Developer: United Game Artists Publisher: Sega of America Platform: Playstation 2 ESRB Rating: E (Violence)
Since the earliest generation consoles, pretty much every game produced has fallen neatly into a genre, making it easy to market, easy for fans to find, and easy to review, as there are “standards” of a sort for each genre of game, be it FPS, RTS, sports, RPG, whatever. And now there’s Rez. And I have to start from scratch, because, despite the fact that it’s advertised and marketed as a “shooter,” it’s infinitely more complex than that.
Rez puts you in control of a little wireframe person, zipping through what looks to be some sort of VR cyberspace computer network, full of wireframe landscapes and polygonal bad guys representing the network’s defense systems. So you zip through the network “on rails” (for the uninitiated, this means that you have no control over your movement, just your aim), and you blow up security programs, with the obligatory “boss monster” at the end of each of five levels.
Written by: Connie Willis Published by: Bantam Books
I’ve looked over the books I have reviewed so far, and found they are rather serious and somber. I’m going to lighten the mood with To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, a novel that tells the story of a temporal paradox that could destroy the space-time continuum. But this is not another Star Trek time travel rehash, trust me.
In the mid-21st century, time travel has been developed, but Time doesn’t like to be messed with. It is impossible to take anything from the past into the present. Because of this, time travel has become consigned to cash-strapped universities, such as Oxford. However when a researcher, Verity Kindle, returns from 1888 with a cat, this impossibility should have caused a huge uproar. Unfortunately, the wealthy and demanding Lady Schrapnell has commandeered Oxford to help her rebuild Coventry Cathedral, destroyed during a Nazi air raid. Since the cathedral is to be an exact copy (Lady Schrapnell’s favorite saying is “God is in the details!”), everyone is working to exhaustion including Ned Henry.
Ned has been traveling to 1940 and back so much looking for the “bishop’s bird stump” (an ugly Victorian decoration), his brain has become addled with “time lag”. To get him away from Lady Schrapnell’s badgering, he is sent back to return the cat to 1888 and avoid the possible destruction of the universe. Ned’s brain is so addled by the time lag he doesn’t think to ask “How did the cat get to the present?” or “Where do I return the cat to?” or “How do I get out of this mess?” of which there are many in the book.
Written by: Simon Winchester Published by: HarperCollins
Professor James Murray was given a daunting task, to edit and compile The Oxford English Dictionary, the most complete and accurate dictionary ever. It took 70 years to complete the first edition (published in 1928); it contained 414,800 words and 1,861,200 quotations (the second edition published in 1989 contains 615,100 words and 2,436,600 quotations). While there were other dictionaries available (most notably Samuel Johnson’s famous work), the OED was unique since it not only defined words, but also traced the history of words through quotations obtained from literature and non-fiction.
Murray was helped by a Dr. William Minor, who like 2000 other volunteers, submitted appropriate quotations that showed the word’s first appearance or illustrated the word’s meaning. Dr. Minor’s quotations were plentiful and well researched. So Professor Murray figured the doctor had plenty of free time. Since Minor was committed to Broadmoor Asylum for shooting a man he believed to be an assassin, he did.
This is the odd relationship that frames The Professor and the Madman, a relationship between two very different men. Murray was a son of a tailor, a self-educated Scotsman who spoke 25 languages and was a pious Congregationalist; Minor was an aristocratic American, educated at Yale, a surgeon during the Civil War, an agnostic and libertine. But both were brought together by a love of language. Such was Murray’s regard for Minor that it took years to see that the return address on his correspondence was from an asylum, not a county house in the area. Winchester delves into the lives and motivations of these two men, especially Minor’s paranoid dementia; he also delves into the dictionary, the third member of this triangle.
Written by: Caroline Alexander & Joseph Dorman, based on the book by Alexander Directed by: George Butler Narrated by: Liam Neeson
My Advice: Wait and rent it.
Sir Ernest Shackleton wanted to not just succeed but exceed–and nothing exceeds like excess. So thwarted in his attempts to be the first man to reach the South Pole, he strives ahead anyway for another go. On their way to the Antarctic continent, the expedition’s ship, Endurance, gets snagged in an ice field–that solidifies, trapping them with no way out. What follows is a two year test of limits: the limits that human beings can tolerate before they just fall over and die. The most amazing thing is that Shackleton decided he wouldn’t lose a single man–and he succeeded. That’s right, it ain’t spoilers if it’s in the history books already, people.
