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The Place For Games and all New Game Reviews

New Game Realeses, Updated 11/6/04

days 'til Christmas 2004
Halo 2 Review []
"Halo 2 is a lot like Halo, only it's Halo on fire, going 130 miles per hour through a hospital zone, being chased by helicopters and ninjas," explained Jason Jones, head of Bungie Studios. "And the ninjas are all on fire, too." Halo 2 continues the story of the Master Chief, the genetically enhanced super-soldier who is the only human ever to successfully defy the Covenant--a coalition of alien races on a murderous march toward Earth. Their defeat at the ancient Halo artifact was only temporary, and they are pursuing their goal--the complete obliteration of humankind--with renewed zeal. Human military forces are exhausted and unable to stave off the Covenant's rapid advance toward Earth. Even with the Master Chief back in action, the situation looks dire--and this is at the beginning of the game, before things get even worse. In true Bungie tradition, the solo campaign in Halo 2 deepens and expands upon the story that began in the first game: old questions will be answered, new mysteries will unfold, and the truly epic nature of the story will finally be revealed.The Master Chief and his space-marine allies return to battle the full complement of Covenant forces, as well as not yet revealed foes. Halo 2 expands the Master Chief's already substantial arsenal with powerful new weapons, many pried from the twitching claws of his defeated enemies. There will also be yet more drivable vehicles, giving players new ways to speed into battle or explore the game's vast landscapes.Halo 2 surpasses its predecessor in graphical beauty and combat intensity, thanks to a completely new graphics engine designed specifically for the Xbox. "Our code squeezes every drop of power out of the Xbox," said Chris Butcher, one of the sequel's engineering leads. "We're doing dynamic lighting and shadows, per-pixel everything, rendering gigantic, lush environments. The graphical features we're using are so advanced we don't even have buzzwords for them yet." In addition to an epic single-player campaign, Halo 2 allows multiplayer via split-screen play, System Link, and Xbox Live. "We still have the multiplayer game types that people loved in Halo, but we're planning something special for Halo 2," hinted Jaime Griesemer, lead designer of Halo 2. "I don't want to ruin the surprise, but imagine the essential Halo single-player experience: pitched battles between the humans and the Covenant, massive vehicle and infantry engagements. Now imagine that every combatant is an actual person playing over Xbox Live!" The Halo 2 online multiplayer experience will feature squad-oriented team play, real-time voice chat, and extensive community support.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Review []
How do you follow up a runaway success like 2001's Grand Theft Auto III? Rockstar North responded a year later with GTA: Vice City, a game that took the gameplay of its predecessor and expanded it considerably. At the same time, Vice City gave the series an extensive and amazing stylistic makeover, drenching the experience in the sights, sounds, and attitude of Miami, Florida from the mid '80s. So where do you go from there? You take it statewide. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas expands the series' concept to encompass three entire cities, as well as the countryside between them. The gameplay similarly expands, packing in some explosive set pieces and amazing action-movie-like thrills while maintaining that same remarkably fun, freefom GTA feel. In short, Rockstar has done it again. San Andreas definitely lives up to the Grand Theft Auto name. In fact, it's arguably the best game in the series.This latest installment takes place in 1992 in the West Coast-themed state of San Andreas. San Andreas is an island containing three cities. You'll begin the game in the city of Los Santos, which is based roughly on Los Angeles and consists of a mixture of ritzy downtown areas and the gangland ghettos of South Central. San Fierro is based on San Francisco, reproducing the real city's hilly terrain and ever-present fog. The game's third city is Las Venturas, which is a great take on early-'90s Las Vegas, complete with a strip full of casinos and the surrounding desert. While one-to-one measurements against previous games in the series are difficult in practice, San Andreas definitely feels like a much, much larger place than Vice City ever did, but at the same time, the growth is handled intelligently. There are plenty of things to do both in and out of the cities, which makes all this real estate matter.While Grand Theft Auto III was inspired by movies like The Godfather and Vice City took several pages from the Scarface playbook, San Andreas draws its inspiration from the ghetto and gangsta struggle films of the early '90s. Movies like Menace II Society and Boyz N the Hood are the clear influences here. In San Andreas, you play the role of Carl "CJ" Johnson. The game opens with Carl returning to Los Santos after spending the last five years in GTA III's Liberty City. But his homecoming isn't a happy one--he's returning home because his mother has been killed. Carl isn't on the ground for more than an hour before he's picked up by a pair of crooked cops and thrown right back into the middle of the street life he left Los Santos to avoid. Your first order of business in Los Santos is to put your set back on the map. Your gang, the Grove Street Families, has fallen into disarray over the last five years, and their influence is minimal at best. So you, along with the three other leaders of the gang--the long-winded Big Smoke, the dust-smoking Ryder, and your stubborn brother, Sweet--set out to take back the streets from your rivals, the Ballas, who have turned to dealing crack to earn money and gain influence in the hood. You set out on a series of missions to take back your territory, starting small with things like spray-painting over other gangs' tags (which is one of the many new types of actions that replace previous GTA games' more-generic hidden package collecting here), but quickly moving up to drive-bys and other acts of extreme gangsterism. But there's a whole lot more to San Andreas than just set tripping. Just when you think you're getting used to gang warfare, everything goes sour. We're certainly not interested in spoiling the game's many interesting plot twists, so we'll leave out the details, but it should suffice to say that you'll eventually need to get the heck out of Los Santos. You wind up in the country outside the city, where you'll encounter many more great characters and officially embark on your quest to put right what's gone wrong. Once you get out of Los Santos, you won't really have to worry about gang warfare for a while, and the game settles down into a more GTA-like feel.Like the previous games in the series, San Andreas features a fairly linear story that takes