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Halo
Grade: A-
Publisher: Microsoft (2001)
Reviewed: 2004/3/1
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotFew games have been as hyped and critically acclaimed as Halo, but this amazing first-person shooter (FPS) is deserving of the praise that's been bestowed upon it. Halo immerses you in a hostile, alien world with futuristic starships and organic natural landscapes. Even those who don't regard themselves as FPS fans are likely to be won over by this well-constructed game. The storyline is interesting, with some very dramatic moments and a few unexpected twists. The sharp graphics and smooth frame-rate make it easy to follow the action, even on the split-screen. Actually the two-player split-screen cooperative mode is arguably the best feature of the game. You and a friend play through the entire game as a team, covering for each other and initiating some nasty crossfire. Halo's controls are perfectly suited to the Xbox controller, using one joystick to move, the other to aim, and triggers to fire weapons and throw grenades. Your best all-around weapon is the rapid-fire assault rifle, yet the sniper rifle and rocket launcher have useful zoom features that make them ideal for scouting new areas. Grenades play a huge role, creating fantastic explosions that send bodies flying in all directions. Some grenades even "stick" to their targets - which is great as long as your target isn't running towards you! Halo's realistic, desolate space environments convey genuine atmosphere and invoke an aura of foreboding. The sterile starships have plenty of claustrophobic corridors, and the expansive outdoor battles provide a completely different combat experience. Marauding airships can be shot down, and their crash landings are spectacular. Another great feature is Halo's innovative health system, which fully restores your health if you can stay out of the fray for about ten seconds. Halo's audio quality is beyond reproach. From the creepy groans of monsters to the more subtle noise of howling winds, the sound effects play a huge role. Small aliens add humor by yelling "hit the deck!" with their high-pitched voices. Orchestrated music of epic magnitude also adds to the drama and intensity. Despite its greatness, Halo does have a few flaws. First, it can be difficult to determine where you're supposed to go at times since many stages contain repeating areas that look almost exactly the same. Although you can commandeer vehicles, they tend to be very difficult to control. Finally, the game only saves between chapters, and these can be lengthy. Still, Halo is a showcase title for the system and should be considered standard issue for all Xbox owners. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 


Halo 2
Grade: A
Publisher: Microsoft (2004)
Reviewed: 2005/1/30
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotLike the original Halo, this sequel offers extremely polished and highly immersive first-person shooting action. Surprisingly, Halo 2's graphics look pretty much the same, causing many to wonder why this game took three years to produce. The first stage is pure deja-vu as you blast aliens infiltrating a space station. As you progress through the game however, the scope expands to reveal fantastic new environments including a majestic city with towering skyscrapers. Halo 2's battlegrounds are more varied and less repetitive than its predecessor, and I often had to pause just to gawk at the scenery. Halo 2's weapons are more balanced, and most are equipped with scopes. Wielding a gun in each hand is a blast, but it does sacrifice your ability to toss grenades. There are numerous opportunities to commandeer vehicles, and it's surprisingly easy to jump onto an enemy's ride and kick him off. With the jeep-like Warthogs, you have the option of being the driver, passenger, or gunner. Personally I prefer letting a CPU-controlled soldier drive me around as I man the turret. It's also possible to exchange weapons with non-player fellow foot soldiers. Unlike the first Halo, you can save at any time, and regular checkpoints ensure you won't have to retrace long stretches. The highly-touted enemy AI is impressive, and is most apparent in the advanced stages. Enemies are especially skillful at avoiding grenades. Halo 2 packs plenty of surprises, including a sequence where you take down a massive, spider-shaped killing machine, or when you play the role of an alien character called "the Arbiter". I personally found the Arbiter stages to be a bit confusing, since it's hard to tell who you're supposed to shoot (both sides are aliens). As fans would expect, Halo 2's audio is outstanding, with intelligent voice samples and a soaring musical score than sometimes borders on operatic. Unfortunately, the dialogue is often hard to make out over the loud music. On the downside, although I love the split-screen modes, some weapons take up too much screen real estate, and like the first Halo, it can be hard to determine where to go at times. The game also contains extensive on-line support. All in all, Halo 2 is everything it's advertised to be - a furiously entertaining shooter that squeezes every last bit of power out of the Xbox. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


