some terrific graphics on the soon-to-be-old-school PlayStation 2.
The only game play problem I can see is that to access various abilities and magic gleaned from hanging with the Disney characters, you have to scroll through various menus. This slows down the action. And you sometimes encounter problems with the camera angles, a game development challenge that's generally too ever-present in the world of video games. But the story, full of everything from fairy tales to sword and sorcery magic, makes you feel like kid again. To really understand the worlds of the game, you might also buy the original Kingdom Hearts, which you can get online for as little as $13.
Although it's been criticized as not quite deep enough, I like BLAZING ANGELS for the Xbox 360. Here, you'll "feel like a pilot in a great WWII movie." Sure, it's got great graphics from a pilot's eye view, and you'll love flying over London and Big Ben as you battle. But with 42 different kinds of aircraft and the ability to play with 16 others online, the word intense' becomes an understatement. I went out and bought a mouth guard to stop grinding my teeth from the tension I encountered. If you haven't played an arcade-like WWII war game before, try renting the game before you buy. With attackers coming from every direction and good graphics that are sometime great, you'll have a lot of fun with Blazing Angels.
The best buy of the week is FAR CRY INSTINCTS PREDATOR. Not only does the Xbox 360 game include the original (albeit wonderfully enhanced) Far Cry Instincts, the brand new Predator comes with a wild story that leans toward horror and sci-fi. It's full of action and shooting as you make your way through mysterious islands full of mercenaries, pirates, and warriors. Your character, Jack Carver, has decided to move to the islands for a life of ease and margaritas. Instead, he's injected with a mysterious serum that gives him the power of various beasts. You'll enjoy Predator even more if you have online capabilities. Online, you'll be able to create your own game by editing maps that essentially make for a player-defined game. All three of these games will keep you occupied for weeks on end. Are they better than sex? To paraphrase Bill Clinton, that depends on what the meaning of sex is.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
You know that jones. You know it too well. Sometimes you gotta have a full pound bag of Skittles; sometimes you gotta drink coffee until you grind your teeth. And sometimes you gotta play until you drop. That's the way it is with OBLIVION. And that's because the developers, Bethesda Softworks, have carefully crafted their Elder Scrolls games since 1994. Beyond craftmanship, they have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to using new technology seamlessly. So when Oblivion, the lastest installment in the series, was postponed for the Xbox 360, gamers everywhere drew heavy sighs of sadness. Without doubt, it would have been the killer app when the 360 was released last fall.
Two weeks ago when Oblivion was finally unleashed, palpable joy was everywhere. Not only is Oblivion filled with the most beautiful graphics to date for Microsoft's next generation hardware, it's rife with compelling play that takes the RPG genre to a new level. That's why it's the top selling game in the country. That's why bloggers have moved from ecstasy into rapture when they talk breathlessly about it.
For me, what matters most in Oblivion is its compelling story and the way it unfolds. After an opening movie full of expansive scenery and massive architecture worthy of Peter Jackson in The Lord of the Rings, you start out in a dingy cell being browbeaten by a prisoner whose body you can't see. Suddenly, the embattled emperor of Tamriel (who looks a little like Sen. John McCain after he's made nice with Jerry Falwell) appears with an entourage, and they move through a hidden tunnel in your cell to run from assassins. Although you're told not to, you follow through creepy, catacomb-like recesses beneath the prison. You can almost smell the dankness.
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