Got Blood? Or Seek the Original
Combine the bloodiest aspects of Kill Bill with the grace of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the hardcore idiocy of Bully and you have the personality of DEVIL MAY CRY's half-devil, half-human hero, Dante. With swords and guns, he'll bloody every hell-demon in sight with ballet-like moves and a thug-ish attitude. DMC, the original, took gaming a step forward with an advanced fighting system and a wild story. DMC 2 sucked; it simply wasn't ready for prime time gaming. DMC 3 may well be the best because it's got sibling rivalry at its disgusting heart and it's way more challenging than its precursors. You say you want blood? You haven't witnessed blood until you've played this particular Mature-rated game.
It's difficult to believe that the fighting game, Tekken, (iron fist in Japanese) has been around for 10 years. During the course of a decade, it's lost something to the amazing Soul Calibur, which was so deep, it was like a religion unto itself. TEKKEN 5 offers a 3D fighting system, but it doesn't let you move around with alacrity in a circle ala Soul Calibur. Yet you get 30 fighters of every discipline in lurid environments that'll astound and spook you (although there could have been more attention paid to detail: everyone seems to die in the same arched-backed agony.) Then there's fighting Christie Montero, who reminds me of Cathy "The Bitch" Brown meets J. Lo. Thankfully, she just punches and kicks, and doesn't sing attempt to sing blandly like her possible real life inspiration. Also included is the original Tekken to let you see where it all began, back in the day.
For: PS2, Xbox
Developer: Bits Studios
"Smile pretty, you vain prick." So begins this horror shooting game based on a predictable movie starring a snarling Keanu Reaves (which is based on a comic book from DC/Vertigo). The wonderfully gross part about Constantine is getting to go to hell, which is chock-full of odd demons like the Bastados, two ugly, dying former humans fused into one who can pump you full of green hellfire. And, hey, I'm Keanu Reaves, who my girlfriends always wanted me to be, trying to protect the world from chaos. Yet it's the gameplay that bogs down Constantine. There's not much that's new here to challenge the sensesnot the puzzles, not the way you kill the demons. Devilish fun it's not.
GRAN TURISMO 4
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Why would a Manhattanite care about a racing simulation game? New Yorkers don't race. Sure, you've seen intoxicated idiots go at 100 mph on the FDR, but generally we don't really speed that much. For me, playing racing-sim games is tougher than any such drunken pedal-to-the-metal antics, like threading a microscopic needle with the naked eye. That's the challenge, the allure. Gran Turismo 4 may be the best sports game ever coded for the PS2, full of staggering detail right down to the folks who stand by the side of the road to cheer you on. Here, you have to get a racing license before you start your B Spec car racing career, and even that's a maddening venture. There's also the most eclectic soundtrack ever to hit a game Bach to Van Halen to Jet. Even though I don't usually like racing games, this is 700 cars of fun and worth buying just to take a test drive in the latest Prius before you buy the real thing, or to drive the Ford Model T. The people who made this game are true craftsmen, like master diamond cutters; they got almost everything right. If only the cars would take damage when they got hit, it'd be perfect.
SHADOW OF ROME
For: PlayStation 2
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 2
It's 44 B.C. and Caesar's been offed. So let the Roman bloodletting commence. This history-influenced action game centers around the relationship between solider-warrior Agrippa and the murdered Caesar's retribution-minded nephew, Octavianus. Of Octavianus, old-ass historian Suetonius wrote that he "felt that there was nothing more important for him than to avenge his uncle's death." So, Agrippa is the head-chopping violence-monger, and revenge-seeking Octavianus is the furtive one, slyly listening in the shadows to gain information and assume the lofty position of ruling heir. I love Agrippa's slashing ways but I've grown tired of stealth characters like Octavianus since there've been so many in games the past two years. Admirably, Capcom's got the history pretty much right; the graphics are good; and the chariot races kick butt in a classic Ben Hur-meets-Gladiator way. But playing as Octavianus slows things down. You feel that he's the guy who fiddled when Rome burned.
WINNING ELEVEN 8 INTERNATIONAL
For: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Developer: Konami TYO
This is pretty much the most unwaveringly realistic soccer simulation series available, and even the numbers are simply amazing: 57 national teams, 80 Euro club teams, 4,500 players. You can even play the game in Spanish if you like. The nail-biting tension, as in the best hockey games, is palpable, especially when you're able to keep the score low. This year, in addition to more photo-realistic soccer heroes, you'll find you can more accurately control your player as he tries to fake-out the nearest opposition. From the absorbing training modes to the addicting career modes, this is soccergritty, exciting and sometimes frustrating. Now, if they would add those nasty melees in the stands, it'd really feel real.
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