Nightcaster was one of Microsoft's lead titles. It was bankrolled by Microsoft; it was published by Microsoft; it was advertised by Microsoft; and it was on store shelves before the Xbox even went on sale. Clearly this is title would be a showcase for what the Xbox could do, right? No, obviously. Barring the rare instance, Nightcaster never demonstrates why it is on the Xbox. In fact, if it weren't for the occasional particle effect and some real-time light-sourcing, I would argue that this game could have been pulled off on the lowly Dreamcast without much trouble.

Nightcaster was doomed from the start because it wasn't just a launch title, it was a launch title RPG—or at least it loosely fits the criteria needed for it to be called an role-playing game (RPG). There is an unwritten rule that states that launch title RPGs are nothing more than filler from developers/publishers desperate to catch a buying public unaware and make a quick buck. That and the incredibly tight development crunch launch titles are often put through results in these games rarely having the deep and engaging gameplay fans demand. How else can I explain why the story is so weak; why the voice-acting is just below mediocre and utterly unconvincing; why the story is conveyed though long scrolls and illegible text; why interaction with the bland environment is so clumsy; why there are no weapon or armor upgrades; and why the game was so universally panned.

Does Nightcaster do anything right? Yes. The spell system that Mike describes is quite good. Giving four variations to four basic spells gives the game some variety and coupled with the three levels of power-ups, I can unleash some pretty powerful attacks on enemies. I also dig the fact that in Nightcaster the main character ages as the game progresses. But these few points hardly make up for an utterly forgettable overall experience.

Over the years, I've learned not to expect a whole lot from launch titles. My expectations were already low before I played Nightcaster and it still managed to disappoint. Rating: 2.0 out of 10

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Mike wasn't kidding when he says Wild Arms 3 follows standard role-playing game (RPG) conventions. Wild Arms 3 has the standard band of strangers, a strong, silent party member with a "mysterious past," lots of dungeons to explore and a predictable plot for the player to be lead through—and that's just to name a few. But it is Wild Arms 3's differences, subtle as they may be, that I think makes it a little more than an also-ran.

I enjoyed Wild Arms 3's Wild West iconography. It was a refreshing change to the other post-apocalyptic RPGs on the market today. Having to handle guns and other machinery (and manage their upgrades and maintenance) in addition to standard magical spells gives the gameplay such a unique feel that it almost seems new. I could see the influence of the spaghetti western and anime and I agree that they gave Wild Arms 3 a distinctive look and feel. But though I did enjoy it overall, I would have liked a bit more consistency.

After a strong beginning, the lonely, dusty Old West gives way to something less Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly and more Barry Sonnenfeld's The Wild, Wild West. It happens right about when Media Vision falls back on all of the usual RPG conventions for the rest of the game. Oddball characters start showing up—the kind that only seem to find their way into Japanese RPGs—silly premises and mediocre philosophical banter throw a monkey wrench into the works. The "cool factor" and grittiness of the Wild West evaporates and is only resurrected at certain key points in the story. And that's a shame, because there seemed to be so much potential there.

The game's cel-shaded graphics look wonderful—the characters look great and the colored-pencil shading technique looks especially good. In a genre packed with a surprising glut of cel-shaded RPGs, Wild Arms 3's graphics are probably the some of the more memorable. It's unfortunate that the barren dungeons and some towns were not given the same amount of attention, but they do not take away too much from the overall look of the game. The one area that was particularly hard on the eyes was the designs of the monsters in this game. They ranged from hideous to unimaginative—some looked like they were just Frankenstein combinations of other creatures from other RPGs.

Enix's Grandia series scored points with me because its active battle system was so kinetic and full of strategic elements. Wild Arms 3's is not as unique. The characters run around haphazardly in-between turns, stopping only when someone's turn comes up. About all this really accomplishes is to randomly change the position of a party member on the battlefield while totally throwing out strategic essentials like proximity and advantageous positioning. I also took issue with the camera system. It is always spinning and panning over the battlefield for dramatic effect, but in the process it often left me disoriented. I couldn't always tell where my character was or where all the enemies were. That is not to say that the battles weren't fun, because they certainly were. Wild Arms 3 offers a nice mix of standard weapon attacks, more advanced weapon attacks, spells and Medium (think demigods) summoning. With so many options, fights with powerful enemies can become quite interesting.

