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2 New Boxes, 4 Great Titles

Eyeing Xbox or GameCube? You'll want something to go with it.


The common wisdom about video game consoles is that games matter most.

Yes and no. Anybody with a Sega Dreamcast can appreciate that some of the best games in the business couldn't save the 128-bit wonder box from going the way of the 3DO Multiplayer or Atari Jaguar. Often, it's as much about marketing as it is about making great games.

Microsoft's Xbox and Nintendo's GameCube--both of which hit store shelves in the next few days--have plenty of marketing muscle behind them. Happily, they've also got some great games. Since most people pick up two games to go with their new console, here are two titles sure to please for each platform.

Microsoft Xbox

"Halo": First-person shooters are a dime a dozen. So what's the big deal about "Halo?" Well, it's got great graphics, a wonderful story, varied play, enemies that just won't quit and so many tasty little twists that all but the most cynical gamer will go ga-ga for it.

Set in the future, "Halo" begins aboard a starship under attack as human refugees flee the onslaught of the alien Covenant. The ship's artificial intelligence being--a purple virtual gal named Cortana--must be secreted away to safety in the battle armor of a cyborg marine.

From there on out, players see the world through the eyes of that marine. And what a world it is. The escape ship lands on the Halo, a gorgeously rendered giant space ring that is home to an entire habitat of mountains, oceans, icebergs and hordes and hordes of aliens.

Although players are responsible for their own skin--and Cortana's memory banks--they must work in concert with computer-controlled soldiers who provide covering fire as well as assistance operating the game's various vehicles. That cooperative element makes "Halo" more than just a simple shooter.

But wait, there's more. The game is littered with vehicles. Hovercraft. Tanks. Jeeps. Players get to drive them all. Knowing when to switch between vehicles and when to assault a Covenant position on foot adds a lovely level of strategy to an adrenaline-soaked game.

It does take awhile to get used to the control scheme of "Halo," which relies on two thumb sticks to emulate the keyboard-mouse combination of most first-person games on the PC. After awhile, it becomes second nature, as does staying up late to see what lies beyond the next ridge in "Halo."

"Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee": Abe the Mudokkon is among the more unlikely stars. Unlike cuddly video game mascots Mario the plumber, Sonic the hedgehog or even Crash the bandicoot, Abe is a slightly slimy, floppy alien critter with his mouth stitched shut. Nonetheless, the star of the Oddworld series is lovable and heroic, and his efforts to save his fellow Mudokkons from the meat grinder have made him a franchise player.

In "Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee," Abe shares the stage with Munch, a Gabbit who's the last of his kind. Working together, Abe and Munch must once again escape the evil Glukkons and Vykkers.

Like "Halo," "Munch's Oddysee" depends on cooperation. Other Mudokkons help Abe if he asks. And he needs their help to do everything from opening doors and flipping switches to distracting bad guys so he can sneak past. See, Abe and his kind are peaceful creatures who rely more on wits than weaponry.

The same goes for Munch, and there are times when players must switch between Munch and Abe to accomplish certain tasks.

All of the "Oddworld" games--"Munch's Oddysee" is the third--depend on lushly detailed environments to help tell the story. Really, these are modern morality plays about greed and over-industrialization. How better to portray the rapacious nature of the Glukkons and Vykkers than to paint horrific digital pictures of the world they have created?

But video game players don't spend $50 for a lesson on how to live their lives. They want action. "Munch's Oddysee" delivers with gentle but challenging play that shows how much a video game can be even without big, loud guns.

Nintendo GameCube

"Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II": Men of a certain age want to be Luke Skywalker. Face it. He was the coolest country hick of the 1970s. More than 20 years later, it's possible to at least feel like Luke with "Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II," a stunning game that puts players behind the controls of spaceships from the "Star Wars" universe.

From the trenches of the Death Star to the wispy towers of Bespin, "Rogue Leader" creates three-dimensional digital environments that look like they're right off the big screen. More than just another pretty face, though, "Rogue Leader" offers challenging play under an onslaught of Imperial baddies.

"Rogue Leader" does not aspire to be a technical flight sim. Instead, it's content with simple and forgiving controls that let players focus instead on exploring their surroundings and hunting down enemies. That's no small feat. The game environments are huge, and Tie fighters can be difficult to spot in the vastness of space.

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