you through the game's areas. You'll start off restricted to Los Santos--something the story justifies by claiming that an earthquake has taken out the bridges and roads that link Los Santos to the surrounding area--but it doesn't take long to unlock the other two areas. The game also throws in some pretty great surprises in the form of characters from previous entries in the series. These characters tie the GTA games together really nicely, so while San Andreas feels pretty different from the other games in the series, it still feels like you're playing in the same universe. As in the previous games, most of your progress is accomplished by completing missions for a variety of individuals. These missions are oftentimes similar to missions you've seen in previous games in the series. You'll drive people around, take out specific individuals (an early mission gives you the straightforward objective of beating up a crack dealer, for example), do drive-bys on your enemies, and so on. But as you proceed through the game, the missions get crazier and crazier. Along the way you'll pull off a daring casino heist, steal some wicked military hardware, "take care" of plenty of Mafia bozos, and much, much more. The missions in the game are a lot more exciting, on average, than they have been in some previous GTA games. Additionally, the game is a lot better at spelling out what, exactly, needs to be done. It does this with onscreen text that color-codes each specific piece of a mission differently. Yet while the basics of the gameplay--taking on and completing missions--are similar to past GTA games, there are plenty of details to uncover, and plenty of new things to try.The first addition to the game is the ability to ride a bicycle, which you encounter almost immediately upon starting the game. You'll ride it like any other vehicle, but you'll find that tapping the X button makes CJ go faster. This is true on foot, also, as holding X will make you sprint, but tapping it makes him super sprint. The melee combat is a bit deeper now, as you can block and execute combo moves with the square and triangle buttons, respectively. The targeting system has received a slight overhaul that makes it look more like the targeting in Manhunt, but it's functionally very similar to the system in Vice City. CJ is also a little more athletic than previous GTA protagonists. For one thing, he can swim, both on the surface and underwater, which causes a breath meter to appear near your newly redesigned health meter. And if CJ's in shape, he can jump up and climb over high walls.Yes, that's right. CJ needs to stay in shape if he's to perform at his best, which is a new feature for the GTA series. The game keeps track of a lot of different statistics that increase and decrease as you play the game. Your physical fitness is the most overt statistic, as you're able to work out in gyms to work on your muscle and stamina ratings, and you'll have to occasionally eat to prevent your muscle stat from occasionally draining a bit. Eating, however, can increase your fat statistic. CJ's body shape will change, depending on what you do and for how long. While this might sound like a whole lot of busywork, it's actually a very small part of the game, and the best way to handle it is to spend a few minutes working out in the early parts of the game to build up your muscle (giving you a bonus to your melee attacks) and your stamina (which dictates how long you can sprint before getting tired), and then eating occasionally to maintain the ratings without gaining too much fat. You really don't have to spend too much time on it, and earning the ability to sprint for long periods of time makes getting around (and getting away) much easier. The game also tracks a lot of other statistics. Respect is a big one, as it's what you'll be earning the most of as you complete missions. Not all missions earn you money, but almost all of them are good for a slight respect bonus. A higher respect rating lets you recruit more and more gang members to follow you around and shoot at rival gangs, which is another new addition and a nice perk, but not something that comes in handy very often. You're also rated in a lot of different vehicle categories, like driving, riding motorcycles, bicycling, and piloting aircraft. As you use a vehicle, your skill with it slowly increases, which seems to tighten up the controls a bit. In the case of motorcycles, it also makes it less likely that you'll fly off the bike in a wreck. Your bicycling skills translate into higher bunny hops. Similarly, you're given stats for every type of firearm in the game. You'll start with poor skills with all weapons, but don't let the tag of "poor" fool you--CJ's skills feel roughly the same as Tommy Vercetti's when you first squeeze the trigger. After getting in some time with a weapon, you'll upgrade it to "gangster" level, which extends your lock-on range with the weapon, speeds up reloading, and in some cases lets you walk around while locked on. Upgrading your skill with a weapon to the highest level, "hitman," takes a relatively long time, but it extends the lock-on range and speeds up reloading even further, and it also opens up the ability to dual-wield some one-handed weapons. Unloading two full clips of submachine-gun ammo is extremely satisfying here.Probably the best part about the game's stat system is that it's all extremely subtle. It would be easy for something like exercise and eating to monopolize the game, but in practice you really don't have to think about it. All you really see is a quick pop-up in the upper left-hand corner of the screen whenever a stat changes, and if it's changed enough to make a big difference, the game offers a text description of what has changed and what that means for you. You will have to think about your stats a bit when you come across the first flight mission, as the story won't proceed until you've gone through flight training. The training program is frustrating, but once you pass it, the flight controls seem to tighten up a bit, and you'll have had enough practice to make it through most of the flight missions without too much trouble. The other time you'll think about stats is when you first take on a mission that requires swimming. If you haven't leveled your lung capacity up to a certain point, you simply won't be able to continue. Up until that point in the story, though, you haven't had to go underwater at all, so at the beginning of the mission you'll have to spend some time going underwater and resurfacing until you've developed the lungs required to swim out to a boat and silently kill everyone on board. But enough about statistics. The important thing about GTA: San Andreas is that it's insanely fun to play, regardless of how you decide to play it. The missions are less frustrating this time around--there are still plenty of challenging objectives for you to meet, but the game does a better job of pacing the missions and keeping you informed about what you're supposed to do next. As a