Seek and Destroy
Publisher: Takara (2002)
Rating: Teen (violence)
This cheap ($9.99) tank game turned out to be a pleasant surprise. You control a small tank on a series of missions where you fight alongside other friendly tanks. It's pretty exciting as the battle rages and shells explode all over the place. Some stages have specific objectives, but for the most part you're trying to wipe out all the enemy tanks. Seek and Destroy uses a "garage system" similar to Gran Turismo, allowing you to collect tanks and customize them in a variety of ways. I found the interface to be easy to navigate, except for saving your game, which is a real pain. There are 15 different tanks to collect and 100 customizable weapons and parts in all. The graphics and sound are pretty weak for a PS2 game, but the controls are simple to grasp, and you can adjust your turret independently of your tank's movement. I only wish my turret would remain at the same angle without having to readjust it constantly. Seek and Destroy requires some strategy in terms of weapon selection and battlefield tactics, and each mission is unique. Add in a two-player battle mode, 16 mini-games, and a virtual tank museum, and you have a decent value. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Sega Classics Collection
Publisher: Sega (2005)
Rating: Teen (Blood, violence)
Several years ago, Sega announced plans to release "upgraded" versions of some of their classic franchises. Originally slated for the Dreamcast
, these titles were meant to be sold at budget prices. This collection appears to be the remains of that effort, ported to the PS2. While some critics have scorned this package, I like it. If its purpose was to "remaster" the old games with better visuals, clearer sound, and additional options, Sega Classics Collection serves its purpose. It gets off to a good start with Alien Syndrome (B+), an impressive update of the overhead shooter that appeared on the Sega Master System (and NES). The object is to blast your way through alien-infested spaceships while rescuing the crewmembers. Unlike the original version, the ships are crawling with wall-to-wall monsters, and the action is non-stop. The improved control scheme incorporates a strafe button and smart bomb. The weapons are powerful, and blasting non-stop will net you some crazy "combos". I think I earned a 400+ combo, which has to be some kind of record. The boss encounters are uneven (some look dumb), but the edgy musical score is amazing. The explosive sound effects are also outstanding. Outrun (B) is another game that benefits from a 3D overhaul, with a silky smooth framerate and exotic beach environments which look sweet
. Next up, Columns (B) is a Tetris-like puzzle game with relaxing music, addictive gameplay, and ample play variations. Fantasy Zone (B-) has got to be the queerest shooter ever
(not that there's anything wrong with that). The cute, whimsical graphics are rendered in pastel colors, and "shopping" is a key element. The cell-shaded graphics are attractive, and the new 3D bonus stage is a nice touch. Fans of the original will instantly recognize the bouncy musical score. Monaco GP (C-) features an overhead perspective which severely limits your vision. It's playable with the "classic" tracks (mainly straight) but the new tracks (featuring 90-degree turns) are suicidal. Monaco also includes a four-player split-screen mode. Space Harrier (C) is a big step up from the pixilated sprites of the original. The gameplay isn't great (never was), but your targets look sharp and their distance is easier to judge. The new Virtua Racer (C) may be guilty of being too
faithful to the original. Sure, the frame-rate is silky smooth but the graphics still include nasty pop-up and the same irritating screeching tires. Tant R (D) is a series of mini-puzzles, but some of these just gave me a headache. It's no surprise that it's combined with Bonanza Brothers (D), a slow-paced platformer that's equally annoying. The low point of the package has to be Golden Axe (F). As a huge fan of the Genesis game, I was chomping at the bit to play this new version. You'd think the new 3D models would enhance the visuals, but in fact the animation is choppy and the scenery is dull and non-interactive. One stage takes place entirely on a giant flying bird, so why are skeletons climbing out of the ground?! The controls are abhorrent, cheap hits abound and you face the same three enemies ad nauseum! Worst of all, when casting "magic spells", the effects appear to take place in some far away land! But despite its rough spots, Sega Classics Collection is respectable overall, and I appreciate how all the games save high scores. There's a lot of replay value here! If only the original versions of these games had been included, Sega Classics Collection would have been a must-own. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Sega Genesis Collection
Publisher: Sega (2006)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, violence)
Say what you will about Sega's recent track record, but in the 16-bit era, they were on fire
