No rest for the wicked awesome

Winter games are heating up
December 21, 2007 5:17:43 PM

HEADY: A morally ambiguous GTA game?

This doesn’t seem right. Winter is usually the gaming doldrums, a barren stretch populated by budget titles and also-rans that would have been eaten alive during the holiday blitz. Gamers are lucky if they can get their hands on one premium title to last them through those long, cold nights. Not this year. After a historically stacked Christmas season, the gifts will keep on coming through spring.

Capcom kicks things off on January 8 with HARVEY BIRDMAN: ATTORNEY AT LAW (Wii, PlayStation 2, PSP), which is based on the Adult Swim cartoon of the same name. Licensed games like this are usually a dicy proposition, but here Capcom has an ace up its sleeve: Harvey Birdman is a courtroom drama based on the same gameplay engine as that of the stellar Phoenix Wright series. It’s no cheap cash-in, either. Two of the TV show’s writers are collaborating on the game script, and several of the show’s voice actors have recorded dialogue. Add in cameos by famous Capcom characters and you have a game with all the makings of an out-of-left-field hit.

One game that looks to benefit from a post-holiday release is Ubisoft’s HAZE (January 15) for the PlayStation 3. A slick-looking shooter from the design team behind the superb TimeSplitters series, Haze follows the exploits of a high-tech mercenary fighting South American rebels. Things are more complicated than they seem — aren’t they always? — thanks to the presence of a hallucinogenic, performance-enhancing substance called “nectar.” Expect crossed loyalties, furious gunplay, and trippy nectar freakouts. Up against juggernauts like The Orange Box and Call of Duty 4, Haze might have gotten lost in the shuffle. Instead, it’s bound to get a good look from action-starved PS3 owners.

BURNOUT PARADISE (Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, January 22) would have had no such trouble. The brand is a beast, and past Burnout games have to be considered among the best racing titles ever made. But Paradise is a radical departure from its predecessors, moving from individual races to a persistent, open world with nearly spontaneous race events. A demo released in mid December shows how it works: when you come across a set of traffic lights in the city, hold down the gas and brake to trigger a competitive event. The new approach is already drawing mixed reviews on blogs and message boards, but no one doubts that the brutal crashes and dizzying sense of speed have only improved in the transition to the current generation of hardware. The open design also means that you can join an on-line multiplayer game instantly, which is fairly amazing to see in action.

Burnout isn’t the only venerable series to make the generational leap this winter. Capcom’s DEVIL MAY CRY 4 ships on February 5 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. As is usually the case in these matters, the only thing anyone can say for sure about the latest installment in this gothic action-adventure franchise is that it looks fantastic, with titanic boss battles and imposing environments that wouldn’t look out of place on the cover of a Scandinavian death-metal record. Old friend Dante plays a supporting role this time to a new character named Nero, who only happens to look and act, uh, exactly like Dante. The real question is which Devil May Cry will show up to play: the brutally difficult but immensely rewarding game we were treated to in the first and third installments or the flavorless mush of Devil May Cry 2. It’s not a sure thing.

SUPER SMASH BROS BRAWL (Wii) is no sure thing either, but don’t tell that to the legions of Smash fanatics around the world or they’ll L-cancel you into oblivion. Originally scheduled for a pre-holiday release, Brawl was pushed back to February 10 in order to allow for some last-minute enhancements, such as the addition of Sonic the Hedgehog to the roster. The historic magnitude of the moment is diminished somewhat because Mario and Sonic already starred in last fall’s Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, but at least in this game the two mascots can punch each other in the face — thus settling an untold number of decades-old playground arguments. Brawl also benefits from the inclusion of another third-party character, Solid Snake, as well as from on-line play.

Sonic’s copyright holder, Sega, makes a bid for an older and more bloodthirsty audience on February 19 with the release of THE CLUB for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. It’s an arcade-style shooter from the developers of the Project Gotham Racing series. As in PGR, the emphasis is less on the substance than the style. Killing your foes isn’t enough; you also must rack up style points by stringing together weapons-based combos. Difficult shots lead to higher score multipliers, as does incorporating environmental hot spots. And since your combo meter will vanish unless you keep the body count rising, camping is strongly discouraged. Given the recent trend toward more serious content in console shooters, The Club may appeal to those looking for a blast of remorseless mayhem.

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No Rest For the Wicked Awesome is the name of the penultimate track on Gruvis Malt's "Maximum Unicorn." Give it back.

POSTED BY God AT 12/30/07 10:41 AM

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