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Exercise your thumbs July 1, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Gadgets.

A barrage of exciting video games has hit the shelves.

F.E.A.R (First Encounter Assault Recon) > Never mind the cheesy acronym, FEAR is one of the scariest games I have ever played. The dishevelled little girl, who appears when you least expect her to, is scarier than a werewolf convention on a full-moon night. As a rookie member of the FEAR, a squad to protect the world from paranormal threats, you find yourself helplessly thrown into some genuinely scary situations.

Investigating a man called Paxton Fettel, an all-round scumbag who likes chopping up and eating humans occasionally, you enter a maze of abandoned, dimly-lit buildings thick with poltergiests, ghouls and Fettel’s armed henchmen. However, the odds aren’t ridiculously stacked against you as you’ve got reflexes that are “off the charts”, you can employ a SlowMo power to help you get the drop on enemies. This thin premise for having superpowers also provides reason to send you in alone, more often than not.

As a thrusting young agent you search through the various buildings and offices for blinking lights on phones or laptop computers, to uncover Fettel’s plan and put an end to it. Even though FEAR may deceptively sound like any “survival horror” game, it isn’t. The scare tactics employed in the game leave you mewling like a scrawny, scaredy cat.

Here’s a typical FEAR mission: You’re making your way through a dimly-lit room and suddenly the eerie calm is shattered as a book falls off the shelf. You frantically look around but you’re alone in the room. Through a half-open door you catch a glimpse of someone walking across the hallway. You gingerly move ahead, expecting a zombie to leap at you any moment but … nothing happens; the hallway’s empty too. Suddenly there’s a loud thud and before you even have the time to react, a hideous face flashes in front of you. It’s a relentless assault on your senses.

What makes FEAR better than most horror games is the way the scary bits are lobbed at you when you least expect them, you can never anticipate what’s going to happen at any given moment. Adding to the intensity are the superb graphics, light and sound FX and gameplay. The level design, however, is a tad repetitive, which is perhaps the only niggle this otherwise spankingly good game.

Overall, FEAR is a bone-chilling offering that makes the Blair Witch Project look like a Disney cartoon. You have been warned. Developer: Sierra Platform: PC, Xbox360 and PS3.

GoW II. > The GOW franchise follows the story of Kratos, a Spartan warrior who pledged his life to the Greek god of war, Ares, in return for winning a war. In the first instalment, Kratos fell the mighty Ares to become the new God of War, and the second edition follows the anti-hero on his continued path of revenge. Kratos has fallen from his status and powers, and heads off to find the Sisters of Fate to set things right again.
GOW II’s Greek mythology-derived, larger-than-life set pieces and themes are spectacularly well-designed and grander than before.

The superb combat mechanics of the original are carried over, with Kratos getting a few new moves. Anyone who has played the first game, will immediatly get a grasp of GOW II’s controls. The enemies are also as colourful and imaginatively designed, and just begging to be sliced in half.

Overall, GOW II is arguably the best action game ever made. The original was superb. The sequel is better.

Battlestations: Midway > This Eidos offering is a refreshingly brilliant take on one of the most clichéd subjects in the gaming world : WWII. The single player campaign opens in Pearl Harbour, with the story focusing on the rise of Henry Walker, a gunner of a single PT boat at Pearl. Walker works his way up the ranks to eventually command submarines, fighter jets and whatever else the Americans used to bomb countries, whose names they couldn’t pronounce.

Battlestations Midway starts on a dull note but about a third of the way through the campaign, things start looking up. However, this also requires mastering the overtly complicated controls and strategies. You take control of multiple units and utilise different strategies to defeat the enemy. Do you launch wave after wave of torpedo bombers at an enemy ship or do you engage a cruise missile from fighter planes to ward off incoming air attacks? The choices are vast. They are also mind-bogglingly complicated. Not something a casual gamer would be willing to spend hours on. I didn’t.

Double Dragon > This side-scrolling, co-op fighting arcade game from the Nintendo Entertainment System time is back in all its 8-bit glory. You must have played several street fighting games such as Streets of Rage and River City Ransom, this is where it all began.

This legendary side-scroller, which was the first game where you could take weapons from your enemies, is available on Xbox Live Arcade and goes for as little as Dh20. However, Empire Interactive has completely failed in recreating the spirit of the original arcade Double-D to Xbox Live Arcade.

The title under-delivers and there are plenty of glitches such as crap framerate and bugs. The co-op mode is also useless due to the slowdown in framerate. Sadly, Double Dragon is not half as fun as it could have been. Avoid.

Spider-Man 3 > The Spidey gravy train is on a bit of a roll. Spiderman 3 opened to packed houses around the world and raked in a staggering $148 million in its opening weekend alone. Despite a wafer-thin plot and average performances, the film has opened the floodgates to a barrage of movies based on the web-slinger, Spider 4, 5, 6 and 7 have already been announced. However, despite the flaws, we love the dorky superhero, and that’s exactly why we love everything Spidey, including video games.

Activision’s latest offering, Spiderman 3, follows in the footsteps of the film, which means it’s not very good. There are 42 missions that draw from the movie, the comics and the videogame’s original content. Add to that random events that are thrown at you through the course of the game and there’s enough to make a web-head happier than a robin in spring.

Let’s get to the good bits first. The virtual New York city, which serves as your playground is extremely well-designed and the attention to detail is simply staggering. The hours I spent playing the game, mostly entailed climbing the tallest skyscraper around and then leaping down, slinging a web at the last moment to save myself from becoming a splatter of red gunk on the pavement. It’s a huge laugh.

However, when you do get tired of rescuing yourself, which you eventually will, it’s time to get down to the business of kicking some evil rear ends. Spidey has a variety of moves (swinging, climbing walls, forward dash, etc,) at his disposal that help him keep the city safe. Moreover, a new button-based combat system, a la God of War, adds a new dimension to the previously two-dimensional gameplay. The villians, and there are plenty, the new Goblin, Sandman, Venom etc., are also slightly smarter than before. Boss battles are more imaginative, fighting the new Goblin on his jet-powered surf-board thing, and the Sandman in the underground Metro system, and you have to press certain buttons on cue to get your moves right. It’s more than the frantic button-mashing fest such games tend to be.

Since the game follows the film closely, you also get to unleash the powers of the black Spidey. In his black Spandex, our hero can take, and inflict, more damage, jump higher, run faster and be an all-around pain in baddies’ necks.

However, that’s just about all that is good in Spider-Man3, things start to go downhill from here. My first grouse is the graphics, which even on the Xbox360, are nothing to get excited about. Then there is the sounds FX, or rather the lack of them. In the game, the bustling metropolis is more dead than John Lennon. Add to that the gameplay that makes you feel completely incidental to the plot, every so often you find youself running around the city looking for people to rescue, or baddies to despatch, and there’s little enjoyment to be had here. It’s enough to make a superhero weep. Developer: Treyarch/ Activision. Platform: Xbox360, PS3, PS2, PSP and Gamecube.

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