Videogame reviews

Amid the holiday shopping season, the Monitor looks at popular videogames that might appear on the "wish list" of someone you know. The industry rates its games: E for everyone, T for teen, and M for mature. A word of caution to parents and grandparents: These reviews are intended as a starting point; they do not imply Monitor endorsement of a game. We point out violent content in the Rated M games, but we strongly suggest visiting a store to test-drive any game before buying it. We've also tried to specify which games take hours to play vs. those that allow play in shorter spans of time. Also, certain games run more efficiently on newer equipment. The prices listed here may vary.

For Personal computers

Roller Coaster 2 The latest in a well-thought-out, cleverly conceived franchise. You can still create your own coasters and now experience your creations from the passenger's point of view. Great graphics, great fun, with the added bonus of encouraging design and planning skills under the guise of a cool ride. Rated E from Atari. Price: $9.99

Sims 2 Another franchise update, this version is being called one of the brilliant video games of all time. Virtually endless hours of world creation, this so-called "God game" now allows players to consider the life goals, aspirations, hopes, and dreams of their creation. On the technical side, you have more physical-attribute options than ever (clothes, hair, eyes, body build, etc.) and more environments in which to live. A word of warning: Consumes both the user's time and the hard drive's capacity. Rated T for teens from Electronic Arts (EA). $49.99

Zoo Tycoon 2 Also a franchise update, this is an improvement on an already fun and elegantly conceived game. Design a zoo, learn about the animals, experience it from the standpoint of the visitor; improve, change, and upgrade your facilities based on the desires and developmental needs of both your visitors and your animals. What's not to love? Rated E from Microsoft. $39.99

Feature Film-Based games

Lord of the Rings: The Third Age A solid role-playing game that mixes a popular style of game play with the most sought-after fantasy world at the moment. Lots of atmosphere produced through music and clear graphics. It's accessible for fans of the movie, and doesn't require hours of play before reaching the more interesting levels of play. From EA, rated T. $46.95

Star Wars: Battlefront Enter as a rebel soldier, an Imperial storm trooper, a clone, droid, or any other major character in the saga, play in any time period of the film's story line. The modes include historical campaign, galactic conquest, or instant action. In the campaign mode, you can live out all the "Star Wars" movies. In the galactic mode, you work to conquer all planets on the map. For those who can't get enough of George Lucas's worlds, this is a fulfilling exploration of the "Star Wars" universe, but one that can still be played in small bites of time. Rated T from LucasArts. $49.99

Spiderman 2 Spidey's been seen in video games before, but this version is far and away the best, primarily because of the new swinging techniques. He can go anywhere your little heart desires, and the massive, detailed map of New York is fantastic. Rated T from Activision. $49.99

Mature titles

Half Life 2 The franchise moves in new directions with atmospheric game play in breathtaking new environments. As Gordon Freeman, you enter the game at the point where you must fight aliens that have taken over the fictional earthbound City 17. You have new weapons, the coolest of which is the gravity gun. Parents should take note of the rating. This is a very violent but absorbing game and one of the most popular holiday titles. A further note: Older computer systems may wilt under the demands of this graphic-intensive game. Rated M from Valve Software. $54.99

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Think of this as a combination of the free-will universe introduced by the GTA franchise, laced with some of the character development that makes the Sims franchise so compelling. Parents should note that the game is extremely violent, full of amoral and destructive choices, as well as the more interesting new character choices such as how the main character will eat, maintain himself physically, and interact with other characters. You play as a young man returned home for his murdered mother's funeral. As you move through Los Santos, a thinly veiled Los Angeles, the designers have taken a page from the popular "God games" such as the Sims, in which characters have real-life needs, such as food and exercise. Great graphics, compelling story choices, total immersion in a complex world. Well-known actors such as Samuel L. Jackson provide voices, but the real pleasure of this game is the combination of superb graphics and wide-ranging story choices. Rated M from Rockstar. $49.99

Halo 2 This is the successor to the gigantically popular first-person shooter released with the debut of the Xbox. The graphics are better and the story more evolved, although the play is exactly the same. The Covenant, a nasty alien group, has reached earth and is now after human civilization itself. You play yet again as the Master Chief, this time moving back and forth along a parallel story line involving a Covenant Elite Troop. As you play, you are now seeing both sides of what used to be a very one-sided story. Again, parents take careful note of the high degree of violent game play interlaced with the atmospherics and character interplay. Rated M from Microsoft. $45.94


This snazzy little camera/videogame has finally been on the market long enough for some innovative games to emerge. Since EyeToy has no controllers to manipulate, developers have had to find ways to allow players to control the play with their own bodies. AntiGrav is the first really well-designed game to explore this potential. You bob and weave through fantastic environments, air-surfing your way to a full aerobic workout. Everyone in the family from toddlers to Grandma can enjoy this one. Rated E from Sony. $49.99

New Hardware

Nintendo DS Nintendo unveiled its elegant new dual-screen hand-held device, dubbed the DS. Using the clamshell Game Boy Advance format, this sleek unit is slightly larger, but it provides two screens for developers to expand the gameplay. The first games for the new hardware, such as Metroid Prime Hunters and Super Mario 64, allow players to alternate between the top and bottom screen, watching the play from different angles. (Nintendo DS will play all Gameboy Advance titles, but without using the double screen.) Also onboard the extremely powerful unit: an onscreen chat mode that communicates with other units within a small radius. Comes one giant step closer to making full console-level play portable. $149.99

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