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Latest 'Conker' title not a game for kids

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

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In "Conker: Live & Reloaded," players must run, jump, swim and climb through seven worlds.

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Don't be fooled by the cute little squirrel that stars in Microsoft Game Studios' "Conker: Live & Reloaded" -- this is not a game for the kids.

At the start of the story, our bushy-tailed protagonist ties one on with his friends at a bar. He then drunkenly wanders outside in the rain and blacks out.

When Conker awakens, he finds himself involved in an epic adventure alongside characters that include a singing monster made out of feces, a chesty sunflower and a foul-mouthed scarecrow with a drinking problem.

This Microsoft Xbox title is rated "Mature" (for players age 17 and older), and the descriptive warning on the back of the box says it all: blood and gore, mature humor, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs and alcohol.

Don't say you weren't warned.

If the silly premise sounds familiar, it's because the single-player mode is a straight remake of Conker's Bad Fur Day, created by Rare Ltd. (which Microsoft has subsequently purchased) and originally released on the Nintendo 64 in 2001.

Aside from improved graphics and a few minor game-play tweaks, "Live & Re-loaded" is the same game. What is new is a multiplayer-only mode playable over the Xbox Live service that pits a platoon of specialized squirrels against the vicious Tediz race.

Gamers create a squad before tackling team-based campaigns against other live opponents, or they can practice against the game's artificial intelligence with 'bots that simulate human players. Each side has six unique roles, such as the stealthy Sneaker, the demo expert, the Demolisher and the Long Ranger, with its devastating "Widowmaker" gun.

Modes include straight Deathmatch (kill or be killed) and a more fleshed-out storyline mode, each of which is played in Old War and Future War scenarios.

If you haven't yet played the risque single-player mode, Conker must run, jump, swim and climb through seven worlds to complete objectives for the zany cast of characters. Conker's Bad Fur Day was also one of the first titles to introduce "context sensitive" commands to the action-adventure genre.

That is, players can press the B button when a light bulb appears over Conker's head (or when stepping on a giant B pad on the ground), which gives him unique, temporary abilities related to his task, such as pulling out a stopwatch to hypnotize a wild dinosaur or a slingshot to rid the level of some pesky dung beetles.

This keeps the action and puzzle-solving refreshing, as you never know what may happen next. The game also borrows heavily from celebrated films, parodying famous scenes from Saving Private Ryan, Jaws, The Terminator and The Matrix.

Graphically, Conker is played from an "over-the-shoulder" third-person perspective, which is effective considering the game looks and plays like an interactive cartoon, thanks to its meticulously drawn characters, lush environments and detailed in-game cut-scene sequences with convincing, real-time lip-synching.

Whether you buy this for the remade solo adventure or the new action-heavy multiplayer game modes, "Conker: Live & Reloaded" does not disappoint. It's fun, funny and very difficult to put down.

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