Playing this sucker comes as close to the zen feeling Roger Kahn spoke so poetically about in the seminal The Boys Of Summer. MLB 2K5 is a deep, thoughtful baseball simulation that can be wonderfully hard to play. But with three puff-chested nerds from ESPN analyzing your every move, you sometimes want to take the bat to them when you’re losing. That’s a strike against the game (but they do praise you if you’re winning). There are glitches with the replays (which often have the ESPN guys chiming in after the play is seen onscreen). Yet the attention to detail is sometimes like the intricacy of a mandala made in sand. When Bernie Williams fans the air twice in a row, for instance, a loudmouthed fan will yell “Stick to playing guitar,” referring to Williams’ oh-so-average jazz CD of 2003. The only thing this game doesn’t have is a steroid meter, a way to detect the thick-necked thugs who give baseball a bad name (and a way to punish them). Oh, well, maybe next year. Hey, it’s only $20, about half the price of its closest competition.
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.
Developer: Namco Hometek
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 senses—not 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.