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Aliens Vs. Predator: Extinction
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2003)
Reviewed: 2013/5/22
Rating: Teen (blood)

screenshotNow this is a real-time strategy game even I can get excited about. Aliens Vs. Predator actually lets you play three parallel campaigns as the marines, Aliens, or Predators. I began with the marines and immediately struggled with the non-intuitive control scheme. The manual wasn't much help but I figured it out. During each mission you'll lead a party composed of infantry, comm techs, synthetics, and medics. Medics automatically heal humans, but since they can only tend to one at a time, it's good to have two or three of these guys on hand. Your mission objectives typically involve transporting items, repairing installations, or destroying alien nests. The overhead view strikes a nice balance, providing a wide-angle view without limiting the graphic detail. When a clash occurs, the battles are thrilling to watch. There's so much chaos you don't know where to look! Aliens splatter acid when shot and I like how their bodies twitch when they're dead. You can call on supply ships for additional personnel, and holding off waves of attackers long enough for reinforcements to arrive is suspenseful as hell. Extinction becomes more interesting once you start experimenting with personnel combinations and weapon upgrades. One advanced weapon even lets you initiate a computer-guided missile strike from orbit. Replenishing your party after a costly battle is a drawn-out process, and between battles there are plenty of lulls in the action. Unexplored areas are dark on your map, forcing you to "feel your way around" in a slow, time-consuming manner. Certain mission objectives like "collect 20 alien skulls" feel more like errands ("17 more to go!"). The orchestrated musical score lends weight to the story, and distinctive sound effects (like the scanner) are practically lifted from the films. You have the option to save your progress at any time via the pause menu (sweet). I enjoyed the marine campaign, but couldn't really get into the Alien and Predator campaigns. I guess my interest was starting to wane. It takes a patient gamer to appreciate Aliens Versus Predator, but if you're willing to invest the time there's a heck of a lot of content here. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Amped
Grade: B-
Publisher: Microsoft (2002)
Reviewed: 2010/1/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI've always been a sucker for snowboarding games, so it's odd that I missed this one the first time around. I suspect Amped got overshadowed by the critically-acclaimed SSX series on the PS2. Anyway, Amped delivers a fast-paced, trick-heavy downhill experience, and I actually prefer its wide-open, natural courses over those crazy "fantasy" courses of SSX. Amped's graphics boast inviting mountain peaks, powdery snow, and the occasional cabin or lodge nestled in the snowdrifts. Strategically placed ramps and rails lets you perform spectacular stunts, and scattered photographers encourage you to show off your stuff. The controls have a definite learning curve, especially with regarding to performing spins or flips. The landings are unforgiving, and you'll often find yourself in an awkward mid-air position. I recommend taking your hands off the controls for a second or two before landing to give your boarder a chance to right himself. Amped's sense of speed is terrific, and there are really no lulls in the action. The game does have its share of glitches however, and it's not uncommon to become lodged in the scenery. Also, since the game scores grinds by how long you're on a rail, you can rack up some insanely high scores by sliding a very short distance (very slowly). An addictive career lets you gradually unlock new mountains, gear, and sponsors, but some of the challenges are poorly designed. How are you supposed to impress a sponsor with flips and spins when there are no ramps to jump off?! The game manages to be fun despite its frequent frustrations. Its terrific guitar-driven soundtrack will get you totally stoked, and if you get annoyed with any tune, just hit the "white" button to skip it! I could do without the game's smart-assed commentary however ("Try landing that next time!"), and where are those goofy cartoon voices coming from? The multiplayer mode is turns-only (no split-screen), which is seriously lame. Amped has some rough edges, but there's still enough wintry goodness here to keep you busy over the cold months. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Amped 2
Grade: B-
Publisher: Microsoft (2003)
Reviewed: 2010/1/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe first Amped was a respectable snowboarding title that could have benefited from some polish. Amped 2 looks better on the surface, but flaws with its underlying gameplay remain. As in the first game, you race down mountains and execute tricks to earn enough points to unlock new courses, characters, sponsors, and gear. Amped 2's visuals look much cleaner thanks to smoother textures and softer edges. The night courses look particularly inviting. The game's increase in speed is a less-welcome new development. Your snowboarder glides along almost too fast, and the steering feels "squirrelly" as a consequence. It's really hard to line up with those narrow ramps! Amped 2 adopts a dual-stick control scheme that employs the right stick to perform grabs. It sounds good on paper, but I never felt completely comfortable with the controls. It's still easy to get caught up on the scenery, but at least now you can press the "back" button to reset yourself. Amped 2's difficulty progression is good, so you're less likely to get hopelessly stuck in the early stages of the game. A wide variety of challenges will hold you interest, and I loved plowing through all of the snowmen I could find. Amped 2 falters in some regards, but it's still an enjoyable combination of wintry realism and arcade thrills. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Aquaman
Grade: F
Publisher: TDK (2003)
Reviewed: 2008/7/16
Rating: Everyone

