Bags of submissions this week, but we felt it best to limit ourselves to four given the sheer size and girth of the final entry. We don't normally go about our 300 word limit, but in this case we made an exception because, as anybody who's played it can attest, the game in question is quite simply a work of art. Rest assured if you've submitted a review we will read it and probably run it. If we haven't so far, we're probably just worried it will outshine all the rest...
This week's prize, for those who have been keeping track, is, well, let's be honest - we've run out of things to give away. We shall endeavour to find something lying around the office which the winner might be able to take advantage of, and once we do, he can rest assured we'll email him.
Reader Reviews should be submitted to email@example.com, and can be written about anything you like - hardware, games, peripherals - even if we've already written about it. In fact, that's kind of the point! Your word limit is 300 although we'll tolerate a bit of overflow if you can string words together nicely, and please try to keep it clean and legal. Just like we do for you! The best candidate each week will receive a random bit of game-related tat (possibly even an actual game) as a prize. Lucky, lucky you. And of course, your work will be displayed for all to see.
Star Review: Midtown Madness 3 (Xbox)
Ah, Paris in the springtime, or for that matter Washington. What finer way could there be to spend some time, than driving around one of these cities in your overpowered sports car, bowling past startled citizens as you trash yet another badly-positioned park bench in your quest for the ultimate speed thrill. Well, I can think of several better ways to spend an afternoon than indulging in this dubious pleasure via Midtown Madness 3. Watching paint dry, that'd be preferable... or perhaps inserting lit matches under my toenails and watching them slowly burn down.
The developers of MM3, (DICE) have a good past track record on consoles and the PC but to be honest, getting MM3 up to scratch is a pretty mammoth task for any console. Streaming massive amounts of data to simulate a "living city" can't be an easy task and perhaps the development team spent so much time trying to achieve this that they actually forgot to put a game in there. MM3 is dull, repetitive, incredibly frustrating and annoying at times and really does look like an old Xbox title rather than a recent release. Compare and contrast the visuals and the gameplay with the now rather crusty Project Gotham Racing, and MM3 begins to look like a toothless hag out on the pull at Stringfellows. Ugly and untouchable.
It has its saving graces when hooked up to Microsoft's awesome Live service, that much I can tell you. The multiplayer modes are interesting and varied (the excellent cops and robbers mode from the previous PC versions is still intact thankfully), but in single player mode you're pretty limited to a series of very similar checkpoint style races, some even thinly disguised as a sort of poor cousin to Crazy Taxi.
Playability wise, the whole thing feels as arcadey as DICE's mediocre Rally game, Rallisport Challenge (even sharing some odd camera quirks with the title). The selection of vehicles is odd ranging from ridiculously slow (Yay! Let's spend an hour racing around Washington in Refuse Trucks... weíre back to watching paint dry again) to ridiculously fast and uncontrollable (if you think I'm going to try and spell Koeninseg youíve got another think coming!)
Compare this to any other street racing game on any other format and it comes out badly. The Xbox is snowed under with this sort of title at the moment and this in my opinion is the worst of the bunch. Much faster and graphically spectacular thrills are to be had with the excellent Burnout 2 or if youíre really hard up you could always plump for Midnight Club II instead.
5 / 10
Freak Out (PS2)
You're a little girl named Linda with a very big head atop a tiny body. And you have twelve sisters roughly around your age. Unfortunately, your beloved sisters were possessed by the demons of vanity and, instead of enjoying the peace around the house, you must save them armed only with a scarf. Yes, scarf. That woolly piece of clothing that goes around your neck when the weather's a lot cooler than these days. Only this one is magic - it can grab things. Objects, trees, the ground, body parts (more of this later)... whatever. You see, there was a 13th demon but he was a bit stupid and failed his target (you), having possessed your scarf instead. You control the scarf with the right thumbstick and 'shoot' it with R1. You can grab, twist, throw and even project yourself to places that would otherwise be out of reach.
Freak Out (Stretch Panic to our American friends) was released in Europe two years ago. The fact that it was developed by Treasure should have been enough for some gamers to pay attention. Unfortunately, few did. Maybe because this isn't a 'hardcore' game ŗ la Ikaruga. This isnít a game ŗ la anything, in fact.