The high encounter rate or random battles makes some aspects of the gameplay seem questionable. Perhaps to sell the fact that you are often in uncharted territory, you actually have to travel the world map searching for towns, dungeons and even treasure. You do so by walking along hitting the "radar" button every few steps hoping to unlock something within its radius. You'd think something so mundane would be fun, but it isn't. It's a very slow and tedious process that is only slightly bearable when my party is considerably stronger than the enemies that are sure to interrupt the search.

I do have a final peeve. As Mike says, each character can use one of three tools. The problem with these tools is that they aren't always applicable when logic dictates they should be. In several rooms full of torches, for example, the ice tool has no effect. It is as if the torches are just wallpaper. When I enter another room, after a lot of trial and error, I soon find that the only way to proceed is to use that very ice tool to extinguish the torches. That lack of consistency makes the puzzles seem trivial.

Media Vision does offset some of these negatives with a couple of welcome positives. In Wild Arms 3 I can take on enemies while riding on horseback. It doesn't exactly change the dynamics of a fight being on horseback, but it looks pretty damn cool. Also, every RPG (especially those that emphasize random battles and demand constant leveling up) should have an Auto-Battle feature similar to Wild Arms 3's. Though a bit risky during battles with unknown enemies, it is a godsend when forced into repetitive battles with substantially weaker opponents.

I enjoyed my time with Wild Arms 3. It does have some flaws, but nothing too egregious and it makes up for some of its shortcomings with some nice additions that any RPG fan can appreciate. It is relatively easy—which these busy days counts in its favor—and the story and graphics work well to create a nice world to play in. Wild Arms has always been a quirky series lacking the extravagance and cachet of Square's RPGs, but they have always been solid enough to be worth the consideration of fans of the genre. Wild Arms 3 is no exception; it is a quaint release that won't make anyone forget about the other RPGs on the market, but will hold the player until the end. Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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First off, I'd like to disagree with Mike's assertions about the original Extreme G releases. Though we can both agree that Part 2 did more harm than good to the Extreme G name, I definitely think the original was quite a big deal—and deservedly so. Its headbanging soundtrack, neo-futuristic setting, high-resolution (for its time) graphics and high-octane gameplay came together to mold a game that was well outside the norm of what people had come to expect from the N64 game publishers. The fact that it was a WipeOut clone was not viewed as a negative at all since it gave Nintendo loyalists some ammunition with which to defend their system to their PlayStation-owning friends.

For all of its technical achievement though—made all the more impressive coming from a developer with as shaky a reputation as Acclaim—inconsistent framerates, slowdown and a lack of standout gameplay took some of the steam out of the sails of Extreme G fans. As the WipeOut series flourished over the years, many remarked that had Acclaim the power at its disposal, it would be able to do the series justice and set it apart from the competition. Now the latest in the Extreme G series has been released on the powerful PlayStation2 console. And though technically sound, it still proves that WipeOut will always be the standard-bearer.

Mike and I are in agreement for the most part on Extreme G III. The graphics have been improved nicely over the Nintendo 64 versions. Draw distances have been extended, polygon counts have been increased dramatically and the framerates are consistent. We also agree on the combat-racing element of the game. As far as this genre goes, it is actually well-balanced and makes for heated exchanges between racers during the course of a race. Acclaim deserves some praise for the inventive use of turbo and shields. The turbo and shields are one and the same—use too much of one and you deplete the other. This requires strategic management of resources, especially when jockeying for position in the middle of the pack. Riding the turbo may help you get to the front of the pack, but a well-placed rocket by an opposing driver could render all of your efforts moot.

One underrated element of the game that Mike mentions is the cooperative two-player mode. It is such a rarity these days that my last memory of such a feature is Super Mario Kart on the Super NES system. A racing game such as this one was begging for one so the developer should get credit for the making the effort.