screenshotMy expectations were astronomically low for this bargain-bin title, but I try not to let price tags ($4 in this case) sway my opinion. Aquaman is about as unimaginative and cookie-cutter as they come. You won't see our hero on the box cover, probably because he's not same clean-cut guy we grew up watching on Superfriends. No, this is an older Aquaman who looks more like a Greek god with his long beard and flowing blonde hair. Apparently he's the king of Atlantis, which is under attack by a force led by arch-villain (even worse than a regular villain!) Black Manta. Maybe I was spoiled by the spectacle of Imagic's Atlantis (Atari 2600, 1983), but this undersea kingdom seems downright boring! The buildings are mainly domes that all look the same! The water effects aren't bad, with objects appearing appropriately blurry in the distance. The sound of bubbles provide sparse audio for a game that's otherwise eerily quiet. The missions are pretty straightforward as you methodically beat up goons, disarm bombs (with a tape measure no less), and protect strategic locations. Enemies tend to congregate in groups, and when you get close enough, they'll float over to you one at a time to get their collective asses kicked. Once a thug comes within punching distance, just whale away on buttons until he vanishes. Rinse and repeat. I can tolerate a certain level of repetitiveness in my games, but Aquaman pushed me to the limit. There are dozens of fighting combos, but they all look exactly the same! Enemies sometimes apply a hold to Aquaman, and the sight of the two floating, intertwined bodies looks totally gay. You have the special ability to call upon sharks and dolphins for assistance, but they simply carry off the current foe. It's a crime the developers didn't use this opportunity to incorporate some gratuitous violence. It would have been worth at least a letter grade to see these goons get ripped to shreds by a man-eating shark! Aquaman's missions are mercifully brief, and an arrow always keeps you headed in the right direction. Breaking up the monotony are occasion submarine shooting stages which look like fun but play like crap. I was expecting the explosions to be a little less fiery, being underwater and all. In the final analysis, I can only recommend this game to die-hard Aquaman fans, but since there are none, I recommend this to nobody. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Arctic Thunder
Grade: C
Publisher: Midway (2002)
Reviewed: 2005/1/30
Rating: Teen (mild violence)

screenshotDo you experience an empty feeling after playing Artic Thunder? If so, you're not alone. This fast-paced snow speeder game is one of the most shallow racers I've ever come across. The highlight of the game is the awe-inspiring tracks, set in the Himalayas, Chernobyl, Washington DC, the Swiss Alps, the Alaskan Pipeline, and even a haunted castle. With spectacular scenery, huge drops, and hidden paths, each track is like a high-speed theme park ride. You'll careen through the halls of the white house, splash through pools of toxic waste, and speed past a giant Yeti monster in a cave. Unfortunately, the actual racing feels like an afterthought. Invisible course boundaries force you back on track when you stray, and getting knocked off your vehicle by a competitor is only a minor setback as the game immediately resets you on track (at full speed no less). Other racers come and go so fast that there's little strategy involved in the vehicular combat. In the end, each victory rings hollow. The only real incentive is earning points toward opening new courses. My friend Jonathan and I gave the split-screen "battle mode" a try, but it was a monumental bore. I think we could have played for days without actually hitting each other. The only points we scored were for killing ourselves, which says a lot. The exhilarating tracks of Arctic Thunder will captivate arcade fan for a while, but this racer offers minimal long-term value. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