. This disk truly shines with its collection of easy-to-play games from a simpler age. The graphics may be pixelated and the sound effects scratchy, but in a way, that just makes them more appealing. It's called old school charm. The Genesis emulation is the best I've seen, and only the most anal-retentive Sega aficionados will be able to detect any difference at all. I thought the Sonic "ring" sound effect was slightly off, but that's about it. For the first time, you can now save games in progress and
high scores, and you get a degree of visual clarity not possible on the original Genesis console. I can't review all 28 games here, but I'll at least extend the courtesy of mentioning what titles are included (since most other reviews don't even bother). The collection is jam-packed with quality platformers, including Sonic the Hedgehog 1&2, Vectorman 1&2, Shinobi 3, Altered Beast, Shadow Dancer, Kid Chameleon, Decap Attack, and the underrated Ristar. The remarkable (but unforgiving) Comix Zone will blow your mind as you forge your way through the cells of an interactive comic book. The Golden Axe trilogy is included, but I found the third chapter (never before available in the US) to be a bit of a let down. The three Ecco the Dolphin games tend to be slow, but represent some of the most beautiful and thoughtfully designed games for the system. Another gem is Columns, with its addictive Tetris-style gameplay and relaxing organ music. RPG fans will appreciate the inclusion of Phantasy Stars 2-4 and Sword of Vermillion, especially since the batteries in the cartridge versions are probably long dead by now. The remaining titles have limited appeal, like the mediocre Alex Kid in the Enchanted Castle, the forgettable Flicky, the mildly-amusing Bonanza Bros., the tedious Gain Ground, the ill-advised 2D version of Virtua Fighter 2, and the shallow Super Thunder Blade with its antiquated scaling sprites. Bonuses include insightful interviews with the developers and arcade versions of Altered Beast, Future Spy, Tac-Scan, Zaxxon (!), and Zektor. All things considered, I am absolutely thrilled with this collection. No question about it, Sega Genesis Collection has enough material to keep a gamer busy for a very long time. Back in the day, I would have sold a kidney for this one. See my Sega Genesis section for individual reviews of many of these titles. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Capcom (2005)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)
Not your usual gladiator hack-n-slash, Shadow of Rome is surprisingly ambitious, incorporating epic battles, stealth missions, chariot racing, and a storyline that nicely ties everything together. The main character is Agrippa, a former Roman soldier forced to become a gladiator to save his father, who's been wrongly accused of murdering Julius Caesar. Realistic in its portrayal of ancient Rome, the game uses real historical figures in a storyline that's both interesting and easy to follow. Despite the highbrow premise, the heart of the game is its brutal gladiator combat stages. Each features slightly different objectives, but all involve dismembering hordes of enemies and smashing them into bloody pulps. There are free-for-alls, team battles, trap filled arenas, fearsome animals, hostages to rescue, and forts to assault. The violence is unflinching, so much so that it's actually possible to beat a foe with his own severed arm! The awesome weapon selection includes swords, maces, bows, slings, spears, and morning stars. Some stages even contain catapults. The battles are pretty intense and a few caused me to work up a sweat. Shadow of Rome uses an innovative system to discourage the player from using the same attacks over and over. Demonstrating a wide variety of attacks fills your "excite meter". When fully charged, waving the crowd's attention causes them to toss out food and special weapons. The problem is, waving is done by pressing X and square simultaneously, and these are also your main two attack buttons. As a consequence, there were numerous times when I accidentally stopped and waved to the crowd with six barbarians bearing down on me (arghh!!). Another issue is the camera, adjustable with the right joystick. During battles you need to keep it in constant motion just to keep your main target in sight. In contrast to the bloody battles, quiet stealth missions slow down the tempo and help flesh out the storyline. These usually involve sneaking past guards, wearing disguises, and eavesdropping on conversations. Although thoughtfully designed, these stages feel contrived and after the first few I really got tired of them. Still, there are some genuinely heart-pounding moments, especially when you're incognito and questioned by guards. Shadow of Rome also includes chariot races, but unfortunately they don't appear until very
late in the game (about 10 hours in!). That's a shame because they provide a nice change of pace. Graphically, Shadow of Rome's graphics are first-rate, with the most realistic faces and facial expressions
