Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars
For: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, violence)
Game studios have tried for years to wedge real-time strategy games into our console gaming libraries, and the results have ranged from compromised (“Army Men RTS”) to traumatic (“Starcraft 64″).
But between the horsepower and high-definition graphics, this appears to be the generation in which the RTS gets some console cred. Case in point: “Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars,” which not only comes from the genre’s A-list, but also migrates from the PC to the 360 with minimal compromise and no dumbing down whatsoever.
That’s not to say “Wars” usurps its PC cousin. It doesn’t, and as long as the 360 can’t support a keyboard-and-mouse configuration during gameplay, no RTS ever will. You’ll have to be quick with the stick to stay on top of all your units, because clicking on a spot on the map isn’t an option. Neither are time-saving keyboard shortcuts. All this extra control negotiation can conjure temporary moments of panic in a game that’s faster-paced than your average RTS, especially when facing human-controlled armies over Xbox Live.
Still, “Wars” does quite a job with the hand it’s dealt. While commands are never a key press away, they’re rarely more than a button click or two out of reach. Once you achieve some hands-on experience with navigation and develop a sense of how commands are arranged, second nature settles in.
With the control hurdles overcome, “Wars” plays no differently than what PC gamers received barely a month ago. On the right equipment, it looks outstanding. (SDTV owners should prepare to treat their TV like a monitor and sit closely.) The top-notch storyline proves there’s still a place for full-motion video in video games, and the ability to wage campaigns from all three sides of the story — with multiple difficulty settings — is a treat. Slowdown occasionally plagues the action when things get busy, but the 360 proves it’s capable of hosting a top-notch RTS without gimping the experience.
If you’ve checked out the demo on Live, you already know “Wars” has tremendous multiplayer upside. Up to four armies can take the battlefield at once, and “Wars” also offers team play, some familiar alternate modes (capture the flag, king of the hill, territory), and even Vision Camera support. Solo players can somewhat replicate the experience with the Skirmish mode, but it’s not the same thing when no one can see you striking victory poses at your defeated enemies.
For: Playstation 3/Xbox 360 (versions also available for PC, PS2, Wii, PSP, Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance)
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild language, violence, animated blood)
It makes sense that Spider-Man be the best-looking thing about “Spider-Man 3,” seeing how it’s his name on the door.
But the discrepancy between our hero and the rest of his latest game is so stark, you wonder if Spidey himself had a hand in the design. “SM3″ marks the superhero’s first foray into PS3/Xbox 360 waters as the headliner, but his supporting cast seems a bit hesitant to make the upgrade. While this doubtless is the biggest “Spider-Man” game ever, it’s a little too graphically reminiscent of “Spider-Man 2″ to wow gamers the way they’ll want (and probably expect) it to.
In fact, “SM3″ shares a lot in common with its breakthrough predecessor. A bigger-than-ever New York is yours to swing through as you please, and the addition of gang-controlled territory adds some badly-needed weight to the bevy of random crime-fighting missions that await. But the city remains on the lifeless side, and “SM3′s” population feels more disconnected from your actions than ever in light of the lively sidewalks found in “Crackdown” and “Saints Row.” If the novelty of swinging around the city wore off quickly last time, don’t expect a different result this time around.
That leaves the storyline, which leads to more issues — particularly, the unlikely blend of nerve-fraying difficulty and coma-friendly boss battles. Several challenges in “SM3″ involve completing quick-button events or taking on multiple enemies simultaneously, and the game isn’t equipped to handle either particularly well. The frustration these difficulty spikes cause is compounded by unskippable load screens and cut-scenes you’ll have to watch and rewatch each time you fail. The ensuing fear of failure leads you to play it super-safe whenever possible, resulting in overlong boss encounters that lack any stimulation beyond the initial reveal.
With all that said, arguing that “SM3″ isn’t a letdown is impossible. But for those who loved “SM2″ or simply can’t get enough Spidey, the game still offers some upside. Spider-Man’s lengthy combat repertoire makes him fun to control, and symbiote (black) Spidey basically sends the same maneuvers into overdrive, which never is a bad idea. Swinging around Manhattan remains a riot in spite of the aforementioned issues, and the game provides plenty to do beyond pulling your hair out.
Consider yourself warned, though: If you want to experience all the good “SM3″ offers, some difficult times lie ahead. Good luck. As it happens, you’ll need it.
3D Ultra Minigolf Adventures
For: Xbox 360
From: Wanako Studios/Sierra
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: 800 MS Points ($10)
Sometimes a game comes undone by a big, gaping problem that players under no condition can ignore. Other times, a game — oh, say, “3D Ultra Minigolf Adventures” — comes similarly undone not by one big problem, but by numerous tiny ones that add up. It’s easier to ignore trouble when it comes at you in grams rather than pounds, but aggravation eventually catches up to denial.
“Adventures” is as likeable as it isn’t. The game presents miniature golf in three themes — Old West, carnival, outer space — and each is colorful and rich with obstacles true to the sport, environment or both. Just about every hole has some secret hole-in-one tactic waiting to be discovered. Three time-tested control schemes are available, as is four-player support (online or off). “Adventures” even throws in a course editor that’s surprisingly robust for a Live Arcade game.
But “Adventures” comes with as many “buts” as it has features. The themes are put to good use, but the game mixes them together instead of keeping each theme as its own course or tournament. The course designs generally suffice, but each theme has a few holes that either are completely uninspired or dreadfully laid out. The editor is slick, but it’s saddled with a cumbersome interface.
But it’s the controls that, by far, are “Adventures’” biggest little problem. Being able to putt your way is a nice touch, but piling on 200 more control schemes won’t do any good if all of them suffer from the same problem. The line between a chip shot and a power shot is much finer than it should be, and unless you have incredible timing, hitting the ball either way past the hole or far short of it becomes a regular occurrence. It’s possible to tame the issue with practice, but when a $10 game has less intuitive control than some freebie Flash games on the Web, we still have a problem.
All that said and in spite of itself, “Adventures” still manages to be fun. It helps immensely, though, to play with friends rather than solo. The aggravations will grate either way, but at least you can laugh at a friend’s misfortune in between episodes of quietly seething at your own. When you’re battling each other, it’s easier to forget how much you’re battling the game as well.