Xbox Reviews S

SNK Vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos
Grade: C-
Publisher: SNK (2003)
Reviewed: 2006/8/27
Rating: Teen (animated blood, comic mischief, violence)

screenshotDespite my seemingly unconditional love for 2D fighters, my reaction to SVC Chaos was decidedly lukewarm. I'm sorry, but this has the look of something hastily assembled to generate some quick on-line revenue. The solid fighting engine offers the potential for some high octane butt-whooping, but the game reeks of mediocrity. There are 36 characters are from various SNK and Capcom franchises like Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown, King of Fighters, and Street Fighter. There are a few solid veterans like Ryu, Ken, Terry Bogard, and Mai, but many of the other selections are questionable at best. The "star" of the game is "Mr. Karate", a gray-haired man with an absolutely huge red nose - we're talking Pinocchio here! He looks so hideously bad that it's almost embarrassing. Also included are a generous portion of "cheap" characters like the mammoth Earthquake, the diminutive Choi (with knives on his fingers), and Tessa the witch. I personally don't think the weapon-wielding warriors from Samurai Shodown even belong in a game like this. Chun Li is a long-time Capcom favorite, but this game uses her Street Fighter 3 incarnation with those grotesque fat thighs. SVC's fighting action is fair, but the fact that each fighter has two meters (one superimposed on the other) really drags things out. Even the graphics are a disappointing. I've come to expect the 2D characters to look pixelated, but those drab, uninteresting backgrounds are unforgivable. As 2D fighters go, this one falls flat. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Samurai Shodown V
Grade: B-
Publisher: SNK (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/8/27
Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, violence)

screenshotAs a classic game lover I really enjoy Samurai Shodown V (SSV), but I must admit that its appeal may be lost on the casual Xbox owner. The Samurai Shodown franchise originated on the ultra-expensive Neo Geo system of the 90's, and apparently sequels continue to be pumped out. In what appears to be a straight port, SSV's pixelated graphics have "1995" written all over them. They aren't very easy on the eyes, but fans of the series will relish the "classic look". Each character brandishes his own weapon, and while many look like traditional Samurai warriors, there are a few knights, ninjas, and freaks as well. Each of the 26 fighters is interesting in their own way. The swordsman Yumeji can transform into other characters, and the monstrous Kasaregedo is one of the most grotesque creatures I've seen in any video game. The lovely Mina fires a magic bow, and the warhammer-swinging Sankuro eats pizza during battle to refresh his health. In terms of pure button-mashing gameplay, Samurai Shodown V does not disappoint. The ferocious bloody slashes that slice off huge chunks of health are a nice change from the typical punch and kick routine. In addition to three slashes, there's also a kick button. An extra meter on the bottom of the screen lets you unleash a "rage explosion" when it's full. At times the game seems unfair, like when a 32-hit barrage barely makes a dent in your opponent's life meter. Certain fighters employ annoying "disappear and reappear" attacks, and some attacks can inflict almost an entire meter's worth of damage. Unlike most fighters, you don't earn points in this game. Instead, the challenge lies in finishing the game with the fastest time (best times are saved). Additional modes include versus, practice, and online. SSV gets a lot of the details right. Not only are the moves listed in the manual, but you can access them from the pause screen as well. The dialogue is in Japanese, which is for the best, considering how awful it is ("Stand by me in spirit!"). The backgrounds look attractive considering their low resolution but they're not terribly interesting. The oriental background music is pleasant enough. If you're a 2D fighter fan who values gameplay over graphics, Samurai Shodown V is definitely worth picking up. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Scooby Doo: Night of 100 Frights
Grade: B+

