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MERCENARIES: PLAYGROUND OF DESTRUCTION

Format: Xbox, PS2 Publisher: LucasArts Developer: Pandemic Price: pounds 39.99

All of the best games let gamers do things they could never attempt in reality - climb like Spider-man, seduce the dames like James Bond or skateboard like Tony Hawk. Mercenaries, a third-person action-shooter game set in the near future, lets players unleash their inner anarchic arsonist and is full of opportunities to blow things up in a spectacular fashion. As part of a special-ops team, you have to take down enemies of the state represented in an Iraq-style deck of cards. Each target necessitates a different mission but, thankfully, all involve high-octane explosions - although as well as brute force, you'll have to use strategy wisely to get your man. Graphically, Mercenaries is one of the best Xbox games I've seen and packs an explosive punch. HHHH

DONKEY KONG: JUNGLE BEAT

Format: GameCube Publisher: Nintendo Developer: In-house Price: pounds 39.99 (including bongos)

If you want to be king of the bongos, here's your chance with another Nintendo Donkey Kong Bongos title. Your pounds 40 will buy you the game and your own set of bongos - much like the last title's package, in fact. What's totally different is what these jungle drums do; you control Donkey Kong through 2D landscapes by clapping and beating the bongos. The speed at which you beat determines the speed at which Donkey Kong moves. Beat the left bongo quickly and Donkey Kong takes off running to the left. Reducing your drumming speed causes him to slow down, while whacking the side of the drums makes him attack. What larks! An innovative use of what could have been a one- hit peripheral makes this game worth checking out. HHHH

SECOND SIGHT

Format: PC Publisher: Codemasters Developer: Free Radical Price: pounds 29.99

Released last year on the Xbox, this is now a PC title, so gamers without a Microsoft console can finally make up for lost time. This is an accomplished third- person adventure for oft-neglected PC owners. You play mystery man John Vattic, who wakes up dozy and distressed in a hospital for the mentally ill. As the game progresses you have to uncover why you're there and how to escape, using only your telekinetic powers - John's like a murderous version of Roald Dahl's Matilda, except that he's a bloke and is horribly close to the edge. An excellent title, without the usual ferocious firepower. HHHHH

PURE PINBALL 2.0 REDUX

Format: PC Publisher: Fusion Labs Developer: Iridon Price: pounds 9.99

Who wouldn't love a real, pub-size pinball machine of their own? Alas, since monetary, spatial and spousal factors have to be accounted for before making such a splendid purchase, fans will have to make do with a virtual version. Instead of the wacky array of different tables that usually greet the player in such games, Pure Pinball opts to keep distractions to a minimum. Only three themed tables are on offer, but all look good and the gameplay is more than good enough to make up for a lack of eye candy. The controls are responsive and fast, but the best thing about this game is the price. HHH

CITY OF HEROES

Format: PC Publisher: NCsoft Developer: Cryptic Studios Price: 29.99

If you've never ventured near an MMO (that's a massive multiplayer online game to the uninitiated), you could do a lot worse than try something new with City of Heroes. Mercifully, the usual MMO cast of ogres et al has no place here; instead you start off as a rookie hero in a city awash with crime and gain status by nabbing perps and other anti-social types. There's a reasonably solid back-story supporting the game and while you can play alone, the real key to City of Heroes is getting involved in team play to catch the optimum number of baddies. HHH

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