The game revolves around the Museum of Agony, an artsy pencil sketched hub. From there you access a few levels where you collect points that allow you to enter the 12 arenas where your possessed sisters are.
Exactly how do you gain points? Well, the usual way: you pinch ladies with huuuge breasts called Boniitas (the ladies, not the breasts). But donít get too close or they will jump on you.
And how do you exorcise your sisters? Easy, you grab their weak spots and, provided you have enough points, 'scarf bomb' them (R3 and L3 simultaneously for as long as youíre able).
The creativity behind these 12 bosses is fantastic. As Linda's sisters are being punished by their vanity, each one was turned into her worst nightmare. For example, the prettiest one (according to herself) is now a monster so hideous that you must defeat her before she's able to knock a door down and enter the arena. Youíll see her shadow, hear the noises she makes banging on doors, get brief glimpses of her passing by small openings on the wall... but don't let her in or you're dead just by looking at her.
Visually, Freak Out is a kaleidoscope of bright colours and strange design. Characters are odd, levels are simple but effective arenas or surreal places with islands floating mid-air (adding a bit of platforming fun to a game where the heroin can't jump) and effects are truly superb.
Weak points? The game could have been, er, stretched a bit. Itís incredibly short and the replay value is low. It can also feel a bit shallow, as there's no real story or character development.
Freak Out started as a technical demo and, frankly, itís not much more than that. But itís also one of those games that manages to be remembered with fondness years after being played. And that's invaluable.
No score supplied.
Having owned a GameCube for almost a year, I came upon an opportunity to purchase a Playstation 2 at a fraction of the proper cost. Armed with the box, an extra controller, a memory card and Jak & Daxter, I jollily returned home. After opening the box, I noted the unit itself was a lot smaller than I had thought - not really that much bigger than the Cube as one may think. I plugged it into the wall and into my TV set and broke into the packaging of the memory card. Here's where I started seeing some differences with my previously owned console. Now, the GameCube is cute. It's also very slick - everything fits like a glove into where it belongs, the ports are tiny and cleverly designed so that it is impossible to try and fit the controller in the wrong way. On the PS2, I had some problems inserting the memory card and the controllers properly. That moment was a bit of a sign of things to come, as Iíve realised, the more time I've spent with my shiny new toy.
The PlayStation 2 is home to some of the more incredible games of our time. ICO, Final Fantasy X, Virtua Fighter: Evolution, Jak & Daxter - the list goes on, as you're no doubt aware. However, I have realised that though there are many very good games for the PS2, there are about 50 poor ones to every good one. In the world of Nintendo, where I used to reside, this ratio is not as great - maybe ten shit games for every golden nugget. This has nothing to do with the platform itself, but everything with the kind of market share it has. Since Sony is the big kid on the block, everyone and their dog want in on the dough.
It quickly became apparent to me that I'd have to educate myself about my PS2 if I were not to purchase really shitty games. On the Cube, the catalogue of games is manageable - you can keep track of most releases and know if they're worth it or not. Dropping in on the PS2 this late in its life, I've had a lot of research to do. Not that I mind, because when I do it properly, I get to play really good games. Also, having a PS2 creates sort of a sense of relaxation in me, since I know that the games will be out for that platform no matter what - even if it might not be quite as pretty as it was elsewhere.
Iím glad I have a PS2 - it's got great games. However, had I paid the full price of the thing, I doubt I would have felt as satisfied with it - it is an ageing piece of technology, and only ICO has "wowed" me in a graphical sense so far. Had I not received an offer I could not refuse, I would probably have been better off waiting for the inevitable and possibly imminent price reduction.
No score supplied.
by Stefan Haselsteiner
ICO is the sort of game that makes me think about all those monikers each console giant bandies about concerning their respective "cream of the crop" titles. You get Playstation Platinum for PS2 or Xbox Classics for Xbox and Nintendo's Players Choice for Nintendo consoles. If one didn't know any better, just by looking at those names and by picking up one of those games you'd be guaranteed a certified hit, a guaranteed classic... right? Wrong. While many carrying the term Platinum, Classic or Players Choice are indeed great games, many are far from classics.
