Get Your Game On

When the PlayStation 2 debuted last year, it was largely all hype and not enough substance. Incredible specs couldn't cover up the fact that the system lacked good games that could show off its capabilities. Nevertheless, a short supply and the incredible demand for the system were enough to allow PS2s to fly off the shelves, making it one of the fastest selling consumer electronic products in history.

However, any skeptics of the PlayStation phenomenon should look no further: Everyone who was wondering where all the good PS2 games are will be bombarded with tons of killer titles this holiday season. Publishers have been waiting for the PS2 to reach a "critical mass," the point at which enough hardware is out there to propel higher software sales. While that moment has arrived, the downside is that it comes at an incredibly inopportune time.

Since the PS2 was in such short supply early on, all the good games were kept on "coming soon" lists. But now that the holiday season is here (as well as the impending releases of Microsoft's Xbox and the Nintendo GameCube), the floodgates have opened. Sony will release 125 new PS2 games between October and December, making this holiday season the most competitive ever in video game history. Not only will PS2 titles be competing against games from the new systems, but they'll be competing against each other as well. While this may make your gaming decisions a little trickier, have no fear: Recess has compiled a brief list of some of the best.

Devil May Cry: Arguably the best action game for PlayStation 2 right now, Devil May Cry allows you to control Dante, a half-human, half-demon son of a legendary dark knight whose arch-nemesis has risen from the dead. As you progress through the game's dark gothic underworld, you'll battle all sorts of crazy looking demons and freakish monsters. Armed with a sword and dual pistols, you can blast them John Woo style while pulling outrageous combos with other weapons. While the visuals and presentation and top-notch, what makes this game a classic is the incredibly intuitive and entertaining control scheme. This is one of the few 3D games that captures the relentlessly fast and free-flowing gameplay that made 2D games so fun. Do yourself a favor and try it now.

Grand Theft Auto 3: Perhaps the game most deserving of its "mature" rating on the market today, Grand Theft Auto 3 still remains a blast to play, as long as you don't find the subject matter offensive. You play a small-time crook who gets mixed up in dealings with crime lords and the mafia. Unlike the prequels, GTA3 is entirely 3D, and since Liberty City is enormous, the possibilities are practically limitless. The gameplay has been entirely reinvented as well. As the title suggests, more often than not the storyline revolves around rather violent acts of crime, and if you choose to stray from the mission and go on a crime-spree of your own, it could become an absolute bloodbath. The game also features voice talent by Hollywood notables such as Joe Pantoliano. If you're a fan of the originals or movies like Goodfellas and Heat, you'll probably love this game, as well as Rockstar's other new release, the car-chase thriller Smuggler's Run 2.

Act Combat 4: Ace Combat 4 is as close to Top Gun as you can get without getting a pilot's license. Perhaps the best air-combat game on any home system right now, Ace Combat 4 is the latest in Namco's bestselling franchise. Overall, it's a highly enjoyable simulator that blends together arcade action with a graphic novel storyline that's typically reserved for games in other genres.

There will definitely be moments in this game when you won't believe you're playing a video game instead of watching a movie. Little touches like "shaky-cam" replays and static-riddled dialogue between you and your co-pilots simulate the feel of watching a war documentary of your heroic missions, and being able to choose 21 real-world flyable aircraft creates endless opportunities.

Time Crisis 2: Fans of arcade light-gun games should look no further, as Namco's arcade classic Time Crisis 2 has been ported over to the PS2. While the three-year-old arcade version is dated by today's standards, the home version has been spiced up a little bit and still remains fun to play. Although the story is weak, the gameplay is incredibly fast-paced and tight. As the title implies, in order to advance, you must defeat all your adversaries in a certain time frame. The game is packaged with Namco's own light-gun, called the GunCon2, which was surprisingly dead accurate when tested, unlike other light-gun peripherals on the market. A cool feature is the ability to link two PlayStation2s together for two-player action. Or if you feel really cocky, you can play with two GunCons for some double-fisted Die Hard-style fun.

Madden 2002: Football fans should rejoice, as EA made last year's fantastic Madden Football 2001 even better in several categories. Aside from visual improvements, there's a 30-year franchise mode, as well as a new "situation" mode that allows you to put your players into almost any foreseeable scenario. There are extensive general-manager functions that allow you to do everything from creating a player to managing an entire team. The game plays almost identically to last year's version, including the momentum-based physics system that accounts for the weight and the speed of the players. If you're a football fan, this is a no-brainer. It's just as fun as last year's and will definitely keep you and your buddies busy for a while.

NASCAR Thunder 2002: While Nascar games have generally been lackluster on home consoles, EA's Nascar Thunder 2002 is a respectable effort that incorporates a slew of upgrades and adjustments to last year's Nascar 2001. A nice memorial to Dale Earnhardt opens the game, after which you can choose a variety of racing options. There is a plethora of cars and tracks to choose from, all modeled after their real-world counterparts. Even though it's a lightweight simulation, the game's graphics are rather disappointing. The visuals are often pixelated and blocky just like last year's, and the frame-rate suffers when too many cars appear on screen simultaneously. Nevertheless, the sound in the game is incredible: Skidding tires, collision sounds, and even your pit crew will give you invaluable advice on whom to watch out for.

NHL 2002: NHL 2002 is video game hockey at its finest, making its predecessor seem like a joke by comparison. Aside from the amazing visuals and audio, little touches have been added to really make the game more authentic. The biggest improvement from last year's version is the elimination of the terrible frame-rate slowdown that occurred when too much action was on the screen. There's now a 10-year franchise mode, as well as an extensive card system that's also used in the Madden games. You can even create players and sign them to a team or track the development of a game via the EA Game Story. The game introductions are simply awesome and will likely elicit "oohs" and "ahhs" from anyone you play with. As of now, it's certainly the deepest, most realistic 3D hockey game money can buy.

Spy Hunter: Remember the old-school Nintendo classic that we all loved and enjoyed? Midway has produced a solid update that adds some unique touches to the franchise without losing the elements that made Spy Hunter such a classic. The story is straight out of a James Bond type movie: You are the lone superspy sent on a mission to prevent an evil corporation called Nostra from draining the globe of electrical power. To accomplish your mission you control a high-tech supercar called the Interceptor that's equipped with weapons and morphing capabilities. However, unlike the original Spy Hunter, just blowing things up will no longer suffice, as you'll have to accomplish primary and secondary mission objectives. And; of course, what would Spy Hunter be without the classic Peter Gunn theme? It returns intact, with new interpretations by metal bands like Saliva.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty: Last but not least is the game that everyone has been waiting for. Several years in the making, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty has all the qualities of a classic. You play Solid Snake, a government spy sent to uncover the secret behind a weapon called Metal Gear Ray. Unlike many action games of its genre, MGS2 stresses the stealth aspect of tactical espionage, rather than overt violence. MGS2 raises the bar for video games in both gameplay and visuals. It's one of the few games that represent the next generation of video gaming, integrating elements of cinema and strategy successfully with perhaps the most incredible graphics and storyline ever created for a home game. Without a doubt, this will be a game people will continue to talk about for years, just like the original. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout the storyline, and, as the recent playable demo has shown, the game does a fantastic job of immersing you in its intense scenarios, leaving you with an unforgettable experience every time you play.


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