When the novelty of the new features wear off, Extreme G III shows the chinks in its armor. Although vast, the environments in the game are rather plain and in many areas, they are downright barren. Admittedly this probably responsible for the silky smooth framerates we praised it for, but more variety in the surroundings would have gone a long way toward giving this game some personality. The futuristic cities, looking like something out of the movie Blade Runner or Fifth Element are nice touches, but they are the exception. Extreme G III is also marred by the fact that Acclaim forces players to race the same tracks no less than three different times as you advance through the ranks. Again, with little to distinguish the tracks from one another, boredom can easily set in rather quickly. Without more diversity lesser arcade racers like Sony's Kinetica outshine the game.

Extreme G III does just enough to make for a fun time while playing, but there is nothing here that is even the least bit groundbreaking. As Mike said, the game is well designed, but the sense of déjà vu is overpowering. Extreme G III is the nice release for fans of the original series, but it won't make arcade racing fans pine any less for WipeOut: Fusion. Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.

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Extermination was slated for release soon after the PlayStation 2 launch in the US. Sony promised that as the first survival-horror game available for the console, it would offer players a unique spin on a genre mired in complacency. What piqued my interest was the discovery that the Deepspace development team was made up of some of the original developers of the Resident Evil series. Unfortunately, as was the case with many of Sony's launch titles, Extermination missed its release date by well over a year. By the time I came across the game again, it had lost some of its appeal. To look at it now, you'd mistake it for just another clumsy first-generation release like those forced on players during the PlayStation 2's mediocre launch. And that is a shame because as Brad intimated in his review, there is enough here for gamers to enjoy.

I agree with Brad's assessment of Extermination's strengths. The move to more action-oriented gameplay is a far cry from the slow and often awkward actions we associate with the Resident Evil series. Dennis Riley, like any good US Marine, is so quick and athletic that he makes Raccoon City policewoman, Jill Valentine, look like a clubfooted amateur. It is so refreshing to see a character walk up to a box and simply climb over it. When he comes to a gap in his path, he can actually jump over it. What a novel idea! Of course there are occasions when this highly trained Marine still gets stumped by a locked chain link fence; but for the most part Dennis Riley moves around the environments the way I have been pleading for Jill and company to do since the first Resident Evil hit the PlayStation.

The new focus on action is no more obvious than when the game is in targeting mode. This is done in either an over-the-shoulder perspective featuring auto-aiming or a less cumbersome first-person mode. Both negate the usual obstruction issues created by bad camera angles. Enemies in the distance can now be dealt with providing you have the ammunition for your rifle to take them out. You no longer need to charge them or wait for them to spot you before you can act. Speaking of which, I have to mention this unique piece of firepower that Deepspace puts in the hands of Riley. Dubbed the Special Purpose Rifle 4 (SPR4), this gun comes with everything you will need throughout the game to take out enemies. In this one weapon, are a sniper rifle, a shotgun, a machine gun, a flamethrower and more. Switching between these different means of mayhem is no more complicated than outfitting the rifle with a different attachment. It's done very simply in the item screen and I liked that it removed the need to stockpile different weapons as you progress through the game.

Where Extermination takes its hits is in its graphical presentation. As I said earlier, Extermination is essentially a first-generation release and it looks it. Though the graphics are sharp and the character models are large, everything in the game looks plain. I'm willing to cut the developer some slack since the game takes place in a scientific facility situated in the middle of a snowbound environment. Still, more variety and complexity in the textures would have gone a long way to helping the game stand out. And let's not forget these horrible cut-scenes. What is usually a standout aspect of the genre, only works against Extermination. The animation is stilted and graphics look incomplete. The voice-acting is below average—not like that has hurt the genre yet—and the lip-syncing is always off. They all combine to give the game a very unfinished look that is consistent throughout.