BMX XXX
Grade: F-
Publisher: Acclaim (2002)
Reviewed: 2008/4/1
Rating: Mature (comic mischief, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content)

screenshotThis ill-advised title attempts to combine BMX biking with erotic strippers, and it's not exactly a match made in heaven. You have to question the state of mind of the Acclaim executive who said, "Yeah, this is a good idea." Languishing in bargain bins since its inception, BMX XXX may well be the worst video game ever conceived. This game is so tawdry that after reviewing it I had to take a shower. While not truly X-rated (more like an R rating), it pushes the boundaries of bad taste with its pimps, prostitutes, crude humor, nudity, and profanity. At its core, BMX XXX is a marginal dirt bike game with maze-like stages loaded with ramps and icons. In addition to performing Tony Hawk-style stunts, you'll need to gather certain items in a limited time, or locate hidden objects. The controls are abysmal. The A button is used to accelerate but releasing it "hops", so you end up hopping all over the place. The steering controls are responsive, but since the poorly designed stages are heavily constrained you often find yourself bouncing around like a pinball! Stage locations include the Bronx, Vegas, a Dam, and Area 51, but they're all terrible. The audio effects are truly obnoxious, both in terms of their volume and quality. Expect a lot of vagrants shouting obscenities like "get the [expletive] outta here!" The only thing XXX has anything going for it is its uptempo soundtrack, which even includes a track from Green Day. The juvenile humor is cringe-worthy, the graphics are riddled with glitches, and the whole package is sloppy in general. If you select a female rider, the characters still address you as if you were a guy. Clearing stages rewards you with short videos of topless dancers, and while the girls look good (duh!), the dark, grainy videos are not worth investing hours to unlock. If you want to know how bad BMX XXX is, keep in mind that parents didn't even bother to complain about it! That's saying something! © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance
Grade: B+
Publisher: Interplay (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/9/6
Rating: Teen (blood, violence, use of alcohol)

screenshotDespite its PC origins, Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance is a terrific Xbox game. If you've played Diablo (Playstation) or Record of the Lodoss War (Dreamcast), you'll feel right at home with this overhead hack-n-slash adventure. Dark Alliance is more action-oriented than your standard RPG, feeling more like Golden Axe than Final Fantasy. The puzzles tend to be of the simple lever-pulling variety, and most of the strategy involves choosing the appropriate weapons or spells for each new confrontation. The outstanding graphics should please Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) fans, complete with monsters taken straight from the D&D Monster Manual. The townships and dungeons are meticulously detailed and realistically lighted. Even clichéd environments like the sewers look terrific thanks to some of the best water effects I've ever seen. The characters are significantly larger than Diablo, allowing for a greater level of detail and control. The blood flies as you swing your sword, and each kill is satisfying because the bad guys don't continually regenerate like they do in some other games. Tiny kobolds flee in fear, skeletons shoot arrows from afar, huge gelatinous cubes slide around, ghosts walk through walls, and headless zombies wander aimlessly. There are loads of items to collect during your journey, and you're constantly upgrading your weapons and armor. While at first you'll want to pick up every item you find, eventually the weight limit kicks in, forcing you to be more selective. The well-designed control scheme gives you the ability to heal yourself on the fly, although switching weapons can be somewhat awkward. Interacting with characters conveys an interesting storyline, and the voice acting is not bad at all. Ominous music and crystal clear sound effects like creaking doors complete the immersive experience. There are ample save points and a two-player mode to boot. Some may find the action a little repetitive, but there's really not much to fault with this game. If you have a mind for adventure, you can't go wrong with Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Batman Begins
Grade: B
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/12/1
Rating: Teen (Language, violence)

