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Editorial: Editors Choice 2004: A Season of Sequels

Posted on Thu, Jan 20, 2005

Every year around this time something magical happens. No, I’m not talking about stretching what little candle oil you have out across eight days, nor am I talking about the birth of any immaculately conceived babies. I’m referring to the holiday game boom. The precious weeks before the holidays when game developers across the globe release the best they have to offer, and this year, their best is just that. No matter which console or consoles you own, you should be in for a treat this December, as Xbox, Playstation2, Gamecube and even the PC are all receiving some monster titles to have stuffed in stockings.

XBOX

  • HALO 2 - On November 9th, 2004 a bombshell of gaming excellence was dropped on the world. That bomb went by the name of “Halo 2.” The original Halo, a title that was released alongside the Microsoft console back in 2002, was an instant classic. It was a game that was reason alone to buy an Xbox. Many say that the console war would still have only two sides, Sony and Nintendo, had Halo not been released. With its amazing graphics, engrossing campaign mode, and multiplayer modes that raised the bar for First Person Shooters, Halo forever changed the way we play games today. Bungie, the game’s developer, certainly did not have an easy road ahead of them in creating a game to follow, arguably, one of the greatest of all time. Unlike movie sequels, however, game sequels have a good chance of being not only just as good as its predecessor, but possibly even better. Halo 2 is a perfect example of this. Halo 2 has some of the best graphics ever seen on the system, with excellent reflections, water effects, lighting and physics never before seen on a home console. The new single player campaign mode is up to snuff as well, with great level design and revamped A.I alongside the always-amazing Halo storyline about saving the Earth from destruction against the alien Covenant forces. One small complaint, however, is that the storyline, while it answers many questions left after the first game, it opens up just as many as it answered. It almost feels as though the developers cut it off early, most likely to milk the Halo cow for all its worth and release a third game sometime next year, possibly in the form of downloadable content off of Microsoft’s premium online service, Xbox Live. This brings me to the next great thing about Halo 2; online multiplayer. Playing online is something the Xbox has always done better than its competitors, and putting one of the best games out there for the system online is just as logical as pairing peanut butter with jelly. The result tastes just as good too, without leaving anything stuck to the roof of your mouth. The seemingly endless amount of play-modes, character customization and clan play melded together with the best first person action available on a console means you’ll be spending just as much time online with the game, if not more, than you will offline. Overall, Halo 2 offers you the complete package (even inside an aluminum case, if you preordered it) and is certainly a must-have for any Xbox owner.

  • KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC 2 – By the time you read this, the follow up to one of the most successful games in the Star Wars franchise will have hit store shelves across the nation. Last year’s KotOR showed that not only can games based off of movie licenses be well made, but they can also even surpass the entertainment value of the property itself, as many said KotOR had a story to rival that of the recent Episodes 1 and 2 films. The second game in the series takes place after the events of the first, but you will be playing as a new character that you will also create yourself. Rather than loading your data from the previous game, a character in the game asks you a series of questions towards the beginning relating to how you played the previous title, whether you leaned towards the light or dark side of The Force. One big change between the two titles is the developer. Lucasarts has passed the torch from KotOR developer, Bioware, to Obsidian Designs. Recent impressions of the game reveal that Obsidian has done a good job faithfully recreating the experience found in the original game. By that token, much of the game, such as the graphics and gameplay itself, is not overly redone, but merely tweaked to fix any minor shortcomings found in the first game. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was the Xbox Game of the Year last year and KotOR2 is looking to be a very worthy sequel.
PLAYSTATION2
  • METAL GEAR SOLID 3: SNAKE EATER – The most recent chapter in the Metal Gear Solid series is, in fact, anything but. Snake Eater takes place in 1964, just after the Cuban Missile Crisis. You play as Snake, a CIA agent on a mission to rescue an important scientist from the middle of a Russian missile compound. Unlike the previous games in the MGS series, much of the game takes place in outside environments rather than the familiar hallways of its predecessors. As a result, a few new gameplay systems have been introduced. Snake must change is camouflage to match his surroundings in order to stay hidden from the enemy, which is done fairly easily through a series of menus you can access at any time during the game. Snake also must slice up and chow down on animals around him, anything from rats to alligators, in order to keep up his stamina. It is also necessary to tend to any wounds, from broken limbs to spider bites, in a menu similar to that of the camouflage, to keep Snake in tiptop condition. It may sound like a lot to keep up with, but it becomes second nature and is hardly a burden once you’ve gotten into the game. Veterans of the series will be happy to see the kind of gripping, original, and occasionally kooky storyline that is expected of a Metal Gear game. Newcomers to the series may be a bit taken aback at first, but know that it is certainly a ride worth taking, filled with twists and turns and characters you get to know and get attached to. Although the camera can be a bit quirky at times, the core gameplay is still solid and the visuals are some of the best ever to grace the PS2. Everything from individual blades of grass to the critters that crawl through them are beautifully textured and detailed, and the game maintains an excellent frame rate even in the heat of battle. The boss battles in the game are very well constructed and a joy to take part in, each one requiring a different tactic and a different approach. The game sounds just as good as it looks, with an amazing score and Bond-esque theme song, along with an incredible voice acting script. Loads of unlockable secrets and mini games keep you coming back for more even after you’ve completed the story once. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is what every action game wants to be when it grows up and is a necessity for all you PS2 gamers.

  • GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS – The Grand Theft Auto series started as a humble cult-classic for the Playstation in the late 1990s and has since become an earth-shaking juggernaut of the gaming world, each iteration grossing tens of millions of dollars more than the previous. San Andreas takes the formula of 2001’s Grand Theft Auto 3 and 2002’s GTA: Vice City and tweaks it to near perfection. You control CJ, a young upstart in the local gang, and through a wide variety of missions given by all different people throughout all three of San Andreas’s cities, you increase your street cred as well as your bankroll. The length of the game is larger than any GTA games before it; you can expect to spend roughly 30 hours on the story-advancing missions alone. Of course, what’s the fun in only doing what you have to? That is a philosophy that San Andreas developer, Rockstar Games, has lived by since day one. From riding a bike around town, blowing some green at the local casino, taking some snapshots of your fellow gang members, even parachuting off of the highest building you can get to; if you can dream it, you can do it. Some of these extra activities will even give you the upper hand in the game. CJ has a number of stats that you can keep up by doing various activities, including lifting weights to gain strength and stay thin and muscular. Conversely, eating too much will make you slow and noticeably obese. Every environment is staggeringly large in GTA:SA, and everything is wonderfully detailed. Seeing as the game is called Grand Theft Auto, it’s only fitting that every one of the dozens of vehicles handle and sound as it should. A top-notch script is superbly voiced, the game even features several well known voices such as Samuel Jackson and Axl Rose. The sounds of the game, from pedestrian banter to the music on the wide variety of radio stations you'll hear in the game’s huge selection of cars, are all brilliant pieces that complete the puzzle of San Andreas. Whether you’re new to the series or a veteran, this game is sure to keep your attention for weeks, even months after you first pop it in your PS2.
GAMECUBE
  • PAPER MARIO 2: THE THOUSAND YEAR DOOR – One game you may not immediately thing to add onto your wishlist this holiday season is the sequel to the N64 sleeper hit, Paper Mario. PM2 is a role-playing game (RPG) where you control Mario on a quest to, you guessed it, rescue the ever-kidnapped Princess Peach. Your journey will take you all across the Mushroom Kingdom where you will run into a plethora of bright and distinctive characters. All of the character models are two dimensional to go with the unique art style and interact quite cleverly and effectively with the silky 3D environments. The graphics in the game are some of the sharpest on the Gamecube, and they show it doesn’t take photo-realism to make an excellent looking game. While there is no voice acting in the game, the script is brilliantly written, quite funny at times, and creates characters that you really become attached to by the end. The whole game has a theatrical feel to it and the battles take place in a theater-type stage. The distinctive fight system using various player-controlled actions and moves keep you engaged for the whole gaming experience. It is not entirely necessary to play the previous Paper Mario title before you play this one, but should you have the chance, you will be able to pick up on various references made throughout the game. All the music in the game is perfectly done as well, and the infectious melodies will be sure to stick in your head well after you stop playing. Overall, Paper Mario 2 is a very unique and engaging RPG that everyone in the family can enjoy. Give this one a chance and you certainly will not be let down.

