Monday, November 19, 2007

A thinking Man's "Halo"

It's been a great fall for video games.

"Halo 3" turned out to be just as good as the hype. The latest round of sports games, especially the NBA titles, was outstanding.

This week, we get another major title that delivers in "Mass Effect" from Microsoft Game Studios. It's another Xbox 360 console exclusive.

The game tells the story of a special agent named Commander Shepard, who basically is the sheriff for the galaxy. As Shepard, you'll battle a force that seeks to destroy not only your world, but all worlds.

Developed by BioWare, the studio that made the excellent "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic," "Mass Effect" is amazingly deep. Even expert gamers will play this for weeks.

Turns out that Shepard is the only human agent in a police-like group called Spectre, but being the only human in a galaxy where humans are not always trusted, his life can get, well, complicated.

To me, this game felt like a "Star Trek" film, where Shepard and his team are faced with many moral decisions as they explore the universe, find the threat and figure out ways to stop it. You can destroy entire alien races, or keep them alive, with choices you make.

As you seek your ultimate goal, you can also explore uncharted worlds and meet all manner of uncharted life. In battle mode, you can choose to focus on the action (like in a "Doom"-style game) or to use the squad-based combat schemes to use more strategy. Ultimately, this is a thinking man's "Halo."

When fighting, look for areas to take cover; this will help keep you alive. I'd also suggest using grenades often and saving the game often, too. Unlike many titles in this genre that force you to reach certain stages to save, you can save "Mass Effect" almost anywhere.

The game is simply gorgeous, and the character voiceovers and movements are very realistic. You can get lost in this title, which is rated M for blood, language, partial nudity, sexual themes and violence. It's for adults and it's a big winner. One of the best for '07.

Grade: A-plus.

Review: Call of Duty 4

There's nothing like a really good first-person shooting game, and "Call" definitely fits the bill.I tried the PS3 version and the graphics were very, very good. You play as a U.S. Marine and a British SS solider -- each character advancing the same storyline -- and you get technology and firepower that would make James Bond jealous. Stuff like a AC-130 Gunship, which flies above the battle and fires 105mm rounds into your enemy. Talk about clearing a field fast.

The game puts you into some intense fights going on around the world to try to stop a rogue terrorist agency that's gotten some Russian nuclear devices. And this is the most intense fighting game I've ever tried. Enemies are plentiful and smart. There are some plot twists that come so fast and so suddenly, they really will shock you. But the fun here is the fighting. And there's lots of it. Rated M for Mature.

Grade: A.

• I also tinkered around the Nintendo DS model. The game lost some realism due to the graphics, sound quality and screen size, but it's essentially the same story. I just preferred such a big game on a regular TV screen.

Review: Orcs & Elves

Electronic Arts' title for the Nintendo DS brings a cell phone hit to the 3D world. It looks better obviously, but it was kind of boring and too old-school.

Characters don't really move fluidly and battles aren't really battles; you merely get to find out after the fact what your chosen strike has done to the enemy. Rent this one before you buy. Rated T for Teen.

Grade: D.

Review: Super Mario Galaxy

I didn't get to spend as much time with this game as I'd like because of other work duties (yes, covering video games really qualifies as work for me).

But at first blush, it appears to be as fun as advertised.

In this latest Mario adventure, you have to try to stop Bowser, who has stolen something called Star Power from a comet (stay with me here) and has used it to rip Peach's castle apart and take its inhabitants into space. Your job? Get your friends back.

From there, it's basic Mario -- collect objects, topple bad guys, get the girl -- save for one twist: Mario is given the ability to perform spinning attacks thanks to the motion-sensitive Wiimote.

I was grinning while I was going at it. Best of all, I could let my kids play, too. Rated E for Everyone.

Grade: B-plus.

1 comment:

Clayj said...

Mass Effect and Call of Duty 4 are both excellent games. With Mass Effect, particularly, you get the feeling that you're actually a character in a grand science fiction movie. It's a lot of fun. COD4 is another great addition to the COD series and it's great if you're just looking to kill bad guys.