Game Zone: Vintage videogames

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times

A few videogame reviews from back in the day…


GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS (Rockstar Games, M for blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content and drug use, Playstation 2)

While 2004 has been a strong year for video games, it’s one of the latest releases that has truly made an impact on me. Regular readers of this column won’t be surprised to learn that my pick for game of the year is Rockstar’s “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” I’m a big fan of the series and am happy to report this one is easily the strongest in the franchise. The game feels like an interactive cinematic experience. The game is well thought out and impeccably executed in every way, from the graphics to the story line to the music. The developers of the game have a knack for picking the appropriate music (and talk radio) to set up scenes. it’s obvious they’ve put some thought into the task rather than relying on the cheapest tunes available or, worse yet, Muzak. In the past, the franchise has come under attack for a variety of reasons. Italian-American groups bristled that the games perpetuated negative “Godfather” type stereotypes. Parents worried their young children would become violent after playing the games. Never mind that it’s an M title — appropriate only for ages 17 and up — the equivalent of a R-rated film. Here, the antihero is a young African-American character named CJ. Just when he thought he had escaped the hell he grew up in (i.e. the fictional state of San Andreas, which to me sounds more like a city than a state), he gets sucked back in after attending his mother’s funeral. Thanks to a couple of corrupt cops who frame him for crimes he didn’t commit, CJ is forced to break the law to clear his name. SPOILER ALERT: The crooks actually are the dirty cops who are quite clever and nefarious in the way they lay the blame on CJ. At one point, I had to hijack a police motorcycle in order to escape wrongful arrest. The chase was awesome — more thrilling than anything you’ve seen on “Cops” and, oddly enough, more realistic. Gamers don’t need to be lectured in a video game, and “San Andreas” makes no attempt to guilt us into any sense of morality. But the characters and their motives are so well thought out that we get it. Sometimes crime pays. And other times it ends up being a means to clearing our names. (reviewed 12/24/04)

MADDEN NFL 2004 (EA Sports, E for Everyone, Playstation 2)

Cool graphics, easy-to-follow directions and John Madden’s colorful commentary all make this franchise the best football game on the market. The attention to detail–from the players to the stadiums–is amazing. Speaking of which, Soldier Field has never looked so good. If the actual seating proves to be anything like that in the game, fans will have a better view all around. The rosters are as current as possible, making it a fun challenge to see whether you’re a better Brian Urlacher than, say, the linebacker in a real football game. The playmaker option–which allows you to use one control stick to change the offense’s direction–is a nice addition, and the instant replays are an awesome touch. Also nice is the “Ask Madden” button, which offers helpful advice that’ll ensure that every player has game.  (reviewed 8/15/03)

METAL GEAR SOLID 3: SNAKE EATER (Konami; M for mature; PlayStation 2)

This game definitely lives up to its name. Dropped into the jungle of Cold War-era Soviet Union, you must complete your mission of recapturing a top Soviet scientist with minimal weapons, stealth and cunning. As for food, well, that’s what the snakes are for. The keys to completing this game are camouflage and patience. You can infiltrate with blazing guns, but that’ll only make it harder on you. This is a game of belly crawling through the brush and sneaking up on the enemy. When you do fight, it’s going to be close quarter combat, which is very impressive. There are many fairly easy-to-master commands to make sure you take out the bad guys with more than the standard kicks and punches. Some of the controls are awkward (using the START button to change camouflage and accessories is a tedious interruption to the game play). Like most games of this genre, you really don’t have too many options about the paths you take. It would be nice if there was an option to sneak up on the enemy across terrain rather than traveling down a fixed path. (reviewed 12/3/04)

