KILLER 7, Capcom
This can look like any other action-adventure game, but its slick front end covers a strange, involved world that will either fascinate or frustrate gamers.
The game's title refers to the seven alter-ego assassins charged with defeating a maniacal crime lord who unleashes a horde of horrific creatures known as Heaven's Smile. As you play the game, you can switch among each of these seven personalities (all named Smith), using their distinctive attributes to your advantage in a given situation. For example, Kaede Smith, the lone female of the group, is a deadly sniper and can spray her blood to reveal hidden areas; the blind Con Smith has exceptional speed and hearing, plus automatic weapons that inflict ridiculous amounts of damage; Kevin Smith excels at throwing knives and can turn invisible.
The game's graphics effectively mix cel-shaded techniques with clever lighting and shading effects to give it the look of a comic book come to life. The developers, however, seem to have put more effort into depicting the gory demise of the Heaven's Smile enemies than in animating the characters you play, who seem a little stiff in action.
Killer 7's control scheme, unfortunately, may turn people against the entire game. It took us a long time to get the hang of this strangely limited system. Unlike most adventure games, this one allows no free-form exploration; instead, you move along a fixed path by pushing a button. When you encounter an adversary, the perspective shifts from third-person to first-person, but you still can't move on your own. You're forced to stand in one place as long as you're shooting. There are rewards for learning this unusual style, but a lot of gamers may not want to bother sticking it out. -- Tom Ham
GameCube, PlayStation 2, $50
COLOSSEUM: ROAD TO FREEDOM, Koei/Goshow
This game's Japanese developer is best known for strategic recreations of epic Chinese battles (for example, Romance of the Three Kingdoms), but now it's taken a stab at ancient Rome. Colosseum has plenty of competition in this genre, such as the earlier releases Gladius, Circus Maximus, and Gladiator; it tries to stand apart by blending arena combat with some light role-playing elements.
The action here, depicted in dull, dated graphics, takes place after the death of Marcus Aurelius (yep, just like in the Hollywood film "Gladiator"). You start by creating a gladiator and customizing such aspects as his looks, former occupation and god of worship, then you must try to buy back your freedom by winning fights. Most of those involve hand-to-hand combat using weapons, armor and other items that can be either picked up in the arena or purchased with earnings between fights. You're not always fighting against other gladiators, either; optional game modes let you hunt (or be hunted by) tigers and elephants.
The arcade-style, button-mashing controls, like in most wrestling games, can get clumsy at times, such as when they get in the way of grabbing your new weapons in the heat of combat. The camera perspective doesn't help when it stays too close to the action. The best parts of this game take place outside the arena, where you get a glimpse of a gladiator's everyday life through scenes at the dining hall and in training courses. There's just enough all around to make for a decent weekend rental -- but not a purchase. -- John Gaudiosi
PlayStation 2, $50
FLIPNIC: ULTIMATE PINBALL, Capcom
As Ray Liotta said in the tragically underappreciated Sylvester Stallone movie "Cop Land," there are two kinds of people in the world: video-game players and pinball players. And these groups don't mix very often. But that might change with Flipnic, a stylish new title that brings the world of fast flippers and bouncing bumpers to PlayStation 2 -- in a way that no real-world pinball game could.
Flipnic offers four different areas to play in, with names that could have come from MIT's curriculum. Biology has you playing in a rain forest, complete with alligators, waterfalls and lush greenery; the Metallurgy levels take your ball on dizzying rides through complicated mazes of metal; Optics levels could have been converted from a 1970s disco lounge; Geometry resembles a cross between the classic video games Breakout and Pong.
Pinball fans can play Flipnic just like the genuine, quarter-eating article, but creative use of the ramps in each level will open things up in fascinating ways by jumping you to different tables with their own quirky challenges. For example, on the first Biology level, sending the ball up the right ramp leads to a table populated by butterflies. Through the right sequences of bump and flips, you can get them to land on special bumpers without getting eaten by a chameleon; if they land safely, they will cast a spell that freezes the lizard and the entire Biology level.
Head-to-head contests, such as "football striker" (like foosball, but on a pinball table) and "triple paddle" (think Pong plus pinball), open Flipnic's game play a bit more. And the price doesn't hurt -- just 80 quarters. -- John Breeden II
PlayStation 2, $20