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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
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BAM! Entertainment
Crawfish Interactive
GENRE: First Person Shooter
PLAYERS:   1-4
October 07, 2002
Ecks vs. Sever

 Written by Ilan Mejer  on October 22, 2002

Review: A game based off the recently received movie of the same name? sequel to last year's game based off an obsolete script of the same movie!

It has been just under a year since the arrival of the original Ecks vs. Sever (EvS) for the Gameboy Advance, arguably the best FPS game on the system last year. The GBA FPS market has become quite cluttered, particularly with the impressive Duke Nukem Advance still fresh in people's libraries, and promising titles like Doom II and The Recruit due out this holiday season. As such, Ballistic simply does not have the ?wow? factor that the original had going for it. In order to help make up for it, and perhaps get past the movie's bad rap, Crawfish Interactive set out to improve just about every element of the original game.

The result is a competent first person shooter for the Gameboy Advance that excels in most major categories, providing a fun, challenging, and nearly complete gaming experience. The most obvious upgrade to the original is in Crawfish's pseudo-3D raycasting engine. Everything from the amount of onscreen enemies at once, background textures, texture resolution, and enemy, weapon, and interactive animations has been greatly improved. In addition, the weapons you wield look and animate much better than ever before. Unfortunately, despite the upgrades, it is still based off the now year old raycasting engine, which does not support horizontal textures, like those for floors, ceilings, and tabletops. Thanks to the upgrades, however, Crawfish was able to put together larger, longer, more complex, and more intelligent levels, which were already interesting in last year's game. Perhaps Crawfish got too ambitious with some of the level designs, however, since some of the massive outdoor areas chug, causing a hit on the framerate. It is never unplayable, but you will probably enjoy the indoor areas a bit more.

Sadly, one area of Ballistic that did not see any significant improvements is the aural end. While the sound effects and voices are now cleaner, clearer, and sound much more powerful than before, there is still no real music to accompany the action. This is a boon on the stealth based missions, of course, but on the more common seek and destroy and fetch missions, a bit of accompanying music would have been appropriate. Like in last year's game, the only music you will be hearing is the incidental variety, when you pause the game or complete a mission. At least the default pistol you usually start with sounds like a real gun, as Crawfish dumped that weak ?pfffft? sound from last year's game.

EvS' greatest strength laid in the level design, and the mission structure that was wrapped around it. Thankfully, this area of Ballistic has seen the most improvement. Now, after choosing which agent you wish to play as, you will be treated to twelve different missions. In the last game, the maps were generally the same for each character's dozen missions, just with tweaked mission goals. In Ballistic, both agents have their own intertwined plots, which will take them to completely different areas of the world, accomplishing refreshingly new objectives. The mission goals vary greatly and range from simple fetch quests or hunting missions, to those requiring extreme stealth, fine sniping abilities, or cleverly implemented escort/evacuation missions!

The artificial intelligence that determines your enemies' behaviors has been greatly stepped up too. No longer will enemies bumble about being caught behind doors and furniture acting like glorified moving targets. As an added gameplay bonus, enemies have relaxed and alerted behaviors. Enemies in a relaxed state will guard or patrol as expected and encourage you to use stealth and your knife to dispatch them quietly and quickly. Enemies that have been alerted, either by gunfire or your discovery, will actively seek you out, even going as far as intelligently navigating the stages themselves. Additionally, you can easily tell if an enemy has you in their sights thanks in part to the upgraded interface. It now displays much more information in less space, including your health and armor levels. An exclamation point will be displayed by these new icons if an enemy has been alerted to your presence.

Additionally, since the B Button is now a context sensitive button, an icon in the top central portion of the screen tells you what hitting B will do, from opening doors, to activating terminals, and speaking with NPCs. If no action icon is displayed, B button will scroll between your weapons. The L and R shoulder triggers again allow you to strafe left and right, but their sensitivity has been tweaked, making them much more functional than before. As before, hitting L and R together will allow you to crouch (and dive, when swimming) and the A button will fire your current weapon. Yes, not only will you be able to swim, but also you can dive underwater, though this leaves you equipped only with your knife. Strangely enough, you never run out of breath.

A new, much welcome feature has been added to the gameplay: The ability to independently aim your weapon! By hitting select, you enable a free-aim mode that allows you to manipulate the cross hairs with the D-Pad. While you cannot actually move while in this mode, making it somewhat useless in a firefight, it greatly facilitates taking out cameras, special targets, and snipers much easier than ever before. The sniper rifle works very similarly, though with the added benefit of a magnificent zoom function. Finally, your weapon selection in Ballistic is quite satisfactory. You start most missions with your knife and pistol, and have a wide range of additional firepower to augment your killing abilities. These additional pieces range from the crucial sniper rifle, to automatic weapons, and the always-welcome room-clearing grenades.

Bottom Line
The single player mode is extremely rewarding, requiring you to actively seek out better weaponry and prevent civilian deaths. Eventually, you will even be required to evacuate hostages, which are controlled with similarly intelligent AI routines. This feature could have easily been well developed to compliment the multiplayer mode, which once again allows up to four players to participate in deathmatches in a multitude of arenas. Originally the game was to include a bot system to enable solo players to play multiplayer without the need for friends and multiple carts present. Unfortunately, this and the planned battery save were both dropped in the rush to get the game ready for the movie's launch. What remains, however, is an exceedingly solid package that wonderfully exploits the best elements of console FPS gaming, to satisfy solo and multiplayer gamers alike.

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