screenshotFor a video game based on a movie, Batman Begins is pretty darned good. Some of its graphics are absolutely gorgeous. Who would have thought that docks, a staple backdrop in so many action games, could look so magnificent? I actually had to stop playing to enjoy the scenery a few times. The character animation is excellent, and controlling Batman is a breeze. Performing complex moves like climbing off of a vertical chain and onto a horizontal pipe is so easy that you'll think the game is reading your mind. The basic gameplay involves eavesdropping on thugs, freaking them out by triggering "accidents", and interrogating those you sneak up on. Keeping a low profile is advisable, since causing a ruckus results in thugs pouring out of the woodwork. The fighting action is simple and satisfying, with Batman performing a variety of stylish martial arts maneuvers on his foes. Despite its strong Metal Gear influence, Batman Begins never feels frustrating or tedious. The stages are very linear, and the game always keeps you headed in the right direction. At one point I even asked myself, "Am I playing this game, or is it playing me?" I decided it doesn’t really matter as long as I'm having a good time. This is one stealth game even a casual player can enjoy, although some hardcore gamers may object to the constant "handholding". Batman Begins is nicely paced, and I didn't even mind the early training level (those are usually so annoying). Spicing up the action are gadgets like an optic wire (to see through doors), lock-picking mini-games, and lengthy Burnout-style driving stages. Grenades and Batarangs are useful weapons, but these are only available at specific times, which can be frustrating. There are ample checkpoints, so you won't need to repeat the same areas too often. The storyline differs somewhat from the film but the cut scenes feature a generous helping of movie footage. An ominous orchestrated musical score adds dramatic flair, and it's reminiscent of Psycho at times. Despite being a bit shallow, Batman Begins has all the necessary ingredients of a good superhero game. Numerous unlockables include cast interviews, movie footage, alternate batman costumes, and mini-games. Fans of the Caped Crusader are in for a treat. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Batman: Dark Tomorrow
Grade: F
Publisher: Kemco (2003)
Reviewed: 2012/9/6
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotBatman: Dark Tomorrow begins with a cinematic introduction boasting fluttering bats, fading credits, and an intense musical score by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It's impressive, if you can get past the fact that Bruce Wayne walks like Frankenstein and his mansion looks more like Cinderella's Castle. When you start a new game Batman is pitted against waves of thugs wearing animal masks and armed with machine guns. Besides kick and punch attacks, you can deploy gadgets from your utility belt like bat-a-rangs, smoke bombs, night vision goggles, and grapples. Dark Tomorrow has considerable depth but it's not very playable. Swinging between rooftops with the bat-cable is clumsy, and one accidental slip sends the Dark Knight plunging to his death. The designers tried to incorporate stealth, but Batman creeps so slowly in "sneak mode" that it's unbearable. The combat is ruined by the fact that you must apply bat-cuffs to all the bad guys you beat down. Otherwise they just get back up! Applying the cuffs is time-consuming, and the cuffing animation is unintentionally hilarious because Batman doesn't appear to know what the hell he's doing (where do these things go?). It's frustrating when you're messing around with the cuffs while all the bad guys are pumping lead into you. It just goes to show: just because an idea is original doesn't mean it's good. The controls suck in general. Sometimes Batman will grab onto a ladder and sometimes he won't. You cannot aim upward with your bat-a-rang, leaving you defenseless against thugs on ledges. But by far the worst aspect of the game is the camera. Your view abruptly changes so often that it's hard to tell which way you're facing. You'll need to depend on your radar display to ensure you're not backtracking. And if you think the camerawork is disorienting in the streets, wait until you enter a building. On a positive note, the load screens are short and you can save your progress at any time. When Batman loses his life, he makes one final attempt to stand before collapsing from exhaustion. After trying to play this train wreck I felt the same way. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu
Grade: D+
Publisher: Ubi Soft (2003)
Reviewed: 2008/12/20
Rating: Teen