I've ever seen in a video game. The well-crafted scenery features convincing stone textures and shiny marble floors. As a bonus, there's a mega-hottie named Claudia with a truly devastating figure (holy cow!). Shadow of Rome's dialogue quality is generally good, and a dramatic orchestrated soundtrack gives the game a cinematic quality. The skill level is fair and it never took me more than a few attempts to clear any stage. I wasn't a fan of the stealth stages, but I found the gory battles very satisfying. If you enjoy history and appreciate games with some variety, Shadow of Rome will not disappoint. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Shadow of the Colossus
Publisher: Sony (2005)
Rating: Teen (blood, fantasy violence)
Being the jaded gamer that I am, few titles have a strong impact on me, but Shadow of the Colossus rocked my world. This epic adventure is one of the most ambitious and original titles I've played in years. The unofficial sequel to the critically acclaimed Ico (Sony 2001), Shadow puts you in the role of a young warrior, armed with a sword and bow, trying to take down a series of gargantuan rock creatures. Each stage begins with a brief journey to a titan's lair, and when the creature reveals itself, it's usually pretty dramatic. Some of these mythological behemoths tower well over 100 feet in height, and their massive scale is depicted very convincingly. When one of these giants looks down at you, it's actually quite alarming, and you're tempted to run. It doesn't take long to realize, however, that your miniscule size and considerable agility gives you a marked advantage over these slow, lumbering beasts. Each colossus requires a different approach to defeat, and determining the proper strategy for each one is half the battle. Although each titan is composed of stone, most have patches of "hair" which you can cling to and crawl around while searching for "weak points" to stab. Although you can simply climb up the leg of the first colossus, subsequent foes are not nearly that straightforward. Even when you do manage to latch onto a titan's body and begin climbing around, they will attempt to shake you off, and your "grip strength" will gradually diminish in the process. While Shadow of the Colossus boils down to a series of boss battles, locating each one requires a little bit of horse riding, exploration, and platform jumping. Each colossus is unique, and while some are more imposing than others, it's always interesting to see what form the next foe will take. The production values are top-shelf, with awe-inspiring landscapes, brilliant art direction, and lifelike animation that elevate the far-fetched premise to epic proportions. Visually the game is a work of art, and the musical score is one of the best I've heard in any video game. While Shadow is a landmark title in many regards, a few major flaws prevent it from living up to its potential. First, the camera system is a serious
liability. The developers apparently couldn't decide whether to make the camera control automatic or manual, so they implemented an awkward, and often conflicting, combination of both. I swear I spent more time fighting with the camera than the monsters. Next, while the control scheme
is well designed, its responsiveness is erratic to say the least. Simply trying to mount your horse requires considerable effort, and performing simple platform jumps can be needlessly difficult. I also encountered a nasty glitch that locked up my game. Still, in an age where every new title is either a sequel or derivation, Shadow of the Colossus stands tall as an original and unforgettable journey. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Shaun Palmer's Pro Snowboarder
Publisher: Activision (2001)
Rating: Everyone (mild lyrics)
With so few new snowboarding games to choose from, I'm forced to go back in time
(a la Michael J. Fox) to find new action on the slopes. In this case I went all the way back to 2001 for Shaun Palmer's Pro Snowboarder, and I have to admit I'm digging this. The game's wide, scenic runs encourage exploration yet are grounded in reality. The Tony Hawk-ish controls are forgiving, making it easy to grind, transition between tricks, and land on your feet. If you've played any snowboarding (or even skateboarding) games in the last ten years, you'll pick up on this immediately. The character selection includes a lot of big names, including a young, Opie-looking Shaun White. What's the deal with that goofy photo of Shaun Palmer? I really enjoyed the game's realistic courses (including Aspen and Lake Tahoe) with plenty of ski lifts, snow-covered cabins, fallen trees, and maintenance facilities. You can even shatter glass and slide right through the lodge. I love the digitized scenery that fills the distance, but it could be sharper. The attention to detail is nice, like the way your windbreaker flutters in the wind and sparks fly when you grind. The career mode presents you with a list of challenges that allow you to unlock new locations. Unfortunately, many objectives are ambiguous, and just unlocking the second course is a headache. One objective, "Bonk the gondola", isn't something I'd normally do, but if it means unlocking some of these awesome courses, count me in!
