Thu, Oct 04, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Video game reviews

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Halo 3
Xbox 360
Microsoft

Hockey doesn't get a lot of love in the US but it does at Electronic Arts (EA), Canada, as NHL 08 is the best hockey game ever made by the gaming giant.

In past years, EA has played second fiddle to 2K Sports' titles, but this year it's a virtual tie. The largest improvement is the game's adaptive AI, which shuts down pet plays and forces players to be creative with the puck.

Passing is key, but the usual trick of feeding the puck to the crease and repeatedly pounding it past a dumbfounded goalie simply won't happen anymore. This makes offense a challenge and scores more realistic.

Controls are dead simple. On offense, the left stick controls player movement, the right stick shooting. The only other controls routinely used are the right shoulder buttons, which pass the puck, and a left shoulder button used for dekes. Defense is more challenging, and requires patience. Bum rushing the puck handler and checking him into the boards generally results in the computer AI sliding the puck to a teammate for a wide-open shot on goal.

Very cool is the new play creator, which takes time to master, but can tailor an offense to a team's particular talents. Also new is the ability to create a custom team, complete with logo and uniform and stacked with custom players. Dynasty mode is not as expansive as other titles, but gets the job done.

NHL 08 looks equally awesome on the PS3 and Xbox 360, but, much like the recent Madden title, the action flows more smoothly on the 360.

F ighting games hold a special place in the heart of gamers, who either love or hate learning the button-pressing combinations required for wreaking havoc on the battlefield. But there's never been a button-masher that looks as heavenly as this.

PS3 owners will be tempted to pick up Heavenly Sword simply to see what their system is capable of, and those who take the time to learn the combat system will find a quality single-player game.

The epic tale centers on sexy Japanese heroine Nariko, who just happens to wield a soul-stealing sword forged by the gods and must use it to defend her clan against a cruel invading king. Despite the nice plot, spectacular visuals and, by game standards, brilliant acting, Heavenly Sword is all about combat.

The combat scheme takes getting used to, but the difficulty level ramps up slowly enough so players can develop their skills as they go. The sword has three "stances" - strong and fast melee attacks and ranged attacks. Enemies flash a color that indicates which attack type will do the most damage. Blocking is done automatically if Nariko is not attacking. By successfully completing stages, more devastating attack combos are unlocked, but the game can be completed by learning relatively few.

The PS3's motion-sensitive controller comes into play with projectiles, be it rocks from a catapult or thrown weapons. Once the projectile is in the air, it can be directed to its target by tilting the controller left or right.

Heavenly Sword borrows from Sony's highly regarded God of War PS2 titles by requiring players to press the correct series of buttons during dramatic cinematic sequences. Unlike God of War, however, there are no platforming elements, which would have been heavenly indeed.

The Medal of Honor series has suffered from battle fatigue recently, but Airborne gives the franchise a lift by changing the usual "run through the maze" combat missions with the opportunity to pick a battlefield starting location.

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