Haunted Mansion, The
Grade: B+
Publisher: TDK (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/10/28
Rating: Teen (mild violence)

screenshotFor those of you that were disgusted by Disney's slow-paced Pirates of the Caribbean game, I can assure you that Haunted Mansion is ten times better. Let me qualify this review by stating that I've been a Haunted Mansion nut since I was a little kid. When I was 6, my parents bought me the Haunted Mansion book and record set, which I cherish to this day (yes, I still have it). I've been on the Haunted Mansion Disney ride (in three of the parks) literally dozens of times. To me, the Haunted Mansion embodies what Halloween should be: scary but fun. Initially, I was worried about this game, because the back of the box shows what looks like a run-of-the-mill 3D platform game, resembling Medi-Evil (PS1) or Maximo (PS2). But Haunted Mansion is a supremely enjoyable game that's really hard to stop playing. Though a little tame by video game standards, it retains the same dark but whimsical tone of the ride. Haunted Mansion is a bit on the easy side, but every room is full of new surprises. Each contains a unique puzzle that's tricky enough to make you think, but not so hard that you'll get stuck. It's truly commendable how the developers came up with so many interesting puzzles that never seem frustrating or tedious. Without giving away too much, I'll give you an example of one that I found to be clever. In one room, you're shrunk down and placed on a pool table where an invisible being starts shooting the cue ball at you. After running for my life for a few minutes, I realized that by standing near other balls, I could get them knocked into the pockets, which solved the puzzle. Besides puzzles, you'll shoot your share of ghosts and giant spiders, some of which are quite frightening. The floating lady ghosts have hair covering their face, reminiscent of the movie The Ring. One flaw is that it can be difficult to shoot spiders that are at your feet. The house itself looks properly gothic and dilapidated, and the otherworldly sound effects are sure to give you the creeps. There are some nice touches that Haunted Mansion fans will appreciate, like busts that turn their heads to follow you around the room, and portraits of decaying corpses. The camera is rarely a problem, and there are numerous opportunities to save. Haunted Mansion isn't completely original, but its thoughtful puzzles, simple gameplay, and excellent presentation make it one of the more enjoyable games I've played on the Xbox. It could have been a bit scarier, but otherwise I am thrilled with this likeable adventure. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


House of the Dead III
Grade: B+
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/12/1
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotI consider myself a House of the Dead veteran, having played through both the first House of the Dead (Saturn) and its sequel (Dreamcast). House of the Dead III (HOD3) doesn't offer much innovation, but it's still a heck of a lot of fun. As in most light gun games, your movement is automatic, so all you have to do is blast away at the "undead" ghouls. Sega originally started programming this as a cell-shaded, cartoonish-looking game, and remnants of that style can still be seen. The creatures and gore are too unrealistic and over-the-top to be frightening. When killed, the zombies disappear in a splash of green blood. People in the cut-scenes have freakishly large hands. The sound effects are pretty alarming, and the understated music is effective. HOD3 contains the same bad dialogue we've come to expect (and love) from the series, including gems like "We can't let everyone's death be in vain!" and "G, what happened to the world?" This edition has some new features that add to the fun. You are equipped with a powerful rifle, but that's the only weapon you'll get. Reloading is automatic, so you don't need to shoot off-screen. At certain intervals, you can explicitly choose between multiple routes, although other actions also affect your path through the game. You are now alerted to rescue situations before they happen, so you won't accidentally shoot the innocent. All of the action takes place in a huge factory. It looks great, but unfortunately you can't shoot up the scenery - just a few barrels and boxes. I was really impressed with some of the imaginative scenarios in this game. I love the boss that chases you up the stairs, and the zombies trying to squeeze through the closing elevator doors is reminiscent of a scene from Dawn of the Dead. In one area, you even have to shoot bodies that are falling from above. I've read several reviews that say the regular XBox controller works just as well as the light gun (made by Mad Catz), but I don't agree. While I will admit the controller works better than expected, there's really no substitute for a good light gun. Bonus features include the House of the Dead 2 (arcade perfect) and a surprisingly long preview of the upcoming House of the Dead movie. If you like frenetic arcade shooting action, HOD3 is a good choice. The non-stop carnage is exhilarating at times, and there aren't many titles like this for the XBox. Light Gun Note: For best results, use the Pelican Rifle or the gun by Cypher Games. Beware of the MadCatz Blaster which doesn't work on many TVs. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Hulk, The
Grade: B
Publisher: Universal (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/5/12
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotAfter watching that overblown Hulk movie last summer (2003), I wasn't in a rush to purchase its video game counterpart. But this Hulk game turned out to be surprisingly good - much better than the film. It's one of those fast action games where you can beat the living crap out of everything. You just don't see many games like this anymore. The action gets off to a fast start as the Hulk finds himself fighting an army in the desert, ripping apart tanks and knocking helicopters out of the sky. Your arsenal of attacks includes punches, kicks, throws, overhead smashes, and even a green projectile attack. You can grab people and toss them around like rag dolls. Most game stages feature the Hulk going on a rampage, beating up soldiers and destroying much of the scenery in the process. I love how the Hulk can lift and throw huge objects like cars. It's great fun, and the variety of moves keeps the action from getting stale. Interesting bosses include a cool "energy vampire" and another Hulk. There are also a few David Banner "stealth" stages thrown in to break up the monotony. In theory, these are a good idea because they change the tempo of the game and convey a degree of suspense. Unfortunately, confusing level designs and control glitches make these more frustrating than they should be. The Hulk's graphics are outstanding. Instead of going for realism, the developers went with a comic-book style cell-shaded look, which is very easy on the eyes. Likewise, the high-quality sound effects and music soundtrack make you feel like you're participating in an action movie. On top of it all, you'll get to unlock terrific artwork and video clips of the making of the film. The Hulk is so good that it makes the movie look all that much worse. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 


