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Yet more delirious ramblings about new game releases.

Everyone's favourite gaming gobshite is broken. Actually, that's probably inaccurate. It's not as if everybody likes me. But I am pretty funked up. Oh I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "I hope you die." Rest assured though that if I do I'll be playing ICO 2 in heaven, not to mention haunting you.

Anyway: fortunately enough, in my long and varied time writing this drivel, I've developed a talent (well, maybe not a "talent" per se, but "a something-or-other") for delivering extraordinarily tenuous links, and as it turns out this is just some higher power's way of influencing my copy. "THOMAS BRAMWELL!" it rumbles from the heavens, vibrating my Anadin, tissues, Lemsip and stack of printed press releases clean off the desk. "YOU are not the ONLY item of my creation that is simultaneously both sick and twisted on THIS, my latest take on the traditional FRIDAY formula," the voice informs me. "Bollocks!" says I. "Now I'm hallucinating."

He, she or it has a point though. In the words of Labour MP Dr Ian Gibson, Eidos' platform curiosity Whiplash is a "nasty and vicious" game, which is clearly just a political way of saying "sick and twisted". (In the words of reviewers meanwhile it's a 6 or 7 out of 10, and will get a going over here next week.) Then there's the case of Gangland, a rather challenging mafia RTS with no save game function - surely pretty close to the dictionary definition of sick and twisted. Elsewhere in the listings we have Bad Boys II, which looked and played pretty blummin' poorly at times when I had a go on it and has yet to be reviewed anywhere (always a promising sign), Kirby Air Ride, which sickly twists the potential of a GameCube Kirby title into a rather malformed and middling example of a quirky racing game, and plenty of other junk more than deserving enough of the same description.

Fortunately though it is by no means all doom and gloom. In fact, this week heralds the release of some extremely good games, some promising games, and some games which start out well but then sink away into the familiar blend of crap-and-repetitious-gameplay-elements-unable-to-support-licensed-characters. (Actually they probably belong in the "sick and twisted" pile.) And probably some games that aren't on my little list despite my best efforts - anybody?

Topping the list on the positive side of things of course is Beyond Good & Evil for the Cube and Xbox, which was so bloody good on the PS2 and PC that it's a crying shame none of you bought it. Well: buy it now. It's out on all four platforms now, and it's a stunning example of creative and adult storytelling married to compulsive gameplay elements - the sort of game that plants a smile on your face whatever the circumstances. What's more, the initials BGE can quite happily take on their alternate significance here with my full blessing.

Second after one of Ubi's finest hours then is another game from Britsoft publisher Digital Jesters, Savage: The Battle for Newerth. You may recall I rather liked their previous effort, a quirky build-your-own-circuit racing game called TrackMania by Frenchmen Nadeo, and for its part Savage - this time from small US developer S2 Games - is another genuinely excellent little title with masses of online potential. Also, as much publicised (at least by myself), this one ships in a much better state on this side of the pond than it did in the States, with various extras to keep you happy. Although some won't take to its inventive blend of RTS and shoot-'em-up genres, played with the right people it's far better than anything else I've played on the PC this year.

That said, I haven't yet played Armed & Dangerous, which is picking up good reviews in the States on PC and Xbox. Kristan will be taking a look at this one soon, and it seems fair to say it's one to pay attention to - LucasArts has this habit of doing well when it tries to inject humour into its games, and given that Planet Moon developed this for them it's definitely something to be very interested in. Having played the demo I'd buy it on the strength of the "Shark Gun" alone. Oh, that and the fact that Planet Moon made Giants: Citizen Kabuto, a game which shouldn't require any introduction.

Another title I know very little about from LucasArts (maybe this is due to their policy of not sending review code out until the last few days prior to release, mmm?) is Wrath Unleashed, although despite picking up some scores in the 7s/70s the general consensus on this one makes it a considerably less interesting proposition than some of the other stuff on the shelves this Friday, even if we like the idea of a strategic game where up to four gamers pit mythological creatures against one another.

Finally then we get to the game I've neglected to mention up to this point, and spent a good six hours or so playing yesterday evening: James Bond 007 in... Everything or Nothing. Frankly, there's very little point even mentioning this because it's such a dead cert for the next chart's top spot that we could probably write that item this afternoon. The production values are amongst the most extraordinarily film-like that I've seen, and it eclipses even EA's own Lord of the Rings titles in terms of sheer movie likeness. You are basically in a James Bond film.

Admittedly it's not a particularly brilliant one - the theme tune is forgettable, the characters aren't really developed, it's got all sorts of niggling flaws and by the latter stages Bond's missions are about as exciting as... well, I'm getting bored even trying to think of ways to describe them. Cars shooting bang bang unlikely equipment blah blah crap AI blah blah stupid checkpointing blah blah etc. Still, it's one of those games that if you wound up with it you'd probably happily complete it without much bother, and with only some of the frustration you usually associate with film license products. The reason it'll sell though is that it starts off really well, it's so utterly like a Bond movie in so many ways, and there are some genuinely inventive bits that would - and presumably do - look great in the TV ads I expect to see during Simpsons breaks later on this evening. And it's got Shannon Elizabeth, who is quite welcome to come and be my own personal Bond girl forever more.

However it's by no means a great game, and no amount of polish can disguise that (although worryingly, judging by some reviews, it came pretty close). I'll be finishing it off properly (and trying out the co-operative mode) over the weekend with an aim to reviewing it early next week, so pop back in for that if you still think it might be worth a go. Unless... that is... you expect me to die?

  • Armed & Dangerous (PC, Xbox)
  • Bad Boys II (PC, PS2, Xbox)
  • Beyond Good & Evil (Xbox, Cube)
  • Gangland (PC)
  • James Bond 007 in... Everything or Nothing (PS2, Xbox, Cube)
  • Journey to the Centre of the Earth (PC)
  • Kirby Air Ride (Cube)
  • Neighbours From Hell 2 (PC)
  • Puyo Pop Fever (PS2, Xbox, Cube)
  • Savage: The Battle for Newerth (PC)
  • Sonic Battle (GBA)
  • Tonka Fire Fighter (PC)
  • Tonka Town (PC)
  • Urban Freestyle Soccer (PC, Cube)
  • Whiplash (PS2, Xbox)
  • Wrath Unleashed (PS2, Xbox)