"Final Fantasy" fans who've grown accustomed to legendary opening scenes like sword fights are in for a shock with the latest installment, "Final Fantasy X-2" (for PlayStation2, rated T).
In an early indication of the flaws plaguing this sequel, "X-2" begins with three scantily clad heroines singing a pop song.
The game picks up two years after the defeat of Sin in "Final Fantasy X." Yuna has returned with two companions, her cousin Rikku and a new addition, Paine, to determine if Tidus is being held captive.
Once again, Square Enix has created a game with exceptional graphics.
Compared to "Final Fantasy X," characters have vastly improved facial and body animations, which are eerily human. Uniforms, which range from skimpy to ornate, are intricately detailed. Clearly, the heroines have been tailored to appeal to a male audience.
You'll need quick reflexes to succeed in "X-2's" many battles. A new capability in the battle system is the chain attack, where two or more attacks immediately follow each other. The longer the chain continues, the more damage it inflicts on enemies.
This game is chock-full of subplots and bonus games which add several hours to the gameplay.
"Whiplash" (Xbox, PlayStation 2, Eidos Interactive, $49.99, rated T) is the story of a pair of unlikely buddies. Well, not buddies, really. Our unlikely heroes are bound together somehow, by fate or circumstance. Or maybe by the chain linking their wrists.
The pair in question is a deranged weasel named Spanx and a tough-as-nails rabbit named Redmond. The two didn't come naturally to their respective states; both are lab animals in the fortresslike offices of the evil -- and mildly satiric -- Genron Corporation, a company that makes all sorts of weird products of dubious utility, and tests them all on animals.
A freak accident lets the pair escape Genron's genetic recombination machine. But while their genes remain separate, the escaped experiments don't, and it's not a happy union. Spanx is a bit edgy from a life of electroshock treatments, and Redmond is nearly impervious to everything after repeat coatings of super-hold hairspray.
The two must escape the labyrinthine Genron building, freeing as many animals and busting up as much stuff as possible on the way -- with the help of a cyborg owl, a renegade employee and the company's own turncoat computer.
The goal of the game, besides freedom, is to bankrupt Genron by breaking its equipment, computers, light fixtures, toilets, potted plants and whatever else. The instrument of all this mayhem is, of course, poor Redmond.
Where the game falls short is in its level design. It opens up a bit after the initial area and its introduction to the game's play mechanics, with several large "hub" rooms that lead to various areas to be completed before moving on.
In a lot of games, this openness would be a good thing, but here it's mostly unnecessary and slows down the action. The game progression would have been better served by a more linear layout, one that doesn't require doubling back to progress.
'STAR TREK: SHATTERED UNIVERSE'
With the failure of the last feature film and the struggling "Enterprise" TV series, the last thing fans need is yet another bad "Trek" video game. Unfortunately, "Shattered Universe" (PlayStation 2, Xbox, $40, TDK Mediactive/Starsphere Interactive) fails miserably in every department: shoddy graphics, inept physics, horrible voice acting and monotonous game play.
It's set in the alternate universe introduced in the original TV series' "Mirror, Mirror" episode, in which the United Federation of Planets is an evil empire and the Klingons, Orion Pirates and other foes are your allies. You play a fighter pilot aboard the damaged USS Excelsior who must take the fight to the enemy. Game play -- built around commanding small fighter ships against everything from runabouts to screen-filling starships -- loses its fun factor from the horribly awkward controls and absurdly difficult artificial intelligence.
With William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy busy hawking Priceline.com these days, the developers turned to George Takei and Walter Koenig to do the honors as Sulu and Chekov; their phoned-in work takes the already low standard of video-game voiceovers down another notch. Not that you'd recognize their characters in the game's crudely rendered video interludes, which are closer to the original PS than PS2 in terms of detail and depth. Beam us out of this decrepit space franchise already.
From wire dispatches