Hunter The Reckoning
Grade: C-
Publisher: Interplay (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/11/3
Rating: Mature (Violence and language)

screenshotFrom the description, Hunter sounds like an awesome game. It's similar to Gauntlet, but it takes place mostly outdoors, and your main attacks are melee (close range). At times literally dozens of zombies will be converging on you. By timing your attack button with joystick movements, you can pull off some pretty devastating assaults. When you're not slicing and dicing mindless ghouls, you can use long-range weapons to pick them off from a distance. It sounds like a winning combination, but the long-range weapons (guns) tend to be in short supply, so you'll spend most of your time pounding the attack button as blood flies all over the place. Hunter has some nice graphics, but it's hard to tell because everything is so small. I love how the monsters crawl out of the ground. The scenery includes a city street, a prison, a graveyard, and a church, but none of these places look particularly interesting. The control system is good - one joystick is used to aim, and the other is used to move. This combination makes strafing possible, which is great fun when you have the machine gun. I like how the zombies recoil when shot, and how you can hack off their limbs. This is one game where being aggressive is actually rewarded. You can cycle through three types of weapons: blades, guns, and magic. The bosses range from gruesome to wacky (a demonic teddy bear?), but your enemies are mainly shambling zombies, and you'll get tired of facing them. I'd like to describe the background story, but I couldn't make out the voice-over in the loud, cinematic introduction, and the cut-scenes make little sense. Hunter does offer a two-player simultaneous mode, but overall the game reeks of mediocrity. It's too repetitive and not very exciting. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb
Grade: C+
Publisher: LucasArts (2003)
Reviewed: 2008/5/23
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotIt might be tempting to call this a Tomb Raider rip-off, except for the fact that it was Tomb Raider that ripped off Indiana Jones in the first place. Anyway you look at it, Emperor's Tomb treads on some very familiar territory, and sometimes teeters precariously on the edge of mediocrity. Emperor's Tomb places Indy in a series of castles and ruins as he collects items, solves puzzles, pulls switches, and beats up bad guys. As an Indiana Jones fan I was hoping this game would capture the flavor of the films, but except for the trademark music, that's not the case. In fact, I suspect you could swap Lara Croft with Indy and nobody would even notice. Heck, the main character doesn't even look like Harrison Ford, although the voice is a close match. The control scheme is very good, feeling more natural and streamlined than the classic Tomb Raider controls. Guiding your character around is a breeze and you can perform some death-defying stunts with relative ease. Most surprising of all, the camera never seems to be a problem. You can punch out the bad guys, but that requires an inordinate number of blows, so use a gun whenever possible. For some odd reason the machete is worthless during battle. Although the first stage feels like a Tomb Raider outtake, Emperor's Tomb does ultimately deliver its share of intense moments, like creeping through a cave of giant bats or swimming to shore with a huge crocodile on your tail! These thrills make up for some of the game's more frustrating sequences. Periodic technical flaws tend to reveal the game's PC origins (gasp!), and these include clipping problems, collision detection issues, frame-rate stutters, and misplaced shadows. One time I even found myself walking on thin air! But the biggest liability is the hit-or-miss controls. Sometimes you can grab a ledge, while other times you cannot. Sometimes you can pull a switch, and sometimes you can't. This is not the polish we expect in a console adventure. At least your game is saved automatically (and transparently) on a regular basis, which is a very nice feature. It doesn't capture the unique spirit of the films, but if you can accept Emperor's Tomb for what it is, you'll probably find it worth your while. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Jaws Unleashed
Grade: F
Publisher: Majesco (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/7/6
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)