result, players who might not have been able to complete Vice City will have a better chance of finishing San Andreas' story, but at the same time the game never really feels like it's too easy. Experienced players should be able to make their way through the game's epic tale in 35 to 40 hours, though if you've been playing Vice City every day in anticipation of this game's release, that number could conceivably fall as low as 25 to 30--which is a pretty lengthy adventure, any way you slice it. On top of that, players who stick to the critical story path and ignore all the side stuff will finish the game with a completion percentage somewhere in the 50s, so obviously there's a lot more to San Andreas than just getting out of the hood and building a criminal empire. Even players who devote all their time in GTA to causing mass destruction will still have a great time here, though you may want to play through the story long enough to unlock the game's other areas. And this time, you'll be able to start trouble with a friend.One of the many interesting wrinkles in GTA's gameplay is that the game now has a two-player cooperative mode. Now, before you get too excited about this, you should know that you can't actually play the entire game with a friend. Instead, you'll run into little two-player icons in certain spots in the gameworld. Walking over one with a second controller plugged in lets you start up a series of special objectives that work sort of like the rampage icons in previous GTA games. You and a friend will be able to wreak havoc in a car or on foot, though the game requires that both players remain on the same screen. While the concept of a multiplayer mode in GTA is pretty mind-blowing, the implementation here makes it more of a fun little addition that, along with all the other crazy things you'll come across as you play, contributes to the feel that the game has a million different things for you to uncover. OK, while there aren't quite a million side missions in the game, it seems to come pretty close, offering everything from a basketball minigame, to pool games played for money, to arcade machines that pay homage to classic games like Gyruss and Gradius. Some of the missions that have been with the series for years reappear here. When you enter a police vehicle, you can hit the R3 button and take on some vigilante missions. The same thing goes for fire trucks and ambulances. If you get into a moving van at night, you can embark on a home-invasion mission, which is a stealthy task that requires you to enter a home and make off with some goods without making noise. Walking when crouched is the order of the day here. You'll also find an assortment of races, ranging from the good old dirtring to well-hidden mountain-bike challenges. Another interesting facet of the game is that you'll get to hook up with a variety of women. The story requires you to dabble in the game's dating system, which sets you up with specific women at different points in the game, but there are plenty of other girls you can take out, if you have the look and style they're searching for. Dates are usually pretty simple: You pick up the girl, and usually she wants to eat. It's up to you to drive her someplace. If she's thinking lobster, but you're thinking Burger Shot, the date's not going to go particularly well, but there are a variety of nice places to go. You don't usually take any control during the date other than driving her to the location and back to her house, but if she wants to go dancing, the game launches into a simple Dance Dance Revolution-like timing minigame. In an awesome touch, this same type of minigame appears when you enter a lowrider-hopping contest, which is a good way to earn a little extra cash. The Grand Theft Auto series has always been rather stylish, visually speaking. Vice City did an amazing job of capturing both the look of Miami and the feel of the mid '80s. San Andreas has to live up to that standard while creating four unique landscapes--one for each city, and one for the countryside between cities. Fortunately, the game does this very, very well. The parts of Los Santos that you call home have a very realistic ghetto look that fits perfectly. The other cities in the game also look a lot like the towns they're modeled after, but the most dramatic difference occurs when you leave town. The countryside is unlike anything you've seen in previous GTA games. The winding country roads, the small towns that pepper the landscape, plenty of off-road action, and lots of nice-looking foliage make these areas look pretty amazing. Outside of Las Venturas, the area is much more desertlike, which also looks really great. And there's no loading time separating up all the landmass. The architecture looks outstanding, and the game has some new effects to match. The old trails effect from Vice City and GTAIII is history. Now, you'll see everything pretty clearly, but when you're in warm areas, the game has a nice heat-shimmer effect. When you're moving at or near top speed in a car, the screen blurs a bit, which does a fantastic job at conveying an extreme sense of speed. Also, the game takes on a grainy, filtered look when it rains, which also looks really good. The character models throughout San Andreas look very good as well, though some aspects, like the characters' blocky hands, look a little weird at times.It's not all fun and sun when it comes to San Andreas' graphics, though. As in previous GTA games, the frame rate in San Andreas is pretty unstable. It always runs at a playable rate, but depending on what you're doing, how fast you're doing it, and how many other objects are onscreen, the frame rate can vary wildly. Additionally, there are some occasional level-of-detail issues, where you'll be able to get pretty close to an object before its "looks good up close" texture can load in. This sort of problem will probably vary, depending on the condition of your hardware. If your PS2 is new and fresh, you probably won't see it too often. But if your system has seen better days, it might have trouble keeping up with you when it comes to streaming in the new textures and landscapes. The draw-in distance seems a lot further out than Vice City's, but you'll still see some structures pop into view, especially when flying overhead at high speed. But even when you take these issues into consideration, San Andreas delivers a really impressive-looking graphical package on the aging PlayStation 2 hardware. The sounds of San Andreas are, as you'd expect, many and varied. The game does a really strong job with things like engine noises. Vehicles like jets (yes!), fast cars, and motorcycles all deliver deep, throaty tones that make them sound as fast and powerful as they really are. Gunfire sounds about like you'd expect, and the game's Pro Logic II support does a fine job of positioning the audio properly. San Andreas doesn't have DTS support, as Vice City did, but you probably won't notice any real difference. On the other hand, you'll surely notice