I quickly became addicted to this game. The runs are short, so you keep hitting the retry option. As for performing tricks, you can go crazy with the buttons in mid-air, as long as you leave yourself a second to land with your board pointed forward (no points for wiping out). One cheap but effective technique is to land with a grind whenever possible, since it automatically repositions your body perfectly. The game lacks of breakneck sense of speed (due to its emphasis on tricks perhaps), but the two-player split-screen mode is surprisingly good. The abrasive soundtrack is typical of "extreme" games, but the "I hate everything" vibe can get a little old. Still, if you can deal with some obnoxious music and vaguely sexual objectives, you'll find Shaun Palmer's Pro Snowboarder to be quite habit-forming. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
You know, I've played Shinobi on the Sega Master System, Genesis, and Saturn, but this new edition bears little resemblance to those, which is unfortunate. Previous games focused heavily on timing and strategy and emphasized projectile attacks. Barging into a new area/territory without scouting it out was generally a bad idea. But this new Shinobi is just the opposite. Not only do you pretty much hack and slash everything in sight, but if you don't do it quickly, your "cursed" sword drains your life! I'm not saying there's not some fun to be had with this. Slashing several thugs at once and watching them fall to pieces simultaneously can be pretty satisfying. But Shinobi is too repetitive and frustrating. There are too many bottomless pits to fall into, and I'm NOT a big fan of Shinobi's new ability to stick to walls. If I wanted to climb walls I'd play Spiderman. I don't even like Shinobi's new costume - he looks more like a Devil May Cry vampire than a ninja. I don't know why there are four "eyes" on his mask, and his much-ballyhooed flowing red scarf is nothing but eye candy. Personally I think he looks kind of queer in that thing. Other problems include poorly placed save points, boring and redundant level design, and excessive difficulty. On a positive note, the controls are tight, and his new "stealth dash" is pretty cool. But overall I found Shinobi to be a letdown. Especially after playing the superior Rygar, Shinobi feels undercooked in comparison. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (2001)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
In this chilling sequel to the Playstation classic, you assume the role of a man stuck in a foggy, deserted town, searching for your lost wife while fending off a host of gruesome creatures. With the exception of improved fog and shadowing, the grainy graphics are not a huge step up from the original game, and the gameplay is virtually identical. Fortunately, Silent Hill 2 successfully recreates the same intense, spine-tingling atmosphere that gave me nightmares the first time around. Mainly set in an apartment complex, you'll hold your breath as you explore each new room. Most are pitch dark, and your weak flashlight provides precious little visibility, adding to the tension and uncertainty. A suspenseful but confusing storyline is conveyed via high-quality, frightening cut-scenes. The camera angles are dramatic but often disorienting, forcing you to constantly refer to the map. Thankfully, the helpful map automatically marks locked doors and other items of interest. Like the first game, Silent Hill 2's audio effects are effectively unnerving and occasionally alarming. Control is decent but feels sluggish when it comes to bludgeoning creatures. The worst aspect of the game is the fact that it's very easy to get stuck and not know what to do next. Otherwise Silent Hill 2 is a seriously creepy game that lives up to the lofty standards set by the original. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (2003)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
Silent Hill 3 kicks off with a stylish music video showing brief glimpses of hellish beasts and a teenage girl in distress. It's a nice preview, and the edgy music is so good that the soundtrack is actually included
on a separate CD! It's a terrific bonus, loaded with depressing melodies and freaky, otherworldly beats. Silent Hill 3 plays much like previous Silent Hills, but this time you play a young girl whose trip to a shopping mall turns into a surreal nightmare. The empty shopping mall is creepy in a Dawn of the Dead sort of way, and the haunted amusement park is also fascinating. Other locations like the subway, sewers, and office building are less compelling but still eerie. The graphics look less grainy than Silent Hill 2, making it easy to see details in the scenery. As par for the series, there's not a clean toilet in sight. Like the previous chapters, most doors are locked, and thankfully the map marks them appropriately. Silent Hill 3's gameplay is quite stressful and frightening. Deformed creatures patrol dark hallways, although you can usually dash by them if you know where you're going. In terms of creature design, Konami went a little overboard this time. Most of these shambling freaks look like misshapen hunks of raw meat, although their ear-splitting screams do make them more frightening. The human models are nicely rendered with amazing lifelike faces. On the downside, the dialogue is uneven in quality and the voice acting often sounds stilted. But my main issue with Silent Hill 3 is the clumsy camera. Not only is it hard to see where you're heading, but it's often hard to keep the monsters you fight in view. A shoulder button lets you center the camera behind you, but the transition is slow and disorienting. Regardless, Silent Hill 3 is a great looking game that will keep you on the edge of your seat. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Silent Hill Origins
