Video game reviews

There are a lot of new games out, but without question the No. 1 spot goes to "Enter the Matrix," designed by well-known game designer Dave Perry (Shiny Entertainment) and released by Atari.

Based on the Matrix franchise, this game takes players in new directions. It has characters, plot lines, even entire scripted scenes with Jada Pinkett Smith and Monica Bellucci that aren't in the movie. The game is out on all three platforms - GameCube, PS2, and Xbox. I prefer the gameplay on Xbox - the Microsoft console is by far the most powerful, and the action and graphics are smoother and more convincing.

But there are a lot of cool reasons to play this game on any platform you have. You can play either as Niobe, the character played by Pinkett Smith in the movie, or Ghost, her first mate on the rebel ship Logos. You'll get to walk up walls, stop bullets, and run missions in and out of the Matrix. You'll encounter most of the nefarious characters that turn up in "Matrix: Reloaded," but in different ways and with different goals.

Perry says he worked closely with the filmmakers. The actual movie set of the great hall where the rebels have one of their fight scenes was built from files that Perry had adjusted in making the video game.

For the moment, bragging rights go to this game if for no other reason than the new material it provides millions of fans of "The Matrix." Rated T for teens.

"The Sims Superstar Expansion Pack," from EA. It was only a matter of time before this popular PC title incorporated pop-culture celebrity worlds. Now, you can take your Sim to a movie studio, walk the fashion runway, go karaoke, or hit an oxygen bar. The preparation rituals may be the most fun - mud baths and massages for everyone. If pampering and paparazzi are your thing, or if you would like to find out whether they're your thing, then this is your chance. It's fun and relatively harmless - unless you think making the celebrity life look like a snap is a bad thing. Rated T for teens.

Ordinarily, the shooter genre is low on my list of games to highlight, but Atari's decision to update a familiar arcade game and exploit the graphic depth of today's consoles makes "Ikaruga," exclusively for GameCube, an exception. It takes the basic theme that you are the last holdout against enemy hordes that would destroy the world of some distant future, and plays it out with an unusual degree of sophistication and skill. These shooting games can be nothing but mindless violence, but when they require split-second decisionmaking as this game does, they can morph into a whole new experience - one that helps sharpen the thinking you might do in a stressful situation.

The enemies have different colors and you can enhance your ability to vanquish them as you choose to absorb some of the colors while you engage them. This means choosing when and how to fight, rather than mindless blowing everyone out of the sky. The game does have a two-player mode in case you want to share the fun. And the graphic universe of this Japanese cult favorite is breathtakingly sophisticated - even beautiful, if you can use that word for a video game. Rated E for everyone.

"Rise of Nations" from Microsoft and Big Huge Games. This is a PC-based game that takes the strategy game in intriguing new directions, and it's getting a lot of attention. It resembles the "Age of Empires" series that have been so successful - it has lots of different civilizations (18) and ages such as classical, industrial, and modern. This game offers national borders and the ability to assimilate whole cities. This is a game that takes a lot of time, but time that is well spent - if you enjoy this sort of historical, strategic, and military simulation. Rated T for teens.

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