  • METROID PRIME 2: ECHOES – In 2002, Retro Studios created the first 3D title in Nintendo’s Metroid saga, a transformation that was outstandingly successful and lucrative. Two years later, protagonist Samus Aran is sent to the planet Aether to investigate strange happenings. During your visit to Aether, you discover the planet is divided between a light and dark half, between which Samus migrates between the two throughout the game. Soon the bounty huntress is caught in the middle of a planetary civil war and it becomes a fight to both investigate the planet and stay alive. Most of the story is divulged through scanning the environment around you, much like the first MP. This makes for a moderately slow pacing to unraveling the plot, but if you can get into it you'll find it very entertaining. The first-person (third when you are in Samus’s ball form) gameplay is nearly identical to that of its predecessor, save for the use of a few new weapons, but there really was little to improve upon from the first game. The game is also nearly identical to MP1 from a graphical standpoint with a few upgraded lighting effects and higher polygon counts. The music in the game is mainly atmospheric and plays subtly in the background, kicking up only when appropriate, and makes the game all the more immersive. Echoes also comes with a four-player multiplayer mode, an addition that feels almost out of place in a game that relies so heavily on an absorbing single player experience. The mode includes an assortment of maps and a handful of game varieties. While the feature seems out of place, it certainly does not hurt the package as a whole. Echoes is certainly one of the best games currently available for the Gamecube and is a welcome addition to any game library.
PC GAMES
  • HALF LIFE 2 – When the original Half Life was first installed into PCs across America in 1998 the world was forever changed. Never before had a first person shooter had such a rich story, compelling gameplay and a multiplayer mode (CounterStrike) that took the world by storm. Now, six years later, PC gamers finally get the chance to take the roll of one-man-army Gordon Freeman once again and save the human race from alien reign. This time around, you have a female sidekick of sorts, Dr. Judith Mossman, and fight your way through City 17 as well as other locales throughout the game. If you have the computer for it (recommended specs: 2.4 Ghz processor, 512 MB RAM, 64 MB Video RAM), HL2 looks simply breathtaking. Every environment looks almost photo-realistic and the new physics engine in the game makes everything move just as it would in real life. Many familiar weapons along with a few welcome new additions make up your arsenal and each one handles and sounds unique, same can be said for the game’s new vehicles. The new vehicle segments add some good variety to the gameplay and make the whole experience a little less repetitive. The script is very well written and the character animations, right down to the facial movements, and superb voice acting help to immerse you in the game. The free online multiplayer program, CounterStrike Source, takes all the fast paced, terrorist vs. counter-terrorist gameplay that made the first so wildly popular and updates it for the 21st century. It is a bit of a shame that more of the new features, especially the physics related weapons, in HL2 didn’t carry over to CSS, but downloadable upgrades may be released in the future. The biggest gripe with the overall package is that the story of HL2, not unlike Halo 2, seems very second-part-of-a-trilogy and poses more questions than it answers. Valve Software clearly lives by an ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ philosophy, and while Half Life 2 is not anywhere near as revolutionary as its predecessor, it does what it sets out to do in spades, and that is making a great First Person Shooter.

  • WORLD OF WARCRAFT – Blizzard Entertainment, developers of the blockbuster Starcraft and Warcraft Real-Time Strategy games stepped outside of their comfort zone to create one of the best Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) available today. Taking what they know about RPGs from their history with the Diablo series and blending it with ideas drawn from currently existing MMORPGs, Blizzard created an engaging and genuinely fun game that takes little-to-no time to pick up. A fairly wide array of character customization options allows you to pick from a number of races, both good and evil, and change their size, face, hair and gender to your liking. Depending on which race you pick, you will start in a different part of the world with all together unique creatures, environments and architecture. As mentioned, one of the great things about the game is that it is very easy to start playing right from the get-go, without the need for boring tutorials for the first hour of the game. The battles in WoW are very action-oriented and never take you out of the flow of the game. Perhaps the best thing about the title is that the world you exist in is incredibly large and unthinkably cohesive, with little to no load times at any point during gameplay. WoW also manages to nearly eliminate the feeling of downtime that many MMORPGs fall victim too, when you feel like you are simply killing endless creatures with hardly any reward. It also allows players who may not have the time to dedicate to the game that one usually need to get the most from MMORPGs to get just as much from the game as someone who plays it several hours per day. The Rest system causes your character to gain multiplied experience the longer their character ‘rests,’ meaning if you are logged off of the game for a few days, your character will gain the extra experience needed to catch up to your friends who maybe can commit more to the game than you can. The only real downside to World of Warcraft is it’s fairly high monthly fee of $14.95, on top of the $50 it costs to buy the game in the first place. You do save some if you choose to pay annually or semi-annually, but there are similar games out there that cost less. That being said, World of Warcraft is probably the best game of its kind right now, and with its reasonable system requirements (800 Mhz processor, 256 MB RAM, 32 MB Video RAM) and gentle learning curve it truly is every-mans Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.

Posted By: Andy Lee - 1262 Reads


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