Unless you're one of the eternally damned who sold their soul to the devil in order to secure Christmas delivery of the new PlayStation 2, there's not much chance you'll be able to scrape one up this late in the game. Most retailers can't even estimate when they'll receive new stock, due primarily to shortages of key system components in Japan. Of course, a PS2 can always be had on eBay for a mere $300 to $1,000 over the manufacturer's suggested retail cost of $299.99. An astronomical price for the average consumer, sure, but that kind of chump change is a bargain for war-hungry third-world countries, who are barred from receiving shipment of the ultra-sleek, charcoal-colored platform. According to an April Reuters report, Japanese military analysts have determined that the Sony PS2 is so powerful it could potentially be configured to run a missile guidance system. That warning enough should encourage parents to think twice when their kids announce plans to destroy the world during dinner chatter on an idle Tuesday evening. Not to be outdone, U.S. technology stables are releasing Intel's Pentium 4 processors. With this new computing horsepower, gamers will have little trouble blasting through even the newest high-detail, graphics-heavy selections already hitting the shelves this holiday season. Below you'll find just a handful of some of the most anticipated titles that are making a good case for a slot on this year's soon-to-be-released top 10 PC games lists.
Ask film director Renny Harlin (Cutthroat Island) about the dangers of producing pirate movies, and he might very delicately usher you away from the genre. There's not been a great tradition of runaway blockbuster hits in either the film or game market for stories of swashbuckling and ocean-going mayhem. In fact, you might have to sail all the way back to Sid Meier's Pirates! to qualify a truly respectable high-seas adventure epic. But with the buzz surrounding the launch of Sea Dogs, from Moscow-based Akella, gamers are starting to get that old feeling again. Here we have what looks like a deeply immersive role-playing experience that also folds in white-knuckled naval combat and strategy galore. With nonlinear campaigns that allow players to take a hold of (or relinquish) their last breath, this overseas import, which sports some 20 ship types of the British, French, and Spanish variety, just might have enough juice to revive old Yellow Beard himself.
Escape From Monkey IslandLucasArts/PC/$39.99/Teen
If crack U.S. super-spy MacGyver ever dropped acid whilst reading a Sherlock Holmes novel, his perception of reality might very well match the looking-glass landscape of Escape From Monkey Island. Much like its oddball predecessors, this fourth installment in the Monkey chain promotes a Jedi Knight, nonviolent philosophy of dealing with stress and difficulty. As the infamous, happy-go-lucky pirate Guybrush Threepwood (a moment of silence please), it's your job this go-around to thwart a plot by a power-hungry land baron who aims to snatch up the precious estate of your ever-dutiful wife, the Baroness Elaine Marley. Worried parents should rejoice in a game that glorifies brainpower over gun powder.
Giants: Kabuto CitizenInterplay Productions/PC/$39.99/ Mature
Once you struggle past the nonsensical title of this real-time strategy offering from Interplay, what you will discover is that at its most basic level, it is a massive multiplayer game of rock, paper, scissors. That's not meant as an insult, mind you, but rather as a way to complement the rather simplistic game design of this singularly amusing, beautifully rendered alien epic. You can forget the days of Age of Empires micro-management, because with its revolutionary user interface, Giants takes all the middle management out of the genre while still maintaining a three-species StarCraft resilience for story intrigue. And speaking of intrigue, what could be more inviting than crashlanding on a planetary asteroid hurtling through time and space upon which unknown adventure awaits?
As any disciple of the Star Trek TV shows will attest, both the advantage and the handicap of constructing a game from such a well-established universe is, well, that it's a well-established universe. Right away, with any such Trek title, players begin to pick apart the inconsistencies that might pop up on their view screens. Does the U.S.S. Defiant fire on all thrusters? Does the DS9 space station appear just as grand? Does it simulate TV dimensions? Does the voice talent of the onscreen characters match that of the real actors? And most importantly, do the character bodies and faces reasonably match? With Deep Space Nine -- The Fallen, developer The Collective labored long and hard to create what is, by all accounts, a surprisingly near-approximation of the ST: DS9 universe. With the ability to play from multiple-character perspectives, dead-on special effects and sound replication, and a lustrously created, smoothly flowing space setting, The Fallen is a feast for the eyes. Set in years past when the DS9 space station was still pressed under the ashen thumb of the evil Cardassians, The Fallen warps players into a high-tension story that centers on discovering the plot behind a dangerous Cardassian science experiment and the mystery of recently unearthed alien artifacts. Filled with the requisite number of fully functional tricorders, hand phasers, and related paraphernalia, the only real disappointment of this Unreal-powered, graphics-laden, third-person shooter is that it never divulges one of the longest standing mysteries of the DS9 world: How does Lt. Commander Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) manage to slink her curves into such a tightly fitting, crushed velvet uniform?
