Gamers definitely want to expand their inventory this holiday. Here's the lowdown on which games score and which fail.
RESISTANCE: FALL OF MAN Platform: PlayStation 3. First-person shooter. Rating: NNN
This game has big shoes to fill as one of the only original titles available at launch for the PS3. You are an American hero in an alternate history in which the Second World War didn't happen and Earth was invaded by aliens. Resistance takes cues from others in its genre and combines them into a solid shooter that's easy to get into and fun to play.
Against grey, moody landscapes that set the tone of despair, you struggle as the sole survivor of your task force to try to stop the alien invasion. The problem here is more the hype around the PS3 than the game itself. Compared to current FPS games on other platforms, Resistance is average at best. It doesn't even begin to harness the power of the PS3, which is incredibly disappointing. The only place the cell processor might be coming into play is with enemy AI, some of the smartest aliens you'll ever fight.
If you're one of the lucky ones who got a PS3, this is must-have game. If you didn't get a PS3, it's not worth the effort or money to get the console right now. RM
GEARS OF WAR Platform: Xbox 360. Sci-fi shooter. Rating: NNNNN
You don't need to be a fan of the shooter genres to appreciate Gears Of War. Within seconds of starting, it draws you in with its cinematic experience and epic storytelling that begin when you're busted out of prison to help a futuristic government force fight off the Locust invasion.
In every way this is an outstanding achievement. Visually, it's unlike anything previously seen on a console. The sound completely draws you into the environment, and the story arc keeps things moving at breakneck speed.
On top of its technical prowess, the gameplay is a blast. Expanding on typical strategies of running into a room and blasting everything in sight, Gears Of War instead relies heavily on the use of cover. You can duck, crouch and shimmy behind pretty much everything in the game as you line up your next target in your sights.
Gears Of War is a captivating experience that has set the bar very high for the current generation of console games. Even if you're not a fan of shooters, you owe it to yourself to at least rent this game. RM
VIVA PINATA Platform: Xbox 360. Virtual life. Rating: NNNN
If you buy this game for your kids, be prepared to fight with them to play it yourself. Don't be fooled by the cute icons and simplistic feel of the introductions. Underneath its colourful facade, Viva Piñata is a deceptively complex game. You are the master of your garden on Piñata Island, a place where piñatas run free and skilled gardeners like yourself raise them to become the greatest party entertainers they can be.
This is a sandbox game along the same lines as The Sims, completely open-ended and leaving it up to you to decide how you want to play the game. Mass-farm one type of piñata or develop a diverse collection of them. Grow fruits and flowers to feed your creatures or sell for profit. Decorate your garden to make it the nicest one on the island. The trick is balancing your garden's design to attract wild piñatas and prepare them for G-rated romance that leads to a stork arriving with an egg that hatches into a baby piñata.
Along the way you'll encounter a handful of characters to help you out. Some will sell you things to build your garden, while others will take on repetitive tasks like watering and collecting fruit to sell.
No matter how your garden grows, everyone in your family will be sure want in on this horticultural experience. RM
TRAUMA CENTER: SECOND OPINION Platform: Wii. Operating simulation. Rating: NNNN
This title from Atlus Co. is a remake of a DS title, Trauma Center: Under The Knife, that appeared late last year. It's an innovative title in its own right, and the jump to the Wii finds many tweaks and control improvements that benefit the game.
Trauma Center is all about a rookie doctor, Derek Stiles, who encounters various medical emergencies: broken bones, bandaging and boils. However, the game is set in the future, and a new engineered virus known as GUILT and some super-doctor powers come into play, catapulting it beyond the emergency room. The dramatic storyline knits the chapters of the game together, and there are new optional side surgeries.
The Wii remote is what makes this game really shine. Most of the tools you'll use feel natural, the most effective example being forceps that require you to press both A and B buttons in the pinching motion you'd use to do the real-life action. Another fun but slightly less true-to-life moment has you use the paddles to revive a patient, a tricky manoeuvre that provides some amusement in the tense situation as you yell "Clear."
Easy to play in short spurts, this is not your typical title, but it's both challenging and entertaining. Grab one and call me in the morning. Doctor's orders. JC
RAYMAN RAVING RABBIDS Platform: Wii. Mini-game action. Rating: NNNN
While the storyline is mostly ignorable, this loosely tied-together string of hilarious mini-games will keep you and your pals perpetually pantomiming away. Rayman throws cows, jumps rope and plungers Rabbids, and the cute and comical violence visited upon these creatures is as fun to perpetrate as it is to observe. You have not lived until you see four adults, with fierce competitive grooves carved into their brows and arms flailing, compete for the distinction of fastest cow-milker.
Amusing little touches to the environment and the actions of the Rabbids between games (I loved Bunnies Are Slow To React) kept me moving through story mode. After completing this portion of the game, you can then play for points to unlock more amusing features and bonuses on score mode.
One interesting element is that you can use the Web codes given during scoring to rank yourself amongst national and international Rabbid players in the Hall of Fame. My current standing of 15th in Canada is rapidly falling as more people hop online.
While I wished for more simultaneous multi-player activities, at least the time-out gives you a chance to rest up for the next round. You'll need it. JC