how the quality of the voice work has improved since that game.In a story-driven game like San Andreas, the voice cast has a profound effect on the story's impact. Rockstar has assembled a fantastic cast for the game that, down to a person, does a great job with the dialogue. While there are definitely some recognizable names on the cast list, the game doesn't go overboard in this respect, casting a relatively unknown rapper by the name of Young Maylay in the role of CJ--and he delivers an excellent performance. MC Eiht, an inspired inclusion to say the least, does a great job with the role of Ryder. Samuel L. Jackson does some fine work in the role of the dirty cop, Officer Tenpenny. Comedian David Cross is pretty funny in the role of the nerdy hobby store owner, Zero. Peter Fonda is very strong as a hippie/conspiracy theorist known only as "The Truth." Charlie Murphy, best known for his appearances on Chappelle's Show, does well in the role of a pimp named Jizzy B. Even Ice-T turns up as a rapper named Madd Dogg. But the best role in the game goes to James Woods, who is absolutely incredible in his role as Mike Toreno. To mention too much about his role in the story would give away a plot point or two, but your time spent with Toreno--both in the cutscenes and in the actual missions that surround this segment of the story--is some of the best and most uniquely rewarding that San Andreas (and, therefore, Grand Theft Auto) has to offer.The in-car radio was one of the most effective tools that GTA: Vice City used to make the game feel like it took place in the '80s--having hours and hours of great music to choose from was among the game's most noteworthy features. San Andreas contains some pretty strong radio stations, but the overall selection is a little too scattered. The rap station, Radio Los Santos, is the most fitting, at least for the gang-related segments of the game. With songs from Dr. Dre, Compton's Most Wanted, and Tupac Shakur, this station does a good job of sounding like Los Angeles radio, circa 1992. The other stations, however, don't set the tone nearly as well. There's a classic-rock station, a classic-rap station (Did classic-rap radio even exist in 1992? Heck, does classic-rap radio exist today?), a country station, an alternative station, a funk station, a talk-radio station, and so on. While the rap station and the alternative station do passable jobs of delivering the music of the era, you'll probably be able to quickly rattle off 10 or 15 songs you would've liked to have heard instead. With the inclusion of things like a country station and a classic-rock station, it almost seems like the game's developers felt the need to offset the game's thuggish subject matter, and ended up with a soundtrack that isn't quite as cohesive as Vice City's. One neat thing is that the radio sounds different depending on which vehicle you're in--so, for example, the radio will sound appropriately tinny on a dirt bike. You can even go purchase a bass boost for your car at the mod shop, but considering the disposable nature of vehicles in a Grand Theft Auto game, we recommend you save your money. Also, it's worth noting that the radio stations are the same, regardless of where in the gameworld you are. It would have been neat to have seen some of your station selections change as you drive from one city to the next.The DJs on the radio do a good job, and the radio commercials feature the same style of tongue-in-cheek humor that you've come to expect from the series. Some celebrities make appearances as DJs. Public Enemy's Chuck D plays the DJ of the classic-rap station, George Clinton mans the funk station, and Axl Rose turns in a low-key but appropriate performance as the DJ of the classic-rock station. The talk radio in the game is, for the most part, pretty good. The most impressive thing about the talk station is that the news breaks update as you play the game. So you'll hear updates about, for example, a "mysterious" ship full of dead bodies found floating out at sea shortly after that swimming mission of yours. Lazlow returns with some great "celebrity" interviews, but you'll also hear a sports show, a matchmaking program, and a gardening show whose host is played by the never subtle Andy Dick. Usually, when a game tries to do a million different things, it's an overambitious hodge-podge that can't manage to get its different parts down cold. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has you doing many, many more things than any previous GTA game, and while some of them do work a little better than others, the strength of all these different gameplay elements--too many to count--makes for a powerful package that does not disappoint, despite the extremely high standards that Grand Theft Auto established and that San Andreas needed to live up to. With its strong story, well-written dialogue, terrific voice cast, impressive graphics, great in-game sound, and extremely entertaining and varied gameplay, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a stupendous thrill ride that shouldn't be missed.
The Sims 2 Review []
The sequel to the best-selling PC game of all-time! In the The Sims™ 2, you direct your Sims over a lifetime and mix their genes from one generation to the next. You set your Sims' goals in life; popularity, fortune, family, romance or knowledge. Give them a long, successful existence or leave their lives in shambles. Take them to extremes, from getting busted to seeing a ghost, from marrying an alien to writing a great novel. Unleash your creativity with the all-new Create-A-Sim, new building options, and the new in-game movie camera. Get ready to mix their genes, fulfill their dreams, and push them to extremes. What do you want to do with your Sims' lives? Mix Genes: Your Sims have DNA and inherit physical and personality traits. Take your Sims through an infinite number of generations as you evolve their family tree. Fulfill Dreams: Your Sims now have purpose in life. Do they aspire to a life of popularity, fortune, family, knowledge, or romance? It's up to you to decide if they will be a lover or a loser, a prince or a pauper, a fool or a mastermind, and many other choices. Give them what they want and they'll lead a long, successful existence; indulge their fears and risk ruining their lives. It's all in your hands. Push The Extremes: Will your Sims be left at the altar and need a shrink, or inherit a fortune and become filthy rich? Witness the big moments that make every Sim's life uniquely memorable. Unlimited Creativity: Generate unique Sims with the new Create-A-Sim, packed with a vast selection of facial features, hairstyles, and outfits. Build dream homes and design neighborhoods with new building, design, and home furnishing options. Revolutionary Movie-making: Make your own Sim films with the all-new movie-making feature. Create the cast, set the stage, take control of the camera, and capture your own screenplay in action. Zoom in close to record every detail as your very own Sims sitcom unfolds.
