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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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What's New?

New games this week include Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II. And lots of others.

When Kain signed on with Eidos to star in a series of videogames, he probably wasn't expecting so many goddamned curtain calls. Such is the life of a multi-million-selling demon. His latest "re-vamp" however has split audiences, and it'll be interesting to see how it's received here in Europe following its release today. Players can take on the role of either Kain or Raziel (a series first), and developer Crystal Dynamics (since entrusted with the once-coveted Tomb Raider franchise) reckons the game's new direction - complete with new combat system - is more than a match for anything else out there. Reviewers, on the other hand, have been critical of its continued use of box-pushing and find-the-key puzzles, even if the new gameplay/story balance is to be praised. Kain's legacy refuses to die, so we can probably expect more in the future, and statistically, it has to turn up a triple-A title eventually. This, however, probably isn't it.

Speaking of fantastical tales of the undead, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II is also out here this week on PS2 and Xbox courtesy of Acclaim, and again it's splitting audiences. Picking up at the end of the last game, it gives you a pick of new character classes and throws up another ten or so hours of whacking things with sticks. Like the original, it's the sort of hackandslash that requires two people to go through it together, and it's one of the standout titles released this week. We should have a review of it ready in the near future. Those in need of some solitary hackandslashing might prefer to check out Dynasty Warriors 4 Xtreme Legends from Koei, which debuts on PS2 this week at a budget price point. It tacks onto DW4 if you have it, but otherwise offers its own blend of historical whackery with hundreds of unhappy warriors charging around the battlefield ripe for juggling...

Moving away from the fantastical, or, more accurately, moving into another strand of the fantastical, this week also unleashes a barrelful of under-achievers. Rogue Ops, once a promising title, has been roundly slated by most reviewers and I'll be whimpering my way through it this weekend trying to get my head round its problems, while Sonic Heroes is another game I'll be writing up early next week - at the moment I reckon it's a disappointing continuation of the Sonic Adventure ideal that combines all three types of gameplay but leaves very little up to the player's imagination. Unlike its labyrinthine 2D predecessors, this is very much a dot-to-dot procession of typical 3D platformer tricks, spruced up by the occasional trip round whirling concrete rollercoasters at 200mph. Also from the Sonic stable this week we have Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut on the PC - which, if it's anything like its execrable namesake on GameCube, needs to be hunted down and destroyed.

Other under-achievers include X2: The Threat, which went from a potential Elite to a game that misunderstood Elite and wound up some sort of MMORPG-without-other-players in Rob's eyes, and the Xbox version of Mafia. Now, that's allegedly out this week, but then it was allegedly out last week too, only slipping at the very last minute. Either way, Kristan was less than impressed with the results of the bafflingly lengthy conversion process, as often pissed off as he was enthralled, and there are better Grand Theft Alsos to consider these days on the Xbox.

(Is there anything else I can pigeonhole into my little "bad games" spiel? Ah, yes.) Conflict: Desert Storm 2 was guilty of some "baffling flaws" according to what some ginger loony reckons, despite remaining "an above average game". Whether that endears you to the Cube version, out today, is your problem. We haven't got a review copy in, but we're not really losing sleep over that.

All of which leaves us with just a couple of other concerns - Midway Arcade Treasures (PS2/Xbox) and Sega GT Online (Xbox Live). The former pairing come in at just £14.99, which is dementedly good value, but then again it is "just" a compilation of 20 classic arcade games including SpyHunter, Gauntlet, Defender, Paperboy, Marble Madness and Joust. Worth the bother? Well it also has DVD-style content like developer/creator interviews, and also a ton of 80s music, not to mention two-player support where possible. Worth a look.

Sega GT Online, however, is a largely unknown quantity, which has scored... pretty well in the US, but will have to work very hard to topple Project Gotham Racing 2 from its Live throne. We're talking gunpowder-plot levels of toppling. A brief chat with a Sega rep a couple of weeks ago suggests that it's more of a GT style Live title, with vehicle upgrades and "serious stuff" to consider beyond simply kick/banning arseholes who block the track and giggle into the headset, and making sure everyone's using something other than the Enzo Ferrari. We'll let you know the score when we get a chance to check it out.

Looking ahead to next week - if you can see through the sheets of rain [ah good, a weather reference -bastard Ed currently packing for holidays] - it promises to be a great week for platform fans, with I-Ninja, Maximo 2 and Eidos curiosity Whiplash due out by current reckoning, and there are some other interesting attractions lurking too. The big interest week though is currently the following Friday, Feb 20th, when Final Fantasy X-2, Armed & Dangerous, kill.switch and even Pitfall: The Lost Expedition will reportedly congregate. Look forward to it!

  • Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II (PS2, Xbox)
  • Conflict: Desert Storm 2 (Cube)
  • Dynasty Warriors 4 Xtreme Legends (PS2)
  • FightBox (PS2, PC, GBA)
  • Legacy of Kain: Defiance (PS2, Xbox, PC)
  • Mafia (Xbox)
  • Midway Arcade Treasures (PS2, Xbox)
  • Rogue Ops (PS2, Xbox, Cube)
  • Sega GT Online (Xbox)
  • Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut (PC)
  • Sonic Heroes (PS2, Xbox, Cube)
  • The Powerpuff Girls: Relish Rampage (Cube)
  • X2: The Threat (PC)
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! The Sacred Cards (GBA)