HOT SHOTS GOLF: FORE!, Sony Computer Entertainment America/Clap Hanz
Sony's Hot Shots franchise has built its reputation on one core element -- the fact that, unlike real-world golf, nearly anyone can pick up the game and play it. Hot Shots has no fancy swing mechanic, just a basic three-tap control (once to start the swing, a second to adjust its power and a third for contact). Most golf aficionados will probably stick to the detail-soaked realism of EA's Tiger Woods titles, but Fore may draw a lot of fans from the rest of us.
After players pick from a stable of 34 goofball characters (characters from other PS2 games, such as Ratchet, Clank, Jak and Daxter, become available in later levels), it's time to start competing in tournaments. Winning will open up 15 additional courses and send players into additional short games -- the miniature golf contest is a hoot. In addition to the traditional single-player mode, Fore adds an online game-play option. You can challenge one other player head-to-head or enter tournaments with up to 50 players. In the smaller tournaments (for four or fewer golfers), you can use a headset to chat with your competitors -- or do your best "Caddyshack" impression by trash-talking when they putt.
Fore's graphics also look much better than those of previous releases. The courses exhibit more lifelike detail, including moving clouds and swaying grass and trees, and characters appear sharper. Lighting effects highlight expertly played shots.
Most interesting was the way Fore hides deeper play mechanics that more ambitious gamers can exploit. When you get bored with its triple-tap control, pressing the right buttons on the controller at the appropriate moments will allow finer adjustments -- you can hook or slice the shot and even put a little backspin on the ball. That makes this game more than the cartoonish take on golf it's advertised as.
-- Tom Ham
PlayStation 2, $40
Not scary enough to count as an example of the survival/horror genre, but too creepy to be a comedy, the game mixes some lackluster controls with captivating visuals of some truly eerie locales. GhostHunter puts you in the boots of a Detroit cop named Lazarus Jones who unwittingly unleashes a gaggle of ghosts into our dimension after investigating mysterious machinery in an abandoned high school (clearly, this guy hasn't seen any horror movies lately). One of the ghosts, Hawksmoor, abducts your partner, Anna Steele, and it's up to you to cross into another dimension -- using a conveniently located portal in the same school basement -- and rescue her while capturing the freed spirits.
The game borrows a lot of elements from "Ghostbusters," such as the spectral gun that lassos ghosts and the containment unit used to corral them for good, but it takes a more macabre approach to its subject matter. There's also some of the movie's campy humor, but the monsters here aren't funny; they're mostly horrific (for instance, the demonic teddy bear that whips around a little girl as a weapon). The landscapes, on the other hand, are breathtaking, including such eerie vistas as a flooded ghost town, a haunted prison and a ghost ship. The voice talent here is also superb.
Game-play relies largely on shooting up multiple ghosts with an assortment of weapons, capturing them, and moving on to the next linear level. There are some simple puzzles to solve and a floating ghost called Astral that helps you along the way. But as amazing as the scenery gets, it doesn't make up for excessive simplicity of the action, which results in a game that ends too soon and doesn't offer any real replay value. It's a fine rental, but not more than that.
-- John Gaudiosi
PlayStation 2, $50
REPLAY RADIO, Applian
This program is available both in a $50 bundle and for $30 in stand-alone form, but it's most useful when used in concert. Replay Radio, billed as "a TiVo for Internet radio," can make MP3 recordings of RealAudio, Windows Media and streaming-MP3 webcasts from a list of hundreds of shows on almost a thousand pre-programmed stations, plus any you add yourself. You can also record from any external source (for example, a plain old FM radio) plugged into your PC.
Scheduling recordings is not TiVo-simple but is easy enough. You can choose an appropriate quality level for each recording, so that, for instance, talk shows can be saved as heavily compressed MP3 files while you archive music shows as higher-fidelity MP3s. This program can even chop up a recording into individual songs and burn the results as audio or MP3 CDs. It can't, however, play the recordings back; you can use whatever MP3 player you normally run, or you can install Applian's Replay Player ($10), a basic but serviceable program.
A third program, Radio Wizard ($20), adds the ability to pause and hop back and forth through live streaming audio -- which sounds much more like "a TiVo for Internet radio" to us. But unlike Replay Radio, Radio Wizard has no presets and requires you to use a separate program to tune into any webcasts.
Between all these programs, there are some good ideas and a few great ones. But the results would be much more useful, and accessible, if they were available in one program instead of three. (The bundled version certainly has enough value; it features all three programs plus an MP3 editor and an MP3 player for Pocket PC handhelds.) These individual applications could also stand to see some bug fixes and interface refinements.
-- Daniel Greenberg
Win 98 or newer, $30 at www.replay-radio.com