LOS ANGELES — The videogame universe continues to expand, with players facing a dizzying array of choices. In order to help parents and family members who may not be up on the latest videogames, we're beginning a quarterly feature that looks at some of the better-known games. These reviews, which aren't intended to be comprehensive, will evaluate the quality of the game experience and try to help a potential buyer determine how appropriate a videogame might be for various age groups.
For all platforms (PC, Xbox, Gamecube, and PS2)
Based on the movie franchise, this highly anticipated new version includes all five of the Star Wars movies. You can enter as a rebel or Imperial soldier, a clone, droid, or any other major character in the saga. You can also play in any time period of the film's storyline. The modes are: historical campaign, galactic conquest, or instant action.
In the historical campaign mode, you can live out all the movies. In galactic mode, you are working to conquer all planets on the map. For those who can't get enough of Lucas's worlds, this is an absorbing exploration of the Star Wars universe, but one that can still be played in small bites of time.
Note that the action and graphics can be a bit choppy if you are playing on a huge screen, but overall the game play is very satisfying and a nice companion to the DVD set of the first three films.
Rated Teen for movie-style violence
For the Game Boy Advance : These two games are by far the most graphically advanced of the series. The game play is easier but with more activities, such as new destinations. More monsters populate these games - 235 to be precise - giving players a whole new world of Pokémon monsters to catch and train. Most of the moves and character abilities from earlier versions are still here, but revisited with better graphics. For parents looking for an entertaining universe without the intense mock-warfare of so many games, the Pokémon world is a good alternative. In order to play, you have to learn and strategize the many abilities and moves of the now-386 Pokémon monsters. Hey, the periodic table of the elements only has 109.
Rated E for Everyone.
This update to the most popular PC game of all time is a more advanced version of the original game - more ways to tailor your Sim, more neighborhoods, more faces, even more clothes. Game highlights include expanded control over each character, including actions from flirting to getting a job. One of the most noticeable updates involves greater free will for the characters. You don't have to watch them constantly, which is important because it's a fulltime job going through your Sims lives minute by minute. Now they can do basic activities like getting food and going to the bathroom without you having to babysit.
The graphics have taken a huge leap forward as well. Now, you can zoom in on facial expressions. Each face is modeled - you can choose a chin, a nose, a face shape, etc. But you can also maintain the "God" perspective from a distance, again with intense graphic detail.
Next, you can build complex relationships between your characters - including envy, love, etc. And you have the ability to explore much more sophisticated ambitions or aspirations. This time around, the game has much more emotional depth. This is probably the single most significant improvement, because after all, if your Sims can't commit sins, what's the fun of being God?
There a still a few caveats - the game is still very user-intensive, requiring that you stay with your characters and develop them. Also, a technical point: this version requires a huge amount of hard drive space. It is voracious and if you have an old machine, it will run significantly more slowly than the big, new machines for which it has been created. But given the life issues you must tackle while developing your Sim universe, it's hard not to love this as the perfect diversion for a college student.
Rated T for teen.