You thought it was dead and you were happy about it. But TWISTED METAL: HEAD-ON surprisingly revives a franchise that towards the end really sucked mooseballs. The PSP version, however, is as addicting as Red Bull after midnight. The idea? Souped-up futuristic cars and motorcycles equipped with wild weapons battle it out on intricate and graphically beautiful tracks. The chaotic Los Angeles Freeway arena, for instance, is a joy to behold, with lots of lurid, funhouse-like nooks and crannies to explore. Head-On is the demolition derby/horror fantasy you’ve yearned for when you’ve broken into the codeine and finished American Purgatorio, and there’s nothing to do but play games. Sure, you blast these complexly rendered vehicles to oblivion (so viscerally satisfying) with the guns on your car. But there’s more fun. Each time your car runs into a power-up that hangs enticingly in the air, you have a different way to blow things up. Tip: Load up on homing missiles. Yeh, mascot Sweet Tooth is back, but the game’s so good, you don’t even mind his leering skull clown face.
Remember when you were a small kid and spinning in a circle was so much dizzying fun? WIPEOUT PURE gives you that feeling again. The game is based on the anti-gravity racing franchise that’s been around for almost 10 years, beginning with the original PlayStation. In Pure, it’s the year 2197 and 8 teams of physics-defying racecraft are vying to be the best in the world. Each sleek futuristic craft has its own wild personality of sorts. Some are fast, but don’t maneuver that well. Your airbrakes will help, but they take some getting used to. Some vehicles are slower, but take turns like a charm. As you race, you’ll be running over special pads on the track which let you pick up 10 different kinds of weapons and powerups. Sci-fi billboards have little videos on them as you pass, which is a nice touch of detail. It’ll all give you motion sickness, but with 19 tracks of dance music as you race, what a way to go.
For: Xbox, PS2
Developer: Visual Concepts
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.
DEVIL MAY CRY 3: DANTE’S AWAKENING
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.