How fitting is it that one of the best first-person shooters of all time, the recently released Wolfenstein, comes from the guys who basically invented the genre?
The evil geniuses at id Software, who created an early version of the title -- Wolfenstein 3D -- 17 years ago and then changed everything with their Doom franchise, have now taken first-person gaming to a level previously seen only on BioShock.
The controls are flawless; the graphics, stunning; the story, riveting. In fact, Wolfenstein's only flaw is minor: Though the story is set during World War II, the dialogue and voice acting feel too current (unlike the perfectly set period worlds of BioShock).
The protagonist, B.J. Blazkowicz, returns as a special agent assigned to investigate some strange occult happenings those pesky Nazis are chasing. As he digs deeper, he learns the power of the Veil -- paranormal fighting enhancements that unleash all kinds of mayhem.
Integrating a nonlinear approach, Wolfenstein allows gamers to choose the order of their quests, and as they wander the virtual streets, plenty of angry Nazis get in the way, leading to random firefights.
Another spectacular element: all the nooks and crannies left to explore. Most every door can be opened and rooms searched for hidden weapons and objects. And once B.J. discovers the power of the Veil, even more exploration is possible.
It's good to know that, after all these years, the inventors haven't forgotten how to wow their fans.
Grade: A (An absolute winner.)
Details: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms; $59.99; rated Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language).
Replaying the same highlights
Let's be honest. If you're a pro football fan reading this review trying to decide whether to buy Madden 10, you aren't going to buy it. As all gamers know, there is only one NFL game, thanks to developer Electronic Arts' imperialist approach: Lock up the rights to the National Football League and be the only game in town. And if you're a fan, you've probably already purchased this year's title, if for nothing else than the updated rosters.
So why, then, would anyone care what is in the game?
This isn't to say that Madden 10 is garbage, because it isn't. Quite the contrary: It's a really solid, well-made sports simulator packed with bells and whistles.
But so was last year's version. And the version before that. Point is, what more can they do to make this worth buying every year? After a while, there will be nothing more than accurate rosters and a new crop of rookies.
And that's too bad. How about some of the quirky inventions that the short-lived ESPN Football tried, like first-person views? How about some new wrinkles, such as suspensions and fights, in which the NFL Blitz series dabbled?
For now, at least, EA has got it all in the game. It just can't give us any more. Can it?
Grade: S (Same great football from the only game in town.)
If you've wanted to be a guinea pig
The tie-in game for the guinea pig adventure film G-Force isn't too bad. In fact, it's a pleasant surprise in that it doesn't feel rushed or glitchy, like most games that accompany big movies, and has a little originality.
Playing as Darwin -- the commander of a secret fighting force made up of critters -- you see the world through the eyes of a guinea pig, albeit a talking one with a supercharged jet pack on his back. Skittering about the compound of a billionaire bad guy is exciting and cute at the same time.
SaberSense, the baddies' plot to overthrow the world, causes regular household appliances to come to life like vicious little Transformers, and it's up to Darwin and his many weapons to save the day. The action is punchy and exciting, and it isn't too scary for little gamers.
It's also fun to take control of Darwin's assistant, the housefly Mooch -- necessary to solve some of the well-designed puzzles.
The game comes with a 3-D display setting and matching glasses, but the standard graphics are so well produced that the novelty of the 3-D is superfluous.
Grade: B+ (Not bad for a tie-in.)
Details: All platforms; $29 to $49.99; rated Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence).
Yo, Joe -- this game is lame-o
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is everything a movie tie-in game usually is -- terrible, simplistic and lame.
Gamers control one of two operatives in this third-person shoot-'em-up adventure, in which the main goal is to complete your mission and rack up the biggest score possible. That might be the game's lone redeeming quality: its passing resemblance to the old-school classic Contra.
But unlike Contra, in which players could actually see their characters on screen at all times, G.I. Joe's lack of camera control all too often leads to your Joe getting an off-screen whooping. Even the plentiful supply of power-ups and special weapons isn't enough to overcome the game's intrinsic faults.
If "knowing is half the battle," as the franchise's slogan goes, when it comes to this game, "avoiding" is definitely the other half.
Grade: C- (Even the Contra resemblance isn't enough to make this one worth it.)
Details: All platforms; $29 to $49.99; rated Teen (fantasy violence).
When this is on, clothes come off
Sexy Poker dispels the notion that Wii games are only for kids, and it does so with a vengeance. The title, for download via the online Wii Shop, is a simple poker and blackjack game in which the main objective is to literally beat the pants off your opponent.
Though the anime-inspired beauties never get down to their birthday suits, they do lose enough clothes to push this into the adults-only realm.
Six girls, each a cartoon-like drawing and with a different card-playing skill level, giggle and flirt their way through the game, serving up blush-inducing quotes such as "some mistakes are too much fun to make only once."
The games are solid and easy to play, but the only changes to the skill level during blackjack seem to be the amazing luck each successive girl has when hitting on 16. (Another five? Now this is ridiculous.)
It only took us about 2 1/2 hours to be victorious over all the girls, which isn't a whole lot of time, but what do you expect for five bucks? Still, this is one Wii title that most daddies will enjoy -- after Junior goes to bed, of course.
Grade: B+ (Not enough variety, but a good bargain.)
Details: Available to download for the Wii platform; 500 points (about $5); rated Mature (simulated gambling, suggestive themes).