Silent Hill 4: The Room Review []
Silent Hill is a town where pure evil permeates the air and the soil and eventually consumes the people. It's a soothing vacation spot that masks demon-worshipping cults and dark purpose. Each of the previous titles in the Silent Hill series of horror games has either outright taken place in the titular small town or has gradually been pulled there through some terrible inertia. Silent Hill 4: The Room breaks this trend, because it takes place in the neighboring city of South Ashfield and centers mainly on an ill-fated apartment building, a cursed apartment, and the man who lives in it. That's not the only series tenet the game breaks. Silent Hill 4 pairs third-person and new first-person gameplay with an emphasis on combat and item management. The resultant hybrid has some flaws, but The Room retains the dark, disturbing soul that is the unsettling center of the Silent Hill experience.The unfortunate hero of Silent Hill 4 is Henry Townshend, a man living what used to be a content life in the city of South Ashfield. One night, Henry begins to experience intense, recurring nightmares and terrible headaches concurrent with his apartment apparently becoming cursed. His phone is dead, his neighbors can't hear him when he calls, his windows are sealed shut by a mysterious force, and his door is blocked as well, albeit by a not-so-mysterious force. Thick chains thoroughly web the only exit, with an important additional detail: They're bolted to the inside of his apartment. Scrawled in red on the door's interior is a note that only says, "Don't go out!! Walter." While exploring the confines of his single-bedroom apartment to fuel his confusion and despair, he discovers a ragged, man-sized hole in his bathroom wall. Faced with a dearth of other options, Henry gathers his courage and crawls through the strange portal, hoping to find an escape route. What he finds instead will lead him on a convoluted journey that will reveal the sordid past of his apartment--Room 302--as well as the identity of Walter, the man responsible for sealing Henry's room. As mentioned previously, Silent Hill 4 encompasses two gameplay modes: a first-person mode that you'll use to guide Henry around his apartment and a third-person mode that you'll use to explore the alternate worlds Henry will visit by entering portals. While in Room 302 and in first-person, you can look around wherever you'd like. When you position Henry's view over an area of note or over an item that he can interact with, a small eyeball icon will appear in a corner of the screen. You can press a button to investigate further. Sometimes you need to be careful about what area you're viewing, because certain parts of the room will have multiple focal points. For example, you can either test a window to try to open it, or you can peek out the window to check out the lovely South Ashfield skyline and the windows of apartments opposite you. At the chained door, you can test the doorknob, check the area at the base for notes slipped underneath, or look through the peephole to keep an eye on what might be going on outside. You can miss certain perspectives if you're not careful, so you'll need to experiment with views at various levels to make sure you're seeing everything, which can get tiresome when you're trying to use the peephole and instead keep reading the message on your door. The apartment itself gradually changes over time, making repeated peeks at various objects in your room worthwhile. In fact, Room 302's degradation as the game progresses is an integral part of Silent Hill 4's experience, since new information slowly comes to light, and things become decidedly more sinister.The more traditional, third-person action sections of Silent Hill 4 take place in various dreamlike, alternate worlds that you'll reach by squeezing through one of Room 302's portals. You'll explore the environs of a subway, a forest cult compound, a hospital, and more as you move on, picking up a number of different weapons, healing items, keys, and other useful knickknacks. Something you'll notice very quickly is that you've got a limit to the number of items you can carry at one time. The game attempts to justify this with a vague statement about not becoming overburdened in this alternate universe, but the outcome is that you're going to spend a lot of time picking things up and then finding a return portal to your room (which contains the only storage solution in the game) so that you can re-sort and then go back. Furthermore, items don't stack. Want to carry two healing drinks of the same type? They each take up a space. Want to bring along 20 additional rounds for your pistol? That's one space for the pistol, and two spaces for the two 10-bullet reloads. As the game wears on--and you've got to carry various keys, puzzle items, a weapon, and a healing item to and fro--this starts to become a chore. You can't discard items, either, so it's not even an option to drop something that's perhaps expendable to pick up something you might need. And when your room becomes a more dangerous place later in the game, having to revisit it often can be a hazard. At least you can try to insure yourself when you go back--Room 302 also has the only save spot in the entire game. All this exploration isn't smooth sailing. Silent Hill 4 sports some creepy-looking baddies that attempt to foil you at every turn. Unlike previous Silent Hill games, in which fighting ultimately could be said to take a backseat, Silent Hill 4 throws enemies at you in sometimes great numbers, forcing you to engage in lots of combat. While avoiding enemies remains an option, it's an increasingly difficult feat to pull off, because you've got what are oftentimes narrow spaces, multiple foes, and an aggressive artificial intelligence that can make blitzing through enemy-ridden areas more health-costly than just squaring up with your steel pipe or pistol and