Publisher: Konami (2008)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, language, suggestive themes, violence)
The original Silent Hill
(Playstation, 2000) was a terrifying horror classic that spawned a series of compelling sequels. But as with movies, when a franchise runs low on ideas they fall back on a prequel. Silent Hill Origins rewinds the timeline of the series and harkens back to the feel of the original game. In fact, the opening hospital stage (with psychotic nurses) could have been lifted directly from the first game. Thankfully the action soon moves to more original locations including a theater, butcher shop, motel, and sprawling sanitarium. You can freely roam the streets of town which are shrouded with fog and crawling with freakish monsters. Origins creates an intense atmosphere using the same devices that made previous Silent Hills so unnerving. The graphics are so purposely grainy that I thought there was a problem with my TV! Limited (and sometimes disorienting) camera angles convey a sense of paranoia, and the bizarre creatures move in a jerky, unnatural manner. But the most potent aspect of the game is its audio. I don't know where they came up with these spine-chilling sound effects, but they are genuinely alarming. A selection of freaky new creatures includes giant frozen chickens, shadows with floating head harnesses, and puppets on strings. Yes, puppets are inherently creepy, but these are positively terrifying! You can move between alternate realities via mirrors, but both worlds are pretty dark and twisted. The combat is straightforward, but some of the puzzles are too hard - especially in the early stages. Sometimes a very simple action is required (like flushing a toilet) in order to progress. I also dislike how your character can't run very far without becoming winded and slowing down. It's absolutely critical to obtain a map for each new area, because while there are hundreds of doors, about 90 percent of them are locked! The handy map marks everything for you, and you can bring it up at the touch of a button. Better yet, you can hold an unlimited supply of items, which is good considering you'll need to haul drip stands, typewriters, toasters, and even file cabinets! I didn't find Silent Hill Origins quite as scary as some of the previous games, but that may be because the formula has become so familiar. Even so, this dark adventure is definitely a thrill and the price is right. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Silent Scope 2: Dark Silhouette
Publisher: Konami (2001)
Rating: Mature (blood/violence)
As a big fan of the first Silent Scope (which I have on the Dreamcast), I was looking forward to more of the same arcade shooting action with Dark Silhouette, and I was not disappointed! The imaginative level designs in this game are perfect for sniping. The first stage takes place at London Bridge, with terrorists in the towers and the water below. The panoramic views and swinging camera angles make it a fun ride. From there you move onto a snow-covered enemy headquarters, which culminates in a wild high-speed snowboarding chase. Next, you'll try to stop the bad guys from taking off in an airplane. The gameplay hasn't changed much from the first game. You move a crosshair over a target, zoom in for precise aim, and can shoot the thugs in any part of their body. They react accordingly, and even take cover if you miss. You can earn bonuses by zooming in on hot-looking chicks, which turn up in the strangest places. A special "thermal" mode lets you locate targets in the dark, and this looks pretty cool. As far as the bosses go, their weak spots are usually their faces, and they're surprisingly easy to kill. As much as I like Silent Scope 2, I find that aiming the crosshairs using the PS2's analog stick is a bit too touchy, especially compared to the Dreamcast controller. Fortunately you can hold down the triangle to slow it down, and you WILL need to do this - a lot. Silent Scope 2 is fun while it lasts, but it's pretty short compared to most PS2 games. There are a few extra mission and training modes, but these mini games won't hold your interest for long. The only two-player option is via a link cable. All in all, I'd mainly recommend this to people who enjoyed the first game. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (2002)
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)
I don't know too many fans of the Silent Scope series, but my friend Scott and I are into them big time. The critics routinely trash these games, but I enjoy them because they're simple and fun. This third edition is really two games in one. In addition to Silent Scope 3, you also get Silent Scope EX, and both offer a unique set of stages. The gameplay appears to have been tweaked slightly since Silent Scope 2. For one thing, your scope seems to "follow" moving bad guys, making it easier to get a bead on them. Some encounters require you to use the shoulder buttons to get a 360 degree view of your surroundings (a la Panzer Dragoon). Silent Scope EX offers several "single shot" challenges (take out the terrorist holding the hostage at gunpoint), that feature a camera that follows the bullet to its target - pretty wild. I have to admit that the graphics are pretty mediocre, but the game moves so fast you'll barely notice. The stages are a mixed bag. Some shootout locations like loading docks and factories aren't very imaginative, but others like the