screenshotPoorly conceived and practically unplayable, Jaws Unleashed is an unmitigated disaster. As a huge fan of the movie, I was licking my chops at the thought of a video game adaptation, but nothing could have prepared me for this abomination. The novel concept of controlling the shark may have seemed promising on paper, but in fact it's no fun at all. What made the movie so great was the suspense and tension created by the fact that you never knew when or where the shark would appear. When you are the shark, there's no excitement at all. Yeah, you can bump boats and bite swimmers, but that gets old the second time you do it! And the game's programming is as shoddy as its design. In terms of graphics, this looks like a first generation PS2 game. The default "behind-the-shark" camera angle makes it impossible to judge distance. A shark cage will appear to be 50 feet away, when in fact you're right up against it! The preponderance of tight spaces doesn't help either. The first-person view is equally useless, as you can never tell what the hell is going on. The game's tutorial actually made me feel nauseous, and at one point my shark actually became stuck in a pier! Apparently the programmers anticipated this predicament, and included a "restore from last checkpoint" option on the menu. But wait - it gets worse. The initial objective of the first stage is to "find an ID card to open the gate". Huh? Is this Jaws or freakin' Splinter Cell?! The controls are heinous. You can never direct your "tail-whip" in the proper direction, and the simple act of eating a person is utterly confusing. Did I swallow that guy, or did he just escape?! Your objectives are rarely updated, often leaving your shark lost and bewildered. Worst of all, you're saddled with an irritating "hunger meter" that causes your shark to suddenly die if he doesn't eat something every two minutes. In general, you'll find your shark going belly-up all the time for no apparent reason. Does Jaws Unleashed offer any redeeming qualities? Well, the little factoids about the original movie that scroll by during the load screens are interesting. Also, the audio is quite good, especially when it comes to recreating those muffled, underwater effects. But nothing can possibly redeem this despicable mess. ET for the Atari 2600 may have been bad, but I'd prefer it to Jaws Unleashed any day. This may well be the worst video game of all time. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Jurassic Park Operation Genesis
Grade: B-
Publisher: Universal (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/6/6
Rating: Teen (Blood and gore, violence)

screenshotBilled as a 3D "action-sim", Operation Genesis is an ideal way to bring Jurassic Park to the video game world. One aspect of the original movie that fascinated people was the elaborate theme park, equipped with safari tours and other attractions. Now you can create your very own dinosaur park, and like other sim-style games, it's incredibly addicting. Once you get into this game, the hours just seem to fly by. There are tutorial exercises to get you up to speed, but I think it's more fun to learn as you go. The menus can be intimidating at first because there are so many options available to you. First you'll need to deploy fossil diggers around the world and extract DNA at your genetics lab before you can even start breeding dinosaurs. Initially you'll have to settle for the small ones, but you'll gradually uncover fossils of larger beasts. Creating the park layout is a joy. You'll run fences and paths, and place trashcans, benches, and fountains. You'll set up concession stands, souvenir shops, and hire cleaning and security personnel. You have a research staff that you can assign to one project at a time, which gradually increases your building options. Once you officially open your park, it comes alive with thrill-seeking visitors. You can actually zoom in on the people to see their reactions! Naturally the character models look rougher up close, but they still look good. Eventually you'll construct balloon rides and safaris to keep the people entertained. Best of all, you can actually participate in the rides yourself, and even take pictures! To keep you abreast of your progress and latest developments, you are almost constantly notified by incoming emails. It sounds annoying, but they tend to be informative, short, and to the point. I don't think I ever got bored playing this game, because the bigger your park gets, the more there is to do. For gamers who prefer instant gratification, there's also an exciting mission mode that challenges you to take pictures, shoot down rampaging carnivores, herd herbivores, or perform rescue missions. I played Operation Genesis for hours on end, but there were a few flaws that eventually tempered my enthusiasm. You'll often need to shoot dinosaurs from a helicopter in order to sedate them, and the targeting absolutely sucks. The cursor is far too sensitive to get a bead on the really small dinosaurs. Next, transporting new dinosaurs from a breeding pen to their permanent homes is a time consuming and tedious process. You need to tranquilize them from a helicopter, move them to the proper area, and finally revive them. It isn't so bad for one dinosaur, but when you're breeding four or five at a time, it's downright aggravating! Also, I hate how some of the dinosaurs have such short lifespans. Few last more than a few years, and some only live for six months! Once your dinosaurs start dying off, you can't breed them fast enough. I should also mention that the occasional hiccups in the framerate, while not offensive, are certainly noticeable. But overall, Operation Genesis is still one of the most engrossing games I've played on my XBox. If you have any interest in dinosaurs or the Jurassic Park movies, don't miss out on this. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 players 


Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer
Grade: B+
Publisher: Activision (2002)
Reviewed: 2010/6/20
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFor my entire life I've searched for the perfect surfing game, so how did I miss Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer? The game can be described as "Tony Hawk on water", and I mean that in the most positive way. You select between several beaches, each with its own unique characteristics as described by Kelly Slater himself via brief intro videos. The Sebastian location in Florida offers easy, fun-in-the-sun action, while the massive, crashing waves of the Maverick shore in California are more formidable. Since you're looking out towards the ocean, there's not much in the way of scenery. When you see that big wave well up behind you however, it's pretty exciting. Each beach has a handful of goals, but you have complete freedom to ride the waves as you please. Typical goals involve topping a certain score, executing specific tricks, or performing stunts like jumping over a pier. Completing every goal is a tall order, but you only need to complete a subset to progress to the next level. The basic controls are smartly designed and fairly intuitive in nature. Holding the A button lets you speed up, and this also functions as jump when you release it at the top of a wave. To "stall" (slow down) you pull back on the thumbstick, and this allows you to get sucked into the barrel of a wave. Fancy tricks are performed via combinations of the stick and buttons. It's fun to mess around, but to become a skilled player you'll need to practice and memorize a lot of moves. The game usually captures the most dramatic camera angles, but it can be disorienting when you catch big air and can't tell where you're about to land. Frustration can occur when you blow a slew of combo points simply by wiping out a few seconds after the fact. The graphics are amazing, with smooth, natural-looking waves and realistically animated surfers. The game does a fine job of capturing the spirit of the sport while offering enough variety to keep the player engaged. I actually found myself contorting my body as I played! If you're looking for a surfing game for the summer, Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer is the best I've seen. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


King of Fighters Neo Wave
Grade: B+
Publisher: SNK (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/8/27
Rating: Teen (blood, mild suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotThis 2D fighter seems to have flown under the radar, but those who discover King of Fighters Neo Wave are in for a real treat. Unlike the recent spate of 2D rehashes, Neo Wave does more that take an old game and add an on-line mode. It takes an already great fighter and makes it even better. True, Neo Wave is basically an amalgamation of the many other King of Fighter (KOF) games, but this package has it all. Its core one-on-one fighting engine has changed little over the years, but it's still perhaps the best one out there. The matches tend to be ferociously competitive. KOF veterans will appreciate the game's depth and rich set of moves, while newcomers will find satisfaction with simple button mashing. With the exception of its unsightly intro sequence, Neo Wave is the best-looking King of Fighters title to date. The 35 characters look somewhat "smoothed over" in appearance, with less of that pixelated edge we're accustomed to seeing in games like this. I've always admired the artistic beauty of 2D fighters, and Neo Wave offers substantial eye candy. Many locations offer magnificent city views, and I love how they transform from day to night between rounds. In a surprising twist, one stage looks like something straight out of Mortal Kombat. If only there were more of these fine looking stages. Also, it's hard not to notice the pronounced "jiggle" effects employed for the more attractive female characters. With Capcom unable to produce anything fresh in recent years, King of Fighters Neo Wave is clearly the way to go for 2D fighting fanatics. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Land of the Dead
Grade: B
Publisher: Groove Media (2005)
Reviewed: 2008/12/20
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)

