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Stealing Cars, Mutant Mayhem, Gory Fighting and Defending a Kingdom

Mark Bemenderfer and Trevor Gass | Monday, November 1, 2004

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Mark: The Grand Theft Auto game series has enjoyed tremendous success with each and every release of its various installments. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was deeper, more addictive and better developed that each of its predecessors and was a smash hit. With all these expectations, it’s a relief that the latest installment in the series, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas offers even more to both long-time fans and novices alike.The latest addition to the Grand Theft Auto series is quite original and both the gameplay and tone is noticeably different from the previous ones. While the previous games focused on the mafia and urban skyscrapers, this one has much more of a suburban feel. The mafia is replaced by the gang and huge cities have been replaced with an urban sprawl. The inner city locations have not been dropped completely out of the game. While the focus is definitely on the suburbs near the beginning of the game, you move into other parts of the state as the game progresses, each offering their own unique locales and citizens. This is the largest Grand Theft Auto game yet, and the player can visit locations varying from the city to the countryside, offering a wealth of opportunities along the way.The gameplay has been refined while retaining the spirit of the series. New modes and options can be chosen to tweak your character, such as choosing a hairstyle or riding a BMX bike. Even a two player mode has been added. If you have played the previous Grand Theft Auto games, you know what to expect from this latest edition. And that’s definitely a good thing.

Trevor: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a real legend in the making. The GTA series has proven itself on the PlayStation 2 ever since 2001 with the smash hit Grand Theft Auto III. That being said, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is debatably one of the best titles released for the PlayStation 2 to date if you like the GTA style of gameplay. A storyline based on killing your rivals for respect and money, coupled with strong language and sexual content make this game very deserving of its Mature rating. The game fundamentally plays the same as its predecessor, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, but adds many new aspects, including the necessity of eating and exercising to keep up your character’s strength.Assuming that most gamers have knowledge of the previous GTA games and all their infamy, there are still some weaknesses in this game to consider. The big one on the list is frame rate, which is just another sign of the aging PS2 technology. The orange tinge that the game carries in its visual effects is also noticeable enough to annoy many gamers.One of the many other new features offered by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is the two-player mode. Now, don’t get all excited. Of all the strong points in this game, the two-player mode is not one of them. Given that both characters must share the same screen, the amount of things Rockstar could have done with the multiplayer was severely limited from the start. However, fun can still be had from rampantly running over your roommate in a vehicle and failing the mission multiple times.Overall, San Andreas is another solid installment in the Grand Theft Auto series.

X-Men Legends

Trevor: X-Men Legends – redeeming a mediocre series one mutant punch at a time. This new approach to playing as the popular comic book heroes transports you and your roommates into an action-filled, role-playing world. X-Men Legends lets you take your choice of four mutants and then throw them into an engaging storyline that stays quite true to the comic series. You can spend hours smashing around through high tech military installations, Morlock sewers, and giant asteroid space stations. However, X-Men Legends shows its true strength in the multiplayer experience. The artificial intelligence in the game can be rather dull so grabbing anyone wandering around in your hall is a better alternative to playing alone.The game encourages tactical thinking that should be observed when choosing your four-mutant team. Having a couple long range characters like Cyclops or Gambit rain mutant attacks on the computer controlled enemies while brutes like Colossus and Wolverine hack it out on the front lines is a strategy that will serve you well. But some levels require specific character’s traits, such as Iceman’s ability to form frozen bridges or Cyclops’ power to wield doors shut with his optic blasts.A trait made famous by the role-playing game genre is the ability to increase the strength and abilities of your characters as the story progresses. At the end of the game you will have the choice of 15 characters to select from, each with a varying array of mutant abilities to beef up as well as the typical strength and agility attributes. However, while this game is billed as strong, action-oriented role-playing game, X-Men Legends was somewhat lacking in the area of character customization. Overall, X-Men Legends is a strong title. But a true video game legend? Not quite.

Mark: X-Men Legends is really nothing special, as Trevor previously mentioned. It’s a short rush followed by the realization that there’s been no depth, limited story and ultimately unrewarding. The gameplay is about as deep as Gauntlet. For the uninitiated, all this entails is the repeated pressing of a few buttons and the rampant use of your characters’ special abilities. The enemies come in waves, with little variation beyond appearance and toughness. You have enemies that fire at you and those other generic enemies that attack you with their bare hands/claws/tentacles. If you are looking for depth to your games, look elsewhere. But for a game that revolves around the X-Men and their assorted villains, X-Men Legends is not too bad. As a mindless action game, it is satisfying and toward the top of the heap that fall into that particular game genre. Plus, it has a wealth of X-Men references and trivia within the game, so comic fans may want to check this one out as a rental or after the price drops.

