To celebrate the 25th anniversary of “The Legend of Zelda,” Nintendo is releasing a “Zelda” game for every current Nintendo system this year. All but one of those games are remakes, but that’s not a problem, as for most of its 25 years the “Zelda” franchise has been one of the absolute best.

The first “Zelda” of 2011 is the 3DS remake of 1998’s “Ocarina of Time.” “Ocarina” took the epic adventures of earlier “Zelda” games and transported them to a 3-D world that felt surprisingly live and interactive at the time. It remains many fans’ favorite game in the series, and is a legitimate contender for greatest game ever made. Of course it’s now 13 years old and has already been reissued for the GameCube and through the Wii’s Virtual Console. Is there any life left in the old girl?

Yeah, there is. A whole lot, actually. “Ocarina 3D” is the same great game made just a little bit greater.

“Ocarina 3D” fashions a more user-friendly experi-ence. The touch-screen removes the hassle of constantly pausing to cycle through your weapons and items. The 3-D graphics makes Hyrule feel more alive than it already does. And like the AR games that come with the 3DS, you can aim Link’s weapons by moving the entire system until you’ve locked on to your target.

It’s also a much easier game to look at. The blocky, fuzzy images of the Nintendo 64 original have been replaced with gorgeous new graphics that are greatly improved even with the 3-D effect turned off

“Alice: Madness Returns” is in no way affiliated with “Zelda” or Nintendo, but there are a few minor similarities. It’s a sequel to a game from 2000, and like “Ocarina 3D” it feels like a throwback. The combat resembles that of “Ocarina,” with Alice (of Wonderland fame) autolocking onto enemies and using a combination of strikes, ranged weapons and defensive ducks and shields to take down enemies. The Gothic, Hot Topic aesthetic is slightly off-putting, and the linear and repetitive levels mostly remove any chance for exploration. It’s not full of wonder, but “Alice” is a competent 3-D platformer.



“Operation Flashpoint: Red River” thinks it’s so sly. There’s a Red River in Asia, but it’s nowhere near the game’s turf. This river’s red because it’s full of the blood of stereotypical Arabs, along with some soldiers from the Chinese army, that you and your buddies kill in a widening cyclone of geopolitical implausibility.

The developers who make first-person shooters long have raced to concoct the most generic war between America and interchangeable racial stereotypes, lifting stories directly from bad 1980s action movies and mindlessly celebrating violence as the proudest possible display of patriotism. Ten minutes into “Operation Flashpoint: Red River,” there’s a cut-scene that makes the last 30 years of American history look like the most vulgar episode of “G.I. Joe.” This might be the most cynical shooter ever made.

Turn the volume all the way down when you play “Red River.” Nothing anybody says in this game is meaningful or important, and all of it falls somewhere between laughable and offensive. In reminding us that war is hell while reveling in foul-mouthed macho bluster, “Red River” tries to have its cake while hitting it with a tactical airstrike, too.

The game’s narrative might be astoundingly idiotic, but the game itself is a sharp tactical shooter that requires a bit of brainpower. It’s a slower, more realistic shooter than the arcade-style murder sprees found in “Call of Duty”-style games. You can’t just spray bullets in every direction. You have to aim accurately at your enemies, whose dark clothing is often hard to spot against the game’s dusty backdrops.

In “Red River,” you control one member of a four-man Marine fire team. That means playing with up to three friends or three computer- controlled partners. Every member has to pick one of four classes, with differences in weapons and abilities. One member is the team leader, who can give commands via a scroll-wheel. Choosing the best command for each situation is vital, as is communication if you’re playing co-op with friends, which is the game’s only multiplayer mode.

“Red River” is probably no more realistic than “Call of Duty,” but its slower pace and emphasis on strategy feels more believable. Too bad you have to endure ridiculous cut-scenes, which try too hard to be mature, to hit the meat of the game.


The last time I ran with the “Red Faction,” I single-handedly destroyed every building on Mars with a giant hammer. There was a story to 2009’s “Red Faction: Guerrilla,” but the real point of the game was to knock over everything standing on the Martian surface. Man colonized Mars just so I could tear it all down.

There’s still destruction to enjoy in the new “Red Faction: Armageddon,” but sadly the magic is gone. Instead of liberating the people from an oppressive military on the dusty face of Mars while busting stuff with a hammer, in “Armageddon” I’m killing space bugs in Martian sewers. It’s like going to Space Camp to learn about plumbing.

