By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
Well, it's creepy and it's kookie. Really. One of the unexpected delights of the summer is the animated kids' movie, Monster House. Actually, the idea doesn't sound so hot: a strange house comes to life, angry and hungry. But the way the flick is so deftly animated and the way the story keeps you interested and thrilled makes it a winner (especially if you see it in 3D).
I didn't know whether game maker THQ could pull of the frights in the movie. That's because its last movie-into-game, Cars, was bland at best. Yet I was pleasantly surprised when I played Monster House. Not only do you feel as though you're moving through an amusement park fun house where lamps try to grab you and trees break through windows to squeeze the life from you, you'll get scared, too. That's right: adults will be frightened. So, while this is a game for kids, adults will enjoy playing it with their sons and daughters, too.
Within the bowels of the house, you'll play each of the three characters in the game, the occasionally bold hero, DJ, can-do smartie Jenny, and Cowardly Lion-like Chowder. Each character is armed with a water blaster gun to destroy, say, evil chairs that come to life and attack you. You'll be traipsing through a house that's full of the detritus of the years, even a greenhouse that, says the grossed-out Chowder, "smells like my grandfather's trailer." It's this kind of humor (voiced by the movie's three child actors), interspersed with the action-horror aspects, that makes the game (and movie) a winner.
That's not to say Monster House is one of the year's best games. At certain points, the monsters in the house repeat: you'll be fighting against a lot of chairs, and that can be boring. While the game has been assailed elsewhere for its unstable targeting, I didn't find this to be that much of a big deal. What the game lacks in camera angle stability and targeting, it makes up for with ease of play and imaginative action that makes you want to continue on in the game. You can finish the Monster House fairly quickly, in about 10 or 12 hourswhich is a consideration if you expect more game play for your buck. However, there's a fun unlockable once you collect a bunch of toy monkeys along the way. You'll get to play an old school, 2D side scroller game called Thou Art Dead.
But what did bother me constantly was the lack of the ability to save the game whenever you want to. As an obsessive 'saver,' I didn't like the fact that you must move to save points in bathrooms to reclaim your progress should you decide to quit. Saving things at a bathroom checkpoint should have been flushed before the release of Monster House. It's a waste of time.
In the Nintendo DS version of the game, you'll have 54 rooms to explore and shoot up. What I was most enthused about was the amount of monsters that ends up on the screen at the same time. They've really squeezed a lot out of the tiny DS' processing power. You won't get the same audio as you do in the console versions, however. Instead, you'll have to read lines of dialog. But there's nothing wrong with reading. Unless it's James Frey you're looking at.
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Venom Games
Platform: PC, Xbox 360
Turn on, tune in, shoot 'em up. If Timothy Leary and HR Giger spawned a video game, they surely would have come up with something like Prey. That's because Prey is like one long night with various entheogens courtesy of the Mazatecs of Mexicowith a dash of Alien to add some horror-rich paranoia.
Certainly, first person shooters can be more boring than watching reruns of The Simple Life. But when it comes to Prey, the creepy, long-delayed game from developer Venom Games, the action comes fast and furious.
And like your mother's fanciest birthday cake, the level of detail and care here is impressive. In fact, in the first hours of the game, you'll be awed. You'll even get a War of the Worlds panic attack as you listen to real-life radio talk show loon Art Bell as he takes calls from freaked-out Americans.
The premise? Everyone has been sucked up into a mammoth, living spacecraft, the blue whale of UFOs, bigger than anything you've ever seen.
That's not so different. So, why was Prey worth the decade-long wait? For me, it was the promise of a complex story. Yes, Prey conjures up thoughts of the Alien movie series since it takes place in a spaceship filled with monsters. But there's a spiritual tale here, too. Tommy, the Native American garage mechanic you play, is an anti-hero with a mystical side. As Tommy, you'll be armed with a Hunter Rifle, the first weapon you'll use. The rifle has long range ability and, with your sniper scope, you'll aim with the precision of Jesse James. Other weapons are, well, alive. Grenades are actually crabs, for instance. Strange, but the idea works.
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