Shall we play a game?
New consoles and games make this an exciting holiday season for video game fans
In 1977, the year I was born, Atari released its first Video Computer System. Once I was old enough to hold a joystick, I played Atari games like Tank and Breakout with my cousins until our parents made us “go play outside, dammit.”
Today, kids have a lot more video game options, and plenty of adults are getting in on the action, too. Besides arcade games, computer games and hand-held games, you’ve got your Nintendo 64 and your Sega Dreamcast, although both consoles will be phased out of the market soon. The Sony PlayStation 2 is still selling strong since its release last fall, and Sony is still considered the industry leader.
The latest entries in the video game console market—Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo’s GameCube—were released in November, just in time for the holiday shopping season. Early reviews of the new consoles are mixed.
The Xbox sports a 733-megahertz Pentium III processor and promises of better graphics and sound, but the consensus is that the controller is too big to handle, and a lot of the features that make the Xbox worth buying have to be purchased separately. While the GameCube’s stats aren’t as impressive as the Xbox’s, it still offers good graphics and sound, a comfortable controller and costs $100 less.
But you can’t have much fun with a console alone, no matter how macho the processor is. In the end, it all comes down to games. Whether you’re buying for yourself or holiday shopping for the kids, here are some of the most-wanted titles in the gaming world, complete with ratings by the Entertainment Software Review Board. (See an explanation of the rating system at bottom.)
Halo (ESRB: Mature)
In this first-person “shooter” game, you play a human trying to wipe out a race of aliens called the Covenant. Early reviews of Halo, released Nov. 15 to coincide with the release of the Xbox itself, have been extremely favorable. Gamespot.com describes it as “deep, intricate and beautiful” and says the graphics are unmatched. Like most shooters, it promises plenty of blood and guts, so don’t buy this one for the younger kids.
Madden NFL 2002 (ESRB: Everyone)
This game has already been released on PlayStation 2 and GameCube, but the graphics are enhanced a bit on the Xbox version. On any platform, though, Madden NFL 2002 is being described as the best simulated football game ever. You’ve got seven different game modes to choose from, giving you the flexibility to play a single exhibition game or a whole season. You can also create your own players—even whole teams—choosing everything from height and weight all the way down to shoe size. While this might seem a bit excessive, every choice you make determines how a player acts on the field.
Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II (ESRB: Teen)
The original Rogue Squadron, released on the Nintendo 64, set the standard for video games based on the Star Wars movies. Early reviews on Gamespot.com say this sequel raises the bar once again, delivering a game full of intriguing missions, stunning sound and “jaw-droppingly beautiful graphics.” With previews for Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones already infiltrating movie theaters, this game should tide you over until your next encounter with George Lucas’ cash cow.
Super Smash Bros. Melee (ESRB: Teen)
Nintendo has always dominated the younger gamer’s market, so it’s surprising to find Mario and Luigi in a game designed for teens. Melee promises frantic pacing and a super-low learning curve, and you won’t get bored quickly with dozens of one-player and multi-player modes to choose from. Gamers should especially enjoy the adventure mode, in which all levels are inspired by past Nintendo classics such as the original Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (ESRB: Mature)
Released Nov. 13, early reviews of this sequel promise a game just as good as the original. You play Solid Snake, a genetically altered “super soldier” trying to uncover secrets behind stolen technology and his own past. The main difference between this series and other games of its ilk is that you don’t simply rush in, guns blazing—stealth, not strength, is the key to winning. An emphasis on plot and character development is also a rare but welcome facet of the Metal Gear series, and the voice acting is far less cheesy than most games.
Tie: Grand Theft Auto III (ESRB: Mature) and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (ESRB: Teen)
Both of these games have gotten rave reviews since their release in October for their vast improvements upon already popular games. (There’s a GameCube version of Tony Hawk as well, and the difference between the two is negligible.) NFL 2K2 is also getting good reviews, but I refuse to endorse any game with such a stupid name. The truth is, I’m just bitter that I can’t recommend Final Fantasy X, because the bastards at Squaresoft keep pushing back the release date. Looks like we’ll be waiting until the day after Christmas … or so they say. Until then, game on.