From its psychedelic-funk, pastel-splashed box cover to its ravishing set design and devil-may-care storyline, No One Lives Forever shares more of a kindred spirit with Mike Myers' Austin Powers than any other PC game that's come before it. With a spark borrowed from the 1965 secret agent spoof Our Man Flint, NOLF's central protagonist, the well-appointed bombshell blonde Cate Archer, heats up the scene like a spy who has no intention of coming in from the cold. Of course, the story stands only ankle-high in what amounts to all the complexity of your typical Get Smart episode, but, hey, Tom Clancy be damned, that's the point of this particular spy spoof. It's just silly fun. You've got your good guys: UNITY (an international anti-terrorist group). And you've got your bad guys: H.A.R.M. (a group of evil crusaders bent on stirring up chaos). And like so many of the Q gadget-filled Bond movies NOLF also draws upon, it's your job to stop the bad guys with a certain flair for the dramatics. All that withstanding, it should be noted that NOLF is by no means a simplistic, paint-by-numbers, first-person shooter. Its ample weapons arsenal, revamped LithTech 2.5 engine, and 60 game levels produce a rather elegant and graphics-rich experience.
Pop open a tallboy, slip into your wifebeater, and unfurl a lawn chair in front of your PC, because ladies and gents, it's drag racin' time! That's right, folks, hot on the heels of its ever-popular Hot Rod Magazine's Championship Drag Racing title, Bethseda Softworks presents another heart-pounding, rubber-burnin' title complete with some of the most richly detailed weather and atmospheric effects this side of Need For Speed: High Stakes. Featuring nine IHRA-sanctioned tracks, as well as a spectrum of top-rated muscle cars like Top Fuel, Pro Mod, and Alcohol Funny Car, IHRA Drag Racing puts players behind the wheels of some of the most bizarre and powerful racing vehicles ever concocted by an ostensibly sober engineer. Truly a well-crafted piece of virtual machinery, this hyper-charged racing entry is built upon a chassis of awe-inspiring detail. With both late model and classic ignitions at your fingertips, and more than 70 vehicle components, including aerodynamics, suspension, tires, blowers, and nitrous injections to be tinkered with, this little sucker is primed and ready to grab the checkered flag, knock out the knocks, and redline any road-dazed competition that might stray across lane.
Once you step into the world of Sacrifice, prepare to be forever changed, for this is a visionary real-time strategy game that often functions like an RPG and entertains like a Greek comedy. Imagine a commingling of Dune and Labyrinth trotting down the yellow brick road and you'll begin to understand what's been conjured up here by the masters at Shiny Entertainment. Akin to its weird-world predecessor MDK, Sacrifice transforms you into a novice wizard who must trudge his way through a foreign arena constructed in a rough approximation of Mount Olympus, all of which is infested by a whole cast of petty gods who demand you do their bidding. And so out into a scarred battlefield Earth you are cast to complete all manner of missions and engage in epic battles with some of the most bizarre creatures this side of Tatooine. With more than 50 spells at your disposal and some rather delightful "alternative means" of smiting your enemies, you may be compelled to give up your job, home life, and any of those "meaningful" relationships you've been wasting your time on until now.
For anyone who thinks they'd find little interest in a spot of tea in Wonderland, think again, for American McGee's Alice is no simple fairly tale rehash. From its gorgeously created landscapes to its meticulously conjured soundtrack (by former Nine Inch Nail Chris Vrenna), this third-person shooter is far from a maddened plot to simply capitalize on Lewis Carroll's most famous tale. It is instead something entirely fresh. Something entirely original. And, make no mistake about it, something entirely dark. So before parents send their kiddies packing for a what they might mistake as a light-hearted romp through the Mad Hatter's Domain, it might be advisable to take to heart the advertisement for this game: "Alice has grown up. And so has Wonderland."
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