What's New? (7th October 2005)

Weekly release roundup.

To kick off with an unresearched soundbite, possession is nine tenths of all gaming, and at a glance this week's fraction is practically top-heavy - thanks to Geist (Cube), Black & White 2 (PC) and Nintendogs (DS). Now, as Ghostbusters informs us, there are innate advantages and disadvantages to possession. On the one hand, Sigourney Weaver may attempt to have sex with you. On the other hand, Sigourney Weaver may attempt to have sex with you. But that's only this week at-a-glance. If you dump Geist for a second, and stick with B&W2 and Nintendogs, a better theme is reliance. Both games present you with the chance to shape a creature in Pavlovian fashion - particularly apt in Nintendogs case for obvious reasons - and present it with varying degrees of success.

But in B&W2's case, Pavlov's safe, since we're more of a mind to cite Dr Logan out of Day of the Dead, who attempted to train chained-up zombie Bub to behave nicely by feeding him chopped-up soldiers. Except in doing that we'd probably be doing Dr Logan a disservice. Nutter though he clearly was, he wouldn't have mistakenly uprooted a tree when he meant to pick up a village - distinct actions that our beloved John discovered the game had difficulty differentiating when it was his hand directing the on-screen digits of the divine. Bub might've had trouble, but Logan was pretty sharp for a wacko who cut people up.

B&W2 suffers from other problems too. Rather like gasbag god-game goliath Peter Molyneux, it never seems to give up telling you how things work, at length, just when you wish it would let you get on with finding stuff out for yourself. Overall, it's host to a multitude of transparent mechanics and under-developed ideas. We're all for ideas, but we like to see them followed through. John remarked that in doing things we were already familiar with, it needed to do them as well as the actual things we're familiar with. So, for example, raising your own Creature needed to be as agile and believable as Nintendogs.

It's a fair point - and a point worth emphasising on this of all days, given that B&W2 surfaces opposite Nintendo's prized procession of packaged pooches. Nintendogs is a game for the big-hearted, and it gets the vital ticks right - behaviour, feedback, and the sense of reward that a loving dog can give you. And the actual rewards it can give you too - and not just dead animals and lumps of poo, but Mario hats and other trinkets. Amusingly, even its bugs are defendable - voice recognition is a touch inconsistent, Ellie says. My neighbour with the disproportionately noisy Dachshund would probably argue that's more of a feature. In any event, if your choice is that of dog or divinity, you can be relied upon to be relied upon to greater glory in Nintendo's corner than you can in Lionhead's.

GOD!

Geist is another Nintendo game, but one of its lesser second-party collaborations - a fascinating concept done up unremarkably. There's a certain attraction to being able to leap from dog to man to wall-switch, but we'd rather have done it somewhere other than an underground military base, and the implied variation is sold somewhat short by a repetitive "scare the next host" idea that's more comedic than unsettling. I still want to play it, because when I did so at E3 I went to a fantasy-realm-construct where a little girl rescued me and then made me into a mop and bucket, but I think I might just read Alice in Wonderland again for kicks like that.

As fantasy settings go, Sparta's more invigorating - as Kieron's dismantling of Spartan: Total Warrior (PS2, Xbox, Cube) ought to convey. Okay, so it's not literally fantastic, but his point about partisan accounts of what actually went on gives it that edge. As does all the godliness and killing of things in their thousands. Too few games of its ilk understand that killing alone isn't enough for us bloodthirsty button-mashers any more - don't mistake it for a hackandslash; it sounds more like a thinkandslash. Plus, you should all buy Creative Assembly games anyway. And how refreshing that CA's console game is out on PS2, Xbox and Cube.

Same again

By now you're probably wondering where all the sequels are. Well, down-below. Brothers In Arms earned another outing (In Blood, it says here), so strategy-minded fans of the first-person will probably find what they're looking for in its second tour of World War II (unless they're looking for it on PlayStation 2, in which case they'll have to wait another three weeks). Brothers In Arms: Earned In Blood (PC, Xbox), if we're being explicit (COCK! BALLS! We are) is a Gearbox game. Gearbox: for the win.

Those on an EA drip can pick between FIFA Manager 06 (PC), NBA Live 2006 (PS2, Xbox, Cube, PC, PSP) and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006 (PS2, Xbox, Cube, PC). I've no idea about football management or basketball - on the former point, I couldn't even manage to pick a decent representative on the playground, judging by the 'pool's 4-1 bashing last weekend. Woods though I'm comfortable with - so it's disappointing not to be able to remark upon any major reason to buy this if you own any of the others since 2002, when the excellent analog swing mechanic first came into its own. New courses and rejigged swing mechanics sound enticing, but they're superficial - the altered controls haven't intensified the challenge particularly, and the game's still so approachable that new courses (even stuff you make yourself) are typically conquerable to within the same margin of error each time. It needs something new, and having Tiger Woods go back in time isn't it. And yes, it does do that.

But more on that when I review it. For now, the best way to spoil a good walk is to shout SIDDAAAAN LEMAR into a DS microphone. Go fetch.

PAL Releases

  • Black & White 2 (PC)
  • Brothers In Arms: Earned In Blood (PC, Xbox)
  • Darkwatch (PS2, Xbox)
  • FIFA Manager 06 (PC)
  • Geist (Cube)
  • Hotel Giant 2 (PC, Xbox)
  • Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes (Xbox)
  • NBA Live 2006 (PS2, Xbox, Cube, PC, PSP)
  • Nintendogs (DS)
  • Shattered Union (PC, Xbox)
  • Sniper Elite (Xbox)
  • Spartan: Total Warrior (PS2, Xbox, Cube)
  • Taxi 3: Extreme Rush (PC)
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006 (PS2, Xbox, Cube, PC, PSP)
  • Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Pumpkin King (GBA)
  • Title Bout Championship Boxing 2005 (PC)

Key US Releases

  • Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil (Xbox)
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 (PS2)
  • Trauma Center: Under the Knife (DS)

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