What in the name of Gillian Anderson was David Duchovny doing when he made the bomb Connie and Carla? Thankfully, AREA 51 is no such nonsense and even though it’s derivative of Halo and Doom III, it still proves the truth is out there, way out there. Here in his best role since The X-Files, Duchovny is kind of like Mulder meets James Dean, brooding but brave, at times witty. With a sometimes industrial soundtrack courtesy of former Nine Inch Nails drummer and programmer Chris Vrenna, the game rocks when you’re surrounded by your HAZMAT band of brothers, seeking to clean up an alien-infested government installation. It’s when you go on alien-finding missions alone that the dang thing becomes an ordeal: Less like The X-Files and more like “The X-Trials.” The game picks up at the end, though.
While the N-Gage still has its problems as a phone, there’s no better mobile for playing video games. Case in point: TOM CLANCY’S SPLINTER CELL: CHAOS THEORY. It’s a 3D wonder with enemies that seem to have their own artificial intelligence (no small feat on a system that uses an MMC-like card). Yeah, it’s sometimes old school in that you’ll get text in a box to move the story along and the controls are sometimes slow. But these levels are all brand spanking new; Stealthy ole Sam still has a bad attitude and you gotta love the way he rappels, just like in the Xbox game. If you loved Chaos Theory, you’ll relish the new stuff in the N-Gage version, too.
Developer: Q Entertainment
Someone wake up Alexey Pazhitnov. LUMINES is the best thing that’s happened to the Tetris concept in 10 years. There’s so much emotion involved in play that you feel like you’re drinking high-grade iced sake mixed with Penguin caffeine mint-enhanced-Red Bull. Everything’s a whirl of media, like watching TV while listening to MP3s while playing PlayStation 2. Make a move and your Tetris-like blocks add music to an already rich soundtrack full of everything from new age music to electronica. Don’t be seduced by the screen’s ever-morphing background art. For instance, one level shows a space station view of our angry blue planet spinning from space. Then, the earth changes color. Then . . . well, forget that particular Harpie of computer code. There’s a game to play, bucko, one that wants to defeat you as each second passes. You gonna let a little processor get away with that?
For: Nintendo DS
This is your brain on crack. There’s so much constant reasoning here that even math geniuses will find POLARIUM challenging (albeit fun). Polarium‘s tones are subtle monochromes, not surreal Pokemon colors. While it’s your mission to eliminate blocks as in the classic Tetris, Polarium is less a race against time than a game of head-fracturing logic. Using the DS’s innovative touch screen and stylus, you have to find a way to flip the tiles on a black and white grid so that they become the same color. And if you think that’s easy, I got a book called Cryptnomicon for you that you can read in one minute flat.
LEGO Star Wars
For: PS2, PC, Xbox
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Leggo my LEGO! Don’t groan. The newest Star Wars video game gets its inspiration from LEGO, the manufacturer of those decidedly low-tech toy blocks, the ones I wanted to grind into the head of the local bully when I was a kid. LEGO STAR WARS is actually more creative than some of LucasArts’ recent Star Wars titles. They don’t converse much, these toys that have become video game heroes; in fact they don’t say anything. It just goes to prove that the Star Wars plots, although sappy and predictable, are so action-packed, you don’t need dialog to move the story along. Sure, the game could have been longer. But they’ve stuffed so much story and action in this puppy, it’s a terrific way to bone up on series plot points you may have forgotten—and to get ready for the big movie premiere. Go ahead, play: You’re not too cool for this.
NFL Street 2: Unleashed
Publisher: EA Sports Big
Developer: EA Canada
Forget the fact that the affably manic but ultimately uninspiring Jeremy Shockey is the cover athlete. Even if you already bought the console version of NFL STREET 2, this is different beyond the fact that the game plays in wide screen wonder. You get modes like Street Slalom, Style Point Challenge and Style Standoff to make it almost worth the price of admission. You can even climb up walls to catch a pass. Too bad you can’t unlock last year’s cover guy/retiree, Ricky Williams, and have him practice some Ayurveda on these Bluto-like defensive ends. That would’ve added some sardonic glee to the humor already in the game.