“Guerrilla” was a leisurely open-world ramble through a Mars in the middle of a future Industrial Revolution. “Armageddon” drops most of what made “Guerrilla” stand out and winds up a standard third-person action game that’s claustrophobic. The game’s cramped tunnels and caves restrain the action in a tight envelope of rocky anonymity, echoing the solitude of “Dead Space,” but with spelunking in place of a spaceship. The missions are uniformly linear, with the hero Darius Mason traveling from point A to point B and shooting every bug along the way.

Vestigial traces of “Guerrilla” make up the best parts of “Armageddon.” The joy of quickly reducing a building into rubble remains potent, especially with the new magnet gun, which uses magnets to make two objects collide with catastrophic results. The magnet gun also is my preferred mode of bug-killing. Attaching magnets to two bugs and watching them squash each other is as fun the 100th time as it is the first.

The story doesn’t call for much demolition work, but those moments when I have to level an infected building while fighting off an onslaught of insects make me forget about how tedious “Armageddon” otherwise can be. Although the magnet gun and maul are the best tools for destruction, the various other guns and lasers are all enjoyably adept at tearing through insect and concrete alike.

“Guerrilla” was no Dostoevsky, but it wasn’t as weighed down with cliches and bad dialogue as “Armageddon.” Beyond the story, “Armageddon” offers up an ersatz co-op Horde mode and a timed, high-score rush mode. Neither are groundbreaking, but both are competent additions.


How long did it take people to realize that car races are more fun when stuff blows up? Did our great-grandparents go to races a hundred years ago hoping to see an Underslung burst into flames?

I ask because that’s basically all “Motorstorm: Apocalypse” is — a series of increasingly grandiose explosions. Sure, racing is what you’ll be doing, with a myriad of vehicles at your disposal, from muscle cars to monster trucks to four-wheelers. The focus is on all the crazy destruction happening around you, though. You’re not speeding your motorcycle or supercar down a track, but through the ruins of a massive city that is literally crumbling around you as you race. It’d be Michael Bay’s dream video game if it had more ethnic stereotypes.

Oh wait, it does have those, in the miserable collection of barely animated cut scenes passed off as a story. Thankfully you can skip past every single one of these moments. You might want to watch them for the unintentional comedy, though. These scenes are hilariously shameless in their attempt to appeal to the nebulous “extreme” lifestyle that exists primarily in commercials. With their minimal animation and embarrassing X-Games attitude, these vignettes are what “Clutch Cargo” would look like if Poochie from “The Simpsons” was the main character.

That’s the worst thing about “Apocalypse”, but not the only problem. The exploding environment recalls last year’s racer “Split/Second”, but with a crucial difference. In “Split/Second” racers could blow up buildings or collapse bridges at the push of a button after building up a meter during the race. Bringing a city down upon your opponents was as vital a piece of strategy as tossing a turtle shell in “Mario Kart”. You never have any control over the destruction in “Apocalypse”. It’s merely something you react to, and often without enough time to avoid hazards. You will crash repeatedly on a track until you memorize it, and often for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent. The destruction in “Split/Second” is tactical; in “Apocalypse” it’s just frustrating.

I waited until the PlayStation Network was back up to review “Apocalypse” because online multiplayer is a big part of any competitive head-to-head game these days. Unfortunately I couldn’t actually get in a game even though PSN is up again. Multiple attempts never left the lobby as sixteen players couldn’t be found. Maybe explosions aren’t as big a draw for race fans as I thought.


“LA Noire” has the best faces in video games. They’re lifelike, expressive, and only occasionally creepy. Facial animation is the most striking thing about this film noir homage from Team Bondi and Rockstar Games. You’ll recognize many of the actors from movies and TV shows like “Mad Men”, “Southland”, and “Fringe”, and will probably rush to the Internet Movie Database once or twice to see just why a certain character looks familiar. It can be a distraction, but the acting and animation are some of the best you’ll ever see in a game.

In “LA Noire” you’ll exercise your detective skills as Cole Phelps, an enterprising young policeman in 1940s Los Angeles. You scour crime scenes for clues, which mostly means listening to music cues to make sure you’re headed in the right direction and picking up every stray object in your immediate vicinity.

There are twenty-one different cases, each split up like episodes of a TV show. They all feature interrogation scenes where you scan suspects’ faces and deduct if they’re telling the truth or not. Guess correctly and you’ll get experience points, more clues, or a little bit of extra backstory. Guess incorrectly and you might lose out on valuable information. The punishment’s never harsh, though. Screwing up an interrogation or missing out on a clue might complicate your investigation, but it’ll never bring up a game over screen.

It’s an unusual hook for a game, but like much of “LA Noire” it’s not quite as subtle as it should be. Some of the tells that a person is lying are groaningly obvious, like beady eyes that flit back and forth and mouths that contort into worried grimaces. Phelps’ tone doesn’t always fit the situation, especially when you doubt somebody. He can flip from straight-faced “just the facts” to bellicose “I want the truth!” at the press of a button.

