Assuming you can pick up a Sony PlayStation 2 next week--the odds of which are only slightly better than buying a winning lottery ticket--it won't do you much good without at least a couple top-notch games.
With a launch lineup of 26 titles from diverse publishers, PlayStation 2 offers a superb variety of individual games across several genres--from sports and racing to real-time strategy and fighting.
I've gotten to play early versions of about half the titles that will be available next week and a few stand out as must-haves. They are "Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore," "Kessen," "Madden NFL 2001," "Ridge Racer V" and "X Squad." Make no mistake: All of the games I played are technically tight and beautiful to look at. But with the raw processing power of PlayStation 2, great graphics and other technical niceties are givens.
"Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore"
After a while, players get over the bouncing breasts that gave "Dead or Alive" its early reputation and focus instead of the killer fighting franchise it really is. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the PlayStation 2 incarnation, "Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore."
Yes, the women fighters have chests that defy the laws of physics and, yes, they favor short skirts and high kicks. But it's the speed and smoothness with which they move that captivated me and a group of friends. Not even the exceptional "Tekken Tag Tournament" could keep us away from "Hardcore."
The game screams across the screen. Players can execute complex combinations without much effort and pummel opponents in arenas that are both wide and deep. Knocking an opponent off the first level of fighting reveals entirely new areas. It adds excitement to an already intense game.
And "Hardcore" nicely highlights the differences between Sega Dreamcast and PlayStation 2. "Dead or Alive 2" has been available for some time on Dreamcast, Sony's only current competitor for 128-bit gaming. As stunning as "DOA 2" looks on Dreamcast, it looks and plays better on PlayStation 2.
When it wasn't crashing or locking up, "Kessen" intrigued me as few other recent games have. Real-time strategy games are almost impossible to make work well on consoles, but from what I was able to play, "Kessen" does the job quite nicely.
Set in 17th century Japan, "Kessen" puts players in command of huge armies as they struggle for control in a world of warlords and shogunates. Taking advantage of the DVD format--which holds more than five times the data of traditional CDs--the game creates totally immersing worlds and gives players unprecedented control over their troops.
Some of the overly dramatic battle intros in "Kessen" would not seem out of place in NBC's recent Olympics coverage, but overall the game manages to create a sense of story through amazing animations that capture every detail--from trails of mist dancing across a field to banners lilting in the breeze.
Unlike most other real-time strategy games, "Kessen" demands a keen understanding of the troops and commanders under a player's control. Winning a battle means putting the right men in the right place at the right time. It adds a sense of personality to a game that I can't wait to play through without crashing.
"Madden NFL 2001"
Depending on whom you ask--me or my wife--a recent party was either greatly enhanced or totally ruined by the introduction of "Madden NFL 2001," the latest version of the football classic. Within minutes of discovering the game, every male at the party was crowded into a darkened room alternately running plays or shouting advice.
It is a truly great thing when men can come together and enjoy a thing of beauty like "Madden NFL 2001." Great graphics, on-target commentary, incredible player stats, realistic field action--all of these elements come together in "Madden NFL 2001." Players who don't have Sega's "NFL 2K1," which is still the game to beat, will be blown away by the new "Madden."
"Ridge Racer V"
The first hot-rod racer for the original PlayStation has evolved into a game that shows a few signs of aging, but not enough to give up on it. The fifth generation of "Ridge Racer," the aptly named "Ridge Racer V," delivers some high-speed action through the streets of some nicely drawn cities and towns.
Although not quite as good as some of the best racers on Dreamcast, "Ridge Racer V" nonetheless offers sweet control and challenging tracks. I was a little disappointed by some of the graphics, which could use a dose of the anti-aliasing built into PlayStation 2.
For players who like to sneak around in dark places and blow things up, "X Squad" offers the chance in a third-person corridor shooter that takes some of the best elements of great action games and blends them together.
Players can command other members on the team to conduct recon or cover their backs as they explore a top-secret research facility. Getting used to some of the controls takes time, but they all add a level of refinement that makes "X Squad" the sort of game that can be played for weeks.
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Aaron Curtiss is editor of Tech Times.