Horses are the new ants. You may have noticed I was AWOL yesterday. Actually you probably didn't. But I was. I was at a Goodwood Charity Day. Several things stand out in the memory: realising that horses look faster on TV, standing cross-armed as everyone cheered the Charlton Hunt, picking up a few spectacular conkers on the walk back to the car, and backing three winners out of six using the old "close eyes and point" technique. Much to my companions' increasingly penniless bemusement.
Picking a game to back this week is going to be similarly chancy. The field is a mixture of existing pedigree and untested but widely tipped first-timers, with a locker room of experienced jockeys including Elixir, Pandemic, SEGA AM2/Sumo Digital, Creative Assembly, Nintendo and Capcom eager to whip our button-mashing thumbs. But of course where you place your money is entirely your decision. (Probably just as well; I backed three losers too.)
If What's New was decided over seven furlongs, though, Creative Assembly would probably win through sheer strength of numbers (and by virtue of theirs' being the only game to feature horses), clogging the track up with mounted riders stretching as far as the eye can see. Rome: Total War's appearance this week is bound to stimulate the PC charts, and it seems that the UK-based developer has hit upon the right formula again, delivering the kind of Roman death orgy that we haven't seen since Russell Crowe chucked on a metal skirt and had his battered shoulder stuffed with maize. (Which also sounds like something you could order in a Scottish chip shop.)
More contemporary PC-owning warmongers may prefer to turn to Pandemic Studios' Full Spectrum Warrior, released on the PC this week after a successful turn on the Xbox earlier this year. The PC version doesn't have much over its console forebear - it looks a bit sharper, handles nicely with the mouse in place of an analogue stick, and features the two Epilogue maps due to be released as downloadables on Xbox Live this month. But nonetheless it's still one of the most absorbingly different squad-based shooters we've played lately - and the co-operative mode is bound to prove a firm favourite - even if it feels like there's more Pandemic can do with the idea. Just remember though: all the characters in Full Spectrum Warrior are fictional and any similarity to any person, living or dead, is wholly coincidental. Presumably including the US Army, since the chaps in FSW seem to be eminently capable of resolving the conflict at hand.
Alternatively, Elixir Studios returns this month, following the disappointment of its hugely ambitious Republic title earlier this year, with a far more bankable effort called Evil Genius. God (and my blistered, frozen fingers) willing, you should see a review of that later today, but to summarise: Elixir has made building a secret island lair and attempting to take over the world witty and engaging, and although there's a bit too much micromanagement and a few obvious mechanics and areas of comic relief that have been under-exploited (most notably the villainous characters you're meant to be controlling), it still wavers deliberately close to, er, 'shagadelic'. And it has the best menu music since Plok.
Which, leaving the PC alone again, is a good bridge to OutRun2, which is the highest profile Xbox game released this Friday, and distinctly aurally pleasurable (which is to say nothing of the blonde in the passenger seat). SEGA's decision to let unproven Sheffield devco Sumo Digital handle the arcade conversion here is clearly vindicated in the Mission Mode, unlockables and Xbox Live integration, even if the game itself suffers in terms of depth and scope next to Criterion's Burnout 3, and, to get back to the point, tracks like Magical Sound Shower tickle the nostalgia glands like nothing else. Except the bonus track extrapolated from Daytona USA, which doesn't so much tickle as it circles your face at terminal velocity. And a peppered feather.
And, on that note, will Pokémon Leaf Green and Fire Red inspire nostalgia in kids who are probably too young to feel bittersweet longing for anything besides the second bowl of Coco Pops their parents used to allow them in the morning? More to the point, does anybody reading this particularly care? When review copies turned up this week, we ripped into them apace, but only to retrieve the wireless link adapters bundled inside so I could play Mario Golf without having to look at Kristan's face. Which, thanks to a broken boiler, is currently withering in the aftermath of a cold shower - in a towel and robe-swaddled manner that resembles Christopher Lambert's turn in the Mortal Kombat movie... [I don't think so -Ed] (His eyes just flashed white.)
There isn't much choice on the Game Boy Advance, mind, unless Action Man Robot Atak or Titeuf: The Tcho Attitude make a strong impression on you. Or are remotely identifiable to you. But then you probably own other bits of kit besides the Game Boy, so you could always plump for one of the fighters out this week (the hiphop-flavoured Def Jam: Fight For New York, Ubisoft's Rocky Legends, or the transcendent, budget-priced PS2 version of Viewtiful Joe, which is the clear choice for fans of, well, games), or you could go for something slightly more 'obscure' (hur), like (drumroll please)... Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy! (Or Obscure.) It seems like we reviewed Psi-Ops ages ago, but it's finally out today, and rather like Second Sight it's a big long out-of-body Jedi mind trick, albeit a rather craply presented one (although arguably the better action game than SS despite having a forgettable storyline). Obscure, meanwhile, is an American teen slasher-inspired survival horror game made by Frenchmen. Which wouldn't be the first time this year the French have horrified Americans.
Finally, there's Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, which is the new Euro-friendly Square Enix's first significant release, and, we're told, features a trailer for Final Fantasy XII. Expect a review of that very soon, and in the meantime I tracked down Rob, who's been playing it. When asked if he could give you all a humorous, one-line summary of Star Ocean, he said, simply, "No." When beaten with his own entrails, he added: "A blue haired teenage hero (with Issues) saves the universe (stop us if you've heard this one before) in a solidly built RPG with some genius bits. The best one being the fact that we lowly Europeans are being blessed with it only weeks after our American pals. Will wonders never cease? And can I have my lung back now?"
No you can't, Rob. But, if you chuck a few quid at an importer, you can potentially get your hands on Donkey Konga for the Cube, which came out in the US recently. And then you can drum away the agony of your severely restricted breathing for a whole two weeks before the game comes out here on October 15th. Or until I send over some giant killer horses to finish the job. What's New: certainly not the jokes.
- PAL Releases
- Action Man Robot Atak (GBA)
- Crescent Suzuki Racing: Superbikes and Super Side Cars (PS2)
- Def Jam: Fight For New York (PS2, Xbox, Cube)
- Evil Genius (PC)
- Full Spectrum Warrior (PC)
- Knights of Honor (PC)
- Myst 4: Revelation (PC)
- Obscure (PS2, Xbox, PC)
- OutRun2 (Xbox)
- Pokémon Fire Red/Leaf Green (GBA, inc. free wireless link adapter)
- Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy (PS2, Xbox)
- Rocky Legends (PS2, Xbox)
- Rome: Total War (PC)
- Shade: Wrath of Angels (PC)
- Shadow Ops: Red Mercury (PC)
- Shark Tale (PS2, Xbox, Cube, PC, GBA)
- Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2)
- Titeuf: The Tcho Attitude (GBA)
- Ultimate Traffic (PC)
- Viewtiful Joe (PS2)
- Key US Releases
- Donkey Konga (Cube)
- X-Men Legends (PS2, Xbox, Cube)