After the holiday rush to get new titles on the retailers' shelves the console gaming scene always hits a bit of a dry spell, but here's a look at some recent releases:
Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (PS2, XBox, GameCube; $49.99)
Good things come to those who wait. A month after “Two Towers” was released on the PS2, the game based on the blockbuster movie of 2002 finally arrived with swords drawn for the XBox (where the graphics look better). The collaboration between the filmmakers and the game makers on this title makes for a very slick package, which includes production artwork and interviews with the actors who lent their voices to the game.
As you make your way through Middle Earth, playing as Aragorn, Legolas, Frodo, or Gandalf, you will come across beautiful environments and vicious creatures that you saw in the film. Gameplay is challenging, even at the easier levels, and it is recommended that you play it through to the end as different characters, because there are chances to unlock several bonuses, depending on which character you pick.
Set in 13 mission locations, the only downside to the game is that it can be beaten within a few hours, a bit of a letdown after shelling out $50. Still, one of the best games of this genre since “Gauntlet” and “Golden Axe,” and a must for Rings fans.
Minority Report (PS2, XBox, GameCube; $49.99)
Sometimes a movie with such a cool premise seems like a sure-fire transfer to a console game, but it just doesn't work out. Enter “Minority Report.” Most of the basics of the movie are here, except Tom Cruise, that is. His character, John Anderton, now looks more like a scruffy Bruce Willis from The Fifth Element.
But the oddest thing about playing “Minority Report” is that running - lots of running! - from the cops, and killing your Pre-Crime co-workers, just doesn't work well with the movie's original theme of nonviolence. But face it, gamers today want virtual violence, and tossing the people who are chasing you from windows makes for better gameplay than cheap talk.
Your character's fighting moves pretty much consist of a punch, a kick, a slide, and a block. This gets old fairly quickly, but at any point in the game you can “buy” power-ups good for weapon and strength upgrades that allow for more dramatic attack combos.
Long, disruptive load times in this game are a problem, but the XBox system resumes gameplay a bit faster than the PS2 or GameCube. The XBox version also gets the nod on graphics. Overall, there isn't anything overly thrilling about this mediocre, rough translation of a good movie. An average fighter worth a rental, but not a purchase.
ATV Quad Power Racing 2 (PS2, XBox, GameCube; $29.99)
Off-road racing has needed a fresh, new title for some time now, and “ATV 2” comes on with a screaming engine and a kick. The to the game lies in your ability to land a swift boot to your opponents head before he gets one in on you. Kick first or come in last. There's nothing quite as frustrating as having the finish line in sight with everyone eating your dust only to be kicked off your bike and pushed to last place.
Unfortunately, that's about it. The depth of this title isn't quite kiddie pool, but it isn't the deep end, either. The scenery and graphics are just average, and vehicle control is middle of the road as well. There are 15 tracks, but some are only variations of others, a little disappointing. The freestyle tricks your racer is able to perform are quite spectacular, and the physics of the movements are believable and pretty true to life.
Strangely, the four-player option is an XBox exclusive; having two extra players really adds to the excitement. “ATV 2” is good, dirty offroad fun that doesn't ascend to the level or great, but for a racing fan, it's worth looking at.