screenshotThe team that produced this game really had their act together. Despite employing every hackneyed platform gaming device known to mankind, Scooby Doo Night of 100 Frights succeeds in a big way. It gets off on the right foot with a quality intro that not only captures the distinctive look of the cartoon series, but even incorporates the catchy original theme song! This game itself is about as close as you can get to an interactive cartoon. The 3D characters are exceptionally well animated and incorporate literally dozens of scary villains from the old series, including the wolf man, ghost diver, the "creeper", and the witch doctor. As you explore a haunted mansion, spooky graveyard, and ghostly pier, you'll collect Scooby snacks, discover hidden areas, and unlock warp gates. Each stage has multiple paths, and some require a specific power-up to enter. These power-ups include a football helmet used to bash in spider webs, and a lampshade to hide from monsters. The game becomes more fun as you acquire more items, and their accompanying animations are very entertaining. The platform action is pretty standard, but the short stages and forgiving difficulty compensate for that. I did encounter a few issues with judging jumps, but that's par for the course with any 3D platformer. What I really love about the game is its attention to detail. In the haunted mansion stages, you might expect every hallway and room to look the same, but instead they're populated with all kinds of interesting antique furniture and spooky portraits. There's even an eerie green glow shining through the windows and onto the floors. The game is loaded with all sorts of things associated with Halloween, including spider webs, graveyards, organ music, and monsters that pop out of the scenery. The audio is absolutely stunning. The background music sounds as if it's lifted directly from the show, and the sounds of creaking doors, fluttering wings, and howling wolves are crisp and clear. Scooby Doo himself has a surprising amount of dialogue, and many of his lines are nothing short of hilarious. Last but not least, the game even has laugh track - how bizarre is that?? Great fun for the whole family, Scooby Doo Night of 100 Frights sometimes feels more like a funhouse ride than a game. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Sega GT 2002
Grade: C-
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Reviewed: 2011/2/4
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIf you've ever played a Gran Turismo game you know the drill here. Sega GT is a realistic racer designed for discerning car aficionados. You begin the career mode with only enough funds to afford a real piece of [expletive] car. After running a few races you can scrape together enough cash to upgrade your suspension, muffler, or gear kit. Better yet, ditch that bucket of bolts for something halfway decent. While working up the ranks you'll also need to complete precision time trials to earn licenses. It's a time-consuming process but car nuts will find that Sega GT offers a ton of replay value. The list of car brands is impressive, including Lotus, Opel, Mercedes Benz, and all the major brands. For casual gamers a quick battle mode lets you dip into this wide selection of vehicles. The controls feel good, and the vibration feedback gives the car some weight. Taking good lines and cutting corners is key. A split-screen option lets you go head-to-head with a friend, but you can't add CPU players, which is kind of lame. I also dislike how status updates regularly appear in the center of the screen - directly in your line of vision! Oh well, at least it provides a good excuse for when you lose. In terms of scenery there's not much to talk about. The first track features some tall buildings and a colorful sunset, but the rest of the tracks are bland. I was excited to see a snow track until I realized how long and boring it was. The game has a jazzy music score that I found to be soothing. Sega GT 2002 serves it purpose of delivering hyper-realistic racing action, but that style of play probably peaked about ten years ago. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Serious Sam
Grade: C+
Publisher: Gotham Games (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/7/27
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotIf you're looking for some no-holds-barred first-person shooting action, this is your game. With its smooth framerate, insane firepower, and non-stop action, Serious Sam offers visceral thrills lacking from many games of its kind. There's not much thinking involved as you run through large rooms and expansive outdoor areas blasting scores of monsters, including decapitated bombers, giant bulls, skeletal hulks, flying creatures, and mythology-inspired giants. These creatures are very impressive in terms of scale and originality. One thing you'll want to know about Serious Sam is that he's not really serious at all. He wisecracks in a Duke Nukem sort of way, and there are also several humorous cut scenes that maintain the light tone. Visually, this game is rock solid and occasionally astonishing. At times, there are a mind-blowing number of creatures on the screen. The controls are responsive, and the targeting is VERY forgiving - you can often take out several monsters with a single shot. The weapon selection is awesome, including double-pistols, shotgun, tommy gun, and a laser. Switching between weapons can be awkward though, especially in the heat of battle. The graphics are very clean and well-defined, and the sound effects are unsettling and often alarming. Serious Sam is a blast to playÉ for a while. But after a few hours the gameplay becomes repetitive as you face the same foes over and over, only in larger numbers. You'll grow tired of shooting and strafing constantly. Another flaw is the lack of a radar display. It's frustrating when you hear a monster approaching but can't pinpoint its direction. And although a cool split-screen cooperative mode is included, my friend Steve got stuck in a wall while we were playing it, which is NOT acceptable for a console game! Serious Sam is no classic, but it will raise you heart rate for a while. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Sid Meier's Pirates
Grade: B-
Publisher: 2K Games (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/7/20
Rating: Teen (violence, alcohol reference, mid suggestive themes)

screenshotI've always been a fan of games with nautical themes, so I was frothing at the mouth at the sight of Sid Meier's Pirates. An update of a title that appeared on the NES and Commodore 64 in the 1980's, Pirates delivers everything you would expect, complete with ship battles, sword fights, and buried treasure. It's the Disney attraction come to life, although the lead character looks far too delicate and clean cut for the role. After playing last year's lumbering Pirates of the Caribbean (Xbox, 2003), the fast pace and nonstop action of this game is refreshing. In fact, it seems like Pirates was specifically designed for gamers with short attention spans. Sailing your ship around the Caribbean is simple thanks to easy controls and a semi-transparent map that overlays the screen. With the wind at your sails, your ship moves fast - a little too fast at times! As you encounter and defeat other famous pirates at sea, you actually ascend a pirate "ranking" chart, which is very satisfying. The ship-to-ship battles are fun, but it's cheesy how ships overlap when they collide. When this occurs, a swordfight ensues, often preceded by some "press the buttons quickly" interactive sequences. The swordfighting controls are clumsy, which is a shame because much of your success hinges upon them. Although spiced up with entertaining animations, you'll tend to see the same ones over and over. On land, you can sell your loot, upgrade your ship(s), visit the governor, or recruit men at the local tavern. Should you attract the attention of the governor's daughter, you may be asked to escort her to the ball. The mini-game that ensues plays like a colonial version of Dance Dance Revolution - only less fun. When traveling to unfriendly towns, you also have the option to sneak around town or engage in strategic land battles. Pirate's graphics are loaded with eye candy, and the streamlined interface is easy to navigate. Realistic sound effects include creaking ships, cannon fire, and yelling men. An appropriate musical score can be heard in each town, depending on its nationality. Although most townships look unique from the outside, I was disappointed how all of the taverns (and their patrons) look exactly the same on the inside! Also, I found the treasure hunting aspect of the game to be very confusing. When you start a new game, be sure to select a challenging skill level, or else the game tends to be too easy (and boring). The multi-player mode lets up to four players blast each other out of the water, but the island formations that serve as battlegrounds are dull. Still, if you have any interest in adventure on the high seas, Pirates may be just what you've been looking for. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Silent Hill 4: The Room
Grade: B
Publisher: Konami (2004)
Reviewed: 2004/11/22
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes)