screenshotI picked this one out of an FYE bargain bin, and from the box it looked like a pretty slick beat-em-up. Batman: Rise of Sin Tsu tries to combine old-school fighting with 3D graphics, but the results are disappointing. While the basic formula is similar to the classic 16-bit Batman titles, the 3D perspective takes its toll on the fun factor. For one thing, since the camera is tilted overhead, there's little if any eye candy to be seen. In fact, the only visible scenery is concrete streets and marble flooring. The thugs take far too many hits to defeat, even when you employ special moves! The controls are very much geared toward button-mashing, evident by the fact that many moves require tapping the same button in rapid succession. You can assume the role of Batman, Robin, Batgirl, or Nightwing. I like how you can fight alongside a friend, but that doesn't make the action any less repetitive. The thugs come in several varieties, but they all behave pretty much the same. One type likes to unleash gas bombs which makes the screen very wavy. While this effect seems impressive at first, it's so overused that I found myself getting nauseous from it! Between stages you can save your progress and use the points you earn to purchase additional moves. The graphics mimic the style of the cartoon series, but tend to be a little bland. Rise of Sin Tzu is pretty dull in the early going, but while I expected it to become more interesting as I progressed, that never happened. I suspect even Batman fans will find Rise of Sin Tzu more taxing than it should have been. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Battle Engine Aquila
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari (2002)
Reviewed: 2004/1/28

screenshotI reviewed Battle Engine Aquila just after playing Mech Assault, and couldn't help but notice a lot of similarities. Both are mech shooters with similar control schemes, but in terms of looks, Aquila wins hands down. The visuals are more polished and well defined, and the shimmering water looks particularly good. You view the action from a first-person point of view, and there's much more emphasis on flying around. Unlike Mech Assault where you can only hover momentarily, in Battle Engine Aquila you'll spend half of the time in the air. Although flying is pretty easy, you have to be careful not to land in water because your mech can't swim. Unfortunately, the first person view sometimes makes it hard to determine if you're over water as you come in for a landing. Some missions take place almost completely over water, so you'll have to land on a ship to restore your energy, which can be tricky. Unlike Mech Assault which is basically a bunch of small skirmishes in confined areas, Aquila puts you in the middle of a huge war, with an expansive battleground loaded with other vehicles engaged in battle. To help tell the good guys from the bad, your allies are rendered in shades of blue, and the bad guys are all red. I enjoyed Battle Engine Aquila a lot, and found the two-player cooperative mode especially addicting. I don't think this game got a lot of attention when it was released, but it's very worthwhile. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Blood Wake
Grade: B
Publisher: Microsoft (2001)
Reviewed: 2002/1/8
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotWhen was the last time you played a game of high-speed gunboat warfare? That's what I like about Blood Wake - there's nothing else like it. You're a modern-day pirate trying to sink everything in sight. There's a nice variety of realistically-modeled vessels to choose from like speedboats, catamaran, gunboats, and hydroplanes. Weapons include chain guns, torpedoes, mines, and rockets. An addictive story mode takes you on a series of exciting missions, most involving blowing ships out of the water and destroying structures on the shoreline. There are also some exciting four-player death matches and team modes included. The boats and the water are graphically impressive. Minutely detailed, the ships look properly aged and weathered. The shimmering water looks beautiful, and it varies in roughness. Enemy boats explode convincingly before slowing sinking into the depths. While the action is always silky smooth, slowdown does occur, especially if your ship goes airborne. The controls could have been better designed. Using the left "steering" joystick to thrust and reverse is awkward, and you often shift into reverse when trying to make a tight turn. Still, Blood Wake is quite satisfying overall, and fans of vehicular combat games will certainly approve. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Bloodrayne 2
Grade: C-
Publisher: Majesco (2004)
Reviewed: 2006/10/14
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)