Phelps is the biggest problem with “LA Noire”. He’s a bit of a jerk. He’s a sanctimonious gasbag with no sense of humor. Many of the other cops and suspects are one-note cartoons, but that’s a step up from the boring and self-righteous void at the game’s center.

Still, “LA Noire” is a visual marvel, vividly recreating mid-century Los Angeles. It even lets you fulfill your lifelong dream of killing a dozen guys on the set of DW Griffith’s “Intolerance”. Most importantly, the simple puzzle-solving satisfaction of completing an investigation remains potent throughout, elevating “LA Noire” past its various problems.

The Wii-exclusive “The Conduit 2” is like Sbarro. It’s not the pizza you want, but it’s the only pizza you can get at the food court. “The Conduit 2” is one of the few online shooters available for the Wii. It gets the job done better than most other Wii shooters, but if you have access to any other modern gaming system you’ll probably get your online dude-shooting fix somewhere else.

Like the first “Conduit”, its greatest strength remains the controls. If you’re new to shooters the point-and-shoot ease of the Wii remote and nunchuk combo will probably feel more natural than a standard controller or a mouse and keyboard. You can fine-tune the controls until you’re perfectly happy with the speed of the crosshairs or how drastically you have to move the remote to make the game’s camera swing around.

“The Conduit 2” also supports the Wii Motion Plus, supposedly for enhanced accuracy. I didn’t notice that much of a difference, though, and stuck with the standard Wii remote. You can also plug in a Classic Controller, which is basically a traditional video game controller with joysticks and buttons. That’s like going to a seafood restaurant and ordering a hamburger.

Online is the reason “The Conduit 2” exists. It works overtime to offer a fully formed multiplayer experience, which is exceedingly rare on the Wii. It runs around Wii’s hated “friend codes” with an in-game ally system where you can befriend players on the fly. There are over a dozen team and solo online modes, from objective-heavy squad-based bouts to free-for-all deathmatches. You earn points for kills and assists, unlocking new perks and weapons as you level up. Maps aren’t as expansive as those found in most big-name shooters for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or PC, but they’re generally well-designed.

“The Conduit 2” presents an admirable attempt at a “Call of Duty”-style online component. It runs smoothly and packs in enough super soldier fun when you can find other people to play with. That isn’t too difficult with the team modes, but free-for-alls are too often one-on-one duels.

There’s also a solo campaign. The fact that I haven’t mentioned it until now tells you everything you need to know about it. It’s a dull trudge through well-worn conspiracy territory, with bad voice-acting, mediocre enemy AI, and bland graphic design that somehow makes Atlantis look boring. Play this one with friends.

“Brink” is a class and squad-based first-person shooter that promises to unite a single-player campaign, co-op missions, and online multiplayer into a cohesive experience. That basically means you can play on any map with any combination of other players or computer-controlled characters (aka “bots”.) All the experience points you earn in any mode carries over to all others, so the perks and weapons you unlock in the campaign become available in the multiplayer.

This is a great idea that approaches the moribund world of first-person shooters from a fresh angle. There are two big problems with “Brink”‘s execution, though: the single-player campaign is anything but, and the online modes are basically unplayable at the moment, at least for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

At the start of the campaign you join either the strong-arm security forces of a floating city years after the planet has become entirely flooded, or the armed rebellion made up of the impoverished labor that keeps the city running. There’s a separate campaign for both side, with six missions apiece spread out over eight different maps.

You don’t play any of those maps alone, though. Every objective-filled mission pits two teams of eight against each other. You can play with bots filling out the rest of the line-up, but the artificial intelligence in “Brink” isn’t too smart, with soldiers standing still as bullets fill them up or medics running straight into the line of fire to revive downed allies.

You’re supposed to be able to turn any campaign mission into an online co-op or versus match, with up to sixteen human players. That’s not quite possible on either of the console versions. The PlayStation Network is still down and the Xbox 360 version is plagued with connectivity issues that turn online into a laggy, jumpy mess. Those same issues kill the multiplayer freeplay modes.

Eventually PSN will return and the 360 server issues will probably be worked out. Still, “Brink” has other problems. Eight maps isn’t enough for a multiplayer shooter, and four challenge rooms don’t help make up the difference. None of the weapons feel that great or all that different from others of the same class.

The best thing about “Brink” is its sense of motion. You can effortlessly climb, leap, and slide around the environment by holding down a button. Too bad the game hasn’t jumped over its online hurdles.