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SORE THUMBS: WHAT’S NEW IN VIDEO GAMING

THE ORANGE BOX (M)

Rating: *****

Electronic Arts Xbox 360

Normally, when I ask, “What were they thinking?” it’s a bad sign. But not with Orange Box—a game that includes no less than five stellar, first-person shooters for the price of one. What were they thinking? I would have paid full price for any of these.

The compilation includes two classics and three all-new games. Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One are followed up by the brand new Half-Life 2: Episode Two, capping the trilogy with the continuing alien extermination efforts of Gordon Freeman. Then there’s Team Fortress 2, a Counter-Strike-type multiplayer fragfest with a fun, cartoonish style. And finally, there’s Portal, a first-person puzzle game in which you navigate through a series of rooms by creating well-placed portals with your portal gun. It’s one of those endlessly addictive puzzlers that will have you picturing it every time you close your eyes.

All five games are built on Valve Software’s gorgeous Source engine, and between them, you’ll find great storytelling, frantic running-and-gunning and perplexing puzzles. I think orange just became my favorite color.

DONKEY KONG: BARREL BLAST (E)

Rating: **

Nintendo Wii

The latest Mario Kart rip-off proves that you can’t send a monkey to do a mustachioed plumber’s job. The rocket-propelled barrel harnesses that are the vehicles of Barrel Blast look suspiciously like the bongo controllers for GameCube—a lingering indication that this game was originally meant for older hardware and a completely different control scheme. The Wii controls, which have you making bongo-like drumming motions, are haphazard at best and will make you wish you were still using bongos so you could hit something.

JACKASS: THE GAME (M)

Rating: **1/2

Red Mile Entertainment PlayStation 2

A few of the recent Tony Hawk titles have felt like video game versions of Jackass, but this is the first official Jackass game, where you can play golf with hand grenades or throw yourself off a cliff just to see how high the hospital bill can get. But it was the reality of Jackass that made the show so embarrassingly addictive. These were real people (who could actually get hurt), treating life as though it were a video game with a reset button. But this really is a video game, so no matter how risky the stunts are in concept, they just feel like harmless mini-games.

HOT PIXEL (T)

Rating: **

Atari PlayStation Portable

Take a fast-paced mini-game collection like Warioware. Now, throw in some skateboards and give it an urban style. Then dumb down the graphics, stretch out between-game load times and make most of the challenges similar and, therefore, repetitive. Voila! You have now-ruined Warioware and created Hot Pixel.

When Las Vegas Weekly contributor Matthew Scott Hunter realized his career as a lab technician was seriously interfering with his gaming, he pink-slipped himself into a successful career as a freelance writer. Bug the hell out of him at saxmorshin@hotmail.com

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