screenshotThe first Bloodrayne sucked me in with its seductive heroine and occult theme, but with this sequel the formula is wearing thin. Rayne is a half-vampire redhead with knives attached to her arms who's trying to destroy her family bloodline. The action begins at a masquerade ball at a luxurious mansion, but later moves on to more urban settings including a meatpacking plant, sewers, and even a honky-tonk bar. Sporting a new haircut, Rayne has a few new moves up her sleeve, including the ability to grind rails, wield blood-powered guns, and use a harpoon to fling bad guys into fans, fireplaces, and trash compactors. A bizarre control scheme is used to swing from bars, but once you get used to it, it's pretty decent. You'll encounter some hideous monstrosities, but the bulk of your time is spent fighting a steady stream of generic thugs. At any time you can toggle between various play modes using the directional pad, including "aura vision" (reveal clues), "blood rage" (increased offense), and "dilated perception" (the obligatory slow-down mode). This dilated perception (aka "bullet-time") mode is not only a really tired concept, but it often belies the action on the screen as you see Rayne's blades pass harmlessly through the bodies of her enemies. It's similar to the light saber issue in Star Wars games - one swing really should finish off any foe. Bloodrayne 2 offers plenty of splattering blood, but it can be hard to tell who's doing the hurting during the mayhem. The environments are detailed and highly destructible, but they're often reused, which is lame. The audio is solid, and I especially like the Prodigy-style music that kicks in during major fight sequences. The difficulty level is about right but the checkpoint spacing is woefully uneven. At one point the game completely locked up on me - a cardinal sin for any console game. Bloodrayne 2 isn't the worst sequel I've played, but I don't think many gamers will be begging for a follow-up. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Bruce Lee: Quest of the Dragon
Grade: F
Publisher: Universal (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/7/18
Rating: Teen (Suggestive Themes/Violence)

screenshotAs a long-time Bruce Lee fan, I was bitterly disappointed by Quest of the Dragon. This mind-numbing button mash-a-thon is poorly designed and just doesn't make much sense. You simply guide Bruce through different areas beating up one gang after another. First it gets repetitive, and then it gets boring, and finally it starts hurting your wrist! Quest of the Dragon might have been a fair game if the developers would have incorporated some interesting storylines or characters from Bruce Lee's movies. But all you get here is an incoherent plot and a parade of generic thugs! Dialogue like "Let's teach him a lesson!" doesn't help matters. In each stage, you methodically beat up each gang, collect coins, and purchase more moves between levels. The instruction manual is loaded with hundreds of moves, but in fact, little technique is required. This game is a button-masher's dream. Sure it's fun to watch Bruce go postal and dispatch dozens of thugs at first. The action is fast, but there are frequent "hiccups" in the framerate. The targeting system sucks, and you'll often find yourself facing some off-screen guy instead of the two thugs that are punching you on-screen. The game is strictly linear, although it's still hard to tell where to go next thanks to the awful camera system. The environments are not interactive at all - they just provide new scenery for the same monotonous fights. The graphics are below average. The characters aren't very detailed, and with the exception of the bosses, they all look the same. The scenery varies from a fishing village, to a restaurant, to the streets of Hong Kong, but it's nothing special. Even the lives/continue system is confusing. All in all, Quest is an uninspired game that won't hold your interest for long. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Brute Force
Grade: C+
Publisher: Microsoft (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/7/24
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)

screenshotAs Microsoft's entry to the new "cooperative combat" genre, Brute Force puts you in charge of a four-man squad on a series of galactic missions. Each character possesses his/her own special abilities that are suited for specific situations. Tex is an all-around tough guy who can wield two weapons at once. Brutus is a talking reptilian beast with quickness and "heightened senses". Hawk's specialty is stealth, and her ability to become invisible and sneak up on unsuspecting enemies comes in handy. Flint is the sharpshooter of the group. Although the look of the game is similar to Halo, Brute Force is played from a third-person perspective. You can switch control between characters on the fly, and the other team members behave according to your orders. These orders include "move to", "fire at will", "cover me", and "stand ground". The system for issuing orders is confusing at first, but it's necessary to learn. A novice may be tempted to overlook the "team" aspect of the game, but a Rambo mentality won't get you far in most missions. Brute Force includes all the standard weapons you would expect, such as machine guns, rocket launchers, a sniper rifle, and various types of grenades. The scenery isn't noteworthy, but I like the variety of enemies, including marauding reptilian men, savage zombies, and teleporting wizards. Unlike SOCOM (PS2), which included a series of complex objectives with each mission, Brute Force only asks you to wipe out all of your enemies in each stage. The single-player mode is enjoyable enough, but the split-screen multiplayer mode is confusing, and my friends quickly grew impatient with it. If you really want to play multi-player, I'd advise trying the on-line options (I myself did not). Brute Force is a respectable action title. It's not one of my favorites, but at $20 it's a reasonable purchase. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2002)
Reviewed: 2008/5/13
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, mild language, suggestive themes)