screenshotWith a fresh new premise and the freakiest batch of monsters you'll ever see, Silent Hill 4 delivers the gore, chills, and thrills we've come to expect from this quality horror series. You play a man who wakes up to find himself trapped in his own apartment, which has been tastefully decorated with a huge hole in the bathroom wall and chains draped over the front door. The hole serves a portal to mysterious surreal worlds, with locales that include a prison, subway, and forest. Between trips to these areas, you return to your "room" to save your place and gather clues by peering through windows and peepholes. Despite its innovative design, Silent Hill 4 is surprisingly linear, with key events occurring in a predetermined order. As usual for a Silent Hill game, the story tries to be cerebral but makes no sense at all. Still, the action is intense thanks to interesting scenery and marvelously designed monsters. I have to hand it to the artists - they have really outdone themselves. Grotesque bodies "grow" out of walls and creepy corpses glide around as if being propped up by an unseen force. The baby-faced, two-headed freaks walking on two arms are especially twisted. I was surprised how Silent Hill 4 has moved away from the "flashlight in the dark" approach. Most stages are well lit, and as a result the gameplay feels less edgy and more like Resident Evil. The graphics are top notch, with a stylish, washed-out look which reminded me of the movie Seven. The creature animation is uncanny, but for some reason your man walks like he has a huge pole up his butt! What's that all about? The sound effects are more understated than Silent Hill 3, but still effectively chilling. Silent Hill 4 isn't as terrifying as it could have been, but at least it takes the series in a new direction. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Silent Scope Complete
Grade: B
Publisher: Konami (2004)
Reviewed: 2004/3/21
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)

screenshotI've always been a big fan of the Silent Scope series, having purchased all three games as they were released. Silent Scope games have a simple, arcade quality that I just can't resist. This excellent package contains Silent Scope 1, 2, and 3, which is an incredible bargain in my opinion. In each game you play a professional sniper attempting to thwart a series of terrorist plots. Gameplay involves moving a circular cursor over terrorists on the screen and zooming in on them to fire with accuracy. Like any good shooter, the game demands precision aiming and fast reflexes. Each game has a unique set of scenarios, and the individual stages are short but exciting. You'll shoot terrorists off the roofs of buildings, pick them off of bridges, infiltrate headquarters, and embark on exciting chases via land, sea, and air. I especially like the snow stages in Silent Scope 2, which culminate in a wild snowmobile chase. Shooting bad guys from a moving vehicle really ratchets up the challenge. In order to enhance the replay value, each game has a slew of options, selectable stages, and you can even play as alternate characters, each providing a different view of the same missions. Silent Scope games also have an offbeat sense of humor. Scantily clad women can be found in unlikely areas, and zooming in on them gives you a free life. The graphics look somewhat chunky and dated for 2004, but the animations are realistic, especially when people get shot. The sound effects include a lot of repetitive voice samples, like "stay calm", and "you're the greatest", and the bad voice acting reminded me of Sega's House of the Dead games. The XBox controller works very well with these games, but this package also supports a green sniper gun sold separately and made by Pelican. This huge gun certainly adds realism, but in order for it to work you'll need to crank the brightness way up on your TV. This makes it really hard to see some of the terrorists (particularly in the snow stages), and has a detrimental effect on the gameplay in general. Calibration is a pain, and the "kickback" feature is a complete joke - it sounds like something is rattling loose inside the gun. I'd only recommend the gun to die hard fans, but I'm recommend the game to all shooter fans. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: NS 22,000
1 player 

Simpsons Road Rage, The
Grade: C
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2001)
Reviewed: 2008/4/1
Rating: Teen

screenshotWhen I originally purchased Road Rage for the Playstation 2, I thought it was a potentially fun game ruined by excessive load times. So when I recently spotted this Xbox edition in a bargain bin, I decided to give it another shot. It's a step up but not exceptional. Road Rage is a Simpson-ized version of Crazy Taxi (Dreamcast, 2000), where you drive people from one destination to the next before your time runs out. It's enjoyable to cruise around Springfield, especially as you weave in and out of traffic like a madman. The dual-thumbstick controls work well, and the graphics are noticeably cleaner and more distinct than the PS2 game. Road Rage tracks your high scores and lets you unlock new cars, characters, and locations as you progress. The mission mode offers a series of specific challenges like collecting items, hitting people, or getting Homer to the power plant within 15 seconds. The load times aren't great, but they are much improved over the PS2 version (15 seconds per load versus 30). Even so, the loads definitely interrupt the flow of the game. And why in the hell does the entire stage have to reload when you select "retry"? That's just lazy programming right there! The audio track features a lot of humorous lines from all the characters, but they tend to repeat a lot - sometimes even twice in a row! The split-screen mode for two players is mildly amusing but nothing to write home about. Simpson's Road Rage is a lighthearted driving game that's seems instantly fun at first, but can't seem to maintain its momentum. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Soul Calibur II
Grade: A-
Publisher: Namco (2003)
Reviewed: 2006/1/21
Rating: Teen (violence, suggestive themes) 1 or 2 players

