Men in Black II: Alien Escape ^ PlayStation 2 ^ Rating: 2 1/2 Stars
Men in Black II is a typical summer flick – mildly amusing, frequently violent, and full of CG effects which, to quote “Mystery Science Theater 3000 alum” Mike Nelson, “look every bit as realistic as 1920s bendable clay puppet technology.” This single-player shoot’em-up for the PlayStation 2, while not based on the events of either film, does utilize many of the films’ characters, including Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as Agents Jay and Kay. (Jay and Kay’s in-game voices are supplied by decent imitators, as Smith and Jones are roughly $20 million outside the price range of game-development budgets.)
“Men in Black II: Alien Escape” has a vague and instantly forgettable storyline, just like the movie, but the frantic gameplay is obviously the focus. And, hey, here’s a description of that gameplay now. Roughly a billion times in each of the game’s five levels, you move forward until a group of aliens appears on the screen. You shoot the aliens while strafing, rolling, and jumping to dodge incoming fire. At the end of each level is an especially strong enemy, called a “boss.” Defeat the boss and you move onto the next level, unless you’re on the final level, in which case you’ve finished the game.
Modern shoot’em-ups emphasize puzzle-solving and artificially intelligent enemies, but “Alien Escape” is a throwback to the shooters of yore, with their emphasis on twitch reflexes and pattern memorization. Unfortunately, “Alien Escape” forgets Rule #1 of Old-School Shooters: no infinite continues. A retarded three-day-old baboon can beat a shooter with infinite continues, especially one with only five levels (which are, admittedly, divided into three or four lengthy stages each). Not that “Alien Escape” is an especially hard game to begin with; Agent Kay’s heat-seeking weapon is so effective that, once it’s been powered up to its higher levels, you’ll strut through the game like John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”.
“Men in Black II: Alien Escape” is a well-designed, good-looking, standard-issue shooter that not even its creators will remember in six months’ time – but it’s good fun for the day it’ll take you to beat it.
The Sum of All Fears ^ PC ^ Rating: 3 1/2 Stars
Co-founded by best-selling author Tom Clancy, Red Storm Entertainment is a popular developer of “tactical shooters,” in which the player commands and controls small squads of elite soldier-folk as they go about the dirty business of rescuing hostages from puddles of their own urine and shooting terrorists in their evil frickin’ heads. Among Red Storm’s greatest hits with PC-gaming fools are “Rainbow Six” (which, in the best Hollywood tradition, spawned a litany of sequels), “Rogue Spear”, and the recent “Ghost Recon.”
Red Storm is now cashing in on The Sum of All Fears, the fourth flick to feature CIA analyst Jack Ryan, the protagonist of many a Clancy novel. Although the furrowed brows of “Sum” stars Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman are dramatically displayed on the cover of the box, neither of them are in the game, which has very little to do with either the book OR the movie.
In fact, “The Sum of All Fears” is essentially a simplified version of “Ghost Recon”, using the same 3D graphic engine and the same gameplay formula of rescuing hostages and killing terrorists. Herewith, three examples of “Sum’s” simplicity: you command but a single squad of three soldiers, you can’t customize the weapon selections (“loadouts”) for each squad member, and there are only 11 missions (which are somewhat supplemented with online multiplayer options). Hardcore gamers will be left wanting much more from “Fears”, but the casual gamers at whom it’s directed will find it an excellent introduction to the tactical-shooter genre, especially with its modest $30 price point.
The Three Stooges ^ Game Boy Advance ^ Rating: 1 Star
“The Three Stooges” was originally released in 1987, and at the time, its graphics and sound effects (most of which were digitized directly from Stooge shorts) blew away gamers accustomed to the bloated pixels and calliope music of early-‘80s videogame technology. But as five generations of game consoles have demonstrated, videogame audio/visuals age with all the grace of Keith Richards, leaving the underlying gameplay to succeed or fail on its own… and the gameplay of “The Three Stooges” is less amusing than prop-comic Carrot Top. I haven’t been this bored with a videogame, or beaten one this quickly, since I played “The Really Boring, Really Easy Videogame.”
“The Three Stooges” sets the action into motion thusly: the evil banker I. Fleecem is about to foreclose on Ma’s Orphanage, which would put Ma’s parentless charges on the streets and force Ma’s three nubile daughters to take up the world’s oldest profession. Determined to keep a roof over Ma’s head, and hoping to secure the hearts and bosoms of Ma’s sizzling offspring, the Stooges have 30 days to collect $5,000 and keep Fleecem at bay.
During each “day,” the player is presented with a boardgame-style strip of squares, and presses a button to stop Moe’s hand on a square and play the associated mini-game. Thus, the central gameplay gimmick of “Stooges” is somewhat like a clip-job sitcom episode in which three minutes of new footage (with each cast member saying “Remember the time when such-and-so happened?”) is used to glue together 20 minutes of old, completely unrelated footage. Game design doesn’t get any more uninspired than this.
The half-dozen mini-games themselves are equally sad. In one, the Stooges toss cream pies at a trio of upper-crust folks; the controls are awkward, it’s impossible to tell whom the pies are directed at, and there are inexplicable moments of gameplay slowdown. Another mini-game is a trivia puzzler with what seems like maybe eight questions about the Stooges and, in an ill-advised display of self-importance, the history of Cinemaware. The other mini-games are equally insipid and simplistic, and you can easily exploit the game’s password system to earn $15,000 in 30 days, which is how I got the “best” ending (consisting of two still screens and an interminable list of credits) in about an hour.
The Game Boy Advance remake of “The Three Stooges” is like one of Moe’s trademark eye-pokes: absolutely unnecessary and incredibly painful. We can only pray the Farrelly Brothers’ upcoming film does more justice to the timeless trio than does this travesty.
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones ^ Game Boy Advance ^ Rating: 1 1/2 Stars
There is an overabundance of crappy software for the Game Boy Advance at the moment, as game publishers are content to convert dozens of mediocre ten-year-old Super Nintendo games to the portable format. (Imagine if Hollywood studios decided to produce more remakes than original films, and you’re visualizing the state of the GBA market.) Truth be told, however, I’d rather play most of those remakes than this crappy tie-in, which manages to be damn near as annoying as Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace.
Most of “Clones” consists of tedious stages in which you, as Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Mace Windu, walk to the right and slice through roughly a hundred enemies – which range from Battle Droids to Banthas, depending on the level you’re playing. It sounds easy (if not fun) enough, but the controls are so awkward and sluggish that simply swinging your lightsaber becomes an excruciating chore. There are also a few nifty 3D levels in which you fly around in Star Wars vehicles, but the game’s designers forgot to explain what you’re supposed to be DOING in these levels, making them almost as frustrating as the side-scrolling ones. The graphics and sound are wonderful – there’s even a digitized rendition of John Williams’ score –but who cares when the gameplay is atrocious?
LucasArts has several very cool-looking “Episode II” videogames on the way (as predicted by Ron Wells in his Episode II review), so please wait for those games and avoid THIS game as you would any film starring Kevin Costner. Thank you.
Writer and avid gamer Zach Meston gives us the low down on what recent movie and television show based videogames are worth your time and allowance. Funny thing is, some of these games end up being more entertaining than their counterparts.