The fact that Deepspace was not willing to break out of the survival-horror mainstream was another sore spot. Extermination's story begins like any we have seen before in Resident Evil or Dino Crisis games. Chaos breaks out at a mysterious lab in the middle of nowhere and its up to one man or woman to step over the dead bodies of his or her friends and comrades and continue on to solve the mystery. Everything that is revealed in the game is predictable and unimaginative. It's hard for a game based in this genre to succeed if its story isn't the least bit memorable.

It's ironic that former members of the Resident Evil development team would take the genre is such a drastically different direction in one aspect of the game and fall back on the tried and true in others. Had it taken the initiative, Deepspace could have given gamers a brand new franchise worthy of competing with the aforementioned franchises while at the same time putting itself on the video game map. Since it chose not to, Extermination may be left to mire in obscurity. Rating: 8.0 out of 10

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I'm glad Brad brought 3DO's existence into question because it saved me from doing so. But with that said, there isn't much for me to add to his review. All I can do is wonder aloud whether this utterly forgettable game would have been released—or even made—had it not had the "Heroes Of Might & Magic" name attached to it? My answer would be no.

While playing, I was amazed by what 3DO considered "next-generation" because everything is so substandard. If New World Computing really wanted to, it could have made this game on the PS one with better results. My expectations would have been lower, and I could write off most of its deficiencies as the product of aging hardware. Take the graphics for instance. The troops have such limp and otherwise unimpressive attacks that it's like their hearts aren't even in it. A few more frames of animation or at least some motion-capture work would have gone a long way towards making the action more believable. With the exception of the sexy sorceress (who gets ample face time throughout the game might I add), the character models range from hideous to laughable.

The game fares no better when you consider the controls. Though the troops move about the grid awkwardly, getting them to line up with a perspective target or circumventing obstacles on the map are irritations I could do without. Whether it is due to inexperience with the hardware or the result of a rush job, this one aspect of DragonBone made the gameplay intolerable—this is especially telling since this makes up the majority of the game. The only high point here would be the CG full-motion video sequences that occasionally pop up at key points in the game. They show a decent level of detail, and the accompanying voice-acting is quite suitable. Sadly, this was the only part of the game that didn't have me thinking the developer sleepwalked its way through the whole process.

DragonBone is just the latest in a string of PlayStation 2 titles from publishers who want to jump on the bandwagon and rake in some quick cash by releasing their lazy ports and half-assed "original" titles to game-starved consumers. It reminds me of those horrible animated chess games that appeared on the PC and game consoles years ago. Their main selling point was "life-like animated battles," but once the novelty wore off, they could at least fall back on their chess roots. DragonBone attempts something similar with its own such gimmick, but it hasn't the luxury of falling back on a solid game once the gimmick wears thin. Rating: 3.0 out of 10

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Having tried my hand at a slew of racing games, including such racing simulations as Sega GT and Gran Turismo 2, I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of the simulation genre. Arcade racers have always been much more to my liking ever since I first laid my hands on Rad Racer for the NES. However, there have been rare instances where a racing simulation caught my eye and admiration. Until now that has only been Midway's World Driver Championship and Sega's Sega GT, but after taking Ferrari 355 Challenge for a spin, I feel it is safe to say that it belongs to that elite group.

Mike is not exaggerating when he says the game is hard. Yu Suzuki and his development team, AM2, all purported driving fanatics, set out to create one of the most realistic racing experiences ever made while staying true to the idiosyncrasies of the F355 itself. The result is a driving simulation that is as close to the real task of driving the Italian sports car as many of us will ever get. Like any racing simulation, a race can be won or lost depending on how you take a particular turn during a race, so a great deal of time is spent fine-tuning the specs of the machine and learning the ins and outs of each particular turn or straightaway. Sega did implement some help that I'm sure even veteran racers will appreciate—the so-called "assist functions" that Mike mentioned. They certainly helped me get acclimated to the racing experience, and I was no more aware of how much they really helped while racing until after I turned them off.

