“I can’t imagine too many kids busting a testicle over it,” writes Matt on X-Entertainment.com, reviewing Nintendo’s 1983 educational title Donkey Kong Jr. Math. No argument there—math sucks, but it won’t cause busted nuts. Which brings us to this week’s industry news, reported in The New York Times: The recently very busy Securities and Exchange Commission is breaking three major video game manufacturers’ balls over what might be monkeyed-with arithmetic. Two of the companies, Activision and THQ, lamely characterize the inquiry as concerning “certain accounting practices,” with “specific emphasis on revenue recognition.” (Acclaim Entertainment is the third corporation that admits to being under investigation.) Stockholders getting hose-jobs—it’s the American ream.
STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC
Rating 9 (out of 10)
“Being evil is addictive,” Dark Intent recently wrote on Knights of the Old Republic‘s online forum. “[But] I find myself in situations where my conscience kicks in and it’s difficult for me to do the bad thing.” One of this role-playing game’s subtle but stunning shadings is the balance you must strike—determined by the characters you battle, powers you deploy, even the conversation you engage in—between being nice and naughty. Unleash, for example, plagues against foes, or make enemies unnecessarily, and your appearance, reflecting your misuse of the Force, gradually becomes sinister. Kevin Marron, who quoted Dark Intent’s post in a Globe and Mail article, suggests that Knights of the Old Republic‘s moral complexity, not for-the-fuck-of-it fragging, is the future of gaming. Hey, as long as you get to kill Others.
Like some great movies—not, for instance, any of the Star Wars episodes—Knights coherently teases out and binds together various lifelike narrative threads while being completely unrealistic. That it’s set 4,000 years before the original Star Wars‘ Galactic Empire basically means that HK-47 looks like a boxier C3PO, and there’s still plenty of Jedis around to fight the Sith. You, future dark- or light-affiliated Jedi, must earn Knighthood, of course, in light-saber and other training sessions worked seamlessly into the game’s trajectory (same goes for the card, shooting, and racing mini-games). The finer points of this progression involve three “character classes”; six “attributes,” including wisdom and charisma; eight “skills,” like computer hacking; and 15 combat advantages known as “feats”—and many of these traits reinforce one another. There are 41 Jedi powers at your disposal, aside from six varieties of weapons. You are affected at any time by one or more of 59 attacks or chosen power-ups—”insanity,” say, or “hyper-adrenal alacrity.” But the well-organized, medium-paced gameplay never seems muddled—even as you switch between or guide your two individualized partners—and the exceptional voice-acting, ever changing dialogue (which you tailor by selecting responses) and truly cinematic cutscenes make the single-player experience nearly as rich as the online interaction. Evil has nothing to do with how addictive it is.
42 dreams of locker-room towel snaps.
(photo: Courtesy EA Sports)
For GameCube (review copy), PS2, Xbox
Developer EA Sports
Publisher Electronic Arts
If it weren’t for the heartbreaking thumb injury I sustained last fall, I’d still be basking in my NCAA Football 2003 glories. But it’s time again to toss around the ol’ pigskin, and I don’t mean Anna Nicole Smith. Like last year’s model, the reality show that is NCAA Football 2004 combines brutal ballet (now viewed through more indulgently helmet-crunching cutscenes complemented by louder, more artificially intelligent cheering), careful play planning, and the boot-and-recruit student turnover drama central to “dynasty” mode. The “basic” controls favor agility over strength; likewise, the “complete” controls (which include quieting the crowd, presumably for the sake of concentration) require good timing and fully functioning fingers—although skill can’t make up for the irritating flaws in short passing. If you think you’ve perfected your game, try re-creating classic moments like Doug Flutie’s 1984 Hail Mary against Miami or 1993’s self-explanatory “Game of the Century.” Or go against fanatics online with the PS2 version. This might be the football game of the year.
Staying up for 48 hours straight playing Everquest doesn’t help
Researchers at Japan’s Akita University School of Medicine have discovered that playing video games before bed reduces melatonin, the hormone that facilitates sleep.