By Matthew Scott Hunter
‘Alan Wake’ (T)
The extra time pays off
Microsoft Game Studios
Alan Wake probably wishes he wrote romance novels. At least he does now that his latest horror story — one he doesn’t remember writing — seems to be coming true. His wife has mysteriously disappeared, possessed townsfolk stalk him from every dark corner of the forest and each page he recovers from his forgotten manuscript only contains vague spoilers about the horrific encounters waiting just around the bend. This is the premise of “Alan Wake” — a “psychological action thriller” that’s spent many years in development. Thankfully, that extra time has paid off.
The game drips with atmosphere. The characters are bizarre and memorable, and the scenery is, at once, gorgeous and creepy. The shadows in the forest make your eyes play tricks on you, and often you won’t be sure until the last second if you’re looking at a tree branch or an unfriendly arm wielding something sharp. If it’s the latter, you’ll have to act fast — vaporizing your enemy’s shadowy armor with the beam of your flashlight before finishing the person underneath with a more conventional firearm. The team that brought us “Max Payne” knows how to do action, and every battle is tense while remaining fluid. It all leads to a conclusion that’s a little abrupt and unsatisfying, but is clearly intended to set up a sequel. Let’s hope Alan blacks out and writes this one a lot faster than the first.
“Lost Planet 2” is all about co-op play, so if you have a few friends with nimble thumbs, who enjoy exterminating aliens as much as you do, then climb into your mech and get started. However, if you prefer to do your running and gunning solo, you’re better off sticking with the first “Lost Planet.” Someone forgot to give your A.I. teammates brains, which means you’ll have no one to assist you when a giant bug knocks you down and won’t let you get back up (which happens a lot). And since levels are long and save points are few and far between, you’ll be looking at some tiresomely lengthy battle sessions.
Developer Renegade Kid was the first to discover how well first-person shooters can work on the DS, and they seem to be the only developer that remembers that discovery. Their third portable FPS handles beautifully (as usual), and as an added bonus, it even has a fairly engrossing story. You awaken in a dark, dilapidated hospital and investigate the mystery of who you are and how you got there. Your flashlight stretches the graphical power of the DS to its limits, but the frame-rate remains steady, even when all the first-person stabbing and shooting begins.
Why must the PSP insist on biting off more than it can chew? Porting “FIFA World Cup” to UMD is like holding the actual World Cup in an elementary school soccer field: There simply isn’t room. The PSP version makes a doomed effort to keep up with its console brethren, including virtually every mode, but the player models look bad, the action handles sluggishly and the whole enterprise doesn’t feel remotely like the world’s biggest sporting event.