screenshotThis long-awaited sequel is certainly beautiful and fun, but Dreamcast veterans will wonder what all the fuss is about. While many Xbox gamers are falling over themselves in admiration of Soul Calibur II (SC2), some of us have been playing this game since 1999! Oh sure, this new version offers a slew of new characters and options, but it's not a major step up. Like its predecessor, SC2's features one-on-one battles between weapon-equipped fighters in a series of fantasy settings. There's a colorful cast of 24 characters, including the pirate Cervantes, the hulking monster Astaroth, the freaky Voldo, and a selection of very hot babes. The beautiful Taki's tight red outfit practically looks painted on! Holy cow! I also noticed that the space ninja Yoshimitsu, a bonus character in the original game, now has a permanent place on the Soul Calibur roster. Matches are fought on raised platforms, and being knocked off the edge brings the contest to an abrupt conclusion. Moves like sidestepping, soul charge, and the new "guard-impact" provide room for strategy and technique, but button mashing can also be effective. The battles tend to be short, and the load times are minimal. The dialogue is pretty dumb ("Here I come!"), and you'll probably want to skip the lame battle intros and endings. Graphically, SC2 is somewhat disappointing. Yes, the scenic backgrounds and characters are sharper and higher in resolution, but those well-defined edges have a side effect of making everything look less realistic and almost cartoon-like. The surprisingly addictive Weapon Master mode is a glorified story mode, allowing you to earn money and open features as you progress through a series of battles. I love how practically every victory unlocks something. SC2 is available for all three platforms (Xbox, PS2, Gamecube), and each comes with its own exclusive character. The Xbox version contains Spawn the comic book hero, GameCube features Link from the Zelda series, and the PS2 has Heihachi of Tekken fame. But despite all the bells and whistles, I still prefer the original Dreamcast version. Perhaps it's the uncomfortable Xbox controller. In conclusion, Dreamcast owners may be under-whelmed, but there's no argument that this game shines on the Xbox. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Spiderman
Grade: A-
Publisher: Activision (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/5/8
Rating: Everyone

screenshotSpiderman may be the toughest super hero to emulate in a video game. Think about it - this guy can go everywhere - and fast! There's really not a surface he can't stick to. Any game where you have that much mobility and can still tell what the heck's going on is a major accomplishment. So I really have to applaud this game. It combines beautiful graphics with innovative level designs, first-rate sound, tight control, and a compelling storyline. The difficulty level is fair, with frequent saves between "chapters" of the story, so you'll rarely get stuck. The game plays like an interactive comic book - it's hard to stop because you always want to see what happens next. No two stages are the same. In one level you're beating up thugs in a warehouse, then you're saving innocent civilians, and next you're fighting a villain amongst the skyscrapers, hundreds of feet above the ground. The outdoor levels are enormous in scope, and swinging around the city is a joy. Not only can see a great distance, but the level of detail in the buildings is retained even up close. Unlike the Dreamcast Spiderman game (which had that cheesy green "fog"), you can even see the traffic in the streets below (but you can't go down there). The control scheme is brilliant, with a height meter and compass to help you keep your bearings. You can easily "zip" from place to place, and there are plenty of imaginative fighting moves and combos to keep things fresh. Even fighting in mid-air is relatively easy. The audio is outstanding in every way. The musical score is incredible, and Bruce Campbell (of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead fame) provides the most hilarious narration you've ever heard in a video game. Spiderman would be the ultimate game if not for one problem - the camera. I've played a lot of 3D adventures, but I could never get a handle on the camera in this game. The right joystick can be used to adjust it, but it always seems to go the opposite way I would expect it to. When the angle changes automatically, you often end up heading in the wrong direction. In addition, the shortcomings of the XBox controller are made evident by this game. You need to hit combinations of the top buttons, and it can be tough to tell those little bumps apart in the heat of the action. If not for the additional two levels that the XBox version has, I would have went with the PS2 version. But overall, I am extremely impressed with Spiderman. As of this writing, it's probably the best superhero game ever made. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Spiderman 2
Grade: B
Publisher: Activision (2004)
Reviewed: 2004/8/14
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotFor technical reasons alone, the developers of Spiderman 2 deserve a lot of credit. The game provides unprecedented freedom of movement on the island of Manhattan, from walking the streets, to swinging between the skyscrapers, to scaling the Empire State building. Previous Spiderman games let you swing around buildings, but you could never descend to street level. The city itself is a fair approximation of the real thing (there are a lot of annoying L-shaped buildings), but all the major streets and landmarks have been included. You can spend hours just exploring the city (while ignoring people's cries for help). The grand scale of Spiderman 2 is so convincing that I actually felt dizzy peering off the top of the Empire State building! If there's a price to be paid for this freedom, it's in the lack of detail in the people and cars on the streets below. These angular characters look very chunky, but in fairness this doesn't have an adverse effect on the gameplay. Although you can swing around the city at a breakneck pace, it's not as easy as it was in previous Spiderman games. You can't sling web unless there's a tall structure nearby to latch onto, so you can't go swinging over central park or cross a body of water. You tend to swing in zigzag patterns, and it's easy to run into walls. It's more realistic that previous games (where your web didn't latch onto anything), but this new style takes a while to get the hang of. To be honest, I never felt totally comfortable with it. The game loosely follows the movie's storyline, with voices contributed by the stars of the film. There's a lot of humor in the dialogue, almost to a point of parody ("Hello, I'm Spiderman. I'll be your superhero for today"). Dr. Octopus does not appear until relatively late in the game, but you'll also encounter villains not in the film, such as Rhino, a space alien ("make your time!"), and a Catwoman rip-off named Black Cat. The fighting is well done and has a distinct comic book flavor. Spiderman can perform normal punch/kick attacks, a slew of web-based attacks, and a useful dodge move. Predictably, there's also a "spider reflex mode" that lets you slow down the action (like "bullet time" in Max Payne or "focus mode" in Enter the Matrix). On the downside, I found some of the missions to be quite frustrating and poorly conceived. The annoying obstacle course stage has a camera from hell, and the vertigo-inducing Statue of Liberty mission is an absolutely harrowing experience. I actually felt nauseous playing that stage! Another downfall is that each "chapter" requires you to earn a few thousand "hero points" by foiling small-scale crimes like bank robberies, purse snatchings, and car jackings. These get repetitive as you keep solving the same crimes, and it starts to feel like a chore after a while. The "racing" and "chasing" missions didn't do much for me either. Spiderman 2's main storyline did hold my interest however, and there are plenty of surprises and secrets to discover. When all is said and done, Spiderman 2 may be remembered more as an impressive technical feat than a fun game. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Splinter Cell
Grade: B+
Publisher: Ubisoft (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/4/2
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotSplinter Cell has become tremendously popular thanks to its incredible graphics and superior stealth gameplay. I'm not going to go overboard about how good it is (like many magazines have), but it certainly gives Metal Gear Solid (MGS) a run for the money. MGS first introduced the world of covert operations to video games in 1998. From that groundbreaking title we discovered that hiding and sneaking by enemies could be even more thrilling than simply pumping lead into them. But unlike the comic book-style of Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell takes a more realistic approach, putting you to work for a US intelligence agency to "spy, steal, destroy, and assassinate to ensure that American freedoms are protected." This game has refined stealth action into an art. With various rappel, grab, and back-to-wall moves at your disposal, you can infiltrate well-guarded locations unseen (although it seems unlikely with those three green lights on your head!). You can sneak up on people, interrogate them, knock them out, and even force them to cooperate. You'll want to hide your victims' bodies to maintain a low profile (there's always a dark corner around). You're also equipped with special tools like lock picks, gas grenades, a laser microphone, and night vision goggles just to name a few. Considering the number of options at your disposal, the controls are well designed and relatively easy to learn. The Dolby Digital surround sound helps you immerse in your surroundings, but it's the graphics that really stand out. The character models won't knock your socks off, but you'll be amazed by the incredible lighting, shadowing, and detailed textures. Television sets cast an uncanny glow. Lights create glare on windows. Brick walls look photographic, and lace curtains sway convincingly in the breeze. As you progress through the game, you'll continually notice and appreciate the unprecedented graphic quality, much of which is not even possible on the PS2! While the gameplay is certainly solid, there are a few annoyances I have to mention. For one, the game requires a great deal of trial and error to make it through certain areas. There are a sufficient number of save spots, but their spacing is a bit erratic. Sometimes you accidentally pick up a useless object like a can, and can't put it down without dropping it loudly (thus drawing attention to yourself). Also, if you can drag bodies all over the place, why can't you remove their weapons and ammo? Overall Splinter Cell provides a terrific fix for cerebral gamers who crave strategy. But those looking for nonstop action and mayhem won't get too far. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Spy Vs. Spy
Grade: F-
Publisher: Take Two Interactive (2005)
Reviewed: 2012/1/5
Rating: Teen