clearing your way. In the later parts of the game, you'll be escorting someone through all this danger, and you'll want to keep her from being attacked too much, so you're painted into a bit of a corner. If you run, you can end up leaving her behind--and she'll get gnawed on. Your fighting abilities are rudimentary. You can choose from a selection of melee weapons (an obscene number of which are golf clubs) or a very small number of firearms. You'll press the right trigger to get into a battle stance, and then you'll press a button to whack or shoot away. Henry will aim automatically at whatever happens to be closest at the time, and you can execute a jump-dodge move to try to avoid incoming attacks. When you manage to get an enemy down, you'll have to stomp on it to ensure that it's dead, which ends up making combat seem like a bug-crushing simulation after you've stepped on your 20th foe. Some of the enemies in the game are actually spirits, which happen to be unsettled ghosts that float around and don't even have to attack you to cause damage. When a ghost appears, you'll hear a high-pitched static whine (roughly equivalent to the radio static you'd hear in other Silent Hill games), and your screen will start to turn red and become grainy. If you just stand around doing nothing, Henry will clutch at his temples, and his health will begin to drain. Additionally, ghosts cannot be killed permanently without a special item to actually impale them to the floor, so you'll be trying to avoid most of them anyway. Like the vast majority of console games that make it to the PC, Silent Hill 4 is meant to be played with a gamepad (more specifically, in this case, it's meant to be played with a dual analog gamepad similar to the ones found on console systems). The default keyboard and mouse controls just don't fare that well in an environment of constantly shifting perspective views that can make navigation frustrating. With all the nasty, demonic critters running around, the ability to maneuver and strike them with as much precision as possible is of utmost importance, as is the ability to quickly change weapons or use items. The default control scheme is simply not sharp enough for effective combat, though it's perfectly adequate for roaming around your apartment. For all the mobs of enemies and constant item-ferrying, the game takes about 10 hours to complete on normal difficulty. You will receive one from a possible four endings that are based on a combination of what condition your apartment is in by the end of the game and how the character you had to escort about has fared. Finishing the game once allows you to get an additional weapon and alternate character outfits, though there are not many of these extras. Most people who go through the game again will likely be trying to get the best ending possible rather than shooting for a nurse outfit, anyway. Survival horror games often indulge themselves in graphical detail, and Silent Hill 4 is no exception. The game looks its best in corroded, bloody, gritty environments, like the damp, steel halls of the water prison or the subterranean subway layers that, at one point in the game, are walled in living, moving flesh. There are only a couple of areas in the game that employ any of the notorious Silent Hill fog, and those seem to do so as an homage to previous titles by accenting a long, spiraling climb or blocking your progress when you're carrying a cursed item. The characters in the game are often very well detailed facially, though their movements seem somewhat stilted, and the animation is not quite as smooth as it could be. The room itself sees some great effects, from the warping of a small section of paint in the shape of a face, to a cluster of wailing demon children plastered to a wall, to a spirit crawling out of a dark, dripping portal. There's certainly no lack of unsettling imagery, which stays true to the Silent Hill formula. The game has been optimized well for the PC, and aside from the odd wall or floor texture that doesn't look so good up close, the visuals in Silent Hill 4 are great. This version, in particular, is the best for counting all that stubble on Henry's bemused, world-weary countenance. It's worth noting that all this detail comes only on a DVD disc, so if you want to check out the Silent Hill experience, you'll need a DVD-ROM drive on your PCThe ambient and creature sound effects are often very important to horror games as well, and the sound in Silent Hill 4 is great, for the most part. Creatures all have their own distinct calls, footfalls, and death rattles, and the environments are peppered with nice ambients like dripping water and gusting wind--or even something as simple as an object clattering to the ground. The voice work in the game is uninspired but solid, with the exception of Henry himself, who has an incredibly milquetoast delivery and seems to never get emotional about anything, despite the fact that his apartment is horribly cursed. The haunting main theme is one of the only pieces of music you'll ever hear in the game, and the times that it plays are few and far between. That's fitting, though, for a horror game that seeks to create mood through subtle sounds in the environment rather than through music. Silent Hill 4: The Room is an interesting sequel; it attempts to branch out in several areas of gameplay and setting, while remaining true to the psychological thriller style that's always set the Silent Hill series apart from more action-oriented scares. While not all of the changes made necessarily serve to enhance the series, the dark, gripping storytelling is what allows this game its Silent Hill credentials. If you're an existing horror fan or a Silent Hill fan, Silent Hill 4: The Room is certainly worth looking at. Just make sure you bring along your dual analog gamepad to ensure that all your terror is generated from the cursed setting--and not from the controls.
