Resident Evil 4 for GameCube, $59.99. Rating: NNNNN
If there's a gaming genre that was in serious need of an overhaul, it was survival horror.
The Resident Evil games, once fresh and original on the PlayStation, have changed very little over the years, stubbornly clinging to terrible control schemes, fixed camera perspectives and idiotic game-saving methods. Resident Evil 4 changes all that, not just revitalizing the genre in the process, but reinventing it.
Capcom completely rethinks the survival horror experience, delivering a masterpiece that will no doubt set the stage for a revival of the genre. Everything you hated about the previous games is gone - and everything you loved is cranked up to an insane level.
Gone are the pre-rendered backgrounds and awkward camera angles. The game is now rendered from an over-the-shoulder viewpoint that gives you a great view of the action. The clunky controls are gone as well, replaced with intuitive, accurate analog control.
And say goodbye to stupid, slow zombies. This time up, you're blasting away at hordes of crazed villagers and cultists - and they're smart. The AI is amazing: enemies work together, build traps, climb ladders and jump over obstacles. Best of all, it still feels like an RE game, with all the scares and gore you'd expect. The visuals are some of the best you'll see on any console, and push the GameCube to unprecedented heights.
Pick it up, turn out the lights, crank up the sound and call in sick tomorrow. It's going to be a long night.
Xbox's new king
Mechassault 2: Lone Wolf for Xbox, $59.99. Rating: NNN
Launching with Xbox live, the first Mechassault was a stellar showcase for the online multiplayer potential of the Xbox.
Since then, games like Halo 2 have pushed the online gaming envelope, and fans of the series have been craving a sequel. Mechassault 2 has finally arrived, promising to both recapture its title as the king of online Xbox gaming and deliver a solid single-player experience. The results are hit-and-miss.
The single player hasn't been improved much. The story is forgettable, told in abysmal cut scenes you'll want to skip as fast as you can hit the A button. Most of the levels are incredibly linear and pretty easy, and the whole thing is over in well under 10 hours. Sigh.
The multiplayer game, however, is where MA2 shines. The best new feature is that it lets the player wear battle armour, a small mechanized suit that gives you the ability to hijack mechs from other players. It's a blast to do, adds some welcome strategy to the game and for the first time lets you appreciate how truly enormous these machines are. The sense of scale is amazing.
Mechassault 2 is loaded with cool new vehicles and mechs, the awesome battle armour and loads of great multiplayer modes, including Conquest, a persistent multiplayer world where clans constantly battle to control 40 planets.
Highly recommended for anyone seeking killer multiplayer action. Those without a Live account should probably rent this one first.