McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
GHOST RECON: ADVANCED WARFIGHTER 2
For: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood, language, violence)
Playing "Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2" is like going on a second date. The food's delicious. The show's first-rate. The goodnight kiss? Spectacular. But you expect all that, what with the first date going so well already, and the "wow" factor that consumed that first night out is nowhere near as prevalent this time around.
If you played the original "GR:AW" a scant year ago, it's your own fault if you expect anything more than a new storyline and a refined but very familiar game engine. That's not necessarily a bad thing, either. Impressive a year as it's been for the Xbox 360, no game in the library played — or presented itself — quite like "GR:AW," which screams "futuristic tactical shooter" with its graphics and backs up that screaming with gameplay that rewards "Ghost Recon" veterans while winking ever so subtly at the "SOCOM" and "Rainbow Six" crowd.
The news on what's new is, by and large, good. A new soldier class — medic — is available for players who live a little dangerously and don't mind sacrificing a fourth shooter in favor of a few on-the-fly second chances. Arguably less useful additions include a mobile ammo depot that's better used as a moving target (since enemies always nail it anyway) and airstrike support that, if called in erratically, will take your face off.
The big cheese of the improvements is the overhaul to the Cross-Com system, which is significantly more user-friendly while also more full-featured. Instead of merely communicating with squadmates, you can switch viewpoints to see what they see — either constantly via a window on your gameplay HUD or by toggling a full-screen view. These additional views allow you to better play commander than before. If calling rather than taking the shots sounds mundane to you, an early challenge in the tutorial mission — where you must eliminate hostiles without firing your own weapon to unlock an achievement — may change your mind.
"GR:AW2's" multiplayer improvements are more subtle but arguably — if "GR:AW's" Xbox Live success is any indicator — more important. Dedicated players now can enjoy the fruits of full-fledged clan creation. And the long-overdue removal of designated respawn points means players who die won't be staring down the barrel of a spawn camper's gun (before being killed again) seconds after being resurrected.
For: Xbox and PS3 (also available for PS2, Xbox and PSP, and coming soon for Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance)
From: Kush Games/2K Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone
"MLB 2K6" was the best Major League Baseball game on the Xbox 360 for one reason: No alternatives existed. It cost $40 more than its near-identical PS2/Xbox cousins, and the only memorable addition was a suite of fun-killing glitches. It certainly wasn't the graphics, which looked better but nowhere near $40 better.
A year later, things look better — literally. Visually, "2K7" is a stunner, replicating everything from player likenesses to dugouts to stadiums (both inside and out) down to the last detail. Player stances, movements and mannerisms animate to an eerily faithful degree, and little big details such as television angles, lighting effects and the ruffling of uniforms on a windy day work in tandem to do what a thousand words never could. Solid pre- and in- commentary seal the deal, and outside of a few hang-ups — including a clone-heavy crowd that sometimes appears to be watching a completely different game — you have an uncannily serviceable means of watching baseball when there's no game on TV.
Perhaps more importantly, many of last year's most grievous offenses — unbalanced A.I., horrifying fielding controls, needlessly complicated baserunning — have been at least partially addressed. Your fielders still will occasionally and inexplicably misplay an easy out, but you'll no longer fear it every time a ball comes your way. That alone makes this an immeasurably better, if still imperfect, game. "2K7" doesn't break ground so much as fix its mistakes, and it still trails both EA's college baseball game and Sony's "MLB 07" in terms of innovation, intelligence and user-friendliness. But it's a much smaller gap than before, and one many might be willing to overlook in order to play a game that looks so much better than its rivals.
The next-generation-centric focus of this review is not by accident. You can get "2K7" on the PS2, PSP and Xbox for half the price, but it's for good reason this year: The visual difference is miles more stark, year-old bugs remain unsquashed, and new features — including a vastly redesigned franchise mode and a revamped baserunning game — are strictly next-generation affairs. This remains a good game of baseball, but it's basically a roster update for those who owned last year's edition.
