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Reviews are out of four stars.

'Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots'

4 stars = Outstanding
Ratings explained

It all comes full circle eventually, and like anything that has a beginning, it must have an end. We will be sad to see no more of Solid Snake, but you can rest assured that he goes out in classic Snake glory.

"Guns of the Patriots" (PS3; Konami; M, for Mature) is the final installment in the long history of "Metal Gear Solid," and while doors are left open for potential spin-off franchises, this was Konami's last chance to give gamers the full-on stealth experience that this series practically has a monopoly on.

Solid Snake is now going by Old Snake, as he has become a cagey, creaky-but-not-yet-broken warrior. Being a clone, his age has advanced rapidly. Most of the typical gameplay you've come to expect from the series is back. The old camouflage system has been removed, though, and it has been replaced with a more high-tech OctoCamo suit -- a huge upgrade, in my opinion. Other improvements, such as the Solid Eye that has taken the place of all the goggles and other vision aids, certainly give this game some fresh appeal.

There's also a new cohort named Drebin (insert your own "Police Squad" jokes at will here), who helps unlock new weapons for you. He's a trusty aide, but his ability to replenish your ammo at will and provide you higher-quality weaponry almost takes the "stealth" portion out of the game altogether.

Also on the downside, the online content is horribly insufficient, and further shows the lag between the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.

But it's certainly the most stunning PS3 game released so far. The visuals are spot-on throughout, and if you can somehow make it through the seemingly endless cutscenes, you will appreciate the cinematic feel of the game. One thing you can know for sure is that there has never been a franchise like "Metal Gear Solid," and no other series has come to a close with such style.


2 1/2 stars = Average
Ratings explained

Sure, I can name a few drivers off the top of my head, but my experience with the NASCAR world pretty much consists of the new EA game that comes out every year. So while I can say that the '09 edition (Xbox 360, PS3, PS2; EA Sports; E, for Everyone) is a much crisper, streamlined setup, it's not making me into a fan anytime soon.

The gameplay itself is solid, though it does not go to any great lengths to impress. If nothing else, you have to appreciate the way the cars feel more tethered to the track. Previous editions gave the impression you were coasting through the air in circles; at least now the tires appear to be gripping the pavement and responding as you so wish.

I'm not a NASCAR aficionado by any means, but I am surprised at how few wrecks happen in the course of playing. Most of my NASCAR knowledge comes from ESPN's "SportsCenter," where all you hear about are wrecks, wrecks and more wrecks. This is not new information, and whether it accurately represents the sport is superfluous here. But for a sport that seems to encounter a lot of wrecked cars and high-tension turns, you don't experience much of that here.

Most of your time will be spent in career mode. Here you can paint your own car and detail it how you like. Reputation and Performance points mean everything, from getting better sponsors (money) and acquiring new customizations (getting a faster, better-performing car). There's an online mode that plays just fine, but you're not going to find anything special there that's not offered offline already.

-- Chris Campbell, Scripps Howard News Service

'Ninja Gaiden II'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

"Ninja Gaiden," the 2004 reboot of a series that began in 1988, has a well-earned reputation as one of the most difficult games on the original Xbox. While it does make some concessions to less-skilled players, "Ninja Gaiden II" (Microsoft, for the Xbox 360, $59.99) still provides enough of a challenge for hardcore veterans.

If you expect your ninjas to be at least a little stealthy, Ryu Hayabusa isn't the man for you. Ryu's technique is to leap into action with sword (and staff, shuriken, flail and tonfa) flying. Your enemies don't back down easily, either: Some keep attacking even after you've hacked their limbs off. This is an extremely gory game, with most battles ending with a pile of dismembered body parts.

The action is satisfying and the graphics are impressive, but the game has some major failings. One is a wonky camera that often blocks the best view of the action and prevents you from seeing approaching monsters. The other is an incomprehensible story, which at times becomes unintentionally funny. Still, if all you're looking for is a pure adrenaline rush, "Ninja Gaiden II" delivers.


1 star = Awful
Ratings explained

This heavily promoted first-person shooter heaves you right into a futuristic war between Mantel Global Industries, a private military contractor, and The Promise Hand, a South American guerrilla army. You begin as a Mantel trooper, teamed with some of the most loathsome characters ever seen in a game, but eventually you switch allegiances. (That's not a spoiler; the manual gives it away.)

Mantel troops have access to a drug called Nectar, which enhances perception and makes some attacks more powerful, but can cause you to lose control if you overdose. The guerrillas have to live more by their wits, but they have some abilities that balance the fighting. Unfortunately, the artificial intelligence is dreadful, making your squadmates on either side stupid and nearly useless.

"Haze" (Ubisoft; PS 3; $59.99) is further marred by unimaginative level design, sloppy graphics and repetitive audio, and the Nectar gimmick isn't used very effectively. With so many first-rate shooters on the market, "Haze" is a waste of time and money.

-- Lou Kesten, The Associated Press


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