‘Rainbow Six: Vegas,’ ‘Elite Beat Agents,’ ‘Gears of War’

‘Rainbow Six: Vegas’

4.5/5 Stars

“Rainbow Six: Vegas” puts the player in control of a Jack Bauer-esque covert ops agent and a pair of armored cronies. The mission: Take out the typical bad guys in a new environment.

The “Rainbow Six” series has long been a solid source for tactical shooters. “Vegas” doesn’t stray from this model. If a player runs out in the open with an AK-47, the character dies. If a player goes Rambo in an online match, the character dies and then gets ridiculed. The new, one-button cover system in “Vegas” rivals that of “Gears of War” and, when employed, ditches the first-person perspective to show the character against the wall or burnt-out Ford Taurus he’s using to avoid direct fire.

Graphically, “Vegas” shines. Lighting effects are fully exploited, and environments are wonderfully destructible. Anyone who has ever wanted to blow the coins out of a slot machine has the chance to do so in this game. Muzzle flashes look outstanding, and the quality sound effects bring the strip to life – even when surrounded by dead bodies. The soundtrack, while subtle, is stunningly composed and crescendos at just the right moments to give players a burst of confidence or sense of relief, depending on the situation.

While the single-player campaign will take a good 20 hours – mostly due to a high level of difficulty – the multiplayer keeps users coming back for weeks. Voice chat allows each side to get down and dirty with team tactics, and the maps are expansive and well-designed.

Ubisoft worked overtime on this one, and it shows. Amid a plethora of tactical shooters, “Rainbow Six: Vegas” manages to stand above the crowd with solid graphics, gorgeous music and a robust online mode. It’s not life-changing, but for any Xbox 360 owner or hardcore gamer, “R6: Vegas” is worth a try.

Elite Beat Agents

5/5 Stars

There’s no doubt 2006 was the year of the Nintendo DS. Each month saw at least one new standout title.

But no DS game performed quite like “Elite Beat Agents.”

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Gameplay consists of tapping circles, sliding orbs and spinning wheels that appear onscreen in time to whichever of the 15-20 music tracks happens to be playing. In what seems to be the simplest yet most effective implementation of the DS’s touch screen, Elite Beat quickly provides a heroin-like addiction. Even in the higher of the four difficulty levels, when it’s not uncommon to lose a round after 15 seconds, it’s nearly impossible not to give it another try. The game has an uncanny ability to keep a player from work for hours.

Never before has a music game had such an eclectic selection. Tracks range from David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” to odd, even terrible choices such as Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8ter Boi” and Good Charlotte’s “The Anthem.” Thankfully, none of the songs in “Elite Beat” are performed by the original artist, and whoever covered “Sk8ter Boi” managed to make the song far less crappy than the original.

Excluding titles such as “Guitar Hero,” music games rarely break new ground – how many different versions of “Dance Dance Revolution” do we really need? But “Elite Beat Agents” delivers innovative gameplay, an unquestionably varied track list and a unique presentation in an addicting package.

Gears of War

4.5/5 Stars

Epic Studio’s “Gears of War” is a blockbuster third-person shooter on a curiously Earth-like planet where the humans are being attacked by an alien menace. Sure, the story in “Gears” leaves much to be desired. But one look at a screenshot from the in-game visuals running on the Unreal 3 Engine will leave players scrambling to pick their jaws off the floor.

Hands down, “Gears of War” boasts the most stunning visuals on any console to date. The environments are gorgeously bleak, and the graphic clarity one experiences when chain sawing an opponent is unmatched.

Oh, and a player can actually chain saw enemies. That’s just cool.

The main game is on the short side but enjoyable. Multiplayer features a semi-tactical four-on-four deathmatch and two variations as its only modes. Unfortunately, the online game is plagued with bugs and glitches that really impact the gameplay. And there’s an utter lack of matchmaking. It wouldn’t have been that difficult to copy the Halo format for allowing players to find others well-suited to game with on the Web.

Those minor quibbles aside, “Gears” does what it’s meant to do. It’s a summer blockbuster, the video game equivalent of movies like “Spider-Man 2” or “Pirates of the Caribbean.” It’s really fun and has breathtaking effects, but ultimately it isn’t that deep of an experience.

That said, it’s still difficult to resist a friend’s invitation to play an online match of “Gears.”

There’s something irresistible about the prospect of tearing friends in half with a chain saw.