DOOM 3 Activision; M for 17 and older; blood, gore and intense violence; PC

Do not — I repeat — do not try anything cute like playing this game with the lights off and the speakers turned way up when you’re home alone. This game will scare the bejeezus out of you. Also — parents take note — this is an “M” title game, equivalent to a R-rated movie. That means it’s for players who are 17 or older, so don’t let your junior high kids play this no matter how much they beg. OK, now that I have those caveats out of the way, I can say “Doom 3” kicks major butt. This sequel to the 1990s franchise has the suspenseful intensity of a truly scary horror film and the intricate gameplay of a first-rate shooter video game. You’re a futuristic space warrior out to rid a Mars corporation of beings from hell. For real. As if that’s not enough of a problem, your nightmare kicks into high gear when your friends stop being your pals and morph into gross zombie-like monsters who hate you. Don’t be like those fools in the movies who want to see the good in their former pals. There’s none left. Kill them, and kill them fast because they won’t think twice about doing the same to you when it’s their turn to slice and dice. Note: Much of the action takes place in the dark, so be on the lookout for glowing orange eyes. Those belong to the demons, and will give you a clue as to when you’re about to be attacked. They’re not the brightest of creatures but they move surprisingly fast. Oh, and I know this is just a video game, but when your character is attacked, it’s pretty gory. And if they get you good, there’ll be too much blood and sticky parts in your eyes for you to see well. The less you protect yourself, the weaker you get, which will put an end to this game quicker than you may have liked. Clearly, “Doom 3” is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it particularly subtle. But if you like films such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Nightmare on Elm Street” or even those “Alien” flicks, you’ll probably get a kick from this well-worn franchise. (reviewed 8/13/2004)

TRANSFORMERS (Atari, T for fantasy violence, PlayStation 2)

The game tells the tale of a plucky group of Transformers who find a sub-group trying to escape enslavement. This third-person action shooter is a welcome walk down memory lane — for a while. But just like culottes and feathered hair, it’s something that doesn’t need to be resurrected for the present. Once you get over the novelty of playing something familiar from your childhood, you quickly find yourself wanting a little more stimulation. Even if you’re young enough that you might not remember, say, the Go Go’s or the Bay City Rollers, you’ll be disappointed by the lack of sophistication compared to today’s games. Basically you forage, shoot and score. And then repeat, repeat, repeat! (reviewed 6/11/04)

F-ZERO GX (Nintendo; T for Teen, GameCube)

Are you feeling the need for speed? If your learning curve is fast and your patience is long, the latest in Nintendo’s racing franchise may win you over. If not, you’ll get frustrated fast. Building your racing vehicles and racing them can be a blast–literally. But trying to get through all the levels can be a trying experience for the novice player. The controls seem almost too touch sensitive at times and the gears shift almost at whim. FYI: There’s no such thing as friendly fire here, so keep your eyes peeled for enemies. They’re everywhere. (reviewed 9/5/03)

LAW & ORDER: JUSTICE IS SERVED (Legacy Interactive; T for Teen; PC)

Doing Dong! Unless you haven’t watched TV in the last few years, you’re probably familiar with the foreboding two-note intro that starts every episode of “Law & Order” and its spin-offs. The latest in the “Law & Order” PC game franchise takes you into the world of an Anna Kournikova-ish tennis star who is found dead the day before she’s supposed to play at a big tournament. Was she killed by an ex-lover? An angry coach? One of her fans? Just as on the TV show, you’ll be thrown a few curves. The game features the voices of the actors who portray the characters on the TV series. Some of them are even better in the game than on TV. While Elisabeth Rohm comes across as one-dimensional on the show as attorney Serena Southerlyn, her stiffness works surprisingly well in a video game. (reviewed 10/15/04)

MORTAL KOMBAT DECEPTION (Midway; T for teen; Reviewed for PlayStation 2)

Since 1992, Mortal Kombat has been a mainstay in the arcade/videogame genre. It was the game for a generation of players. And tennis player Pete Sampras even picked his wife out from the film version of Kombat. Which begs the question — is there still any life left in the venerable genre? The fighting can be frustrating for diehards who want to kick some mortal booty. But its inclusion of Kombat Chess — in which characters compete as chess board pieces — is a clever addition to the franchise. Back in the day, Kombat was vilified for its overt use of violence. But in an era of Grand Theft Autos and Virtua Fighters, Mortal Kombat seems almost quaint by comparison. Also available on Xbox. (reviewed 10/29/04)

