Get a Kick Out of Adrenaline-Fueled Combat

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Much as I love Grand Theft Auto IV and Metal Gear Solid 4, they take a while to get going. Not the games reviewed here. Each one starts with a bang and doesn't let up. They might not have the depth of a sophisticated role-playing game such as Lost Odyssey, but sometimes all you want is the video-game equivalent of a popcorn movie.

Ninja Gaiden II (Mature; Xbox 360, $59.99; Microsoft): Ninja Gaiden, the 2004 reboot of a series that began in 1988, has a well-earned reputation as being one of the most difficult games on the original Xbox. This sequel, though it does make concessions to less-skilled players, still provides enough of a challenge for hard-core veterans. If you expect your ninjas to be at least a little stealthy, Ryu Hayabusa isn't the man for you. His technique is to leap into action with sword (and staff, shuriken, flail and tonfa) flying. Your enemies don't back down easily, either: Some keep attacking even after you have hacked their limbs off. This is an extremely gory game, with most battles ending with a pile of body parts. The action is satisfying and the graphics impressive, but the game has major failings. One is a wonky camera that often blocks the best view of the action and prevents you from seeing approaching monsters. The other is an incomprehensible story, which at times becomes unintentionally funny. Still, if all you're looking for is a pure adrenaline rush, this game delivers.

Robert Ludlum's the Bourne Conspiracy (Teen; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99; Sierra/High Moon Studios): The Matt Damon "Bourne" movies, particularly the two directed by Paul Greengrass, are nearly perfect examples of the hyperkinetic Hollywood thriller. The developer has done a fine job translating the story into a game, even without Damon's participation. Jason Bourne may be a $30 million killing machine, but his moves are easy enough for fighting-game novices to handle. But you do need to master timing. Land enough punches and you can activate a "takedown," which allows Bourne to use environmental objects ( a desk, a vending machine, a neon sign) to inflict pain. Shooting and driving sequences are much less entertaining; stiff controls don't deliver the same visceral kick. The game mixes scenes from the first film with flashbacks to missions that happened before the superspy lost his memory. It's a fresh approach to familiar material, but most fans will focus less on the drama than on the intense hand-to-hand combat.

Haze (Mature; PlayStation 3, $59.99; Ubisoft): This heavily promoted first-person shooting title heaves you right into a futuristic war between Mantel Global Industries, a military contractor, and the Promise Hand, a South American guerrilla army. You begin as a Mantel trooper, teamed with some of the most loathsome characters ever seen in a game, but you eventually switch allegiances. (That's not a spoiler; the manual gives it away.) Mantel troops have access to a drug called Nectar, which enhances perception and makes some attacks more powerful, but you can lose control if you overdose. The guerrillas have to live more by their wits, but they have abilities that balance the fighting. Unfortunately, the artificial intelligence is dreadful, making your squad mates on either side stupid and nearly useless. The game is further marred by unimaginative level design, sloppy graphics and repetitive audio, and the Nectar gimmick isn't used effectively. With so many first-rate shooters on the market, this game is a waste of time and money.

-- Lou Kesten, Associated Press

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