Games: Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball <br/>The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past <br/>Steel Battalion <br/>Devil May Cry 2 <br/>

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The Independent Online

It's easy to dismiss this game as exploitative and voyeuristic, but it requires more than a cursory look. Stare past the playmates in skimpy bikinis and you'll find a "friendship simulator", pleasingly free from the traditional restraints of objective-driven videogame structures.

Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball (Tecmo Team Ninja, Xbox) £39.99 ****

It's easy to dismiss this game as exploitative and voyeuristic, but it requires more than a cursory look. Stare past the playmates in skimpy bikinis and you'll find a "friendship simulator", pleasingly free from the traditional restraints of objective-driven videogame structures. Your time on Zack Island can be spent relaxing by the pool, playing volleyball, purchasing gifts for the other girls or losing your money at the casino – the holiday vibe is well conveyed. The game doesn't take itself too seriously, and you could even replace the female protagonists with grizzly bears without spoiling the gaming experience. Beneath the "pretty-lady" aesthetic lies a distinctly fresh and encouraging direction for videogaming.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Nintendo, Game Boy Advance) £29.99 *****

Originally released in 1992 for Nintendo's SNES system, A Link to the Past has retained its position within videogaming circles as one of the finest adventures ever programmed. What's more, squeezing the expansive world of Hyrule and its inhabitants into one of the portable GBA console's diminutive cartridges, and displaying the action on the unit's miniature screen, doesn't diminish the experience. The game's beautifully crafted environment, delicately designed conundrums and exquisitely balanced dynamics are a joy, and there's even room on the cartridge for a dungeon-based, multiplayer bonus game, Four Swords. Unquestionably, though, the main draw remains A Link to the Past.

Steel Battalion (Capcom, Xbox) £129.99 ***

The price above is not a misprint. This mech combat simulator comes with the most impressive peripheral yet seen on a home console: a gargantuan replica of a mech cockpit control unit, with two joysticks, three pedals and 50-odd switches. Mastering these takes a while, but the resulting level of immersion is unrivalled. However, while Steel Battalion has its moments, the potential of the overall gaming experience is hampered by a rigid reliance on prescribed goals and linear design.

Devil May Cry 2 (Capcom, PlayStation 2) £39.99 ***

This sequel to last year's gothic-themed tale of the demon-slayer Dante introduces a new wave of evil spirits to dispose of, as well as an additional disc that allows the adventure to be played from the perspective of a second character. Using Dante's sword and weapon selection, the emphasis on style when dispatching enemies remains, enhanced by some extra acrobatic moves. Still, the game lacks the kind of innovation you'd expect from a high-profile sequel. It's good, but a little too familiar.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Raven Shield (Red Storm, PC) £34.99 ****

Unreal Engine technology allows Red Storm to increase authenticity levels, but the gaming formula of this latest instalment in the popular, Tom Clancy-licensed titles sticks to the strategic and squad-based schtick of its predecessors. Meticulous planning before sorties is needed to keep your team alive, even if lapses in artificial intelligence can lead you to wonder if it's worth the effort. Raven Shield doesn't bring anything new to the tactical first-person shooter table, but it does what it does well.

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