screenshotIt's hard to believe, but there was a time when Spy Vs. Spy was actually a viable video game franchise. Based on the Mad magazine comic, the groundbreaking 1984 home computer title delivered head-to-head espionage with an innovative split-screen format and amazing cartoon visuals. I was hoping this modern remake would capture the mischievous spirit of the original, but it's a complete train wreck. Spy Vs. Spy feels like every generic 3D platformer rolled up into one miserable package. The multi-player action is bewildering at best and nauseous at worst. The control scheme is ridiculous and the interface for using items is baffling. Planting traps is a pointless exercise because all the rooms look the same. Lousy animation makes it hard to determine what the heck your character is doing, much less if he set a trap successfully. There's no satisfaction to be had when your opponent triggers a trap, because half the time it was his own. Each contest degenerates into an endless wild goose chase with no apparent objectives. The single-player mode throws gasoline on the fire by incorporating a lot of tedious platform jumping. Bad enough to make you physically ill, Spy Vs. Spy is a monumental disappointment. I think I hate it. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Grade: B+
Publisher: LucasArts (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/5/28
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotI'm glad I resisted buying Episode 3 until after the movie was released, because not only does it give away the storyline, but it contains a generous helping of video clips taken directly from the film! Episode 3's gameplay is reminiscent of Jedi Power Battles (Playstation, Dreamcast) with its non-stop lightsaber battles, constantly changing scenery, and treacherous bosses. Thankfully, there's no tedious platform jumping in this game. Assuming the role of Obi Wan or Anakin Skywalker, you hack and slash your way through all the locations and villains featured in the flick (which I loved, by the way). To be honest, I was hoping there would be some space battles or vehicle stages to break up the monotony, but at least the lightsaber action is first rate. In fact, the fluid animation and sheer variety of moves make these battles look as impressive as they do on the big screen. And they can be intense! The stage where you battle the four-armed, alien-droid hybrid General Grievous is nothing short of epic, giving my arm (and trash-mouth) an incredible workout. At first glance the frantic action would suggest crazy button mashing, but in fact there are subtle techniques which can tip the scales in your favor. The "Force" can be employed to "push" enemies or toss objects. I like the "lightsaber throw" and "stun" moves, but having to hit the Xbox controller's "white" and "black" buttons in the heat of battle is problematic. The main issue I have with this game is the same one that plagues so many other Star Wars titles. Namely, in order to ramp the challenge, the game gradually introduces robots that require more and more hacks to destroy. And I don't like how you can toss them off some platforms but not others. You can deflect their laser blasts, but not with the same precision you had in Jedi Power Battles. Episode 3's graphics are terrific; I especially enjoyed the color-splashed background scenery. The characters resemble their real-life counterparts, and their entertaining banter is dead-on. After completing each stage, you spend your "experience points" to upgrade your character, and you can also view unlocked movie clips and concept art. Oddly enough, the two-player cooperative mode is not immediately available (need to unlock). A half-way decent versus mode is also included. I have to say I'm fairly pleased with how Episode 3 turned out. The attractive graphics, intense battles, and tight control keep you wanting to see what the next stage has in store. Star Wars fans who crave action should find this worth their while.< © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Star Wars: Battlefront
Grade: A-
Publisher: LucasArts (2004)
Reviewed: 2005/5/28
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotNormally I'd purchase a Star Wars game without giving it a second thought, but my impression of this one was tainted by a magazine review. The review stated that Battlefront was only worthwhile for "on-line" play - which is not my thing. What a crock that turned out to be. Not only does Battlefront offer a superb single-player experience, but the two-player split-screen mode is an absolute blast! This third-person shooter is so fun and intense that I played it for hours on end with a friend. Expansive in scope and boasting remarkable graphics, you play the role of a single infantryman in the midst of a huge, galactic conflict. Depending on the type of soldier you select, you might snipe enemies from a distance, blow up vehicles with a rocket launcher, or enter the fray with guns blazing. The battlegrounds are set on practically every planet featured in the Star Wars films, from the deserts of Tatooine, to the stormy, rain-soaked platforms of Kamino, to the frozen tundra of Hoth. The forests of Yavin 4 are so detailed that you can actually distinguish individual leaves on the trees. Missions are divided into the Clone Wars (prequel films) and Galactic Civil War (original movies). It's really cool how you fight side-by-side with hundreds of other troops, and vehicles of all sizes provide support. And don't be surprised to see a lightsaber-swinging Darth Vader or Mace Windu in the middle of the fray! The well-designed landscapes are loaded with familiar landmarks, and you can even commandeer cannons and vehicles. Your main objective is to wipe out the enemy or take control over all of the strategic command posts. Counters on top of the screen track how many enemies remain, but the tiny font makes these hard to read. In addition, the manual does a poor job of explaining the controls and what all of the symbols on the screen mean. I still can't figure out how to bring an AT-AT down with a tow cable. Depending on which side you fight for (good or bad), either Yoda or the Emperor will describe your objectives before you enter battle. However, the voice actors are such obvious knock-offs that you almost have to laugh at them. After each battle, a detailed breakdown of each player's performance is displayed. Victories unlock nice special features like concept art, storyboards, and stills from the film. Battlefront has a lot to offer, and if you're an on-line gamer, it's an even sweeter deal. Star Wars Battlefront plunges you into the Star Wars universe like no other game can. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Star Wars: Battlefront 2
Grade: D+
Publisher: LucasArts (2005)
Reviewed: 2008/6/2
Rating: Teen

