By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
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Whether it's a future conflict on city streets or a 60-year-old war by sea and air, Microsoft Xbox 360 owners have two new action games to fight through with "Crackdown" and "Battlestations: Midway."
From the mind of Dave Jones of "Grand Theft Auto" fame comes Microsoft Game Studios' ambitious "Crackdown," another open-ended urban game that combines on-foot gunplay and in-vehicle races, but with superhuman powers, cooperative play and upgradeable skills.
"Battlestations: Midway" from Eidos, on the other hand, is an action-simulation hybrid that lets you play as a U.S. Navy officer during World War II, in command of dozens of warships, submarines and aircraft.
While the games offer different action experiences, Xbox 360 owners won't be disappointed with either pick. The following is a closer look at each:
Because of its explosive weapons, superhero-like powers and enormous 3-D city, "Crackdown" can best be described as "Grand Theft Auto" on steroids -- except now you're a genetically enhanced agent instead of a criminal.
Sure, you can still carjack vehicles, shoot down gang members and take on dozens of nonlinear missions -- but you're discouraged from abusing your power, such as driving over innocent pedestrians.
After you select from one of the available agents at the beginning of the game, and then choose your first vehicle in the agency garage, you're introduced to the story surrounding three rival gangs who have turned Pacific City into an urban battleground.
You also learn about the game's role-playing feature that lets your character upgrade skills over time and experience, in one of five categories: agility, driving, explosives, strength and weapons. Savvy players can work their way up to a four-star rating in each of these areas.
Finding the 300 well-hidden orbs in the city also can help to increase your skill ratings. Within a few hours, your agent will be able to perform moves such as jumping from rooftop to rooftop, throwing criminals a couple of hundred feet or pulling off daring behind-the-wheel stunts.
Played from a third-person perspective, the game resembles a colorful graphic novel with its "cel-shaded" visual style. And more so than in past "Grand Theft Auto" games, the Pacific City in "Crackdown" is quite vertical, so you will be able to climb, hang from and scale walls, ledges and boulders to best explore this huge city and perform the various missions.
More than 100 licensed songs and 5.1 surround sound add to the overall immersion factor.
Have a friend on the Xbox Live network? Gamers can play online in an optional cooperative mode, allowing two agents on the scene at the same time.
Another incentive for picking up the game: access to the coveted Halo 3 multiplayer beta program. From the "Crackdown" main menu, click on Downloads and the "Halo 3" beta option can be found, although it'll be grayed out until the program is ready.
Take command over boats, submarines and fighter planes in "Battlestations: Midway," a polished and highly enjoyable World War II-themed action/simulation game for the Xbox 360 and Windows PC.
The game begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor. You play as Henry Walker, a gunner on a PT boat who must stay alive through this Japanese assault, but then must soar over the Pacific as a pilot to take down enemy aircraft and their carriers. An hour later, you're manning a submarine using torpedoes to sink opponent ships. In total, the game offers 60 historically accurate warships, planes and submarines.
These intense battles in the skies and in or under the water continue though the Philippines and other parts of Asia-Pacific and climaxes at the epic Battle of Midway.
While the game begins as more of an arcade game by aiming cross hairs, firing upon enemies and adjusting the speed and direction of your plane or boat, soon you will be able to play a more strategic game that includes issuing orders while viewing an overhead map, cycling through objectives and choosing to repair damaged watercraft (except PT boats).
The main U.S. campaign mode includes 11 lengthy missions and 12 bonus missions. Other modes include Naval Academy (11 tutorial missions); Ship Challenge (increasingly challenging watercraft missions); Plane Challenge (dog-fighting missions); Submarine Challenge (hunt transports and evade destroyers); and online head-to-head or cooperative modes playable over the Xbox Live service ($50 a year).
Despite some minor niggles, such as lengthy load times between some missions, "Battlestations: Midway" is a worthy war game with plenty of gripping game play.
"Crackdown" can best be described as "Grand Theft Auto" on steroids.
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