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Adventure games are kind of like the best of the indie film genre. Here, you won't get all the big budget action and hack and slash deaths. But you will get a deeper story that's better conceived, something to make you think, something to make you ponder. The best of these games make you wonder what's going on à la Mullholland Drive. The worst, like Sega's old Oblivion, (not to be confused with Bethesda's Oblivion), just confuse you. The thing that makes the three adventure games in this week's column attractive to gamers is the feeling of living in a fantastical virtual world that's seems, well, almost real.
The Final Fantasy series has been around for decades, and, probably, the best of these was Final Fantasy VII," released about 10 years ago for the original PlayStation. FINAL FANTASY XI, an online only massively multiplayer game now available for the 360, expands on the idea that the rabid aficionados of the series want to play together online in a community.
Now, the online thing has been done before with Final Fantasy. But it works best on the 360 because the graphics, one of the mainstays of all Final Fantasy products, looks so good (although not utterly amazing) with the next generation hardware. If you have an HDTV, the wide screen puts all of your online chats and stats to the sides and away from the graphics so you can better immerse yourself in the virtual world. IN FFXI, you'll be defending the people of Vana'diel as you and your friends travel across huge and strange environments on adventures that only a band of brothers (and/or sisters) can deal with. Remember, though, you'll have to pay for the game at retail and then a monthly free to play online. For the average gamer, it may not be worth the price. But for Final Fantasy fans, it's a completely engaging experience.
DREAMFALL, is a horrific adventure tale, full of beauty, magic, and the fear of technology. You'll play as Zoe, a girl plagued by the frightening images she sees. You'll wonder: Are these dreams or terrifying, tragic pleas for help? To complicate matters, Zoe's best pal disappears. Zoe's thrust into the middle of a mystery that plays out all around the world in the past, present, and future. Here, you'll find graphic art that will make your jaw drop, especially when you view panoramas on various continents. The only thing I don't like that much about the art is the kind of big-eyed, almost bug-eyed, look the characters have. And, because this is the second installment in what probably will be a trilogy, there are some plot points left unanswered. So you may first want to play the original in the series, The Longest Journey (which you can get at auction for about $15). But these are the only gripes about a game that is so rich in everything from play to design, it may well astonish you.
Perhaps the most creative of the games is one that's set in Africa. It comes from French comic book artist Benoit Sokol, who's been doing graphic novels and the like for the last 20 years. In PARADISE, you play a woman called Ann Smith, the daughter of a nasty dictator. Ann gets a kind of amnesia, after a plane crash in the African desert. The game, rife with puzzles which pit man against nature, is a point and click PC adventure that leads Ann to discover her true identity. But just because it's point and click doesn't mean it's not intense. It's so full of exotic and frightening locales and scenes, you'll think you're immersed in something like King Kong meets Out of Africa.
With this trio of games, you won't get the constant hack and slash action of, say, Devil May Cry 3. What you will get are fantasies that will stay with you, fantasies about which you may even dream come night timeeven if you've got an Evangeline Lilly/Lost thing like I do.
If you think about the legendary female characters in TV and in the movies, you think the bright, witty Emma Peel from The Avengers, even the quiet power of the Bionic Woman or the steadfast nature of Lt. Uhura on Star Trek. You can even look at Julia Robert's Erin Brockovich as a kind of hero. You don't think of Lara Croft as a well-rounded character, really, not in movies, or in games. That's because Lara Croft is more Wonder Woman meets Indiana Jones than a thoughtful heroine. Lara Croft has been a comic book-inspired action heroine from the get-go. So when the cliché Angel of Darkness showed up as an abominable iteration in 2003, I'd had it with Tomb Raider games.
About two months ago, the good people at Eidos came over to the house to demonstrate their biggest game in years, TOMB RAIDER: LEGEND. I have to say I had my doubts, especially since the series has had its ups and downs, especially with Angel of Darkness. And, franky, the movie versions of Lara starring Angelina Jolie were good, though not life-changing experiences. But the moment the demo came on the screen, I could see how much care had been put into creating the latest Lara. And you know what? This Lara character is pretty darn deep.
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