Developer: Racdym Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: Playstation 2 ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
The venerable Wizardry series of computer RPGs dates back to the Apple ][e, and fans of the genre have kept the franchise alive through numerous platforms and incarnations. While not always as visibly flashy or innovative as their contemporaries, the games have always provided what is essential to CRPG fans — interesting, deep gameplay. Die-hard CRPG players will be the first to tell you that you can keep your flashy graphics and gimmicks, provided that the dungeons are deep and the character development equally so, so the series has enjoyed good success throughout the years.
Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land continues the franchise’s long-running tradition, extending it to the Playstation 2 console. Entering into a brutal market dominated by the likes of Square’s Final Fantasy X was a gutsy move for a series long-known for its minimalistic approach to gaming, but Atlus manages to present a game that is fun, long-lasting, and provides the best parallel to desktop computer gaming yet to hit the console world.
The first thing likely to strike console gamers are the graphics and sound of the game. The visuals are, as typical for Wizardry, minimal, using hand-painted watercolor stills for character interaction and backgrounds, switching to 3D polygons only for actual dungeon-crawling. The creature models are quite good, and well-animated throughout, but since the game operates in a first-person mode, players will never get to see their own character, and only occasionally will they see their fellow party members, when they appear as the aforementioned watercolor paintings during party interaction. The sound, perhaps the weakest point of the game, is virtually non-existent. Mediocre music clips and no voices at all make for an instantly forgettable aural experience. The game would be better served by providing important interaction as voice, especially since the graphics are minimal enough that DVD space shouldn’t be an issue.
The game shines in its nuts and bolts, however. Character creation provides fairly broad (if fairly standard) options for adventurers, with a second “tier” of classes available only after a certain experience level has been reached. Standard fantasy races are all available (dwarves, elves, gnomes, and hobbits), and the core classes cover the archetypal bases (thief, sorceror, priest, warrior) of the fantasy genre. Once a solitary character has been made, the game begins, and players have the option of acquiring other characters for their party (total of 6 possible). These other characters can either be recruited at the local tavern, or the player can enter the Adventurer’s Guild and make more characters, which then become available at the tavern. There are advantages to both methods, and I had my best success with a mixture of pregenerated hirelings and some I had created myself.
Once you descend into the town’s local dungeon (the only one you will explore during the game), the game shifts to a first-person 3-D perspective, where the player steps the entire party through the dungeon, one 10’x10′ square at a time. Combat is interesting, allowing players to choose from either individual actions for all party members, or the featured “Allied Actions” that combine attacks, defenses, or assistance from multiple characters to achieve a greater effect. Not merely fluff or optional material, mastering the AA system is critical to defeating some of the more impressive enemies in the game, and one’s access to the various AA options is limited by how long the party members have been together, and how well their alignments (good, neutral, or evil) match both the leader’s alignment and the player’s actions. Attack too many friendly creatures, and good-aligned parties will lose access to some Allied Actions. Keep ’em happy, and you steadily gain access to more and more impressive cooperative abilities.
While there is only one town and one dungeon, don’t be fooled into thinking the game is short. The “Labyrinth of Duhan” is incredibly deep, and each level is massive. Some are straight-forward mazes, where the only goal is to find the exit. Others involve some fairly intricate puzzle-solving skills in order to reach the next stairwell down into the depths. While replaying the game, with it’s preset quests for various townspeople, might get a bit repetitive, the various character and party composition options could make for some quite different experiences the second time around.
If you’re a die-hard CRPG player, don’t miss this one. Likewise if you’ve been a fan of Wizardry’s previous games. If, however, you’re looking for something to curb your junkie-like twitching for the next Final Fantasy game, this one might leave you a bit cold. While it doesn’t deliver the pre-rendered and animated thrills of some of the other available titles, Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land is a different approach to console RPGs, reminiscent more of its desktop ancestors than its flashy Japanese contemporaries.
Developer: SquareSoft Publisher: SquareSoft Platform: Playstation 2 ESRB Rating: T (Blood and Violence)
The venerable Final Fantasy franchise, dating back to the now-archaic SNES, has a history of breaking new ground in the gaming industry. Since the coming of the original Playstation, every single title in the series has proven a sales blockbuster, and a much-beloved favorite of gamers everywhere. Final Fantasy X, the first title in the series developed for the Playstation 2, has done it again.