NCAA MARCH MADNESS 2005 (Electronic Arts, E for everyone, PlayStation 2)

There comes a point when you’ve played so many similar video games you begin to wonder, do I really need this game? Such is the case with “NCAA March Madness 2005.” It’s certainly not a bad game. But it’s not particularly distinguishable from other college hoops games you’ve already played and possibly even own. That said, there are some sweet touches here that add an authentic flair to the tournaments. The one-on-one feature offers the chance to test your coordination skills. And when a home crowd roots for its team, you can literally feel the shaking stadium and thunderous ovations. (reviewed 12/3/04)

EYE TOY: GROOVE (Sony; E for everyone; PlayStation 2)

Any misconceptions you may have about being a cool dancer will be negated when you play this harmless, but not particularly challenging game. Is it fun? Yeah, if you’re a little tipsy and enjoy karaoke-type events. But if you’re the least bit camera shy, don’t even attempt this because your image will be projected onto the TV screen as you’re busting a move. You need the Eye Toy camera to play this game, so dig up your old copy of “Play,” which came with one. Or you may purchase a bundle that includes the camera with the game. Just remember — “Groove” is unforgiving to the dance-challenged set and you might end up looking like a much more spazzy version of that frisky old man in those theme park commercials. (6/11/04)

CUSTOM ROBO (Nintendo; T for comic mischief and mild fantasy violence; GameCube)

When it’s robot-on-robot violence, is it really that compelling, worrisome or suspenseful? Nope. Let’s face it, these are mechanical robots we’re talking about, not brooding creatures like the one Jude Law played in “A.I.” So you lose a robo? Eh, no big deal. The premise here isn’t bad — a group of robots skitter around wreaking havoc. One, however, appears to be able to think for itself. (Insert your preferred sci-fi theory of choice here.) Unfortunately, there’s not much for gamers to think about because this is just an excuse to shoot ’em up. The main function of the game appears to be an exercise for your trigger fingers to fire away at everything in sight. While I won’t pretend that isn’t fun at times, it doesn’t sustain your interest in the long run.         It doesn’t help that the robos look suspiciously similar to one another during battles. But then again, does it really matter who wins? (6/18/04)

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POKER (Crave Entertainment; E for everyone; Game Boy Advance)

A game once considered dirty and unrefined, poker has hit the mainstream. So it’s not surprising video games have cashed in on the craze. This is a fun way to play Blackjack, 5 Card Draw, Texas Hold-Em, Seven Card Stud, Omaha Hold-Em and even video poker. The game is set in a town that consists of a few casinos and a loan shark. As you play, you earn comps from the casino, which range from T-shirts and drinks to owning the casino and touring with rock stars. It doesn’t take long to learn each character’s playing traits (one lets out an exuberant yell with each card, only to check his bets).  Novices will learn how to play the games and get a feel for the odds of making a hand, but don’t bet on this to help you beat the odds playing against real people in Vegas. The betting strategies are pretty transparent and everyone will follow you “all in” when you have a good hand. It’s like taking candy from a baby — and where’s the challenge in that? (reviewed 11/19/04)

THE DUKES OF HAZZARD: RETURN OF THE GENERAL LEE (Ubi Soft; E for alcohol reference, mild violence and suggestive themes; PlayStation 2

Let it be said I’m all for nostalgia. If someone made a Brady Bunch video game, I’d be first in line to initiate a slap fest between Peter and Bobby. But when you’re working with a kitschy series like “The Dukes of Hazzard,” it’s a shame to take such a serious approach to the game. The show wasn’t art and the game doesn’t need to be anything other than an outlet for some good ol’ boy racing. Unfortunately, it fails even in that aspect. Gameplay is uneven and the General Lee drives about as well as an out-of-gas sedan. There’s no hair-raising gameplay here, which is a shame when you’re already dealing with a couple of fluffy-haired heroes. –Jae-Ha Kim (reviewed 10/22/04)


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