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(This week's new releases.) Tom comes over all sentimental. But still kills things.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

Back when I was at school, my form tutor was a very charismatic French chap called Mr. Bernaz. He was the Jose Mourinho of secondary school education. When France won the World Cup, he turned up wearing a sash bearing the colours of the French flag. When we flouted his rules, he locked up our puffer jackets and made us write lines. But he had an empathetic streak a mile wide, and when we actually gave him the respect he deserved he indulged us. He was even sporting enough to take us on in a mini Quake tournament in the IT rooms a few times, and he wasn't bad at it.

Even when he was soundly whipped by yours truly (you'll have to excuse my boastfulness here, but beating my French teacher at Quake was my only competitive achievement between the ages of 12 and 18), he took it with good grace. I liked him. I hope he got that impression; though thanks to my being a petulant, cheeky little sod in my youth he probably didn't often enough.

But the point is that while he knew that some of my classmates would probably wind up driving other people's cars around at ridiculous speeds without their permission and crashing them into walls, not to mention stabbing one another - which isn't too far off the truth - he could always tell which of us had our hearts in the right place, and he gave us credit for it.

I only mention him because it's a bit like Friends Reunited in my little world today. With sequels to TrackMania and The Mark of Kri - two games I greatly enjoyed and admired - appearing on the shelves here and across the pond respectively. And, by some quirk of coincidence, I've also got a couple of old school pals coming over later to drink beer, munch on junk food and swap stories about the good old days. We'll be sure to toast old Bernzie, I think. I may have wound up driving other people's cars around and stabbing people, but I'm only doing it in TrackMania Sunrise and Rise of the Kasai, partly thanks to his influence.

Heck, even that old drunk Doom III, who despite his chiselled good looks always came across so one-dimensionally, has pitched up again this morning and made a much better first impression than he did on me last time. I'm half tempted to break out my old school tie and start downloading 1.5MB Quake Total Conversions with lava blocks suspended in the air and giant mushrooms to jump between before work, then ring up my Dad to argue that 15 minutes on the net won't break the bank as long as I do it before the peak rates kick in. But if I did that you wouldn't know what else is out today.

Let's start with the namechecked. TrackMania Sunrise arrives on these shores to much excitement (too much excitement?) from people who enjoyed the first game, and hopefully a bit more acceptance from people who liked it but found the emphasis on building race tracks and then racing them didn't quite tie in with their idea of a skill-based one-more-go PC game. It exceeds the original's high standards in virtually every respect. There may be some debate about the cursor key control system, the quality of the vehicles compared to last time, and the entertainment value of the new "Crazy" mode, which either takes the game and the player's fondness for quick-sharp repetition to its logical conclusion or takes it a bit too far, depending on your point of view. But the first two points haven't upset me, and even without Crazy the rest of the package is thoroughly worthwhile. The new Platform mode, coupled with a new array of Race tracks, gives the game much more depth and diversity for people who were only lukewarm about the track-building Puzzle mode, while much needed expansion in that area caters to the people who fell in love with that concept, and a wealth of online options - with free downloadable track-packs already available from both developer and fans - guarantee a degree of longevity and support absent from so many PC titles.

Rise of the Kasai certainly isn't destined for the same level of praise, as it was only an acquired taste back when it was The Mark of Kri, but it's been good, on a very brief first foray into the game, to see that Sony America hasn't forced the developer to sacrifice any of the original's personality or individualism in search of greater sales figures. Whatever the reason, Kasai retains the spiritual theme, burly characters and visuals, brutal and effective combat system (which involves dragging the right analogue stick around to target enemies, each of which is then given a corresponding icon above their head indicating which face button will have you chuck blows in their direction), and simply gorgeous framing. This is a game where the cut sequences are beautifully pencil-drawn animations and the level-load screens gradually build up a pencil image before colouring it and sparking it to life, at which point you realise you're actually in control. Again, there's no guarantee it'll live up to what I liked about the original, nor that it's learned from its mistakes or any of that, but the spirit of the original seems to have endured, and that's both pretty encouraging and pretty apt.

Doom III, meanwhile, arrives on Xbox after an overlong period of development, and we'll be reviewing the results early next week. Having spent much of yesterday getting to grips with it though, I have to admit I'm surprised by my reaction. I very quickly lost interest in the PC version, for whatever reason, and in the aftermath of Half-Life 2, Riddick and other forward-thinking action games it serves a pretty meagre banquet, asking little more of you than to find door keys (in the form of the Mars base staff's abandoned PDAs) and back away from demonic things holding the fire button. But for some reason it's proved very engaging. Visually it's an example of what the Xbox is really capable of, full of gorgeous lighting effects and ridiculous detail levels (for a console game) and flanked on all sides by brilliantly realised surround sound. And the controls are very good for a console FPS title, with an auto-aim option that perhaps makes the game a little too forgiving but is easily turned off and will certainly oil the rails for those of us who can't make first-person dual-analogue controls do everything we want all the time. You know, like point.

And it makes you jump; makes you feel like you're really there. Perhaps it's just my morbid fascination with the idea of Hell; perhaps it's just the hook of that scientist's line early on about knowing the devil's real and the way he delivers it (evoking my fond memories of crap-but-I-liked-them spookfests like Deep Blue Sea or Ghost Ship); or perhaps it's the fact that I haven't been repeatedly brutalised to the point of needing to make use of its well implemented Quick Save/Quick Load system much, but for whatever reason the first handful of hours have had me on the edge of my seat, whereas the PC version only had me shifting in it wondering how long Valve would take to finish Half-Life 2. Will it last? I'll let you know. But I haven't even tried the co-operative mode or Xbox Live multiplayer yet, so there's plenty to suggest it may.

And for those of you who have already enjoyed Doom III on the PC, the Resurrection of Evil expansion is also out today, and has been well received across the pond. I've no idea what it's like, to be honest (which is just as well, as I'm already over my word count), but do know it has a double-barrelled shotgun in it. Which, realistically, is all any fan of Doom III really needs to know, right?

Elsewhere this week also sees the release on these shores of SWAT 4, Irrational Games' meticulously detailed tactical police shooter, and across the pond Mercury takes a bow on the PSP. The latter is of course the product of Archer Maclean's Awesome Studio here in the UK, and, despite a few concerns aired by reviewers about structure, there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for the concept - not least from our own Kristan, who was positively frothing about it when he took a trip to Banbury to have a look-in a little while ago. You can expect us to take a look at that and try pointlessly hard to involve the word "mercurial" in whatever we write about it sometime next week.

In the meantime, I'm going to write out "I will not be so hard on Doom III" on a couple of sheets of A4 whilst shivering through an hilarious blazer. Cheers Bernzie.

  • PAL Releases
  • Billy Blade and the Temple of Time (PC)
  • Doom III (Xbox)
  • Doom III: Resurrection of Evil (PC)
  • Mission Barbarossa (PC)
  • Soldner Marine Corps (PC)
  • SWAT 4 (PC)
  • TrackMania Sunrise (PC)

  • Key US Releases
  • Mercury (PSP)
  • Rise of the Kasai (PS2)

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