screenshotIt took me a long time to review this game, mainly because it was hard to force myself to play it! The first Battlefront game made you feel like single soldier in a larger conflict, but Battlefront 2 feels scripted and contrived. Not only does the CPU pump out and relocate enemy troops in plain sight, but the game's specific objectives make you feel as if you're being led around by the nose. The presentation is first-rate, with detailed graphics and an operatic musical score. Two tutorials are included (for ground and space combat), but since they don't specify which buttons do what, they're pretty worthless. Movie clips precede each stage, and they really do get you psyched up. It's fun to visit the diverse worlds of the Star Wars universe, including the snowy Hoth, the flowery Felucia, the stormy Kamino, and the metropolis of Coruscant. As you run-and-gun on foot, targeting is easy and the explosions are gratifying. When you die, I really like how the game pans over to show your attacker (smug bastard!). The main problem with Battlefront 2 is its artificial gameplay. You don't feel like you're having a direct impact on events. The illusion of fighting an army with limited resources is shattered when you see enemy droids (or even large vehicles) appear out of thin air! The ability to commandeer immense vehicles is always fun, but assuming the roles of characters like Darth Maul and Yoda feels gimmicky. One major new feature is the ability to engage in space battles, but these aren't the least bit fun. Destroying a huge battleship by mindlessly pelting its hull is shallow, and traveling between ships is a tedious process. In fact, these space battles are so worthless that the game actually gives you the option to skip them altogether! And you will. The single player experience is only mildly amusing, and the multiplayer split-screen mode is unsatisfying. There's plenty of eye candy and cool concepts abound, but Battlefront 2 does a poor job of putting you "in the game". © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter
Grade: B-
Publisher: LucasArts (2002)
Reviewed: 2005/5/18

