We're not going to talk about DRIV3R. We would, because it's obviously a very thorny subject on this here old Internet at the moment, but with so many top quality games out this week, there simply isn't space to waste on games we don't like. No, actually, that's not it. (This thing wouldn't be fun if we didn't do that.) It's more to do with the fact that we've already said, at length, why we wouldn't buy it and why we feel you shouldn't, and we'd far rather talk about games like Full Spectrum Warrior, Champions of Norrath and Ground Control 2 instead.
Operation Be The Best
Full Spectrum Warrior, then. When we first heard about it, one journo we sometimes talk to commented, "it's bound to kick up a 'desert storm' of moral objection". Which is a good sound bite, but having played it, we don't really agree. Basically you operate a pair of units (sometimes more) and the game is about pointing them in the right direction without actually controlling them directly - moving them between cover points, laying down suppressing fire, flanking enemies, hauling wounded soldiers to safety - and navigating hostile environments in close quarters, rather than from high up in the sky ala strategy games. Where's the problem? Yes, it is based on a US Army simulator, so the tactics are largely valid in real life, and yes, you are fighting in some generic middle-eastern location, but it's not as if you're sending troops into a building and ordering them to "kill all the ragheads" or anything absurd and objectionable like that.
If anything, it actually lacks personality, rather than surreptitiously trying to sculpt it like some sort of propaganda piece. The one-dimensional machismo of soldier's voice-overs and back-stories mean you're relying on your fondness for the mechanics to get anything out of it, and if you do take to them - as we have, at this point, several hours into it - then you'll probably find that it's an unusual and absorbing game, and the Xbox Live co-operative support (though we've yet to test it ourselves) will keep you going for a while. Some have argued that it's a bit disappointing that you've effectively learnt everything you're going to learn within an hour of picking it up, but as yet we're undecided. Expect a full review early next week.
As for Ground Control 2... Site veterans will know full well that this writer isn't too hot on real-time strategy games, but judging by the critical response alone, this is one of the best of the year so far. A pair of races, two decent length single-player campaigns, an accessible multiplayer mode, and Ground Control's signature freeform camera and facility for you to zoom in to check on individual units, seem to be earning the game some high marks - brushing the underside of the fabled 90 per cent rating in most cases. Reviews have also praised the way the two sides have been balanced, which is obviously a good thing, and it's also reportedly faster, better looking, and rife with potential for appalling Space Oddity jokes. Actually, that last bit's our fault. We'll try and make up for it by hauling Real-Time Rob away from his duties to review it soon.
Hosts and goblins
Champions of Norrath, meanwhile, is a game this column is slightly better equipped to deal with, and also has the potential to breathe a bit of life into PS2 Online here in Europe. It is, ya see, a bit like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, except it's slightly more open-ended, let's you dabble more in shaping the individual skills of your characters as you build up experience, and has a four-player mode. Yay. Multitaps are catered for if you can get a group together in your lounge, but online play is obviously what we're 'goblin up'. It supports the USB headset, too.
The one thing we're not entirely convinced about, which formed the basis of some criticism in reviews of the US version that came out some time ago, is the way the online game handles your characters. It's fine if you're playing through with a group of friends, or just hopping online to get some support from other sympathetic gamers in beating a certain section, but reportedly does lead to some item duplication, and, unless you keep your offline and online data separate, could see you overwriting your single-player progress with progress from a multiplayer game you dived into on a whim. Which doesn't sound like much fun.
Then again, chances are that Norrath will become a multiplayer game that players group together to play, rather than anything else. It's not exactly Quake (although there is quite a lot of brown) in terms of 'pick-up games', and any logistical issues for friendless gamers online can't really overshadow the work that's gone into crafting the adventure in general. We'll crawl some dungeons soon and give you a proper write-up, but in the meantime, this will probably serve as a decent evolution of the Dark Alliance idea, if that's what you're after. And judging by the encouraging sales of the (arguably inferior) Dark Alliance II, some of you probably are.
With all that said, there's just enough time to reflect on some of the other stuff piling up on the shelves this week. The GBA has a fairly good time of it for once, with Donkey Kong Country 2 (which is... wait, we've already been over that), and the twinned Crash Bandicoot and Spyro Fusion titles, which see dragons and bandicoots uniting to halt some sort of cuddly cartoon evil. There's also a wealth of other stuff on the shelves, including Spellforce on the PC, which has had some decent write-ups, Ubisoft's Cube port of Rainbow Six 3 (sans online modes, obviously), World Championship Snooker 2004 and IndyCar Series 2005 from Codemasters. You may recall we surprised even ourselves by falling under the spell of the last IndyCar game, and assuming you liked it, you should get some enjoyment out of this reportedly 'solid' sequel. Online modes too!
All of which leaves us with no space at all to discuss DRIV3R... [Looks around.] Ah sod it, the boss is away at Glastonbury anyway, so he'll never know. DRIV3R, then. Atari shipped 2.5 million copies to stores, apparently, it's already in the charts after a few folks broke the street date, and it's picked up reviews ranging from the bottom end right up to the highest peak - so much so, in fact, that there's controversy raging in some quarters about the validity of various marks. All we can say is that we played it for a hell of a long time, and found it to be hugely disappointing. Some people clearly do get on with it (or have decided they're going to whatever, and have now made it their mission to run around chastising anybody who doesn't), and we would urge you - if you're curious, anyway - to examine discussion threads closely and try to get an overall sense of it, because you may find your tolerance for some of its most aggravating aspects exceeds ours. But we're not backing down - we think it's a bad game. Badly designed and badly bugged. And it left us very frustrated and unfulfilled.
Anyway, that's your lot. Go forth and spend.
- PAL Releases
- Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest (PS2)
- Crash Bandicoot: Fusion (GBA)
- Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong's Quest (GBA)
- DRIV3R (PS2, Xbox)
- Fair Strike (PC)
- Full Spectrum Warrior (Xbox)
- Gooka: The Mystery of Janatris (PC)
- Gorky Zero: Beyond Honour (PC)
- Ground Control 2: Operation Exodus (PC)
- GT-R 400 (PS2)
- IndyCar Series 2005 (PS2, Xbox)
- Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising (PC)
- Risk: Global Domination (PS2)
- Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku (Cube)
- Samurai Warriors (PS2)
- Spellforce: The Breath of Winter (PC)
- Spyro: Fusion (GBA)
- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3 (Cube)
- Ultimate Mind Games (PS2)
- Warlords Battlecry III (PC)
- World Championship Snooker 2004 (PS2, Xbox)
- World War Zero: Iron Storm (PS2)
- Key US Releases
- Nothing to shout about.