Like NWA told us in the early '90s, "You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge."
Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, the latest outing in the dangerously popular series, offers an addictive appreciation of Southern California gang culture. Crips and Bloods not included.
At the start of the game, players roam the streets of a city loosely based on L.A. as thug Carl Johnson, who has come back to his old 'hood, Grove Street, to find out who killed his mother.
If the last GTA incarnation — the monster hit Vice City — was inspired by 1980s pop culture touchstones like "Scarface" and "Miami Vice," this one is all about "Boyz N the Hood" and "Menace II Society": gangs, drugs and drive-bys.
While the subject matter isn't for everyone — like kids — the gameplay is at the extremely high level we've come to expect from the series. Sure, the cut screen graphics could be better, but being able to explore three vastly constructed areas makes this an absolute must-own for any Angeleno over 30. Welcome back, 1992; we missed you.
Details: PlayStation 2 platform; $49.99; rated: mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language, sexual content, drugs). * Engaging gameplay
Mortal Kombat: Deception delivers all the gory, spine-removing fun that fans of this button-mashing fighting series love.
In this installation, new modes of gameplay break the monotony of a simple one-on-one fight to the (gruesome) death. In Chess Kombat, for instance, to capture an opponent's piece a player must first win a bloody battle over the contested square. Likewise, in Puzzle Kombat, your skills at a Tetris-like game with falling colored blocks help your cute, animated doppelgänger defeat his foe.
Details: Xbox and PlayStation 2 platforms; $49.99; rated mature (blood and gore, intense violence). *
Game gets lost in translation
Who translated Katamari Damacy from its original Japanese, a first-year English student? A sample: "First time on earth means no worrying about time." Huh?
The King of all Cosmos has broken the sky, causing the stars to burn out. It's up to his son to push a sticky ball around, collecting all sorts of items like candies and pushpins. The bigger the ball, the brighter the star that returns to the sky. What?
Even worse, after pushing that dumb ball around for only 90 minutes, I felt physically ill. How do you say "I'm going to be sick" in Japanese?
Details: PlayStation 2 platform; $19.99; rated everyone. * A bloody good vampire slayer
With a name like Blood-Rayne, no one's looking for bunnies and ladybugs. But this sexy half-vampire really revels in carnage. She slices up her enemies, then sucks the blood out of them to maintain her strength.
Yet as gory as BloodRayne 2 is, it's also undeniably great gaming. The graphics are mesmerizing. I even began to tolerate the rivers of blood — not necessarily a good thing. It's a must-have game, the kind that makes you wonder who comes up with this stuff (and how much does he pay his psychiatrist?).
Details: Xbox and PlayStation 2 platforms; $49.99; rated mature (blood, gore, language, intense violence, sexual themes). *
A well-rounded Mario
Mario Pinball Land is a great little game that fits perfectly on the hand-held Game Boy Advance system it is designed for.
An ice cream scoop-looking thing compresses Mario into the shape of a melon ball as he tries to free his captured girlfriend. Whacking Mario around like a pinball provides the same kind of mindless fun that full-scale pinball machines do. The different traps and bouncing enemies update the classic format for the video age.
Sadly, no matter how much you shake it, you can't make Mario "TILT!"
Details: Game Boy Advance platform; $29.99; rated everyone (comic mischief). *
Rap stars put up a fight
Def Jam Fight for NY is all that.
Forty of hip-hop's biggest names lend their likenesses and voices to this game about underground fight clubs.
The art direction — from the cartoon-inspired rendering of the rappers to the menu and title screens — is meticulous. Gameplay is fast and furious. Tough guys win enough cash fighting to purchase bling as well as gear with real brand names.
Your love life is even representin': none other than Carmen Electra can be your girlfriend. (Is it just me, or is she in every game now?)
Details: All platforms; $49.99; rated mature (blood, sexual themes, strong language, violence). *
Can boredom be fatal?
Like its TV ad says, "For every choice, a consequence."
Well, if you choose to play Fable, the consequence is being bored to tears.
In this very open-ended role playing game, your character is faced with the right and wrong ways to do a task. Do enough good deeds and the townsfolk will cheer; do enough wrong and they cower in fear. But finding the deeds requires sitting through poorly animated cut screens with way too much dialogue.
Want to choose between good and evil? Play the vastly superior Knights of the Old Republic instead.
Details: Xbox platform; $49.99; rated mature (blood, strong language, violence).
X doesn't mark the spot for mutants
Fans of the X-Men comic books will love one thing about the new game X-Men Legends. As you wander through the Xavier Institute mansion, you might discover the TV showing a trivia game. Correctly answer X-Men questions, win some power-ups.
And that's it.
The graphics are lame, the battles predictable. The mutants deserve better.
Details: All platforms; $49.99; rated teen (blood and violence). *
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