cruise liner stage and the speedboat chase are very exciting. You can select the order in which you play the stages, and there are plenty of them to choose from. With constantly changing scenery and non-stop action, Silent Scope 3 will keep you on your toes. Some targets are close enough that you don't even need to use your scope, while others are so far away that you'll actually need to "lead" your shots. The bosses are tough to hit, often being inside an enclosed vehicle, and their weak spot is always their head. These battles can last a few minutes, but sometimes you'll get lucky and take them out with one shot! Like the previous Silent Scope games, there are sexy babes you can zoom in on, which lighten the mood while earning you bonuses. I just wish they were indicated on the screen, because even with the sound cue, I can never find them. If you're looking for something substantial with a lot of replay value, Silent Scope 3 isn't your best choice. But it you like arcade shooting action, give it a try. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Treasure (2001)
Silpheed is a decent but unspectacular vertical space shooter with sharp graphics and rotating scenery. The original Silpheed was released on the Sega CD, and its spectacular full motion video (read: non interactive) backgrounds were revolutionary at the time. This version won't raise many eyebrows, but it's still fun if you like these types of game. Compared to the recent crop of Dreamcast shooters, which feature a ridiculous amount of projectiles and firepower, Silpheed is more old school. You arm your ship before each stage with your choice of nine weapons, and certain weapons are better suited to certain stages. While your firepower is never overwhelming, neither are your enemies, and you can always dodge incoming fire with a little dexterity. You won't find any power-ups or any other collectable items for that matter. Your enemies are forgettable, but the explosions are satisfying. The game itself is very linear, with eight levels punctuated with bosses and cut scenes. Having to play through the first few stages each time you play gets old in a hurry. The background story is the usual stuff: space colonization, civil unrest, and the appearance of an unknown alien life form. I was
surprised to hear the word "sh*t" used during one sequence. Don't expect much from Silpheed. It's a decent shooter with old school charm, but it's not worth $50. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Simpsons Road Rage
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2001)
Simpson's Road Rage is not a great game by any stretch, but it does convey some of the wit and charm of the series, and contains subtle nuances that will not be lost on fans. The gameplay is shamelessly modeled after Crazy Taxi (Dreamcast, PS2), where you choose a character and taxi people around six sections of Springfield within a time limit. The graphics are somewhat amusing, but the audio really steals the show. The non-stop quips are amusing and often hilarious. The single-player mode lets you earn bucks to open up new characters and locations, but I found the gameplay too be easy and repetitive. The locations are so small that you're constantly taking the same routes over and over. The two-player split screen mode is better, since it allows you to steal passengers from the other player - giving the game a Smuggler's Run flavor. My biggest beef with Simpson's Road Rage lies is the load time. Like most EA games, it is excruciating, and it effectively ruins the Mission Mode, since the loading times are usually longer than the missions themselves! Only die-hard Simpsons fans and youngsters will be amused by Road Rage, but others need not apply. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2004)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs)
Siren is one of those genuinely creepy horror experiences that will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. It's a lot like Silent Hill, only set in Japan. The dreary, murky stages tend to take place over rainy countrysides with sparse villages. Unsettling noises and a minimal soundtrack instill feelings of paranoia and isolation. I'd recommend playing Siren in the dark, preferably by candlelight. The character models are some of the best I've seen on the PS2. Their faces look photographic up close, expressing emotions very effectively. Cut-scenes are rendered with the grainy look of old movie footage, making them all the more mysterious. You play the role of various characters as you embark on third-person missions that typically involve solving a puzzle or escorting a young girl to safety. Patrolling the areas are short, gnarled ghouls wearing hoodies or big hats. Many are armed with guns, and some can snipe from a distance. Once they grab hold of you, death is imminent. A stealth approach works best, especially since you have the ability to "mind jack" creatures in the area, allowing you to see the world through their eyes. You do this by holding down the left trigger and aiming the thumbstick their direction. In theory you can wait for snipers to look the other way, but more often than not you can't even tell what the heck they're looking at. A creature's viewpoint is also flashed if you enter his view, and that's your cue to move and lay low. You can consult a map, but the fact that it doesn't indicate your
position is just stupid. Avoiding confrontation is recommended because the combat aspect of this game is wretched
. Swinging a weapon is clumsy, and the shotgun aiming mechanism is atrocious
. After death you'll restart at a distant checkpoint - if you're lucky!