Kingdom Under Fire

Mark: Lord of the Rings fans unite – your game has arrived. Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders is about controlling an army of soldiers, human and otherwise, while trying to crush the opposing forces. Orcs, ogres, giant scorpions, birds and others all unite in this action strategy in such a way that it feels as if they should owe money to J. R. R. Tolkien’s estate.Although there already have been several Lord of the Rings games in release, these games only allowed the player to control a single hero while non-playable characters assisted. While the games immersed you into the setting of the movies quite well, they didn’t convey the feeling of leading an army in the fight against evil.Kingdom Under Fire does exactly that. The player still primarily controls the solitary hero, but he also controls the unit that the hero is in, along with any other unit assigned to his command. Toward the end of the game, the player ends up controlling the movement and attack patterns that involve a vast number of troops.The controls are relatively simple for such a complex game. The player controls the selected unit, whether it is a unit of archers, foot soldiers, cavalry, etc, and then switches primary control to the hero when the enemy is engaged. However, you can also send your other units on specific tasks that will follow through to completion even after you relinquish control over them.This is a great game overall and is highly recommended for Lord of the Rings fans to at least rent. However, the game still has some problems. Kingdom Under Fire becomes almost insanely difficult towards the end of the game and the selection of hero characters is a little on the light side.

Trevor: Unlike X-Men Legends, tactics are the key to this medieval real-time strategy game. You are commander-in-chief of your powerful army, which allows you to give tactical commands to the rest of your men as well as engage in messy one-on-one, one-on-two and even one-on-three ground level combat. You can decide to remain stealthy by keeping your troops in a tight formation or space them out to allow archers to fire through your ranks.Once again, the customization of characters and armies plays a key aspect in this game, like many recently released role-playing games. Whether it is upgrading your super powers, changing your hair or changing your team’s uniforms, most games are playing to gamers’ desires to put a unique spin on their characters. Kingdom Under Fire is no exception. Different weapons and devices lend you and your commanding officers varying skills and abilities . If you liked the PlayStation 2’s Dynasty Warriors, this is the X-Box’s answer. More depth and strategy, and of course, better graphics keep it interesting. However, the graphics are not exactly stellar and the music is nothing special either. But at a launch price of $39.99, it is a game to consider.

Mortal Kombat: Deception

Mark: What’s the perfect time of the year to enjoy some bone-crushing hits and blood-spattering fatalities, at least in video game form? Around Halloween, of course. During the time when people dress up as ninjas and dead people, the new release Mortal Kombat: Deception is a perfect choice to whittle away the hours.Like Grand Theft Auto, the Mortal Kombat series has quite a large fan base and plenty of expectations to boot. While the spine and harpoon fatalities have only risen by a marginal amount over the past years, this latest installment still has a lot to offer. But Mortal Kombat: Deception is probably the best, most quirky Mortal Kombat game yet. With a roster of 24 new and returning characters, plus some more unconfirmed characters, the roster is impressive for a 3-D fighter. The emphasis this time appears to be on the lesser characters of the previous games, such as Nightwolf and Ermac.If you played Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, then you know what to expect from this installment in the series. Each character has three fighting styles, one involving some form of weaponry. There are special attacks that each character can use, such as Scorpion’s trademark harpoon attack. And of course, there are the various fatalities that are exclusive to each of the many characters. New to the series is the inclusion of the “hara-kiri,” a self-performed fatality that prevents the other player from performing his own fatality.However, there’s more to this game than just the fighting mode. New additions to this game include the Konquest mode and two new mini-games, Puzzle Kombat and Chess Kombat. Konquest mode is basically a role-playing experience, where the player follows a character’s life from the moment he is chosen by the Elder Gods to be their champion to the point when he is old and gray. It’s not the deepest RPG, but for a free add-on, it’s not too bad. For those interested in the game, expect to spend a lot of time here, as the majority of the extra characters are unlocked in this mode. Chess Kombat is pretty self-explanatory and arguably the weakest addition. The game plays by modified chess rules, and when two pieces meet, the game switches to a standard match. So, although there are some elements of chess to the game, it breaks down to the player’s fighting ability within the pretense of playing a strategic game of chess.The best addition to the game is the Puzzle Kombat mode. Slightly similar to Tetris or Columns, colored blocks fall from the top of the screen, and it is the player’s responsibility to group the colors together. When a color breaker falls, the points earned are maximized. When a group of color is broken, the other player gets an equal number of blocks added to his side. Another layer of strategy is added by the inclusion of the ability to choose a Mortal Kombat champion from the listed characters, each of whom have their own unique abilities. This can provide some great intensity to this mini-game. The only downfall is that the color breakers seem to fall too infrequently. Mortal Kombat fans can relax, as this is probably the best incarnation of their beloved game. A special edition has been released as well, one that includes an arcade port of the original Mortal Kombat for an additional $10. This game is definitely worth a look for Mortal Kombat champions and rookies alike.