screenshotIt may not look like much, but if Land of the Dead's purpose is to scare the hell out of the player, it gets the job done. This game didn't seem to garner much attention at the time of release, but it's actually pretty good. It feels decidedly low budget, but then again, a lot of the best horror movies were low budget (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, Blair Witch Project). Graphics-obsessed gamers are likely to dismiss Land of the Dead with its angular zombies, plain scenery, and frame-rate glitches. Even I have to admit that the trees look awful. But underneath that rough surface lies some truly unsettling first-person action. The locations are faithful to the zombie movie genre, and your limited view makes it easy for things to creep up on you. The first stage is set in a farmhouse, and I thought that I was safe after closing my front door. Needless to say I jumped a mile when I saw some rotting ghoul shambling through my living room (and dirtying up my rug). The stage that truly won me over was the cornfield stage. What's more scary that frantically trying to escape a cornfield with decomposing monsters closing in on you? The zombies look scary enough, and while they sometimes stand around clueless, they have a way of lunging at you unexpectedly. The well-designed controls let you run using the left trigger, but over time you'll run short of breath and have to slow down. There's a lot of firepower readily available, but reloading some weapons can be agonizingly slow. Hey, that just adds to the suspense. Land of the Dead won't win any awards, but if you've ever wanted to play a part in a zombie film, it's exactly what you're looking for. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Lego Star Wars
Grade: B-
Publisher: LucasArts (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/5/18
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis unlikely game is actually more enjoyable than many of the "serious" Star Wars games of recent memory. The characters, vehicles, and scenery are constructed entirely of Legos, but once you get accustomed to the look, you'll hardly even notice it. What you will notice is the refreshingly simple gameplay and stages that re-enact Episodes I, II and III. The control scheme is uncomplicated (perfect for young kids), and most scenes let you switch between a variety of characters on the fly. The animation is fluid, and when a character is struck down, he breaks into a pile of Lego pieces (awesome!) Jedi knights like Obi Wan can "use the Force" to transform loose Legos into ramps and platforms, allowing you to access new (and hidden) areas. There's no camera control, but it's not really an issue in the single-player mode. It is a factor however, in the two-player mode, where different types of characters are forced to take different routes. The Episode One stages do a terrific job of incorporating key scenes from the first film, including the pod race and battle with Darth Maul. Between stages, humorous cut-scenes fill in the rest of the story. There are no voices (just mumbling), but the musical score is straight from the films. It may seem tedious to have a text crawl for each new chapter, until you realize it's really a thinly veiled load screen. Compared to Episode One, Attack of the Clones feels abbreviated, as if the developers ran out of time. As for Episode III, well, I couldn't bring myself to spoil a movie I haven't even seen yet. Lego Star Wars' main "story" mode is brief, but there are literally hundreds of locked items and playable characters to go back and unlock. But although I was initially thrilled with the game, eventually it did start to wear thin. With an easy difficulty level and unlimited continues, there's little tension or excitement. Lego Star Wars is a little short, but the concept is cool enough to warrant a purchase. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Links 2004
Grade: B+
Publisher: Microsoft (2003)
Reviewed: 2010/6/20
Rating: Everyone

screenshotLinks 2004 makes me realize how far golf games have not come in recent years. In terms of pure gameplay, this compares favorably to any of the more recent golf titles. Links is easy to play and looks terrific. Its natural-looking locations range from a traditional Scottish course to the volcanic shores of Maui - complete with breaking waves. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever seen scenery this good in an EA golf game. Clear natural sounds like chirping birds and drizzling rain make the experience all the more immersive. There are even some slick surround sound effects when the crowd of spectators applauds. Most of the golfers are fictional, but their mannerisms are interesting and I like how they realistically contort their bodies while swinging. Special effects accompany exceptional shots, including air ripples and stop-motion photos. Links 2004 has a brief tutorial that does a nice job of getting you started quickly. The control scheme is a hybrid of sorts, combining the meter of an old-fashioned golf game with the analog movements of a Tiger Woods game. But it's the brisk pacing that makes Links 2004 so engaging. You can expedite each shot by holding the A button, and doing this allows you to play 18 holes in well under a half-hour. The load screens are barely perceivable and saves are transparent. If there's one glaring issue, it's the putting game. It's extremely easy to overshoot - especially on short putts. Expect to see a lot of balls rim-out or pop up after hitting the hole. Another issue is the skill level, which can be confusing. It affects the number of gauges on the screen in addition to the general difficulty. I would prefer to adjust those separately. And what's up with the loud guitar music on the menu screens? Inappropriate... inappropriate... Links 2004 isn't perfect, but it's addictive, and over time I fell in love with it. Last but not least, it sure is refreshing to play a golf game without Tiger Woods hogging the spotlight! © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Grade: D
Publisher: Vivendi (2002)
Reviewed: 2012/1/5
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)