I am in total agreement with Mike when it comes to the game's graphics. The colors and textures are very rich and very detailed. The skies are quite beautiful (especially at sunset) and everything in the game is rendered with exceptional detail. The biggest plus that F355 Challenge has going for it has to be amazingly far draw-in distance and the lack of pop-up—something gamers have had to put up with since the early days of 3-D racing games. The music on the other hand does not shine so brightly. It is the silly sort of arcade music that is usually drowned out by the loud special effects that would emanate from speakers in the arcade machines—or the ambient noise from other arcade machines. At least there is the option to shut it off.

Where F355 Challenge ultimately falls short of getting a 10 is in the game's lack of variety or decent replay value. Its an unavoidable problem that afflicts all single-license racing games—Electronic Arts' Beetle Adventure Racing is one such game that fell into the same trap. As wonderfully realistic as the F355 may handle and as exquisite as the cars may look, it's hard to overcome the need to race as other brands of cars. If Sega and Suzuki wanted to stick to the Ferrari license, then why not sneak some other cars from the Ferrari line into the game as some sort of Easter egg? Any sort of variety would certainly have done more for its score.

In all fairness, the game's biggest negative would be irrelevant to anyone who read the game's title and still picked the game up. And those that do pick it up are sure to find a great racing game in F355 Challenge. It has the approachability, top-notch graphics and controls and great tracks to race on to make it one of the best racing simulations I've played in a while. Rating: 9.0 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the Dreamcast version of the game.

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As I haven't played NFL GameDay 2000 or any prior version of GameDay, I cannot honestly compare it to previous efforts. What I can do is agree with everything else Ben has to say about the game, but I'll try to be brief to avoid parroting his every word. The two major points of the game that I have the most problems with are the graphics and gameplay. As you can plainly see from the screenshots available, GameDay's visuals are so plain they might not even look impressive a year ago. The character models are standard and the colors look dingy from almost every angle. When compared to titles on the next-generation consoles, GameDay 2001 begins to look even worse.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, it seems to be made solely for fans of the original. I say this because I can't see anyone implementing such an archaic control scheme this late in a game's life, expecting gamers to adapt to it. Once on the field and the ball was snapped, it was ridiculously difficult to complete routine passes or gain even a modicum of yardage on hand-off plays. The complex controls certainly just got in the way at times—football games publishers should include a disclaimer advising ample hand stretching before playing to avoid injuries from to the arduous finger gymnastics I was required to perform.

Something as relatively simple as getting my receivers up field was a chore. With the unrealistic pacing Ben mentioned, it could prove be quite daunting. It's evident in every part of the game. From the time the ball touches the hands of the quarterback—there never seems to be any time to hit a receiver or select a new one—to when it's fourth and goal, there seems to be defenders flying at you before you really have time to react. Also, as Ben mentioned, it is easy to lose sight of the receivers and defenders because their character models break down as they go off into the distance. What winds up happening is that they become pixelated blotches that run into and away from each other with little to really distinguish them.

When all is said and done, NFL GameDay 2001's weak graphics can be ignored, but the flawed gameplay cannot. If there were ever a reason to release a sequel, it would be to correct these crucial problems, but 989 Studios and Red Zone Interactive evidently saw no need to. Since they saw no need to improve their own game, I see no need to give it a decent rating. Rating: 4.0 out of 10

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I am surprised to be saying this, but I cant argue with anything Chi has said. I say that because Chi seemed to enjoy this game a whole lot more than I did while playing and I was expecting him to have given the game an 8.0 or even higher. Its obvious that the graphics and sounds of Code: Veronica blew us away; the characters in the game look beautiful and animate fluidly. I agree with Chi that the 3D environments really frees up character movements and, at the same time, allows better panning angles that can heighten the drama and terror of certain scenes (both features, it should noted, first appeared almost a year ago in Capcoms Dino Crisis for the PlayStation.) However, it seems that Capcom have tired of improving the game because, despite its obvious flaws, the survival horror releases have remained unchanged.

