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REVIEWS: 'Shadow of Rome,' 'Devil May Cry 3,' 'FIFA Street'

March 13, 2005

"SHADOW OF ROME"

***

Capcom for PlayStation 2, $47.88. Rating: M (Mature).

A game about fighting gladiators that has a real storyline sounds like an early April Fool's joke, but "Shadow of Rome" proves that it is, literally, bloody serious about its characters.

This beautiful PS2 game follows Agrippa, a soldier trying to save his father's life by fighting in the gladiatorial games, and his friend Octavious, who uses stealth and puzzle-solving skills to figure out what's going on in the campaign to discredit Agrippa's dad.

The combat in the gladiator fights is bloody and brutal; this game earns its M rating. But it's also fun to control, fast-paced and challenging. It starts fairly simply and does a good job of teaching you how to fight. But once you've gotten started, things rapidly get difficult, though never too overwhelming.

The variety of moves you can use during combat is deep, and there are some nice twists to the battles -- who you fight and how will require different strategies. Your weapons and armor can break, so you might find yourself trying to rip a sword out of an opponent's hands or scoop up a mace from the ground near a fallen combatant. Your foes will use some decent intelligence to fight you, sneaking or ganging up on you or evading your attacks. If you get the crowd happy enough with you, they might throw you some weapons or food in the middle of a fight. It's a fun system.

The scenes in between the fights are well produced, though they don't always exactly match what you see when they're over. The dialog is occasionally wooden and doesn't always make perfect sense, but for the most part, the scenes are enjoyable and a nice transition between fighting.

There are many fewer stealth levels with Octavious, and they're not as well-polished as the fighting. But they're a nice break from the arena action, and none of them are very long.

"Shadow" is a surprisingly good entry in the action genre, and offers about 22 hours of playing enjoyment.

By Heather Newman, Detroit Free Press

"DEVIL MAY CRY 3:

DANTE'S AWAKENING"

****

Capcom for PlayStation 2, $49.99. Rating: M (Mature).

The makers of "Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening" have nothing to cry about, unless they're tears of joy.

The third installment to the series is a brilliant follow-up to the second game, which was widely criticized for lacking style and falling woefully short of the original.

You play Dante, a half-human, half-demon wunderkind trying to uphold the legacy of your father, Sparda, who has kept the forces of evil at bay for mankind. Your nemesis is your twin brother, Vergil, who has chosen a darker path.

The storyline grabs you immediately with a strong fight sequence between Dante and Vergil's hellish imps. Here, you're introduced to Dante's cavalier fighting style and attitude. Style is important, because in order to upgrade your weapons and skills, you must execute some nifty combination moves against your enemies. For good measure, you can even taunt your foes with a push of a button.

Guns and swordplay are interchangeable in fight modes, and nothing gets lost in the game's flow. You can even take the battle into the air by slashing your enemy upward, jumping and then blasting them with your guns. The camera work is top-notch, and nothing gets lost in the fast-paced melees.

The graphics show off a dark, apocalyptic world, reminiscent of the "Resident Evil" series. One problem I've always had with dark games is the background is too dark. In "Devil May Cry 3," you have the option of controlling the brightness in the setup mode.

"Devil May Cry 3's" music, a cross between hardcore heavy metal and techno, enhances the dark tale. In between missions, there is spooky whispering that sounds like what you'd imagine an Ozzy Osbourne record being played backward would be like.

Want to add to this game's creepiness? Play it in the dark.

By Al Toby, Detroit Free Press

"FIFA STREET"

**

EA Sports Big for PlayStation 2 (also for Xbox and GameCube), $39.99. Rating: E (Everyone).

"FIFA Street" is a pretender. Sure, it has a ball, two goals and some fancy ball work of the best footie stars on the planet, but this game isn't really soccer. What you really get for your $40 is a arcade-style, 4-on-4 clash that is mildly enjoyable but ultimately unsatisfying.

While the other "Street" titles are built upon overly stylized versions of their respective sports, those titles also have hearty substance to complement the sizzle. "FIFA Street" has a similar design, but comes off as rather hollow.

The game's flash is its bright spot. The tricky footwork looks fantastic, the slightly exaggerated players are easily recognizable for the real McCoys, and even the playing fields -- cityscapes from across the globe closed in by chain-link fences -- are dynamic enough to please.

Yet the gameplay, which focuses on style just as much as scoring, feels shallow. As with other "Street" games, humiliating your opponent by pulling strings of tricks -- like tapping the ball through the legs of a defender, running around him and picking up where you left off behind him -- will earn you points toward a game breaker.

This formula is passable, but it is foiled by two key problems. First, the tricks, while impressively animated, often break up the flow of the game, as you lose control of your character while the trick is executed. Moreover, the game breakers you work so hard to earn really don't turn the tide. All you get is a slow-motion, high-powered shot that's likely -- but not guaranteed -- to net you a goal.

While "FIFA Street" has a nice set of features, including a "rule the street" mode where you create your own up-and-coming footie wanna-be, the inevitable sequel will likely add more cred to the game play. As for this debut, rent it before kicking out cash for it, or you'll likely be kicking yourself after a few hours.

By Ryan Huschka, Detroit Free Press


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