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Third-time charms: Sequels enliven 'Thief,' 'Onimusha'

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

Medieval master thief Garrett skulks through castles in search of treasures in "Thief III: Deadly Shadows."
Video Games
Computing and Information Technology

Video game sequels often improve upon their predecessors. Game developers collect feedback from critics and players, incorporating the changes into the next title in the series.

Capcom's "Onimusha" and Eidos Interactive's "Thief" -- two popular but very different action-game franchises -- each have a third incarnation due out this week. And these sequels are good.

'Thief III: Deadly Shadows'

Instead of run-and-gun action titles, the "Thief" series focuses on stealth and cunning. Think of them as 3-D sneakers rather than 3-D shooters.

Garrett returns as a medieval master thief who must slip into castles, dungeons and cathedrals to steal riches. The trick is to remain undetected by skulking in the shadows and keeping quiet at all costs. The moment the player is seen or heard, guards will notice and begin to charge the player.

Similar to past "Thief" games, "Deadly Shadows" takes place during the Dark Ages, but the game makers weave in supernatural elements such as bizarre creatures and futuristic weapons such as wall-climbing gloves and fancy flash bombs.

The most noticeable new feature is the ability to toggle between first-person and third-person views. For example, seeing the game out of Garrett's eyes is fine for creeping into a hallway and shooting arrows at an enemy, but seeing him on the screen may be a better choice for when he needs to analyze his surroundings.

"Thief III: Deadly Shadows" will please fans of the series, while roping in new players for its silent but deadly approach to action gaming.

(Eidos Interactive; for Microsoft Xbox and PC; $49.99; rated M for mature; link)

Score: 4 stars (out of 5).

'Onimusha 3: Demon Siege'

If looks could kill, gamers might find themselves facedown on their PS2 before finishing "Onimusha 3: Demon Siege," the latest -- and easily most stunning -- fantasy action game in the best-selling series.

Two intertwining stories take place between 1582 in feudal Japan and 2004 in Paris, France, as the ancient samurai warrior Samanosuke joins a weathered military officer played by Jean Reno ("The Professional," "La Femme Nikita") to combat evil.

In "Onimusha 3," players battle in two time periods and locations in 3-D.

A rift in time puts Samanosuke in the present, while Jacques Braun (played by Reno) is zapped to the past. A black-winged spirit named Ako helps the two by transferring items back and forth to rid their respective cities of demons.

Similar to other games in the series, players battle increasingly difficult enemies by using various weapons, combo moves and counterattacks.

Instead of the flat 2-D backdrops from past games, "Onimusha 3" features large and interactive environments that are now in true 3-D. Five, six or seven enemies can attack the player at once, while tougher boss characters also will join in the fight.

Along with the intriguing sci-fi story and fast-paced action, "Onimusha 3" has the finest-looking, computer-generated "cutscene" movies to grace a video game.

(Capcom; for Sony PlayStation 2; $49.99; rated M for mature; www.capcom.comexternal link)

Score: 4 stars (out of 5).

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