The checkpoints seem extra far apart because it takes forever
to get from point A to point B. After several deaths you'll be tempted to rush through the stage, leading to a vicious cycle of death and futility. Siren has enough atmosphere to cut with a knife, but I prefer my games to be a little more playable. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Ski-Doo Snow X Racing
Publisher: Valcon Games (2007)
If you're in the mood for some wintry fun, Snow X Racing offers realistic and challenging snowmobile action. The courses are somewhat sparse but generally appealing with their snow-covered evergreens and quaint cabins nestled into the hills. The snow itself looks very real, appearing smooth and shiny in packed sections, yet soft and fluffy in deeper areas. The sun flares are another nice touch. Ski-Doo's physics modeling is exceptionally realistic - too
realistic according to some of my friends. You have just the right degree of control over your snowmobile, and with practice you can execute controlled slides around sharp turns. The challenging career mode pits you against three CPU opponents, and these guys are out for blood, constantly trying to bump you off the course. During a crash it's fun to watch your character bounce around in the snow like a rag doll. The main problem with Snow X Racing is that it's sometimes hard to follow the tracks. Even when using the high viewing angle, certain sections tend to be very
poorly marked, requiring a lot of trial and error to master each course. That's too bad, because the first-person view is rather exciting and immersive. Ski-Doo's career mode is fun for a while, but tends to wear out its welcome, especially since you can't adjust the number of laps. It's especially demoralizing when you finish a long race and miss first place by one-hundredth
of a second (which happened to me, believe it or not). An impressive two-player split-screen mode is also available. Ski-Doo's audio isn't anything to write home about, and you'll want to turn off the grinding guitar music from the options menu. Snow X Racing is a not spectacular by any stretch, but this budget-priced title is good enough to satisfy your winter sports craving. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2002)
Despite being a 3D polygon shooter, one popular video game magazine had the nerve to refer to Skygunner as "old school". Apparently some reviewers think any game with simple objectives (ie: shoot stuff) must be some kind of throwback to the 16-bit days. Well, as it turns out, that reviewer didn't know what he was talking about. Skygunner combines elements of Star Wars Starfighter (PS2, Xbox) and Panzer Dragoon (Saturn, Xbox), and has an interesting retro-futuristic motif. You fly freely around each stage, targeting enemies and viewing the action from behind your plane. Most targets are squadrons of planes and large, cannon-equipped airships. To destroy the big boys, you'll need to make multiple runs to wear down their defenses. Your plane is equipped with machine guns and imaginative special weapons like the crowd-pleasing "fireworks missiles", life-draining "cross missiles", and guided "bat missiles". Like Panzer Dragoon, you can "lock-on" to multiple enemies at a time before unleashing your missiles. The explosion effects are terrific, but the visuals are subject to slowdown and even pixelation. When your plane is gunned down, a nifty "recovery" meter allows you to pound buttons to regain control before you crash. Skygunner has a few major issues, mainly involving its unwieldy controls and hypersensitive aiming. The "easy" control mode isn't too bad, but I really had to wrestle with the "normal" controls, and I never felt comfortable with them. Missiles are tricky to lock-on due to the squirrelly crosshairs, and you often can't even see your missiles being fired and the subsequent damage. Skygunner is also bogged down with an excessive amount of exposition in the form of verbose anime cut-scenes. While these are certainly done with style and artistic integrity, I just wanted to get on with the game already! Likewise your heads-up-display is loaded with elaborate gauges that look great but are confusing to read. On the bright side, Skygunner's clean, crisp, graphics are refreshing, with inviting blue skies and scenic towns below. The orchestrated musical score is majestic, and the voice dialogue may be set to either English or Japanese. I had high hopes for Skygunner, but despite all the fancy window dressing, I found its gameplay to be less than engaging. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2002)
Rating: Teen (comic mischief, suggestive themes)
The original Sled Storm
(Playstation, 1999) was a real winner with its undisturbed natural environments and wild four-player split-screen action. Sled Storm for the PS2 offers a very different brand of snowmobile racing. This one was developed by the same people who brought you SSX (EA Big), and it shows. This new Sled Storm tosses realism out the window in favor of big air, topsy-turvy tracks, and colorful spectacle. Most courses wind through icy caverns that resemble snow-covered amusement parks!
