For: PS2, Xbox (review copy)
Developer: Rainbow Studios
Rating: 8 (out of 10)
This game raises more questions than it answers: In what white-trash fantasy-land do buggies and monster trucks join dirt-bike races? How is it eww-metal soundtrack contributors “Breaking Benjamin” and “Hoobastank” sound sort of awesome when you’re backflipping onto your neck? Why doesn’t Rainbow Studios, the big brains behind the MX Unleashed precursor series Motocross Madness, design a Hell’s Angels extravaganza with beer-guzzle and hippie-stab mini-games? I know not the answers (except to the first question—Tennessee). It’s a motocross title that makes you think, sure. But MX Unleashed thrills the way book learnin’ never could, mostly by letting you launch off jumps into the propellers of passing helicopters. I’d like to see Al Qaeda do that with a donkey.
There’s a thousand and one ways to make an ass of yourself in what is the funnest race-trick-crash blowout since last holiday season’s SSX 3. Even when you hit the edges of these huge, open environments, you’re thrown across acres, crumpling into a heap so painfully realistic I wonder why Mel Gibson didn’t force his Christ onto a 500cc cycle. It’s best, of course, to land with at least one wheel in the mud. (Wheelies and stoppies require a scrupulous tipping of your weight at the right speed.) The wild pace through clumps of humps and tight turns—coupled with the split-second timing needed for silly tricks and proper landings—guarantees totally unpredictable races. Think Easy Rider—except much harder!
007: EVERYTHING OR NOTHING
(EA Games—GameCube, PS2, Xbox) 8
The cinema’s about as gripping as any recent Bond, which is to say not at all. But the seamless action—now presented in third person—is spit-shined and ever shifting. You’ll pass through Egypt, Peru, New Orleans, and Moscow, crouching, sniping, rappelling, remote-controlling cars and bombs, and driving weaponized motorcycles and Porsche SUVs. And you have “Bond Sense.” And you can become invisible. But that’s it.
FATAL FRAME 2: CRIMSON BUTTERFLY
The delicate underage twins who drift through this high-minded survival update imperil themselves all too pornographically but pop flashbulbs instead of the typical FPS plasma phallus. As Mio, you follow Mayu into a post-massacre phantasmagoria—a black, fast-cut creepfest equal to most Hollywood horror—capturing lost souls on your camera obscura while picking up clues like newspaper clippings. There are no bosses to pelt, and the puzzles and plot kinks keep you looking over your shoulder rather than shooting from the hip.
FINAL FANTASY: CRYSTAL CHRONICLES
This Final Fantasy experiment, dreamed up by market-hungry Nintendo, introduces a multiplayer mode requiring Game Boys. Loyalists will be disappointed if they attempt this threadbare adventure alone. But up to four chums, substituting GBs for controllers, will cooperate and compete—and be forced to communicate—in a way that redefines the term role-play. Fulfill individual bonus objectives to progress ahead of your partners—those bastards!
IMAXIMO VS ARMY OF ZIN
Really just an improvement on 2002’s overly difficult Ghosts to Glory, Army of Zin boasts action as crisp and effervescent as Crystal Pepsi. Only boyish gladiator Maximo, armor-clad and bearing sword, shield, and hammer, can save the kingdom from blade-armed ghosts in machines. For geeks who warp to Middle-earth via IMAX, such retrofuturist technophobia charges fantasy’s frisson. It’s Bronze Age romanticism, reforged in silicon.
METROID: ZERO MISSION
(Nintendo—GameBoy Advance) 8
Twenty years ago, fans of Metroid for NES suited up on Planet Zebes, blasted Skeeters, chipped away at Ridley and Kraid, and finally outsmarted Mother Brain. Today, America’s 20 million GBA owners can suit up on Planet Zebes, blast Skeeters, chip away at Ridley and Kraid, and finally outsmart Mother Brain—on the subway! (I once saw a hobo do this without a GameBoy.)
(EA—GameCube, PS2, Xbox) 9
A grimy take on football’s combination of chess, ballet, and gay demolition derby: Each pro you send sprawling over benches and into walls has been beefed to cartoonish proportions, and when you’ve shown off enough fancy jukes and spins, a “gamebreaker” juice-up renders your crew virtually invincible. In the surprisingly good single-player “NFL Challenge” mode, you earn points to build a franchise, choosing everything from the players’ mutated genes (10 attributes, plus size) to their speed-enhancing sneakers.
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME
(Ubisoft—GameCube, PC, PS2, Xbox) 9
The first Prince of Persia was 2-D; you play The Sands of Time in four dimensions. Plummet into a chasm? Rewind up to 10 seconds and take another leap. This evolution of Enter the Matrix‘s bullet-time gimmick rounds out the game’s spectacularly acrobatic play, which finds you running along walls and climbing, dodging, jumping, flipping, and shimmying around enemies and through obstacles. The impeccably intuitive controls make this feel as magical as it looks. With empires like this, who needs revolutions?
(Fresh Games/Eidos—PS2) 8
A 21st-century 2D shooter: Your insect-like fighter simply scrolls right, encountering enemies that must be showered with bombs and bullets. Yet 101 customizable crafts provide exponentially escalating ways to counter trickster bosses, some of which grow and change organically as you fight them. There are only six levels—some in space, others that involve going underwater—but many difficult-to-find paths through each. And no quarters required.
SECRET WEAPONS OVER NORMANDY
(LucasArts—GameCube, PC, PS2, Xbox) 6
One part History Channel, two parts Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, this flyover necessarily sucks much of the life-and-death from war history’s grand sweep and anonymous tragedy. Whaddya gonna do? It’s the postmortem—pardon me—postmodern condition. Secret Weapons’ assortment of bombing runs, dogfights, and detail missions fly by thanks to an emphasis on arcade-style ease-of-play, but one simply leads into the next. And characters are rendered in black and white: Stoic American Chase (heh-heh), forbidding Germans, pussy Englishmen.