Cruncharcade: Frag Time

While early summer is typically that time when video game releases slow down a bit, this year a few notable titles are showing up (plus there a couple of games that might have slipped through the cracks) This week we look at the games that will have you lock ‘n loading as you face off in some high intensity shooters. We’re also finally starting to see what Vista means for gamers, and whether the PC can compete with the consoles in games that push frame rates, show off the latest visual enhancements including textures and lighting effects.

But as we just wrapped up a weeklong look at video game content, we have to be responsible and say that not all of the following titles should be considered appropriate for all ages. Here’s a look at some recent and upcoming games that will let you get your frag on.

ESRB: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
Platform: PS3 (plus PC and Xbox 360)
Stop me if you’ve been here before: top secret covert government facility doing only god knows what, well-stocked arsenal of kick-ass weapons to fight god knows what and a force of monstrous creatures from god only knows where. In the minor hit F.E.A.R. you took the role of a black ops team leader facing an unworldly threat like no other – except that could be the set up for only about only a dozen or so other franchises. But when this one arrived on the PC it was many things that Doom3 should have been, a game that mixed intense action with stealth based sneaking around dark corridors while you waited for something truly horrific to jump out at you. It even made for a decent port to the Xbox 360.

Last month F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon) made its arrival on the PlayStation 3, and it almost feels like the developers sadly just phoned it in. There is some cool additional single player content that is new for the PS3, but the graphics are far from next gen, and some recent PlayStation 2 titles (notably God of War) actually look better. Worse the game stutters at times thanks to a rather poor frame rate, while long load times break the tension that the plot builds on.

Considering the power of the PS3 as a system, notably on the video end, and this is more than a disappointment. It almost feels like it is part of a bigger, and possibly sinister conspiracy. Either that or the developers just got lazy.

Halo 2
ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Violence, Language)
Platform: PC (Windows Vista)
All the recent hype might be on the upcoming Halo 3 for the Xbox 360, which arrives this fall for the Xbox 360. But that doesn’t mean you can’t suit up again as the Master Chief this summer. After a short delay Halo 2 for Windows Vista will arrive this week, and will be among the very first games to show off what Microsoft’s new operating system can do.

For players of the Xbox version the game will look similar – at times disturbingly similar right down to the A/B and X/Y buttons prompts that appear onscreen. And you might almost feel like you’re playing the Xbox version because things are so shockingly similar (but what should we really have expected), and as with the original Halo when it made the jump to the PC the controls already feel easier, making for a quicker and faster paced experience.

We shouldn’t be disappointed by the lack of anything new. However, what caused the delay? That makes us just a bit nervous what about game development for Vista offers. Let’s hope this was just a minor glitch. And when you gear up to take on the Covenant, you’ll want to try it at a harder level, unless of course you just like to max out the enemy body count.

ESRB: Blood, Intense Violence
Platforms: PC (Windows Vista), Xbox 360
Everything is about to change next month when two unique entities come together. After a 5,000-year absence, magic makes a return, but of course the world does react so well. Megacorporations try to take greater control, citizens are worried about the environment around them and there is rabid fear of people who are different… OK, so the world isn’t that different after all, except for the fact that magic is real and a war is being waged behind the scenes.

Based on the popular paper and dice roleplaying game, Shadowrun mixes hack and slash fantasy adventure with the neon lights and seamy cyberpunk settings. In this upcoming shooter you can play as a human, elf, dwarf or troll, but ditch the long cloak and staff in favor of a well-cut suit and machine gun. This first-person shooter features traditional elements of the game, where you can “enhance” your character with cybernetic modifications to give you the edge you’ll need to complete this epic adventure. The setting of the game should make fans of the paper version will feel right at home, but as the action is essentially limited to the run-and-gun moments it loses the roleplaying charms of Shadowrun rather quickly. But we can hope this is the start of a new franchise, because a Dungeon Siege styled Shadowrun could be something to really get excited about.

The merging of the two worlds isn’t limited to the action on-screen either. Shadowrun is set to be the first Xbox 360 and Windows Vista games that will be available, and playable cross platform. Up to 16 players will have the ability connect via the Live service to do battle with deadly spells, high-tech gadgets or just plain out brute heavy metal firepower.

Hour of Victory
Midway Games
ESRB: Rating Pending
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
The exploits of the “greatest generation” continue to set the backdrop when it comes to war games. In the case of Hour of Victory, this upcoming WWII shooter takes more of an “Indiana Jones” look at WWII than Saving Private Ryan, but this should make for some needed freshness, considering the lackluster gameplay of the latest Call of Duty title.

So, do you prefer the direct approach where you run and gun your way through fiercely defended enemy positions, or would you rather use stealth to sneak up on the enemy? Of course you stay at a safe distance and play it as a sniper to see if one shot does in fact equal one kill. In this World War II first-person shooter you get to choose from three very different characters, and whether you’ll go for the direct approach or would prefer a more subtle method is left up to you. Set in the North African and European theaters you’ve got your work cut out for you, but the ability to switch between a British Commando, Army Ranger and OSS operative lets you take a variety of paths, and makes for a game with endless re-playability making for a world war that is without end.

Made Man
ESRB: Mature (Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language)
Platform: PC, PlayStation 2
Remember how after The Sopranos became a hit there were efforts by the networks to come out with their own “gangster” dramas. Most were the kind where you’d rather go into witness protection than have to endure watching. Well, Made Man is sort of along the same line. You play an upcoming mob soldier named Joey, who is on the verge of becoming a made guy, and most of the story takes place in flashback as you relive those moments that put you on the fast track to getting noticed.

And while it is a game about “family” (as in mob, mafia, this thing of ours, La Costa Nosta, etc.), this is also one of those games that probably shouldn’t be considered family friendly. Joey might be the game’s “hero,” but he’s far from a nice guy. Plus Made Man’s creators clearly were fans of The Sopranos and other gangster tales because they’ve attempted to out do them. The result is an over-the-top game with sex, drugs and graphic violence that even mature players might find too intense. Shock value for shock value’s sake.

About the only good thing to say about this one is that the setup is good. The rest of the game should be sleeping with the fishes. The gameplay is a confusing mess, made worse because it seems there might be holes in Joey’s story (is he holding something back or did the developers get lazy), and the graphics aren’t all that pretty. Throughout the game you take on two kinds of rival mobsters: the brain dead thugs who couldn’t hit a barn with a bazooka and the super sniper/shooters that seem to be from some other game. This adds to the mess that is Made Man. They say the books are only open when it comes time to bring in new members, but this time the books should just be nailed shut!

Rainbow Six: Vegas
ESRB: Mature (Blood, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes)
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
And in case you’re avoiding the sun this summer, here’s one you may have missed that are most certainly worth a look: Rainbow Six Vegas. Because what happens in Vegas… stays in Vegas. This is especially true if you’re a terrorist looking to seize control of the large strip casinos while taking the various gamblers hostage.

While this begs the question as whether the dealers actually stop collecting chips long enough to notice the arrival of various masked intruders, it makes for a unique change of scenery for those looking to play as the infamous counter-terrorist team known as Rainbow. As the “six,” or leader you’ll guide the team into the casino and clean out the bad guys through a series of missions in this squad-based first-person shooter. The large casino setting ups the ante in more ways than one, and it won’t be easy going with all those cameras to worry about, but this just adds to the thrills. So who wants to bet on the terrorists?