The trails are not particularly well marked as you careen through tunnels, around banked curves, and over strategically-placed ramps. You can perform tricks for points using the trigger buttons - just be sure to complete your move before you hit the ground. I like how you're free to explore blocked-off areas - at your own risk, of course. Sometimes you can take the unmarked high road, only to drop back onto the main track ahead of your opponents. The sense of speed is good, and when trailing others the visual effect of having snow kicked up into your face is convincing. The courses are clearly designed to be over-the-top, but I found the scenery more confusing than entertaining. Another problem is the ridiculous "rubber-band" AI. The races are pretty long, but no matter how well (or poorly) you perform, it always comes down to that final stretch to determine the winner. That's because CPU riders tend to bunch up, making it easy to go from last-to-first and vice versa. Sled Storm's audio is pretty weak with its blaring techno tunes and annoying voice samples ("life is good!") The time trial and championship modes provide ample replay value, and the split-screen mode comes in handy for when a friend drops by. Sled Storm is a little artificial for my taste, but if you're up for some winter racing fun, it serves its purpose. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
Publisher: Sony (2002)
Rating: Everyone (mild violence)
Sly Cooper reminds me of a cell-shaded Crash Bandicoot with its smooth animation, lush graphics, and pinpoint control. You play a raccoon who's a professional thief out to collect the stolen pages of an old family book, the Thievius Raccoonus. As you might guess, you'll spend most of the time in "stealth mode", sneaking past guards and searchlights, trying not to trip alarms. It might not sound very original, but Sly has a few tricks up his sleeve. For one thing, he can climb along ropes or pipes, and it's especially fun to crawl just over the heads of unsuspecting guards on patrol. Sly also brandishes a hook that can be used to hang from things or slam doors closed. The game offers a fine degree of control, which is necessary because you'll need to walk some tight ledges and jump between small platforms. A user-friendly control scheme allows you to simply hold down "O" to engage in most stealth actions. The worlds are separated into short stages where you try to collect all of the bottled "clues" before reaching the key at the end. The shadowy scenery has character, but there isn't anything here you haven't seen in other games. There are a few "vehicle" stages thrown in to spice things up, but I wasn't too impressed with these. Sly Cooper is a good game for gamers who like their platform games slow and deliberate. You can't question the quality of the game - the levels are thoughtfully designed and the production values are sky high. I found the detective music to be outstanding and quite appropriate. A turtle "nerd" guides you on your quest, and his verbose dialogue is very funny. The difficulty ramps gradually, and only once or twice did I find myself asking "what do I do now?" Overall, I didn't find Sly Cooper to be overly exciting or addictive, but there's not much to criticize about it. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Rockstar (2000)
This was one of the first popular games for the PS2. Recently it's been repackaged as a Greatest Hits title, and it's very much worthy of that designation. Smugglers Run is thrilling and intense, yet simple to play. You drive one of several vehicles including a buggy and an SUV. Your missions involve picking up and dropping off goods in huge territories that are extremely hilly but mostly wide open. This is a game anyone can pick up and start playing right away. Green smoke rising in the distance indicates your next pick up, red smoke indicates the drop-off point, and there's always a big arrow on top of the screen telling you where to go next. You'll need to contend with other bandits and border police who'll try to run you off the road. There are always several ways to reach your destination, but you're under the clock, so a direct route is advisable. The action gets incredibly exciting as you bound over hills, jump canyons, and plow through rivers as the clock ticks down. You can go just about anywhere, and your vehicle can take some serious abuse (and the damage shows). The single-player missions are wild, but the split screen multi-player is even better, and easily worth the price of admission. This mode can be best described as "smear the queer" in cars! It's like a frantic crash-up derby as you steal the "cargo" back and forth from each other. Several computer cars also get in on the action - it's a blast. It's a shame that there's no four-player mode. Other flaws include significant load times and uninspired background music. But overall Smuggler's Run is a blast. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory
Publisher: Rockstar (2001)
Rating: Teen (violence)
The first Smuggler's Run game, released at the PS2 launch (November 2000), was a surprise hit thanks to its straightforward gameplay and exciting two-player action. Unfortunately, Smuggler's Run 2 (SR2) feels like a step in the wrong direction. Like its predecessor, you blaze through wide-open wilderness settings in an off-road vehicle while attempting to snatch and deliver cargo. Pick-up and drop-off points are marked by rising, colored smoke that's visible from a far distance. A host of competitors have the same mission, and they can steal your loot by colliding with you. The two-player split screen mode was the best part of the original game, so I was pretty excited to see how it had been improved. Unfortunately, I was in for a series of disappointments. First of all, only ONE lousy vehicle is available at first, and there's really no excuse for that. Next, while setting up the game I realized that all the vehicles involved HAD to be assigned to one of two teams. Yes, this even includes the CPU-controlled cars! In other words, you can forget about the every-man-for-himself action that made the first game such a blast. What a shame! When the action finally got underway, all the vehicles inexplicably kept getting blown into the air by hidden land mines! Ugh! It's as if Rockstar had set out to suck every last ounce of fun out of a once-great franchise. There are other issues as well. The repetitive, irritating "music" is the WORST I've ever had to endure in a video game. And much like the first Smuggler's Run, you'll be spending a lot
of time staring at loading screens. In fairness, SR2 does have a few things going for it. You have a wide selection of expansive environments to choose from, despite the fact that most tend to be pretty ugly. The vehicles are faster and there are higher cliffs to plunge over. Nevertheless, this sequel doesn't come close
to capturing the raw thrills of the first game, and the lack of a four-player mode is also unforgivable. The one-player mode is okay, but the missions all start to feel the same after a while. If you've never played Smuggler's Run, I'd highly recommend the original game, but steer clear of this uninspired sequel. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
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