Star-Wars: Battlefront Review []
"It is a period of civil war." These words, taken from the beginning of the original Star Wars, neatly sum up the premise behind Star Wars: Battlefront. A team-oriented shooter from Pandemic Studios and LucasArts, Battlefront bears more than a passing resemblance to Battlefield 1942, only with characters, vehicles and settings taken right out of the Star Wars films. Released this week for the Xbox, PS2 and PC to coincide with the release of the original trilogy on DVD, there's some good fun to be had with the PC version, but it's lacking just enough polish for it to be considered on a par with the Unreal Tournament and Battlefield series. Like the Battlefield series, Star Wars: Battlefront is a fast-paced action game featuring two teams fighting for control of capture points around each map. It's essentially a first-person shooter, although you can switch to third-person view at any time (which is especially helpful while piloting vehicles). Each team starts with a set number of "reinforcements" which tick down as players are killed or control points are taken over; once a team runs out of reinforcements (or one team controls all the capture points simultaneously), the battle ends. Vehicles like the AT-AT walkers help separate Battlefront from similar titles. The sixteen maps included with Battlefront cover all six movies in the Star Wars universe (including next year's Episode III). Some pit the Rebel Alliance against the Empire; others, set during the prequels, have Separatist battle droids facing off against the Republic clone army. It would be hard to mistake the maps as anything other than Star Wars: while many of the maps depict battles that never actually happened on-screen, it's easy to recognize environments like the deserts of Tatooine, the outdoor platforms of Bespin or Hoth's Echo Base (one of the game's standout levels). Battlefront allows you to play as one of five classes within each of its four factions. While each team has general soldier, heavy weapons and sniper classes, there are also unique units like the Empire's Dark Troopers, who can jetpack in short bursts, and the Separatists' droidekas, which can curl up into a ball to speed from place to place, just like they did in Episode I. Each of these units has its own strengths and weaknesses, but things are balanced so that none is too powerful and all of them are useful. Even the pilot class, which at first glance seems a little weak, has powers like the ability to regenerate the health of any vehicle he happens to be controlling, making him pivotal on certain maps. The Empire lets you play as a variety of Stormtroopers, including this Scout class. And yes, Battlefront sports plenty of vehicles. From the AT-ST "chicken walkers" to the towering AT-ATs from The Empire Strikes Back, X-wings, TIE fighters, speeder bikes, Tauntauns and landspeeders, there are plenty of vehicles to be found in Battlefront. One map -- Geonosis -- has all the crazy vehicles seen at the end of Episode II, plus a few we've never seen before. The controls tend to be a little stiff (you might want to get a joystick for the starfighters, a la Battlefield pilots), and you can't swing the third-person camera around as you can in games like UT 2004, which makes control awkward at times. Still, there's something special about dishing out punishment from an AT-AT... or taking one down with the tow cables from your snowspeeder.engine developed in-house at Pandemic, assumedly to facilitate all the various platforms as well as the gi-normous vehicles. Cosmetically, the game looks fine; the graphics aren't jaw-dropping by any means, but as a first-person shooter, it does the job. The character models look great, ragdoll physics provide the occasional chuckle as a grenade sends a player fifty feet across the map, and there some nice lighting and shadowing effects. Animations tend to be a bit on the clunky side, especially with some of the vehicles, but on the plus side, the PC lets you crank things up as high as 1600x1200, and even at that high resolution, the single-player still ran solidly on our mid-range test machine. Aside from this, Battlefront borrows from many games in pursuit of a unique blend. When players die, they leave behind little health packs, and you can also get a boost from medical droids at your base. When you reach a capture point, a small meter appears on the screen showing you how close you are to taking control, and a small mini-map in the corner shows the status of all the points, your teammates, and even enemies within view. There's no built-in voice support for the PC version, but there are voice macros preset to the F5-F12 keys like "follow me!" or "enemy spotted!" Some maps have an optional twist of having NPC heroes like Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker running around helping each team, but otherwise, it's a pretty unapologetic Battlefield clone. The new engine that powers Battlefront is capable of some attractive water effects. Offline, Star Wars: Battlefront offers the opportunity to play against computer-controlled "bots" in three modes: "Instant Action," "Campaign," and "Galactic Conquest." "Instant Action" is just that: pick any of the 16 maps and hop in. There are two separate campaigns for the two separate trilogies, each following a linear progression, while "Galactic Conquest" lets you conquer the universe one planet at a time in a more open-ended fashion. At first, you'll think the bots aren't that bright, and in some respects, you'd be right. These opponents (or teammates) don't have much regard for their well-being; they'll run straight at you or stand out in the open, waiting to get shot. And yet, the bots seem to know enough about each map to make the overall experience fun. If you climb into the tail position on a snowspeeder, your computer pilot is smart enough to fly towards an AT-AT and loop around so you can take it down with your tow cables. In fact, the bots can even fly starfighters competently -- they won't be bulls-eying womp-rats or anything, but you won't see them continually flying into walls (as many of us did when we first started playing Battlefield 1942). The computer-controlled bots aren't brilliant, but they're smart enough to help you take down AT-ATs. When you add in all the characters, locations, and sounds from the Star Wars universe (inlcuding John Williams score blaring away the whole time), the bots are just good enough to make every single-player battle look like something straight out of the films, and you get to be the hero. Granted, it's not that hard to beat the bots, and you probably won't want to do it again once you've finished, but the single-player mode provides a surprising amount of fun when compared to what similar games in the genre usually provide. surprisingly, has more problems than the single-player. You'd think this would be the strong point of a game like Battlefront, and to be fair, there are times when it's a lot of fun. However, some poor design decisions and technical problems keep Battlefront from the elite tier of online shooters. First, joining a game online using the built-in server browser is an exercise in futility. Trying to highlight a server and connect is practically a mini-game in itself (in fact, there's a bit of basic mouse/keyboard functionality missing from the game's interface, which we'll assume is an artifact of simultaneous development for the PS2 and Xbox). Once you manage to connect to a game, lag has been an issue in many of our matches, even on our office T1. LucasArts is reportedly aware of several of these issues and a patch for the PC version is expected soon. Battlefront lets you play as the rolling droidekas from Episode I. Once you get into a game that's running smoothly, there's a lot of fun to be had. Unlike the PS2 and Xbox versions (which support 16 and 24 players respectively), the PC incarnation of Battlefront officially supports 32 players, and we've seen servers running as many as 50 (40 is the biggest server we've joined so far, and that was with a few extra bots thrown in to round things out). On maps like this, the action is fast and furious as teams swarm back and forth for control of key locations. Once again, this isn't particularly novel for the PC until you add in some of the unique Star Wars vehicles, when the game starts to take on a life of its own. Unfortunately, there's a growing problem of "spawn camping" on maps with mid-size vehicles like the AT-STs and battle tanks. Instead of capturing points, players will sit safely inside their vehicles and wait for enemies to respawn, blowing you up for a cheap kill the second you pop into view. These vehicles are so well armored that you really need a flurry of missiles -- or another equally powerful vehicle -- to take them down, and it sucks the fun out of the game when you wait 10 seconds to respawn, only to be killed and again. Plenty of multiplayer games spawn players with brief invulnerability specifically to avoid this type of thing; it's hard to imagine why it wasn't implemented in Battlefront. (We're hoping it will be addressed in a patch.) The "Bespin: Platforms" level is loaded with X-wings, Y-Wings and TIE fighters for classic dogfighting. Regardless, the maps we've had the most fun with in Battlefront are the ones that put the vehicles to greatest use. This style of game may be new to console players, but for PC veterans of Team Fortress and UT 2004 and Battlefield, it's the presence of TIE fighters and AT-AT walkers that'll grab your attention. It's a shame the multiplayer suffers from the problems it does, or Battlefront would be an easy recommendation. As it stands, there's still some good fun contained within the single-player, and, if you're lucky, you'll find some good multiplayer matches as well. If you're a Star Wars fan and need to have the PC version, do yourself a favor and wait to pick this up on sale once all the patches have been released; after all, any game that lets you pick off Jawas and Ewoks can't be that bad.
