KILLZONE, Sony Computer Entertainment America/Guerrilla Games
The Xbox has Microsoft's Halo, but Sony thinks it has an answer to that sci-fi shooter with Killzone. Its premise isn't too different from that of its better-known competitor: You play the leader of a small group of soldiers sent to expel an invading force from a colonized planet.
Killzone's first-person-shooter design keeps the action pretty straightforward -- your soldier, named Templar, walks around, explores and fights. To try to add a little variety, the game lets you control three other characters: Luger, the sniper; Rico, the heavy-weapons guy; and Hahka, an expert with the enemy's weapons. But none of Killzone's missions cater to any one character's strengths, leaving no compelling reason to switch between them. If you just want to win, you're better off playing as Templar, whose everyday run-and-gun skills can get the job done.
The same compliment can't be paid to the woefully stupid enemy, the Helghast -- exiled human soldiers who have mutated into heartless killing machines. The developers created some of the scariest-looking individuals in any video game short of Doom 3, but once the shooting starts they turn out to be dumber than a box of rocks. They'll stand around and look at the walls or walk right into your line of fire -- once, we came across two of these boneheads standing beside each other, shot one, then saw the survivor stand idly as if nothing had happened. Not good.
Killzone also suffers from not enough actual combat. Its skirmishes are intense, but they're punctuated by too much downtime spent exploring and wandering. If your PS2 is set up with a broadband connection, however, a set of online multiplayer modes offers more interesting action, plus the chance to fight Helghast controlled by humans instead of inept programming.
What the game does offer is the best graphics we've seen on the PS2 to date, down to the shell casings that can be spotted flying out of your weapons. The orchestral score also earns some compliments with its range, including anthems and battle hymns you could march to yourself.
-- Tom Ham
PlayStation 2, $50
LEISURE SUIT LARRY: MAGNA CUM LAUDE,
Leisure Suit Larry's back -- well, not the Larry Laffer fellow who starred in a popular series of games in the '80s, but his nephew. Like his uncle, Larry Lovage is looking for love in all the wrong places and in most of the wrong ways. This college student wants to get onto a dating show called Swingles, but first he has to convince the host that he's a Casanova.
The way to do that is to hook up with various women and collect "tokens of affection," which open up new levels in the game beyond Larry's college campus and the surrounding town. The way to score is to compete in one contest or another. Perhaps you challenge the ladies to a game of quarters or a round of strip trampoline, or maybe you just head to the frat house and try to mix up drinks as fast as you can to loosen them up. (My favorite tactic was wooing the geek girl by playing an erotic game of Dungeons & Dragons with her.) Since this game is not, in fact, a simulation, these tactics won't get you slapped, sued or arrested. Instead, Larry and his new friends will eventually disrobe and have some fun -- except when something zany happens to spoil the action, like a Mafia dad sending in his henchmen to stop you from frolicking with his daughter.
This Laude version of Larry, with its 3D settings, doesn't look at all like the crudely animated titles that started the series. It also doesn't play like them, emphasizing twitchy, quick-reflex action instead of the relaxed pace of the older versions. (Thankfully, this release grades on a curve, easing up on gamers who don't succeed at first.) And it's a lot more explicit than its predecessors -- the M-for-mature rating is here for a reason. But its cheerfully depraved humor should make fans of the original feel right at home. -- John Breeden II
Win 98 SE or newer, $30; PlayStation 2, Xbox, $50
TAK 2: THE STAFF OF DREAMS, THQ/Avalanche
For those who missed out on his first adventure, Tak is a cute, portly shaman who last year saved his village from the evil Tlaloc. Now Tlaloc is back in a much larger, more visually impressive sequel, and Tak has to save a princess, restoring order to both his world and a new dream world. The game will certainly appeal to kids (Nickelodeon is turning the game franchise into a TV show), but its humor can also keep older players engaged.
Tak 2 plays out like a parody of platform-style games (in which the hero races up, down and across a series of levels on one screen), relying on a strong voice cast, including Patrick Warburton of "Seinfeld," and sometimes unpredictable gameplay. For instance, when Tak is asked to save the princess in the game's opening sequence, he declines -- but then gets yanked into action anyway. In addition to puzzle-solving and platform action, this game allows Tak to transform into such animals as bears, eagles and jaguars; he can also summon magical powers called JuJu to help him in his quest.
With 25 levels and 25 quirky multiplayer mini-games (for instance, frog races, chicken tennis and snowboarding), there are plenty of different challenges available. This is what a sequel ought to be: It brings back the people you liked the first time around and gives them new and interesting problems to solve. Tak 2's only big drawback is a camera system that occasionally prevents you from seeing the action, but it doesn't crop up often enough to ruin the adventure.
-- John Gaudiosi
GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, $40