screenshotMuch like the television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is better than you might expect! The production values are top-shelf, with genuinely creepy environments, intuitive controls, and intelligent voice dialogue provided by the actors themselves (except for Sarah Michelle Gellar). The game offers a mix of exploration, puzzle-solving, and even sniping, but you'll spend most of your time showing monsters what the wrong end of a karate kick feels like. As a kung-fu hottie of the highest magnitude, Buffy beats down vampires, hellhounds, spiders, shambling zombies, and assorted other supernatural minions. The spiders look pretty gross, and the decomposed zombies keep coming back - even after losing a few limbs. The impressive fighting engine dishes out fluid and surprisingly elaborate attack combinations. Sometimes Buffy can dispose of a foe with a single, well-timed backhanded stab, and it's satisfying to watch a vampire disintegrate into dust. There's no shortage of weapons, including crossbows, flamethrowers, holy water, shovels, and even baseball bats. It's easy to throw enemies, and chances are, there's a sharp piece of wood sticking out somewhere closeby! Tossing vampires in front of moving trains is another enjoyable pastime. Certain locations are inspired by the show, including the high school and the Bronze nightclub. Realistic moonlight, fog, and flame effects convey an eerie atmosphere, and there are some genuinely frightening sights, like a contorted body crammed into a locker. Equally unnerving is the otherworldly music and disturbing sound effects like creaks, growls, and giggles. Locations like the mausoleum border on photo-realistic, but the cemetery feels too maze-like and the industrial areas are downright boring. Fortunately, none of the stages are particularly long. Another issue is the monotonous battles caused by too much monster respawning. She only killed like one or two in each show, yet she plows through them by the dozen here! Through it all Buffy tosses out some great lines like "You want a piece of me?! I'll give you the whole damned pie!" You go girl!! The characters are dead-ringers for the real actors, and their lips even match the dialogue. The controls are simple and responsive, although switching between weapons is a bit of a hassle. The fact that Buffy runs and climbs quickly allows the game to progress at a brisk pace. There's a nifty auto-save mechanism as well. All in all, this is a very well constructed game that I'm sure will become a collector's item, considering the show's cult status. Feel free to bump up the grade by one letter if you're a fan of the show! © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds
Grade: D+
Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games (2003)
Reviewed: 2008/9/21
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, suggestive themes, violence, mild language)

screenshotWhen I started playing Chaos Bleeds, I was like, "Wait a minute, this doesn't even look as good as the first Buffy game!" It's true. The environments aren't nearly as detailed or dark, and indoor areas like the Magic Shop look far too spacious and clean. The characters appear more cartoonish and their faces look like dolls. In terms of gameplay, Chaos tries to copy the first game, even taking you to similar locations such as a graveyard, factory, and sewers. The same monsters are back, so expect plenty of those crawling torsos you stomped in the first game! So what's new here? Well, those bat-faced vampires look pretty ugly, and the giant spiders are extra-crispy this time around. There's also an appearance by that creepy ventriloquist dummy (*shudder*). Chaos Bleeds is playable, but it lacks the polish of the first game, and its stages vary drastically in terms of duration and difficulty. Switching weapons is a constant hassle, and I hate how you have to be unarmed in order to perform a throw or use an item. Vampires and zombies respawn continuously, artificially lengthening the game. Buffy has plenty of martial-arts moves, but too often she misses her target and continues out her string of moves at thin air. The repetitive fighting is tiresome, and the puzzles are unimaginative. When I had to locate a handle to close a steam value in a sewer, I asked myself "Didn't I do this in the last game? What's next, a fuse box puzzle?" Sure enough, there was a missing fuse right around the next corner! The camera angles are glitchy, and at one point I could not exit the first-person crossbow view (until I died). Several of the show's actors lent their voices, but not Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy) or Alyson Hannigan (Willow). Buffy's replacement is dead-on, but Willow's seems to be overacting. The dialogue lacks the wit and irony of the show, and comes off more like dialogue that's trying to sound like the show. A two-player mode is included, but these games are pathetic! Whether you're collecting bunnies or fighting zombies, random events cause both players to switch characters or worse yet - switch scores. Fans of the Buffster can bump up the grade by a letter, but only because of the fun unlockable videos which include outtakes and interviews with the cast. Note: An astute reader pointed out that this was a cross-platform game that was likely watered down by the PS2. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Burnout 2: Point of Impact Director's Cut
Grade: B+
Publisher: Acclaim (2003)
Reviewed: 2005/4/15
Rating: Everyone (mild violence)

