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Snags don't lock up Gears

January 18, 2007|Pete Metzger | Special to The Times

THE game Gears of War has brilliantly detailed graphics like those of Splinter Cell, the intense multiplayer action of Halo 2 and the third-person shooter angle of Rainbow Six Vegas. It also has some rather clunky controls and a paper-thin story line. Add that together, and you get a lousy game in which the sum of the parts is not equal to the whole, right? Not necessarily. For all its faults, Gears is actually not half bad.

More of the familiar "aliens attack and it's up to one grizzled ex-soldier to reluctantly lead the charge to save the day" genre, Gears has surprisingly good visuals (the battleground is a beautifully rendered hamlet that looks very Italian) and even stronger enemy artificial intelligence (the evil Locust soldiers attack in different ways each time through the same level).

But while the main objective of the battle is to find cover from enemy fire where you can, sometimes the controls aren't as smooth as intended; your character has to be in exactly the right place to dive behind something.

A must-have game this isn't, but a good time nonetheless.

Details: \o7Xbox 360 platform; $59.99; rated Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language).


Good vibrations

Who hasn't wanted to strap on a guitar and be a rock star at one time in his or her life? With Guitar Hero 2, dreams do come true. Using the guitar controller to correctly tap out the corresponding notes on the screen can mean success or failure for your colorful band as it tours the country playing more than 50 rocking cover tunes. And for better or worse, no knowledge of guitar playing is needed; just hit the strum bar at the right time. Also, grab a friend (with a guitar controller of his or her own) and play two guitar parts in the same song. Headbanging good fun.

Details: PlayStation 2 platform; $79.99 with guitar controller, $49.99 without; rated Teen (lyrics).


Bored with the board

Tony Hawk Project 8 suffers from "Madden-itis," a condition named after the series of unstoppably popular NFL games; every year a new title comes out that looks better and does more than last year's installment but is basically the same game. Project 8 is the best (and only) skateboarder out there, but besides the flashy new next-generation graphics, there is next to nothing here that wasn't in last year's game, or the game from the year before that, or the one before that....

Details: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, Xbox and PlayStation Portable platforms; $59.99 to $39.99; rated Teen (alcohol reference, blood, crude humor, language, mild violence).


A star is born

Sure, Karaoke Revolution Presents American Idol is not the easiest game to play, but being a star is no walk in the park either. As on the hit television show, how well gamers can carry a tune in this great karaoke competition equals how nicely show regulars Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson critique their performance. (For some reason, Paula Abdul is replaced by a look-alike in this game.) Even on easy mode, we found the judging to be intense and the critiques brutal. Luckily, there is a standard karaoke mode for pressure-free crooning into the PlayStation 2's microphone.

Details: PlayStation 2 platform; $39.99; rated Everyone 10+ (lyrics).


Carry a tune

A karaoke game is only as good as its song choices, which means if you want to rock out in Singstar Rocks, you had better like popular alternative rock from about five years ago. This is less a game and more a karaoke system, in which players sing along to one of 30 songs while music videos play in the background and scores are kept based on how well they sing in key. The narrow song selection and lack of anything special make this a very forgettable performance indeed.

Details: PlayStation 2 platform; $49.99; rated Everyone 10+ (lyrics, suggestive themes, tobacco reference).

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