In the film industry, if a film rakes in over $100 million at the box office (providing it cost less than $100 million to make) it's often referred to as a "Blockbuster". How many "Blockbusters" would you consider classics... Mummy Returns anyone? The point I am trying to stress is that all the above titles should be changed to reflect the term "Blockbuster" because that is essentially what they are and that a new title for true classics should be heralded. Now to ICO... if ever there was a game screaming for such classic recognition then this it my dear readers.
In the gaming world this is my Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane (insert any other classic film you care to here). Not in all my years of gaming has a title impressed me so much with its simplicity. The game has layers upon layers of depth and emotion that I have not yet witnessed in interactive entertainment (or at least felt it to be true and honest).
The game begins with a young boy (no older than twelve) who is imprisoned in an ancient castle. The reason for his imprisonment - the villagers believe that it wards off curses. Also the fact that the young boy is born with horns on his head seems to fulfill some ancient prophecy regarding the protection of the village and its inhabitants. Within a matter of minutes after his imprisonment an accident allows our young protagonist to break free from his cell and begin his adventure. It's not long before he finds and rescues a young girl by the name of Yorda and the two set out to free themselves from this cubic palace. However, it's really not as simple as that. Yorda and and young ICO do not speak the same language and some dark force is hunting the poor girl. It turns out this is one palace that is not going to let its two victims escape easily. Deep within the heart of the palace resides an evil queen who feeds of the souls of those imprisoned within its great walls for the purpose of rejuvenating herself.
The game is an absolute joy to play. Harking back to such classics as Prince of Persia, the castle is in fact nothing more than one huge puzzle. It's like playing with a Rubik cube as you twist and turn it to get a specific colour into arrangement. The majority of ICO's puzzles consist of spatial puzzles involving climbing, leaping, switch-throwing and manipulation of objects within the gaming world. The various puzzles are never obscure and they fit seamlessly into the greater whole (the castle). The most amazing thing ICO accomplishes is drawing emotion from those that play it. You see, Yorda has been weakened by her extended stay in the castle so she is not so fit and can often not jump across ledges as easily as our young hero. Also leaving her alone for a few minutes can seal hers and your fate forever (end of game) as those dark forces I mentioned earlier, the evil shadow servants, are sent out from the Queen to retrieve the young girl. Okay, so I hear you saying "ditch the woman and save yourself", only it's not as simple as that. ICO needs Yorda just as much as she needs him. It seems Yorda is the only one who can open many of the locked portals throughout the castle and without her, ICO is just as doomed. There is a true feeling of guardianship the player develops for Yorda as you strive through ICO to do everything in your powers to protect her from the evil shadow servants and the Queen and in turn help her and yourself escape.
The graphics, although low res, are simply stunning to look at. The castle literally comes alive, giving you the sense that you are actually there, wondering around some great medieval castle all by yourself. The spatial dynamics are incredible too. Standing on the top of a flight of stairs you have just climbed and then looking all the way down to the floor will often induce moments of vertigo. The game has some of the best usage of shadow and lighting in any PS2 game to date. I defy you to find a better looking game out there. The control is fluid and easy to master. Helping Yorda travel along with you will entail you extending your hand and then pulling her along. There is a little continuous rumble from the joypad giving the player the feeling he is actually pulling someone along. The soundtrack contains no musical tracks [my ICO soundtrack CD does! -Tom], consisting mostly of environment sounds such as chirping birds, breaking ocean waves and movement of the wind. It's all used to such a wonderful extent that you feel as though you are in a living, breathing world. A lot of time and care has gone into this title sonically and it's a pure delight to listen to. If there is a major flaw with this game, it would be its length. With about ten hours of gameplay from start to finish (first time through) one gets left wanting more... a lot more.
ICO is a rarity in today's times where most games are loud, brash and emotionally uninvolving. It's great to see developers thinking outside the sequel and financial box most development companies find themselves in today. ICO was a commercial failure upon its release and therefore will never earn the Platinum moniker but at the end of the day this is a game I believe will be remembered forever by those that get the chance to play it.
98 / 100