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The next Splinter Cell and a few pretenders, Viewtiful Joe's return, La Pucelle and Baten Kaitos.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

In a week that began with my quaffing l'escargot in a Parisian bistro on holiday, and has since seen the UK government pledge £280m to tackle a school meals crisis and our own Rob Fahey's decaying jaw explode in, his words here, a two-foot arc of blood and puss, it's just as well our gaming platter is neatly divided between the succulent and the soul-destroying. On the one hand we're eager to tuck into Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Viewtiful Joe 2, La Pucelle: Tactics, the PS2 incarnation of Full Spectrum Warrior, and Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean - a game that raises questions like "Where have all these wonderful GameCube RPGs come from all of a sudden?" and "How exactly do you lose an ocean?" On the other hand we're worried about ordering Stolen and needing our stomachs pumped for a refund two days later, and Red Ninja: End of Honor looks as though it can just fork off.

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is the game of the day. While my brother and sisters were busy marvelling at the ridiculous sight of a giant Luis Vuitton suitcase covering scaffolding outside a refurbishment operation on the Champs Elysées on Saturday, I was similarly impressed by a giant Chaos Theory billboard opposite. That one with him upside down. (And no, I'm not showing off - you could spend a fairly luxurious weekend in Paris for the price of a PlayStation Portable these days. Which is what I did.) The third Splinter Cell apparently gives Sam some personality, and improves itself through a mixture of refinement and greater inclusiveness... is what all the Yankee Fisher-man's friends are telling us. And it plainly looks stunning. With the game now in our laps we'll be sneaking out a review sometime next week.

Viewtiful Joe 2 is more of the same, for its part, but gets away with it because the first game didn't so much carve out a niche as rip a hole in our brains and take up permanent residence. That it's still the only thing like itself this much later is a testament to how clever the game was in the first place. Brief refresher: you move left to right in psuedo-2D using clever dodge mechanics to dizzy enemies and an elaborate array of time and technique-shifting modifiers to add spice and combination potential to your flurries of joyously heralded kicks and punches. Hardcore, this time with easier going options, well... Henshin-a-go-again, baby? Don't mind if we do.

Full Spectrum Warrior is another option for PS2 owners after a considerable lapse between the Xbox and PC releases and today's port. It's another genre-bender, which involves guiding gung ho marines around a made-up middle-eastern state (well, they're all fundamentally evil, right Mr Bush?) in a manner that's more puzzle than shooter (a bit like our foreign policy). You weave between cover points using suppressing fire to ensure safe passage, marking targets and generally behaving in a manner that's more conscious of exposure and expediency than explosions. And then eventually you either wind up thinking, "Hum, this is a bit one-dimensional," or "Hum, this is a dinger!" A divisive game about middle-eastern conflict that most of the media contentiously decided was wonderful. Er...

La Pucelle: Tactics also appears to have snuck out. Always destined to wind up "the disappointing follow-up to Disgaea", what criticism there has been of it has focused on the differences between the two games - and if you've never heard of either, you're not a PS2-owning strategy-RPG fan and can safely move on to the next paragraph. La Pucelle is, they say, easier and narrower in focus, but tells a better story. In general, people noted that it felt like a step backward from Disgaea, mostly to then realise that that's precisely what it is; La Pucelle was developed by the same developer, Nippon Ichi, but only published in the US by Mastiff and Europe by KOEI after Disgaea proved the strat-RPG genre was alive and eager for new foil.

Finally, we've got Baten Kaitos to lick the plate clean. Rob reviewed this just yesterday, so I'm going to lazily rehash some of his arguments using a style of delivery that is more consistent with the current state of his cracking jawline: Barren Kairos gurgle irrent up to rhe starrard of rhe last two RrrrrurrrgghhPGs we shaw on the CAGH Cube but ish still a worvy addishan to the pratform's smore but varry high quarity range of Japanese role-praying tirrels. Splutter. Poor Rob. He thought the story and characters are very weak, but he liked spurring them on by playing the actual game bits incessantly - which for a JRPG in this day and age of "Well, the random battles were boring but the story ruled" seems rather useful to know. And there are no "random barrels" either, are there Rob?

From a smacked up face to a smack in the face and executives on smack, we'd like to take the opportunity on Stolen's day of release to extend our sympathy to the chaps and chapettes at Blue 52 who lost their jobs recently. Particularly since the people managing the release of their own stab at stealth-action (featuring a cat-suited, cat-burgling young lady whose name we forget) somehow decided that it would be well positioned to come out on the same day as the third game in a multi-million-selling Splinter Cell stealth-action franchise.

Less sympathy, however, for the makers of Red Ninja: End of Honor, which is a game described as being entirely devoid of merit by some of our reviewing chums. Who promptly gave it 4s and 5s, naturally. Well, we've not played it, but we've been suspicious about it ever since we found ourselves peering at a scantily clad, knife wielding oriental girl draped round a pillar at the LA Convention Center last May claiming to be a Red Ninja. As we come to terms with the idea of Tomb Raider 7 shoving Lara Lara's silicone upside her ribcage so that people will stop trying to perform Shakespeare from her balcony, it's rather fitting that the two worst-received games in the roundup today feature exploitatively stereotypical visions of young women in action roles, isn't it? Or is it?

To bring it full circle, as Jennifer Lopez once put it: "It's turkey time! Gobble gobble."

  • PAL Releases
  • Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean (Cube)
  • Close Combat: First to Fight (Xbox)
  • CT Special Forces: Fire For Effect (PS2, Xbox, PC)
  • Full Spectrum Warrior (PS2)
  • La Pucelle: Tactics (PS2)
  • Project: Snowblind (PC)
  • Red Ninja: End of Honor (PS2, Xbox)
  • Stolen (PS2, Xbox, PC)
  • Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (PS2, Xbox, Cube, PC)
  • Viewtiful Joe 2 (PS2, Cube)
  • Yu Yu Hakusho Dark Tournament (PS2)

  • Key US Releases
  • Very little of any interest.

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