In "The Complete Restaurateur: A Practical Guide to the Craft and Business of Restaurant Ownership," author Elizabeth Lawrence describes a successful and memorable restaurant in the following text:

"A number of the people who talked to me observed, in one way or another, that the restaurant business is really all about details. They concluded, therefore, that the better you manage those details, the better your restaurant will be."

"To put it another way, you cant afford to think for a moment that your goals can be limited to having good or even great food. It is an unwritten rule in the business that the best food in the world is no guarantee of success."

"In the same way, a good location, a pretty space, and attentative service are valuable and important; taken individually none of them will guarantee anything. To have a good restaurant, you need to combine all of them: the place must be attractive, the food tasty, and the service pleasant. The pricing, too, must seem reasonable to your patrons."

"Making all the pieces work together is key component of making a restaurant work."

As I was reading this passage (don't ask why I was reading the book to begin with), I thought that philosophy also held true for a great deal of many other things—especially for videogames. A videogame that focuses too much on presentation and not enough on gameplay is a consistent problem these days, but the opposite can also prove to be a problem as well. Case in point is the new first-person shooter (FPS), Ecks Versus Sever on the Game Boy Advance (GBA) from Bam! Entertainment.

Undoubtedly, Ecks Versus Sever is a very competent FPS despite being hampered by a very tiny view screen, barely serviceable controls, and limited 3-D rendering hardware. It has a uniquely conceived design premise based on the two playable perspectives of its opposing spy protagonists, Ecks (emotionally-scared father where the death of his family continues to haunt him) and Sever (heartless femme fatale who born and raised to kill). The backdrop story of these two elite rivals also has the benefit of a Hollywood screenplay—which is currently stuck in production limbo—to draw its inspirations from.

While not evident in early stages, some of the gameplay in Ecks Versus Sever is actually quite good. Where the game really starts to pick up is when the level designs are able to transcend the primitive graphics and create action situations of genuine tension and challenge. The inclusions of Night-vision and sniper features sprinkled through the stages also help keep the game flowing. The stage designs also cleverly play off the 'versus' premise by creating in-game moments and objectives where Sever meets up and chases or duels with Ecks. The situation changes depending on which role the player decides to choose.

Where Ecks Versus Sever ultimately falters isnt in its excellent stage design, but in its poor attention to finer "details" that make an overall gaming experience more memorable and enjoyable.

From the moment I turned on the game, I was surprise at how little effort was being put forth to win me over. There was no snazzy introduction movie to involve me in the premise. There weren't even any 'cool' static graphics to get me fired up about playing. There was simply an under whelming "press start" title screen with stock-grade music. Yawn.

I was equally surprised at how Ecks Versus Sever, outside of its gameplay, failed to take advantage of its characters and the complex espionage storyline that was afforded to them. In-between stages and during the mission the mission briefings, rather than use old-school Ninja Gaiden-like movie cutscenes or even static picture panels to sell the plot better and draw its players closer, the developers decided to go for a cost-effective (i.e. cheap) method of a text-only transcripts to convey its story backdrops and character motivations. Not exactly the sexiest option.

For its presentation, I wasn't expecting much either given the modest graphic capabilities of the Game Boy Advance, but again, the developers dont seem like they are trying to push boundaries and go the extra distance for the benefit of the player. The graphics are just adaquete and the sound effects are decent, but theres not even any background music to add to the experience. I dont expect the game to technically compete with cutting-edge FPSs like Halo on the Xbox, but I would have liked to seen much more effort put into trying to pull the gamer in the game world and take him or her for a ride.

Its sad because there were more than a couple of times during playing where I was close to dubbing Ecks Versus Sever a mini-GoldenEye 007. However, what GoldenEye and other FPS classics have is an unmistakable spark, a little something extra to separate itself from the pack—a closer attention to finer details. Unlike so many games today on the market, Ecks Versus Sever has the crucial gameplay part down, but drops the ball on the extra amenities and comes off like caviar on the inside, but Fillet-O-Fish on the outside. Rating: 7 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui
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