This week, it all comes down to a single question. It's a question we don't honestly level at ourselves much when we're playing new games, because - to be honest - we rarely have an audience and rarely have to worry about how we're looking or sounding. Heck, most of the time we're sprawled out, limbs dangling lazily over armrests and cushions strategically placed to prevent even the slightest discomfort, broad grins slapped on our faces and expletives dancing merrily in the air. The idea of eliciting any sort of reaction from anybody, or succumbing to even the remotest form of self-consciousness, barely enters into the equation. What was the question?
"Isn't that a bit embarrassing?"
Yes. "Isn't that a bit embarrassing?" we were asked the other day, having just launched into a less than eloquent (mostly drunken) defence of Singstar, Sony's biggest new release this week. (And in the form of song, obviously.) It's a question we hadn't really pondered - the reason being that games like Singstar don't come along very often, and it takes a game like Singstar to bring people from all walks of life together in front of the PS2, at which point we're forced to worry about things like our appearance and those goddamn stupid noises we're making. It has that EyeToy effect on people. They start singing out loud to the likes of Dido and George Michael, which clearly is embarrassing. But it's so much fun. Fortunately, our neighbours are all octogenarians, and the walls are all insulated by Army Men promos and the blood of Jaguar apologists, so at least we only have to worry about our parents and the government wiretaps. Loooousy government!
But dammit, whether you can sing like a star or sound like a cement mixer auditioning for belcher of the year, as long as you're rewarded for staying in tune rather than hitting every note (and as long as the sound coming out of the speakers always drowns out your imperfections to a certain extent), the result is a bit like singing along in the car and then getting a standing ovation from whoever's in the passenger seat. Secretly, we both know that you want to sing along to things. We all do. It's human nature. And if you can hit the notes, you stand a good chance of making it past the harder difficulty levels too.
It may not be the first karaoke package to appear on a console, but given that Xbox Music Mixer was, to fall back on a technical term, heapbigcrap, and given Konami's baffling decision to wait until next week (or perhaps even later) to release Karaoke Stage in Europe, Singstar is the first decent attempt on the PS2 to make it out on this side of the Atlantic. And it's the only way that girlfriends/mothers/sisters/any female at all will dare to be in the same room as us when the PlayStation's turned on. For that it deserves praise. In the form of song.
I want to break free
Xbox fans should be jealous of Singstar, really. If we were Xbox owners who didn't have PS2s, we would be. However, because we're all hopeless loners with nothing to do except spend our surplus income on games consoles and other bits of tat, we have both, which means that we don't have to be jealous, and that we can also delight in today's other big hope: Rallisport Challenge 2. (That's right, nobody gets a capitalised middle-S today!) The original may have sold very few copies when it launched with the Xbox back in March a couple of years ago, but that was a marketing failure rather than a technical one - the game itself was fantastic.
This one is too. There's some contention over just how fantastic it is, but that there's any question at all ought to prove that it's worthy of more note than every other rally title we've seen recently. That it's also tied in to Xbox Live in a way reminiscent of Project Gotham Racing 2 - and offers lag-free four-player rallying - sweetens the deal considerably more, but it's the quality of the initial single-player offering that bowled us over in the first place. Xbox fans should give it serious consideration.
With those two out of the way though, this week is a little light on top-draw premium grade-A entertainment. We always had a soft spot for the first Way of the Samurai game, but Way of the Samurai 2 one doesn't look like a massive improvement and nobody else seems to care a jot about it so we haven't seen any reviews yet either. We will look into it though. Likewise Riding Spirits II (another Japanese title Capcom has picked up for European publication), the PS2 version of not-quite-brilliant The X-Files: Resist or Serve, and Square-Enix's Drakengard, which has reviewed fairly well across the pond, but probably isn't the most essential PS2 game that you don't yet own...
Elsewhere, this week is notable for launching a whole five different potential strategy purchases, including Anno 1503: Treasures, Monsters and Pirates, THQ's cunningly timed nowt-to-do-with-the-movie adaptation Battle for Troy and Codemasters' Perimeter. However, although we hear Perimeter is pretty good, we understand disappointment you'd feel taking home one of the first two could only be matched by the disappointment we felt when we realised this week's Spartan and Two Thrones titles were also strategy games - forcing favoured collective terms like "triumvirate" and "troika" out of our copy like some sort of demented coalition of the spelling. You would have enjoyed them, too.
Fortunately there's always next week's offerings to look forward to, and we have a feeling that between Gran Turismo 4: Prologue, Red Dead Revolver and Disgaea - The Hour of Darkness we'll all be losing quite a lot of money, and assuming our traditional slumped gaming position. But then next Friday is payday, isn't it, and with any luck we'll be hoarse from all the singing and rallying. Perfect.
- PAL Releases
- Anno 1503 - Treasures, Monsters and Pirates (PC)
- Battle for Troy (PC)
- Drakengard (PS2)
- Perimeter (PC)
- RalliSport Challenge 2 (Xbox)
- Riding Spirits II (PS2)
- SingStar (PS2)
- Spartan (PC)
- The X-Files: Resist or Serve (PS2)
- Two Thrones (PC)
- Way of the Samurai 2 (PS2)
- Key US Releases
- Nothing of note.