Far Cry 2 (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC) Rating: NNNNN
It's tough to be Far Cry 2 in this season of sequels. With Gears Of War 2 and Resistance 2 both out, you have to really fight to make an impression. Far Cry 2 does this in spades. Last season's visual stunner, Mass Effect, looks like a napkin sketch by comparison.
You're in present-day Africa, dropped between two warring factions and the foreign arms dealer fuelling them. As an unbiased mercenary for hire, you quickly get involved with both factions. Or you can work for a number of rebels who become your friends and will save you when you take too many hits. Choose from a variety of missions at any time, follow the main story, acquire merchandise for the local gun dealer or receive secretive cellphone calls to guide you to your next task.
Environments are dense with superbly rendered textures and foliage, alive with natural life. It's easy to forget you're in a war-torn country surrounded by poverty and destruction. For multi-player battles there's a built-in map editor to build rich terrain to share with your friends online. Far Cry 2 stands above the rest with solid gameplay and a visual environment like no other.
Available for $59.99 at Future Shop (10 Dundas and other locations), 416-971-5377.
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (Nintendo DS) Rating: NNNN
The last place most people expected to see Sonic the Hedgehog appear next was in an RPG on the Nintendo DS. And who expected storytelling masters Bioware to do the development? As unlikely a formula as this may seem, the result is top- notch.
Sonic finds himself wandering in the Green Hill Zone, where animals have become hostile and mysterious robots have appeared. As he encounters friends who join him, Sonic learns about a number of evil events and sets out to return things to normal.
The game plays like a classic Japanese RPG, with plenty of combat and cheesy dialogue. Borrowing from Elite Beat Agent, special combat moves are performed by touching the stylus in sync with a series of taps and slides. Hit all the patterns and your move succeeds, or use the same moves to defend against enemy attacks. Probably the best feature not inherited from other RPGs is the appearance of enemies on the map so they can be avoided, rather then constantly subjecting players to random attacks.
Bioware makes the simple conversations interesting by incorporating the rich dialogue trees it's known for in, for example, Knights Of The Old Republic. Sonic can be as nice or as sassy as you want, with certain options affecting the flow of the game. The rings Sonic collects are used to buy armour - like better sneakers - and other beneficial items.
Sonic's fan base will be happy with this new variant on the classic game, and RPG fans will find this one of the more satisfactory experiences on the DS.
Available for $34.99 at Best Buy (65 Dundas and other locations), 416-642-8321.
Scene It? Box Office Smash (Xbox 360) Rating: NNN
Are you the movie buff who shouts out the answers to those trivia questions they screen before the movie starts? Then pull up a couch and some friends - real or virtual - and play a few rounds of Scene It? Box Office Smash.
Gameplay is simple. Questions are all multiple choice, one answer per controller button. Scene It's variety of puzzles makes it really shine. There's the stuff you expect, like watching a clip and answering some questions, but it's the unique puzzles that keep it fresh. The best one has to be Pixel Flix. You guess the movie based on an 8-bit pixel animation. Imagine squarish Orcs being trampled by squarish tree Ents in front of two squarish towers and you get the idea.
Online play means you don't have to skip this game just because you're home alone. Downloadable content and a tracking system that logs the challenges you've played will keep things fresh for a while.
Next time your friends come over, don't throw the guitars and drumsticks in their laps right away. Give them a chance to be better than you at something for a change and play Scene It.
Available for $39.99 at Future Shop (10 Dundas and other locations), 416-971-5377.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (Nintendo DS) Rating: NN
While the formula isn't new, the side-scrolling Castlevania series on the DS has been a lot of fun. Until now.
Order Of Ecclesia starts its heroine off with memory loss and an almost simple-minded single-purposed zombie personality. While I love good level design, I found most of the lemming-like tasks of trying to defeat an enemy boring and repetitious. It's as if the creators decided to make things harder but not more challenging.
I got the most excitement slogging through this game when I discovered that her special attack changes with the kind of glyphs you're equipped with. So I went from a cloud-like spray to a swordlike jab, which made enemies much quicker to defeat.
But the lack of good use-of-weapon progression and some coherence to the levels make this a lacklustre entry in the series.
Available for $29.99 at Best Buy (65 Dundas and other locations), 416-642-8321.