screenshotA hopeless Star Wars fanatic, I feel obligated to purchase any new Star Wars game, even rehashes like this. As a basis of comparison, I played the original Starfighter game on my PS2 just before trying Jedi Starfighter. What I discovered was that the games look and play nearly the same! Jedi's graphics are attractive but no more detailed than the PS2 version. While the XBox visuals may be slightly sharper and smoother, I still noticed a few "hiccups" in the framerate. Jedi Starfighter has a nice arcade feel. There's no radar - just a helpful arrow pointing you to the next target. While it makes the gameplay accessible for beginners, it eventually becomes mind numbing and repetitive. You just follow the red arrow from one target to the next, destroying each one, and most targets aren't even evasive. The satisfying explosions however make it all seem worthwhile. In addition to your main guns, you can employ a set of secondary weapons including bombs and missiles. When flying the craft used by Obi-Wan in Episode II, you can even employ Force powers like lightning or shields. The lightning allows you to destroy several small targets at once, which is both effective and fun. Yes, it's a little far-fetched to think Obi Wan could use the Force to this degree, but it works in the context of the game. The storyline awkwardly tries to incorporate characters and locations from Episode II, but it couldn't maintain my interest. I swear that's Jesse "The Body" Ventura doing the voice of Nym. A nice two-player mode is also included. Jedi Starfighter is a decent game, but frankly it's just more of the same. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Grade: B+
Publisher: LucasArts (2003)
Reviewed: 2008/6/2
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotI need to tread softly here, because this game is considered legendary by many Star Wars faithful. Knights of the Old Republic has the trappings of a traditional RPG (experience points, saving throws, strong storyline, etc), but these elements are abstracted by realistic graphics and an ingenious user interface. Your main character evolves within the game, drifting towards the light or dark side based on the choices you make. Not for the impatient, Knights takes a good hour or two to gain traction but becomes more intriguing as characters are introduced. You don't control any character directly during combat, but you can "queue up" a series of actions for each member of your party, and it's satisfying to sit back and watch the action unfold. Your party is limited to three members at a given time, but the diverse selection includes a bounty hunter, Jedi, droid, and even a Wookie. You're involved in several missions at any time, including some compelling scenarios like infiltrating a Sith base and rescuing a Jedi. The massive "worlds" require you to cover a lot of ground, but the game finds clever ways to minimize backtracking. For me, the worst part of the game is the verbose dialogue. The game encourages you to converse with your party, and these conversations abound with moral dilemmas and racial undertones. I'm sure some players will relish the carefully worded prose, but I found it boring, and paged though it as fast as I possibly could. C'mon people - less talking and more ass-kicking!! Knight's graphics are first-rate, with bustling environments complete with pedestrians and ships flying overhead. In addition to exploration and combat, you'll engage in mini-games like pod racing, turret shooting, and an addictive card game called Pazaak. Also fun is tapping into computer systems in order to view security cameras and raise hell remotely. Knights' streamlined user interface is logically designed, but the targeting system can be problematic. Sometimes you'll attempt to open a box in front of you, only to have your character run clear across the room to open a door instead. The game auto-maps your progress, and you can save at any time. As you might imagine, the sweeping musical score is fantastic, and the dramatic cut-scenes are almost movie quality. It took me a while to warm up to Knights of the Old Republic, but after sinking about ten hours into this massive adventure, I think I can finally say, "Yeah, I get it". © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Star Wars: Obi Wan
Grade: D-
Publisher: LucasArts (2001)
Reviewed: 2005/5/18

screenshotObi Wan has "rush job" written all over it. The action is viewed from behind Obi Wan, and the graphics are mediocre at best. The characters are boxy and stiff, and although the scenic backdrops look nice, the stage designs are surprisingly dull. They take place on a variety of planets, including Tatooine, Coruscant, and Naboo. The mission objectives may seem interesting, like saving a prisoner or discovering a secret, yet they all boil down to using your lightsaber to hack your way through endless bad guys until you reach your destination. Some of the baddies inexplicably require you to beat the living hell out of them before they finally keel over. Heck, Obi Wan might as well be carrying a baseball bat! Certain stages let you fight along side a computer-controlled Qui Gon Gin, but in general there are few surprises to spice up the bland gameplay. LucasArts did do some nifty things with the controls. The right joystick controls the lightsaber, which works pretty well. Obi Wan can deflect fired shots back to their source, and perform force powers like pushing enemies, disarming them, or throwing objects. The "force push" is especially useful for disposing of deadbeats loitering on the edge of cliffs. Still, nothing can save Obi Wan's tepid gameplay. There are annoying glitches, frequent hiccups in the framerate, and lengthy load times. The collision detection is suspect and the jumps are hard to judge. The voice acting is reminiscent of Hans and Franz from SNL, and the two-player mode is appalling. The force is not strong with this one; Obi Wan is a major disappointment. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Star Wars: Republic Commando
Grade: C+
Publisher: LucasArts (2005)
Reviewed: 2008/6/2
Rating: Teen

