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Top gaming titles of 2003

From 'Star Wars' to 'Simpsons,' a good year for gamers

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

A scene from
A scene from "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic."

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Marc Saltzman, a freelance technology journalist whose reviews also appear on the Gannett News Service.

What a year for video games -- online console gaming gained popularity, Nintendo's handheld monopoly was challenged by two new mobile products (N-Gage and Zodiac), and aggressive price drops fueled the battle for rec room dominance between the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube.

Here we look at the games themselves -- by choosing some of the best titles released in 2003.

'Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic'

Set 4,000 years before the events of Episode I, "Knights of the Old Republic" is the first role-playing game in the Star Wars universe. As the star of this sci-fi tale, you can choose your desired path -- be it a righteous or wicked one -- as you explore 10 bustling worlds alongside other traveling "party" members.

The battle system is a unique combination of turn-based and real-time fighting. Therefore, the action can be paused to assign orders, swap weapons, select Force powers and heal party members.

Because of its deep story, puzzles and strategic combat, it can take well over 50 hours to complete this gratifying adventure.

(LucasArts; for Xbox and PC; rated "T" for teen; $49.99; www.lucasarts.com)

'SSX 3'

Extreme sports fans were treated to a spectacular sequel in the "SSX" series.

In "SSX 3," virtual snowboarders are dared once again to race down a mountain and pull off crazy midair stunts. This sequel adds tricks, such as a multitiered combo system and the "Conquer the Mountain" mode that lets you take on various challenges while shredding downhill.

Slick moves and fast race times are rewarded with new gear, unlockable courses and riders, collectable trophies and extra MP3 music.

The PlayStation 2 version of the game supports head-to-head play over the Internet (network adapter and broadband connection required).

(EA Sports BIG; for PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube; rated "E" for everyone; $49.99; http://ssx.ea.com)

'SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALS'

"SOCOM II" was one of the most immersive online titles of the year.

As many as 16 players (eight per team) can test their combat skills as U.S. Navy SEALs operatives, who must work with other players to dismantle terrorist factions. This is achieved by communicating with teammates via a headset (sold separately) to coordinate attacks and choosing the right weapons or vehicles for the job.

Because of its graphic depiction of modern urban combat, "SOCOM II" is not recommended for players under age 17.

(Sony; for PlayStation 2; rated "M" for mature; $49.99; www.playstation.com)

'The Simpsons: Hit & Run'

Bart Simpson joy rides in this scene from the game.
Bart Simpson joy rides in this scene from the game.

Explore Springfield by car or on foot with this incredibly fun and silly action/adventure hybrid.

Characters from the television show give the player more than 50 tasks to complete, such as helping Chief Wiggum go undercover to bring down a notorious criminal. In another scenario, Marge is asked to race around town to destroy trucks en route to Apu's Kwik-E-Mart.

The look and feel of "The Simpsons: Hit & Run" resembles the popular "Grand Theft Auto" games because of its nonlinear mission structure and familiar control scheme, but who cares?

(Vivendi Universal Games; for PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube and PC; rated "T" for teen; $49.99, (29.99 for PC; www.hitandrungame.com)

Honorable Mentions

Runners-up for best games of 2003 include: Rockstars Games' "Max Payne 2" (for PC), Nintendo's "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker" (for GameCube), Activision's "Tony Hawk's Underground" (for all platforms), Sony's "Jak II" (for PlayStation 2), Ubi Soft's "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (for all platforms), Buena Vista Games' "TRON 2.0" (for PC), Electronic Arts' "Freedom Fighters" (for all platforms), Activision's "Call of Duty" (for PC) and Microsoft Game Studios' "Project Gotham Racing 2" (for Xbox).


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