The game is, in a word, staggering. Beautifully rendered, marvelously scored, and splendidly executed, it promises to set a new, higher standard for console game developers. This installment in the series does everything that its predecessors did well, and then it does them better, while improving all elements that previous versions might not have perfected.
Written by: Akiva Goldsman, based on the book by Sylvia Nasar Directed by: Ron Howard Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg
My Advice: Wait for Cable.
John Nash (Crowe) is a guy with ambition. Where his classmates, in his opinion at least, seem to keep coasting along and not making any breakthroughs in their respective fields–he wants to do something innovative in his chosen profession of mathematics. Trouble is, he’s not the most orthodox of mathematicians–or students. With only his roomate (Bettany) at Princeton to keep him relatively sane, he has to find that new idea–but with genius comes a terrible, terrible price.
This is a very puzzling movie, for it seems to fail to engage on any level–and I’ve been trying for a day or so now to figure out exactly where the blame lies. It certainly doesn’t fall on Crowe, who is doing such a bang-up job that at no point did I think, “Hey, it’s that guy from Gladiator!” He is one of my favorite chameleons out there, so no, we don’t want to smack him.
Written by: Michael Mann, Stephen J. Rivele, Eric Roth & Christopher Wilkinson, based on a story by Gregory Allen Howard Directed by: Michael Mann Starring: Will Smith, Jon Voight, Jamie Foxx, Mario Van Peebles, Ron Silver
My Advice: Wait for cable.
Ten years in the life of Cassius Clay (Smith), from his championship win over Sonny Liston (Michael Bentt) to his win against George Foreman (Charles Shufford) in the “Rumble in the Jungle”. During that time, he became heavily involved in Islam, refused to be drafted, had his title stripped from him, and had sex with a whole lot of women.
Something happened to this film. It almost went under when they needed $105 million to make a flick. Why you need that much money for a biopic when the only dollar-heavy star is Will Smith, I have no idea. But I bring all of this to your attention to back me up when I tell you that excesses ruined the film. Excess of editing, excess of characters and cast, excess of no one at the wheel. It feels like a six-hour film that was cut to less than three. And it also feels like they tried to make a film about the time period and not Ali himself. That’s what’s known as “scope creep,” when your original idea gets blown out of proportion and is crushed to death under its own weight.
Written by: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Roger S.H. Schulman & Joe Stillman, based on the book by William Steig Directed by: Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Conrad Vernon
Shrek’s “Revoice Studio,” which allows you to record your own voice into scenes from the film
“Hidden Fun Facts”
“Hilarious Character Interviews”
“DWK: DreamWorks Kids”
Game Swamp: games and activities including Shrek Pinball, Rescue the Princess, Soup Slam, Learn to Draw Shrek, Gingerbread Hangman, Fairy Tale Lanes, Bugs and Slugs, Charming Dragon, Coloring Pages, Color a Scene, Ogre Masks, Pin the Tail on Donkey, & Fire Donkey
Shrek’s Music Room: Smash Mouth “I’m a Believer” music video, Baha Men “Best Years of Our Lives” music video, Making Of the Baha Men video
Favorite Scenes Selection
Audio commentary by Adamson, Jenson and producer Aron Warner
“The Tech of Shrek” featurette
Storyboard pitch of deleted scenes
International dubbing featurette
Character design progression reel
Hints for Shrek Xbox video game
Shrek Karaoke Dance Party
Released by: DreamWorks Region: 1 Rating: PG Anamorphic: Yes
Written by: Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Frances Walsh, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien Directed by: Peter Jackson Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Sean Bean
My Advice: Don’t miss it.
Thousands of years ago, there were a series of rings handed around. These were symbols of great power. But there was a ring forged in secret, in the dark lands of Mordor, by the evil Sauron. Using this ring, Sauron waged war on all of Middle Earth–but was eventually defeated. The ring changed hands a few times, finally winding up in the possession of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). As he plans on retiring from public life, the ring must fall into the hands of his heir, young Frodo (Wood), who is under the protection of the grey wizard Gandalf (McKellen). But once the ring is revealed for what it is, dark forces seek it–and a decision must be made. What does one do with the ultimate corrupting power of the ring?