screenshotSquad-based combat has become popular over the years thanks to games like SOCOM and Full Spectrum Warrior. These titles add layers of strategy by letting you control multiple soldiers working in concert to accomplish surgical missions. Republic Commando is the Star Wars entry to the squad warfare genre. It begins like a typical first-person shooter as you assume the role of a clone soldier in the Republic army. You're immediately introduced to the other three members of your team, each of which possess unique skills and characteristics. The game employs environments from the new Star Wars trilogy, including the bug-infested Geonosis and the Wookie home-planet of Kashyyyk. The graphics are exceptionally detailed, but the repetitive, maze-like caves of Geonosis get old in a hurry. As you explore new areas and encounter hostile forces, you can direct troops to perform specific tasks like wire explosives, assume sniper positions, or recharge health. Republic Commando is less tedious and more forgiving than most squad-based games. Strategically located task icons indicate available actions, and a commando will perform the highlighted task at the touch of a button. Although each commando has his own specialty, it was never apparent to me which who was doing what - they all look and sound the same. The first-person shooting action is fun, and I enjoyed the game's brisk pacing and frequent automatic saves. When your health expires, you can call on one of your men to revive you, and it's pretty intense as you hope your squad can survive long enough to resuscitate you. Rupublic Commando's single player mode is engaging for a while, but the monotonous environments and regenerating creatures (damn flying bugs) take their toll on the fun. The storyline and objectives are pretty vanilla as you blindly forge ahead on your linear path. The multiplayer split-screen is even more bland. I like Republic Commando's crisp graphics and simple gameplay, but it's one of the less memorable Star Wars titles. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Steel Battalion
Grade: A-
Publisher: Capcom (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/2/17
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotAlthough all mech games let you cause ample destruction, I've found most to be fairly slow and tedious. So why would I be drawn to Steel Battalion, probably the most complicated mech game ever? Because of the awesome controller, that's why! Have you seen this thing? It's has over forty buttons, dual joysticks, a gearshift, a tuner, a covered eject switch, and three foot petals!! Good Lord, where am I going to store this thing?! My wife bought me this $200 package for Christmas, and it is definitely one of a kind. For a comfortable setup, I had to drag out an extra table into my family room. There's a huge instruction manual, but unlike most games that "hold your hand" through the first few levels, this one tosses you into the fire. There's no training level, and the controls can be overwhelming at first. The buttons alone include main weapon control, sub weapon control, magazine change, washer, extinguisher, chaff, tank detach, override, night scope, map zoom, sub monitors, cockpit hatch, ignition, and eject just to name a few. Fortunately, most of these illuminate to indicate they might be needed. Controlling your mech takes a lot of practice. It turns slowly, and may tip over if you're not careful. But once you become accustomed to it, the feeling of having complete control of this gigantic mechanical beast is quite satisfying. The graphics are incredible, although gauges and indicators clutter up most of the screen. The scenery tends to be gray and drab, but it's also nearly photo-realistic thanks to superb lighting effects. You'll fight side by side with other mechs, and their slow, deliberate movements are appropriate for their immense size. The screeching sound effects of grinding metal and turning gears are remarkable. Steel Battalion puts you in the driver's seat, and you'd better pay attention because if you fail to hit eject as your mech is destroyed, your whole game will be deleted, no matter how much progress you've made. Yes, it's overkill, but that's what makes it Steel Battalion. Only hardcore gamers need apply. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without A Pulse
Grade: C-
Publisher: Wideload Games (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/3/12
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, crude humor, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)

screenshotI absolutely love the premise behind this unique zombie game. In an entertaining twist on the usual theme, you play the zombie, attacking people and eating their brains to sustain your energy. Stubbs the Zombie has style to burn, with hilarious animations, over-the-top gore, outrageous attacks, a killer retro soundtrack, and a wicked sense of humor. Stubbs limps around in that classic zombie manner, cigarette in mouth and organs hanging from the huge gash in his side. Your basic attack involves smacking innocent people into a daze, and then eating their brains as they scream, "Please stop eating me!" As the stages progress, you acquire unconventional new attacks which include releasing poisonous flatulence, tossing organ grenades, "bowling" using your own head, and possessing people with your disembodied hand. It's even possible to rip off a soldier's arm and beat him with it! People you kill soon turn into zombies themselves, providing you with a mini army to invade the next area with. As good as it sounds, Stubbs is crippled by its dull, repetitive stages. The game is supposed to be set in a futuristic town as envisioned during the 1950's, along the lines of Disney's old Tomorrowland. While you might expect this to provide ample comedic material, it really doesn't, and the sterile, spacious environments provide little to see. In fact, some stages are so incredibly boring that you'd think the developers made a concerted effort to make them that way. We're talking about empty parking garages, a maze-like police station, deserted city streets, and shopping malls with no stores! Everyone knows the future is boring, but c'mon now! Half the time you can't even tell where you're supposed to go next! I can't help but think how this game would have really kicked ass with some Resident Evil-quality scenery. Another nagging issue is the excruciating load times, probably the worst I've ever witnessed on the Xbox. It was so bad that a friend asked me if this was an Electronic Arts game (that's bad!). Technically, Stubbs the Zombie is solid, with responsive controls, sharp visuals, and remarkable animations. That shouldn't be surprising considering the game's main claim to fame is its use of the Halo engine. Another notable feature is its cool retro soundtrack, with re-recorded versions of classic songs like Mr. Sandman, Lonesome Town, and My Boyfriend's Back. There's even a hilarious dance bonus stage that plays like the old electronic game Simon. But for all the interesting twists and gimmicks, Stubb's gameplay is somewhat repetitive and boring, although the split-screen two-player cooperative mode does enhance the experience. Some may find Stubbs the Zombie too bizarre to resist, but this is clearly more style that substance. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


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