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From Bond to Stubbs

Mark Bemenderfer | Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Winter is coming, but for gamers, things are just starting to heat up. Developers have released a deluge of games just in time for the shopping season, with another horde following them.

The development for the current generation of consoles is winding down, meaning that this will probably be the last surge these consoles receive. But with so many options on the market, knowing which ones are truly worth the gaming dollar can become difficult.

Resident Evil 4

A “Resident Evil” with no zombies?

While that thought initially sent much of the gaming community into a fervor, they need not have worried. Released early in the year for the Nintendo Gamecube, it became an immediate early candidate for Game of the Year, a possibility that still remains.

The game is a continuation of the franchise, despite the different premise. Set four years after the last game in the series, it stars “Resident Evil 2” character Leon Kennedy. He is no longer a member of the Raccoon Police Department and now works for the government. Umbrella as a corporation has fallen, but that doesn’t mean an end to biological mischief.

The controls for the game are tight and moving, with many environmental interactions being controlled by a single button. This is showcased early in the game, when the player finds himself running from a group of deranged villagers. He has to block doors, kick over ladders and escape through windows, all of which is handled smoothly.

The controls are not perfect, however, though they stem more from gameplay decisions. The player is forced to stand still when firing, which while logical can get annoying when swarmed with enemies. There are also some segments that boil down to mashing a button, a trait that should have been killed in the ’90s.

The recently-released PlayStation 2 version has some bonus features that make it far superior to the Gamecube iteration. Playing through the game from Ada Wong’s perspective, with some entirely new boss battles, makes the game worth picking up, even if you’ve already played through the Gamecube version. – A

From Russia with Love

Shaken, not stirred? More like stagnant.

“From Russia with Love” brings relatively nothing new to the franchise. While a solid effort, it has little to bring new fans to the genre.

The game does mark a noticeable change in the Bond video game franchise. In a way, it is a return to Bond’s roots. It’s based off of the classic Bond movie of the same name, featuring a similar Cold War storyline.

Accordingly, “Russia” is the first Bond game to star the Sir Sean Connery version of Bond as opposed to the Pierce Brosnan version. Connery even lent his voice talents and expertise to the game, creating a more authentic Bond.

Appearances aside however, Connery’s Bond controls much like Brosnan’s from previous games. The in-game action is handled in a similar way to “Everything or Nothing,” the last game to star Bond. One button is used to ready the current tool or weapon of choice, and another fires. The aiming controls can be a little difficult to use when firing at objects in the environment, but it is a minor complaint that doesn’t hamper gameplay.

The Bond staples are there, such as the guns, gadgets and girls. A new addition to the game franchise is the jetpack, a fun tool in both the single and multiplayer modes.

The multiplayer is more like the Bond games of the past instead of the recent arena-based “Everything or Nothing.” There’s standard deathmatch, capture-the-flag, etc.

If you’ve never played a Bond game, this is a good place to start. But for long-time fans, only die-hards need apply. – B-

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories

“GTA” has gone portable like never before. While the previous handheld iterations were from an overhead perspective, much like the personal computer originals, this marks the first true three-dimensional portable Rockstar adventure.

When the game was announced, there were concerns as to whether the diminutive system could handle such a hardware-intensive game. Fortunately, Developer Rockstar proved that GTA could make the transition relatively untouched.

For anyone who has played “GTA,” they know what to expect from this version. Cars can be stolen, guns discharged and the Liberty City police will follow the player’s every action.

Chronologically, the game is set as a prequel to “Grand Theft Auto 3.” This means that the town is a little different but essentially familiar to those who have played “GTA 3.” Fan-favorites make return appearances, such as the entrepreneur Donald Love.

Unlike “GTA 3,” one can use motorcycles in the handheld version. Their absence in the pseudo-sequel is explained to humorous effect, but being able to drive through old haunts on a racing bike carries a certain thrill.

Rockstar has also given gamers the ability to use custom soundtracks in the game, albeit using a downloadable program. This helps the game immensely, as the included songs are quite forgettable.

All is not perfect in portable land, however. While possible to fly a helicopter, it’s not a part of the standard gameplay. The Dodo, an infamous short-winged plane from “GTA 3,” is also absent.

But if you have a PSP, this is still the definitive game to own. No other game out offers the gameplay, replay and simple fun “Liberty City Stories” has to offer. – A+

Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse

Very rarely do gamers see a game as innovative as “Stubbs.”

The premise is an old one. A man returns to life with a penchant for human brains. He slowly creates a horde of walking dead, which eventually leads to the downfall of the human resistance. Many games have already tackled this theme, the most noticeable being the “Resident Evil” franchise.

But never before has the gamer played from the zombie’s perspective.

Assuming the identity of Stubbs the Zombie, the gamer adventures through a 50s version of the future. While it is uncertain if Stubbs has some ultimate goal in mind on his journey, one thing is immediately evident from the start of the game- Stubbs is hungry.

As Stubbs progresses through the game meeting and eating various citizens, he will find himself leading an ever-increasing horde of followers. Anyone the player attacks will rise as a zombie, and any person his zombies attack will also rise. This leads to several moments that could be lifted straight from a Romero movie.

The game uses the original “Halo” engine, so fans will find themselves right at home. Newcomers will find the controls intuitive and easy to pick up.

If there is one complaint with the game, it is that it is too short. Easily beaten within 4-5 hours, many gamers will find the game too short for them. There is some replay through unlockable directors commentary and the harder difficulties, but that rests on personal preference.

At $50, the game is a little pricey for all but the devout zombie fan. Check it out after a price drop, or rent it. – B

Spartan: Total Warrior

Action games are a dime a dozen as of late. With the choices currently out, “Spartan” may be better suited for fans of the old Greek and Roman tales.

The gamer assumes the role of the Spartan, a faceless warrior among Sparta’s warrior elite. The game begins with Rome invading Greece, conquering the countryside easily and quickly. The last remaining city is the infamous Sparta. Right before the Roman assault, Ares contacts the Spartan, promising him his godly support.

The arguments over historical accuracy aside, this game takes its setting and runs with it well. As the Spartan, the gamer will face legions of Romans, and as the game progresses more mythical beasts as well. The boss battles, and often the skirmishes themselves are intense.

They are also quite bloody. Limbs and heads are severed at an incredible rate, earning this game its “Mature” rating.

Bland graphics and a high difficulty hold this game back though. Several parts of the game feel almost too hard, making the “continue” screen a too-common occurrence.

The slightly older “God of War” may be a better place for gamers to get their ancient Greek fix, but there is still fun found in “Spartan.” – C+