screenshotBurnout 2 is one hell of a racer - arguably even better than Burnout 3! This "Director's Cut" plays just like the original GameCube version, but extra tracks and mild weather conditions have been incorporated. In addition, more vehicles are available from the get-go and you aren't required to take the "offensive driving" tutorial. In terms of gameplay, Burnout 2 is sensational. As you weave through traffic at high speeds and drift around corners, you'll experience an adrenaline rush few other video games can match. And unlike titles like Gran Turismo with their multitudes of license requirements, Burnout 2 provides a refreshing degree of instant gratification. The single-player mode offers a series of increasingly difficult races through scenic locations, and there are even a few police-chase stages to spice things up. My one complaint is that this mode is a little too easy, and it takes a while to build up to the real challenge. Burnout 2 also includes a fantastic "crash mode" which in of itself is worth the price of the game. As you and your friends take turns plowing into busy intersections, you'll want to strategically aim your collision to initiate the most destructive chain reactions. Burnout 2 is one of the most best arcade-style racers I've played in years. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Burnout 3: Takedown
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2004)
Reviewed: 2005/4/15
Rating: Teen (mild violence)

screenshotOh sure - everyone's jumping on the Burnout bandwagon now, but I've been a fan of the series since the first edition. That said, I think this third installment is somewhat overrated. Although originally published by Acclaim, the Burnout franchise is now in the hands of gaming's "evil empire", Electronic Arts. EA certainly added plenty of features, but I think they may have gone off the deep end. In general, Burnout 3's races are chaotic and there's too much of everything. Even basic maneuvers net you crazy points and cause gaudy graphics to flash across the screen. It's too easy to take out other cars - simply rubbing against them can send them tumbling end-over-end. Points are awarded for everything - even crashing! Since the series is known for its high-impact wrecks, EA incorporated a new mechanism that lets you "guide" your crash into other cars while in slow motion. That's fun for about five minutes, but I prefer to get back into the race immediately. Winning any race in the single-player mode awards you with a laundry list of new items and unlocked stages. It's really too much to keep track of, and the sense of reward is diminished as a result. There's also an excessive amount of turbo available, so you can use it for practically an entire race! Burnout 3's "crash mode" now includes a two-player split-screen contest, but it's less fun than I expected. You can't tell what the hell's going on, and players' scores are inexplicably "switched" on occasion for no good reason. EA has also incorporated a few of their "signature" features, like the annoyingly hip DJ "Striker" and plenty of grinding guitar music. I've been pretty critical so far, but there's no denying Burnout 3's relentless, arcade-style gameplay. The sense of speed is palpable as you grind guardrails and weave through traffic. I love the "whooshing" sound effect when you narrowly avoid a collision. The "watch-only" tutorial is great, and the game's replay value is above reproach. An impressive number of tracks from around the globe are included, and the scenery looks terrific. Overall, Burnout 3 is certainly a solid title, but in some ways it's too much of a good thing. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 



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