For: PS2 and PSP
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (violence)
If EA's "Burnout" series is like a band, then "Burnout: Dominator" is that collection of B-sides a band pushes out the door when the long-awaited new album isn't quite ready for the rack. It's solid, it's fun, and there's no mistaking it for any other series. But it's merely a placation, and one that's not so much a step forward as a quick pit stop into territory not likely to be seen again.
This quickly becomes apparent when you first attempt a traffic check and instead find yourself on the business end of an ugly accident. Whereas "Burnout: Revenge" encouraged players to bump other cars into opposing racers and/or each other, "Dominator" coldly brings us back to the "Burnout" days of old, when traffic was an obstacle to be avoided rather than a tool for destroying enemy drivers.
In fact, between the heavy focus on traffic evasion, increased array of solitary events and complete lack of online play, "Dominator" gives off a strange air of loneliness. The party-in-a-box Crash mode is gone, replaced instead by a series of challenges — Near-miss, Drift, Maniac — that reward various forms of dangerous driving. The throwback Burnout mode, which returns after a long absence, further pushes the agenda by rewarding drivers who max out — and maintain — their boost level by (go figure) driving dangerously. The Burning Lap time trial challenge also returns.
If that sounds like a lot of solo challenges, guess what? It is. "Dominator's" World Tour doesn't skimp on races or Road Rage events against enemy drivers, but it does force you to drive for skill's sake more often than "Burnout: Takedown" or "Revenge" did. If those two games left you soft in the safe driving department, "Dominator" could prove to be a rude — and laborious — awakening. (On the other hand, if you miss the days of "Burnout 2," this might be the most fun you have all spring.)
In any event, it's a temporary jaunt. The semi-budget price and lack of a next-generation version speak volumes, and the fact that series creator Criterion is prepping "Burnout 5" for the fall pretty much seals it. If you like what "Dominator" offers and accept this side project for what it is, you're not likely to be disappointed by what you get.
For: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (crude humor, mild cartoon violence)
For a company that thrives on brand recognition, Nintendo has surprisingly few qualms with farming out huge chunks of its identity to third-party developers. And why not? Capcom's Game Boy "Zelda" games were exceptional, Sega nailed "F-Zero," and Artoon did a respectable job with the recent "Yoshi's Island" sequel.
Suzak's "Wario: Master of Disguise" is why not. Nintendo's anti-Mario may best be known at present for his insane micro-game collections, but he's starred in several brilliant adventures as well. "Disguise" purports to be another, but it's riddled with so many elementary problems that it never comes close.
The premise certainly isn't bad: Wario has stolen a magic wand, and he can use it to transform into an astronaut, mad scientist, artist, devil and several other forms. Naturally, each has different goods to offer, and one can alter Wario on the fly to guide him through different areas of the game's non-linear, "Castlevania"-like levels.
Unfortunately, "Disguise" is one of those games that uses the DS' touch screen simply because it's there. Changing forms requires you to draw a corresponding symbol on Wario's body, which might be fine if the game didn't have the character-recognition capabilities of an Apple Newton. But it does, and you'll find Wario too often changing into the wrong form, not changing at all or (later on) not drawing something he's supposed to draw. And that's only if you don't miss him by a hair: Touching the screen just to the right or left of Wario makes him attack, though jumping is handled strictly via button presses. It's a strange control setup, and one that never feels productive or even comfortable with time. Save for the parts where Wario has to draw a shape, it's also completely needless.
Control issues are the base of the iceberg, but problems exist all the way to the tip. "Disguise" is permeated by mini-game sequences, but they're repetitive, uninspired, insultingly easy and too slow to start up. The excessive storyline lacks the punch and simplicity of adventures past. And the action just feels pokey overall, due in equal parts to the pacing and the constant control negotiations. There's a passable, even good game lurking inside, but too many stifling problems prevent it from ever getting out.
(Billy O'Keefe writes video game and DVD reviews for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.