Code: Veronica fails to win me over because it forces me to do things that I know do not make sense. In keeping with Chi's point of choosing an artistic direction, Capcom seems to have chucked aside any sense of realism besides the graphics. They never seemed to consider that the move to 3D naturally brings raised expectations from gamers, who, as they should, expect to be able to do more things that they themselves could normally do in a 3D world. Things like being able to climb over a box or dead body thats in the way. Such limitations may have been accepted in the past due to the non-interactive nature of prerendered graphics, but now that the characters can move into and out of a three-dimensional space, they are expected to be able to pull off simple things like that. Also, the fact that these puzzles are rarely ever intuitive hurt the game. Why, in the middle of a scientific research facility, do I need to be looking for a gold eagle carving to open the front gate? Such nonsense is pervasive throughout the game and it just became frustrating to play.

As Resident Evil games go, Code: Veronica is familiar fare. If you loved the older games, youll love this even more with its suped-up graphics and sound. Myself personally, I am getting pretty sick of this series and if it werent for the fact that its making its debut on the Dreamcast, I would have panned it even more. I had hoped that Capcom would have done more with such a big release, but I was mistaken. All I can do now is count the months until they release their next Resident Evil epic on Sonys new PlayStation 2. Rating: 7.0 out of 10

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To speak of Pokémon Snap's far-reaching appeal, I must mention that the Bronx Zoo angle came to me and Chi separately. I first thought that a photo-journalistic approach (linking the experience to bird watching) was the most fitting comparison. Like bird watching, photographing the Pokémon in their natural environments was key and getting a nice big shot of a rare Pokémon was like finding gold. It was here though that Chi mentioned the idea of a zoo experience. This was a great revelation because the more I played the game the more striking the similarities were and the more I got a kick out of the idea of doing some Pokémon "hunting" of my own.

I hadn't been to the zoo since my freshman year in high school (it was for biology class), but this time around, it was actually quite a different experience than I remember. Previously, going to the zoo served as part of a class assignment; this time, it was purely for fun and adventure. I now realize that I appreciate this latest trip more because of that distinction. So with camera in hand, I really focused in and tried to get caught up in the whole thing; And indeed, there were times when I forgot I was at the zoo and instead thought I was playing a game from my couch. Anticipating the animals' movements as well as factoring in the movement of the monorail was a lot like playing the game. But to be fair, the game was probably more like the real life experience rather than the other way around. Nevertheless, the differences did begin to blur at times.

As I got caught up though I noticed a couple of things. Pokémon Snap is a game and for all its ingenuity, it's simplified a few things that just would not work in the real world. For instance in Pokémon Snap, getting the shot of the Pokémon is key and not the actual well-being of the Pokémon themselves. My character was given gadgets to "encourage" the Pokémon into better poses so I could earn higher scores. Now this works well in a game but as I progressed through the park looking at the far less animated animals, I kept wishing I had a "pester ball" or just a piece of fruit to heave at them. A case in point occurred at the giraffe exhibit. The poor animal must have been hungry or just too shy because it was intent on staying by the gate where the zookeepers were. And sure enough, this other photographer must have been feeling impatient as I was, because out of nowhere came a flying chunk of pizza; right into the pen. It was a surreal moment that became a hysterical one as the giraffe actually moved towards the food (and closer to my camera). Click, click, and I was off to another exhibit. I silently thanked the moron who got the giraffe's attention but I wondered if we were all caught up in getting the shot and caring less about the rules or about simple courtesy to the animals. Maybe Jack Hannah has an opinion on that.

As I was writing this second opinion, I was reminded of when I had to write one for Pokémon Pinball and how I felt that Nintendo was exploiting the franchise; to an extent I feel the same way with this game. It's a shame that the hardcore gamer will probably ignore this game because this is the one that I would recommend most to someone who hasn't yet been caught up in the Pokémon frenzy. It offers so many new videogame elements (some of which are on consoles for the first time), that it should be played by every gamer who considers him or herself a sophisticated player. After all, here is a game that tries to convince gamers that becoming an ace photographer is a worthy goal. All destructive or really harmful elements are gone and we beg you to simply play innocently. I shouldn't have to tell you that a game like this doesn't come along everyday. Rating: 9.0 out of 10

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