Reviews are out of four stars.
3 stars = Good
The original "Bioshock" of two years ago introduced the sub-Atlantic dystopia of Rapture and a story and details crafted with such care that it soared among gaming's best.
"Bioshock 2" (PC, PS3 and Xbox 360) takes place almost 10 years after the first game, and a decade hasn't healed the wounds of Rapture, where Splicers (humans gone terribly awry) still run wild, violence remains rampant, and ocean water still seeps through cracks of crumbling structures.
You control Subject Delta, a genetically enhanced human, and don the suit of a Big Daddy. Your goal is to find the Little Sister that you have been bonded to since the Sister's birth. As a Big Daddy, you have to take on Big Sisters, which are faster and stronger than anything you have faced in Rapture. Fortunately, they always come after you capture all of the Little Sisters in an area, so you can stock up on munitions and plan accordingly.
Graphics that were great two years ago are a bit disappointing today, while the sound and lighting effects are top-notch. Game play is the most improved element of "Bioshock 2." You can now wield plasmid powers simultaneously with physical weapons, and hacking machines no longer pauses gameplay and takes you out of the action.
"Bioshock 2" adds a multiplayer mode that includes a free-for-all deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and hold the territories, along with a few other classics.
Overall, the game upholds the original's best features but doesn't do enough to set itself apart from the game that kicked off the series.
-- Max Parker, The Game Guy at PG+
2 stars = Mediocre
In "Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers" (Nintendo Wii; $49.99; Teen) players take the role of Layle, one of the few Crystal Bearers of the world.
The young Layle -- an outcast, like others of his kind -- works as a mercenary. On an escort job, the airship he's protecting is attacked by one of a presumed-extinct race of beings, the Yukes.
The "Crystal Bearers" graphics are great, but the game play isn't as good as the looks. That's a shame, because the game has some neat ideas.
A crystal embedded in Layle's cheek allows him to control the powers of gravity magic; he can grab and manipulate objects, slow his fall, pull himself to distant objects, throw switches and so on. These actions are mainly controlled with movements of the Wii Remote.
Occasionally the player must engage in a mini-game, such as blasting attacking enemies with a gun or steering a failing airship through canyons.
Layle's main mode of attack is grabbing a foe and throwing it, or throwing something else at an enemy, but aiming these throws isn't very accurate. A poor camera and a useless world map make navigating the pretty locations a pain.
3 stars = Good
As ludicrous in its own way as the recent "Bayonetta," "Darksiders" likewise revolves around a battle between the forces of heaven and hell.
But instead of being on one side or the other, the player, as the apocalyptic Horseman War, is caught in the middle. Someone has summoned War too soon for the end of the world, but end it does, and the blame is pinned on him.
The Charred Council, a circle of stone faces that keeps the balance between the forces of good and evil -- and for whom the four Horsemen work -- is not happy. The council sends the weakened War back to the now-ruined and demon-infested Earth to battle demons and angels and try to clear his name.
"Darksiders" is a pastiche, drawing bits and pieces from successful games that have come before and smooshing them together. It isn't the best-looking game, nor is it very original, but all that it does, it does well.
The combat borrows aspects from the "God of War," "Devil May Cry" and even the "Legend of Zelda" series, with War able to combine attacks from his great sword, Chaoseater, and a couple of sub-weapons, a giant scythe and a hefty gauntlet. Each weapon can be assigned an enhancement, such as Hellfire or Bloodthirst, to boost its effectiveness.
Wrath abilities are powerful special moves that War can employ when he has gathered enough yellow souls; the Blade Geyser does about what it sounds like, and Affliction summons demons and spirits against War's foes. He'll gain a number of passive abilities as well, such as shadowy wings, a monstrous Chaos Form and the ability to summon his great steed, Ruin.
War eventually gathers a selection of useful tools, some similar to those Link might find in a "Zelda" game -- the Abyssal Chain can latch onto enemies and objects, the Crossblade can be thrown at multiple targets, the Earthcaller horn blasts enemies backward and opens certain gateways. The lock-on mechanism in combat also feels a lot like that in most 3-D "Zelda" games, allowing the camera to center on a single foe while War maneuvers around and attacks it at will.
-- Justin Hoeger, McClatchy Newspapers