screenshotUnlike the other Lord of the Rings games available for Xbox, this was not licensed by the movie. Since I don't read books (without pictures anyway), I was disappointed. Fellowship of the Ring wrongly assumes the player has read the book, referring to various characters, items, and locations that are never explained. The production values aren't bad. The fairy tale graphics have a smooth "painted" quality, with details like falling leaves and scurrying squirrels. An orchestrated musical score adds drama and intensity. The game involves guiding Frodo and friends though quaint villages, dark forests, and deep mines. You'll find weapons along the way but for the longest time you're limited to smacking foes around with a lousy stick. Township areas like the Shire offer optional side quests, but in my experience these tedious tasks (which include pig wrangling) are not worth the time and effort. Fellowship has its share of stealth gameplay, especially when the ominous black riders show up. The difficulty is fair and you can save at any time. So what's the problem? Well, the camera sucks and the user interface is clumsy. Mazelike stages lead to aimless wandering through murky surroundings (a map would have been nice). It's slow going and the deliberate pacing made it hard for me to stay engaged. Fellowship of the Ring may be worthwhile for fans of the book, but I felt more like an outsider looking in. A very bored outsider. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Grade: C
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/12/28
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotPerhaps the novelty is finally wearing thin, but I enjoyed Return of the King far less than The Two Towers. Sure the quality of the graphics and sound are still there, but the gameplay is tiresome, the cameras angles stink, and the new two-player mode is a complete disappointment. Each new stage is introduced with several minutes of video footage, mostly culled from the films. While the video looks great, it would be nice to have the option of skipping these lengthy intros. Thankfully, you can skip them if you need to repeat the level. Return of the King takes our heroes through places like the Halls of the Dead, Shelob's Lair, and Minas Tirith, and realistic graphics faithfully recreate these film locations. The audio quality is also superb, with a soaring musical score and frequent (but non-repetitive) voice samples. The controls let you slash, parry, fire projectiles, jump back, and perform a "finishing move". There's plenty of button mashing involved, but you can also manipulate your sword using the right joystick. Special moves can be purchased as you progress, and these are executed using various button combinations. In most stages one or two companions fight by your side, but they aren't very aggressive and often just get in the way. Having a friend control a second character seems ideal, but the atrocious camerawork really hinders the fun. My friends didn't enjoy playing this game one bit! In terms of design, the Hall of the Dead stages are particularly annoying, as the dark, foggy areas make it hard to see what's going on. In addition, the sheer number of enemies you need to dispatch in certain areas borders on ridiculous. Since most battles take place on the edge of cliffs, you're always trying to knock enemies off the edge, but it rarely happens. Worst of all, dying forces you to replay large chunks of levels you painstakingly had to slash your way through. For those who persevere, Return of the King does offer some terrific extras like interviews or concept art. But I suspect most gamers will lose interest after the first few stages. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Grade: B
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/2/27
Rating: Teen (blood and violence)

screenshotFollowing the storyline of the first two Lord of the Rings movies, this action-packed hack-n-slash game matches the epic scale of the films. In terms of production quality, The Two Towers is beyond reproach. Between stages, actual movie footage fades nicely into cut scenes, which transition nicely into game graphics. Assuming the role of various characters from the film, you muscle your way through hordes of orcs and goblins like a modern-day Golden Axe (Genesis). New moves are purchased with experience points as you progress through the game, and you can strike foes from a distance using projectile attacks (which all characters have). No elaborate aiming system is needed - you just point and shoot, and your shots tend to be deadly accurate. Games of this nature have a tendency to be pretty repetitive, but Two Towers is nicely paced with short, constantly changing levels and interesting boss encounters. Adding replay value is the fact that you can play through each level using multiple characters. Toss in bonuses like production photos, interviews, and secret missions, and this is a good value. My main beef is the lack of a two-player mode. It's particular puzzling since most levels feature two fighters fighting side-by-side, one controlled by the CPU. The camera can be a pain at times, but it's not a showstopper. Lord of the Rings The Two Towers is a good looking game that should appeal to those who can't get enough of the films. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 



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