This week's new releases include Hitman: Contracts, Project Zero 2, Fight Night 2004 and the US release of Onimusha 3. The drought is over, right?
The drought is well and truly over. And, as if to illustrate that fact, it's raining so hard that you'd think the heavens were sobbing tears of joy (although it's possible they're just sobbing because they've played Star Trek: Shattered Universe). There's a (what's the collective term for loads of good games? Ah yes) veritable bankruptcy of good and indeed top games out this week, including Hitman: Contracts, Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly and Fight Night 2004, and Onimusha 3 has just launched in the States, some way ahead of its July 9th debut in Europe.
Hitmanhunt (that actually sounds quite good...)
There's also a helping of ports, could-have-beens and a couple of expansion packs, so let's get those out of the way first. Say hello to Dance:UK eXtra Trax (more tracks for Bigben's surprisingly popular Dancing Stage competitor), Manhunt on PC, Serious Sam in GBA and PS2/Cube flavours and Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon on GBA. Actually, let's linger on that last one - it's a sort of remake of the 16-bit strategy RPG series, introducing some new characters and lots of balancing. Plus, believe it or not, it's been developed by Amusement Vision (of Monkey Ball fame), so it ought to be quite a polished production. Expect one of us to tuck into that when THQ gets round to sending over a copy (hint hint).
In the big boy leagues it's actually a pretty tense and violent week for new releases, as the improved-but-not-quite-brilliant Hitman: Contracts goes head to head with the long overdue PC port of Manhunt (which, if the Xbox port is anything to go by, is a pretty basic conversion). Both games feature lots of sneaking around brutally killing people with increasingly elaborate and violent instruments of death, but while Hitman remains composed and enjoyable throughout its many hours, Manhunt loses its shine within a short few. Even if you get beyond the sneak-and-snuff mechanics of the first half and pick up some weaponry for the second half, you'll still find yourself questioning whether you can be bothered to labour on. Some could; this writer could not. And that's all before you start questioning whether plastic bag-based suffocation kills and yanking meat cleavers out of skulls is something we really want to see in games anyway.
Close the shutter
Project Zero 2 meanwhile is tense and frightening, but in lots of good ways, trading on its atmosphere and storyline and not relying so much on rounding a corner to trigger the next B-movie cut sequence (Not that we have anything against Resident Evil, you understand - we're just saying). Certain members of the EG staff loved the original Project Zero so much that we had to add preventative clauses to their contracts to ensure any work got done, and with a firm thumbs up all round it looks like more of the same with hell's bells on has done the trick. Plus, if that doesn't cut the ethereal mustard, those of you with American PS2s can always fall back on Onimusha 3, which not only takes place in real-time rather than in front of pre-rendered backdrops, and not only features Jean Reno machine-gunning demons in feudal Japan, but potentially also features lots of slaughtering the French in its Paris segment. It's probably flying off the shelves in Washington...
Furthermore, another option for those not floated by the Crimson Butterfly is to be stung by the platinum bee in EA's latest boxing title, Fight Night 2004. (Stop groaning - you knew what to expect.) Using some form of twin analogue stick system (which seems to be left stick for movement, right for punching, rather than sticks for arms as we sort of hoped), it's decked various American reviewers since its launch there, and is joined on the sporting shelves today by Acclaim's PC port of World Championship Rugby and Codemasters' England International Football, which features online play and is an evolution of the Club Football titles from last year as far as we know. EA will be launching its Euro 2004 titles next week, incidentally, so you might want to wait for them if you - like us - thought Club Football was a bit unfantastic.
Rounding things off this week, we have Digital Jesters' Beyond Divinity, which is of course the not-a-sequel to Divine Divinity, and will certainly keep fans of this sort of title happy judging by the handful of reviews we've read so far. If you fancy carrying on those previously Divine adventures, you could do a lot worse, and we dare say it'll last you a stupendously long time - probably until developer Larian launches the true sequel to Divine Divinity with any luck. And certainly until the next instalment of this column, which is currently slobbering rather unflatteringly at the prospect of playing Transformers next week. The shops are waiting, so, Autobots, roll out!
- PAL Releases
- Beyond Divinity (PC)
- Corvette (PS2)
- Dance:UK eXtra Trax (PS2, PSX)
- Dead Man's Hand (Xbox)
- Digimon Racing (GBA)
- England International Football (PS2, Xbox)
- Fight Night 2004 (PS2, Xbox)
- Hitman: Contracts (PS2, Xbox, PC)
- Malice (PS2)
- Manhunt (PC)
- Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly (PS2)
- Serious Sam Advance (GBA)
- Serious Sam: Next Encounter (PS2, Cube)
- Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon (GBA)
- Star Trek: Shattered Universe (PS2, Xbox)
- World Championship Rugby (PC)
- Key US Releases
- Onimusha 3: Demon Siege (PS2)
- Rise of Nations: Thrones and Patriots (PC)