Chaos is in a class by itself

Times Staff Writer

Wow. Just wow. Someone help us pick our jaw up off the floor. Splinter Cell Chaos Theory is easily the best looking game we've ever seen. Super spy Sam Fisher is back in this latest installment of the popular franchise with author Tom Clancy's name on it, and he's never looked better. Puddles, raindrops and a variety of shadows all push the graphic limits of our Xbox to levels we didn't think existed. (When they previewed this game at last year's E3 Expo, we thought they were kidding. There was no way a console game could look that good, could it? Apparently so.)

Game play is more of the same easy-to-control Splinter Cell interface we've come to enjoy, with different ways to explore each of the vast and detailed levels (sneaky and stealthily, or loud and Rambo-like). Fisher can now cut through a canvas tent to get the drop on the unsuspecting terrorist hiding within, or just blow him away with his silenced pistol — beautifully, of course.

And from the all-this-and-more department: Chaos offers online play and split-screen co-op multiplayer modes. Need we say more?

Details: All platforms; $49.99; rated mature (blood, strong language, violence). * *

Working up a sweat

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat offers one great upper body workout. To control the tie-wearing star of this old-school side-scroller, gamers use the innovative Nintendo DK Bongo Controllers that came with last year's Donkey Konga game. (Tapping the right side makes the big ape run right, left sends him left; tapping both makes him jump; and clapping into the attached microphone makes him attack.) Though the levels start to feel a bit repetitive as you play more of them — two appetizer circuits, then a battle with a big boss — the coolly stylized characters and fun graphics make it a decent way to work up a sweat.

Details: GameCube platform; $39.99; rated everyone 10+ (cartoon violence). *

Still a grand old game

Though Major League Baseball 2K5 gives some fresh variations on the grand old game, it seems as if the makers spent more time on the beautifully detailed stadiums (including long-forgotten classics like New York's Polo Grounds) and commentary (featuring ESPN's Jon Miller and Joe Morgan) than they did on the player rendering. (Case in point: The cyber J.D. Drew looks more like a serial killer than the new power-hitting Dodger outfielder.) Still, the easy-to-learn game play, different arcade-style play modes (like tag-team home-run derby) and the relatively low price make this title a contender.

Details: Xbox and PlayStation 2 platforms; $19.99; rated everyone.


War can be frustrating

At the start of God of War, Kratos, the game's baldheaded, skirt-wearing main character, jumps off the tallest mountain he can find. (The ensuing story is all flashbacks to support his choice of suicide.) After playing a few hours of War, we weren't ready to jump off a steep slope, only our garage.

The problem is the lack of a controllable camera — something that should be mandatory on all third-person actioners. Though the game play and graphics are strong, the lack of visual control is overwhelmingly frustrating.

Details: PlayStation 2 platform; $49.99; rated mature (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, strong language, sexual themes).


Instant messaging

Are you one of the world's last 13 Game Boy Advance owners who still haven't upgraded to the Nintendo DS? And are you jealous of the wireless instant messaging the DS comes with? If so, then Game Boy Advance Wireless Messenger is the perfect accessory for you. Plug these little antenna-type things into your machine, find a friend with a similar setup and IM away. That is, if you can find one of the other 12 people left in the same situation.

Details: $29.99 each unit. *

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