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Civilization (and its discontents).

Joyous news for both my dissertation research and my circadian rhythms (but ill tidings for Abe Lincoln of Minas Tirith): I picked up Civilization IV yesterday, but it has an as-yet-unfixed conflict with ATI video cards and won’t run on my PC. So the unhealthy 36-hour gaming-binges that usually accompany a new Civ-iteration will have to wait another week or two. Speaking of which, I haven’t written up a game update here in awhile. So, in brief:

The enemy? His sense of duty was no less than yours, I deem. You wonder what his name is…where he came from. And if he was really evil at heart. What lies and threats led him on his long march from home. If he would not rather have stayed there…in peace. War will make corpses of us all.” Alas, as Faramir predicted, Battle for Middle Earth (which I borrowed from my sister at the end of summer) is somewhat disappointing. A Warcraft-style strategy game based on Tolkien lore, it makes great use of Howard Shore’s score, and admittedly there’s something viscerally satisfying about watching your own contingent of Rohirrim cavalry cut a swath through some lowly orc footsoldiers. But, frankly, too much of the game is a grind. Most of the levels very quickly turn into wars of attrition, where you’re just building units to send them to oblivion, over and over again, until you slowly but surely conquer the map. There’s very little strategy involved, and, as such, even despite the fidelity to Tolkien (by way of PJ), I lost interest in the game relatively early on. Then again, Boromir was always the soldier.

F.E.A.R., recommended by my brother, is basically a Half-Life 2-ish FPS that’s taken its cue from the recent wave of Japanese horror: The Big Bad is a ghostly little girl that for all intent and purposes could have materialized right out of The Ring. To its credit, F.E.A.R. displays impressive A.I. and includes a really fun slow-mo option for Matrixy melees. That being said, much of the (relatively easy) single-player game is standard FPS, whereby you face identical squads of enemies several times over. Frankly, F.E.A.R. could have used more Splinter Cell-type stealth missions or, better yet, some Infocom problem-solving and “lurking grue” caprice. The game starts out frightening, but pretty soon one figures out the only way to die is the usual manner: health to zero. And, ultimately, even despite the supernatural backdrop, that’s rather mundane.

NBA 2K6 is the latest installment in the 2K sports series, which, to my mind, eclipsed the more popular EA NBA Live line several years ago in terms of gameplay and simulation. This one’s a definite improvement over last year’s ESPN 2K5, most notably in handle and free-throw shooting — both are much more intuitive, and now, 85% free-throw shooters can actually hit 85% of the time, rather than 33% as before. If you’re into building out your crib a la NFL2K5, as some friends of mine are, that’s now an option here as well. And, whatever happens to the Knickerbockers this year, I gotta say, they turned out to be an offensively-lethal video game team — Stephon has put up career numbers (although waiving Allan Houston has killed my 3-ball percentage.)

To EA’s credit, tho’, I’m not usually one for car-racing games — They’re often boring, repetitive, and nothing like driving, IMHO — but Burnout 3 and now Burnout: Revenge are far and away the best racing games I’ve ever played (well, aside from the broader-themed Grand Thefts Auto.) True, most of the angst-rock, punk-lite soundtrack gets irritating after only a few minutes, Franz Ferdinand notwithstanding. But, aside from that, both Burnouts have a sense of speed and a visceral crunch to ’em that you don’t find in a lot of Pole Position‘s descendants. Burnout 3, only $20 these days, is worth checking out if you’re of the XBox nation.

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