NEW REVIEWS Added 11/5/04
Metal Gear Solid:Snake Eater Review []
If any one game series encapsulates the new era of the more mature video games which have emerged since the beginning of the PlayStation era, it's Metal Gear Solid. Its complex narrative and equally complex and varied gameplay redefined the way people looked at video games and even if the immediate sequel managed to upset the delicate balance between storytelling and interaction, Metal Gear Solid 3 doesn't look likely to make the same mistake twice. Taking a real back-to-basics approach, Snake Eater is set in the '60s and sees you controlling Solid Snake (or at least someone that looks like him--and is at least not Raiden from the MGS2) in a storyline that has yet to be fully revealed. What we've seen of the game shows a much greater emphasis on stealth than ever before, with Snake being vastly outnumbered and appearing to spend most of his time creeping through the jungle, dropping down on guards from out of the trees and hiding in plain sight using a variety of specialised camouflage suits. The sub-title is less nonsensical than you might think as well since Snake must hunt and eat animals--including, you guessed it, our no-legged friends--to keep his stamina up. Overall the game seems more realistic than ever before (you don't even get the enemy radar to use all the time) and should assuage those jaded by Metal Gear Solid 2's more self-indulgent moments. Snake is back, and he's never looked better
Goldeneye: Rogue Agent Review []
Why Save the World When You Can Rule It? Why save the world when you can rule it? GoldenEye: Rogue Agent™ goes where no previous James Bond™ game has dared to tread, giving you the chance to cross over to the dark side of the Bond universe to experience life as a ruthless and unpredictable villain. The focus of this first-person shooter shifts from that of 007™ himself to the corrupt underworld and its criminal masterminds. As an aspiring 00 agent dismissed from MI6 for reckless brutality, you’re recruited by Auric Goldfinger in a ruthless war against Dr. No for control of the Bond underworld. A brutal encounter with Dr. No costs you an eye, but Goldfinger’s technicians replace it with a gold-hued, synthetic and upgradeable eye, earning you the name ‘GoldenEye’. Wreak havoc as you make your unrelenting rise through the ranks of villainy. Encounter such legendary allies and enemies as Oddjob, Dr. No, Goldfinger, Scaramanga, Xenia Onatopp, and Pussy Galore on globe-spanning missions of vengeance and demolition. Villains rule in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent. Key Features Your upgradeable synthetic eye introduces new methods of mayhem as you master an entirely new level of interaction beyond traditional FPS mechanics. See enemies through cover using MRI vision, manipulate electronics and weapons using the EM Hack, deflect damage with the Magnetic Polarity Shield, and send enemies flying across the room with the Magnetic Field. E.V.I.L. AI™ engine motivates enemies to react intelligently to your actions and their surroundings to make every shootout more believable, intense, and unpredictable. Exploit over 100 different weapon combinations through the dual-wield gunplay system. With independent triggers, your two-fisted arsenal can be customized to be lethal in any encounter. Go head-to-head with the most villainous of the Bond underworld using the robust melee system. Take a hostage, throw your enemies, or knock them out with one punch. Fully integrated single-player, multiplayer split-screen, and online gameplay for the PlayStation®2 computer entertainment system and Xbox® video game system from Microsoft Over 20 intense multiplayer arenas including free-for-all and objective-based team missions. Fight with and against legendary villains and Bond girls such as Oddjob, Dr. No, Goldfinger, Scaramanga, Xenia Onatopp, and Pussy Galore Travel to famous Bond locations such as the top of the Golden Gate Bridge from A View to a Kill, the Pyramids from The Spy who Loved Me and the Volcano Lair from You Only Live Twice as well as original locations including The Octopus and The Midas Casino. World-renowned DJ Paul Oakenfold is composing an original score and creating the game's overarching musical personality with hard-driving, rhythmic beats hand-crafted for every mission. Hollywood talent roster includes Christopher Lee, who is reprising his role as the villainous Francisco Scaramanga from The Man with the Golden Gun and Judi Dench, who returns as M and has appeared in four James Bond films to date. Rounding out the talent behind the game is Academy Award®-winning Production Designer Sir Ken Adam (James Bond series), Costume Designer Kym Barrett (The Matrix trilogy), and Character Designer Rene Morel (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within).
the Angelfire Gallery of Fine Art (eat your heart out Ansel Adams)

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This is a screenshot from The new Sims 2, What a big house... I wish i had cheats for real life :(

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