Furious fireplay

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With an “emotion engine” — the nickname for the powerhouse motherboard that batteries PlayStation 2 — come more complicated games. And as much as gamers love flash-crazy graphics, enhanced violence and overall escapism thrills, enough is enough!

Unreal Tournament begins our major quibbles with PS2, the frail Furby of Christmas 2000. Realistically, playing this first-person shooter on a PC is a much better choice, particularly because of better bloodbath eye candy and a slew of additional levels (most downloadable, but PS2 doesn’t have online hardware yet).

Specifically, the analog controls for Unreal hinder gameplay to the point of being virtually paralyzed. Techies at Infogrames attempted to correct this fault by implementing optional controller modes, yet all of the options are obscenely difficult to maneuver. And since the more than 50 levels contained on this disc are based upon pure carnage and quickness of thumb, even a slight blemish (like the aforementioned) should cause a PS2 riot.

Luckily, the geniuses at Logitech (www.logitech.com) test-played Unreal before it hit the consumer market. So the story goes: An accessory company salvaged an unmanageable game, almost effortlessly, indeed. With the addition of their iTouch Keyboard and amazingly smooth Wheel Mouse, Infogrames’ PS2 loser instantly becomes a winner — receiving a possible “five-star” rating instead of a minimal “one” ranking.

However, Eidos Interactive also fashioned a first-person shooter with the same defects — but to a lesser extreme. If only it could be graded solely on concept, TimeSplitters would prevail as king of the hill. Slaughtering villains in a 1930s Chinatown or in ancient Egypt, oh my! And that’s just an overview of the first two stages of battle.

But after sharing a few hours with TimeSplitters, it’s easy to become a master — and much easier to conquer the short-lived game (there are only 18 time period levels). Unfortunately, the inability to plug into a keyboard and mouse injures Splitters’ longevity as well.

So for these two unperfected launch titles, renting is an alternative worth exercising — because 50 bills could be better spent on a flawless Dreamcast romp.

Jon M. Gibson investigates the triumphs — and pitfalls — of games and other technological poundcakes. E-mail him at [email protected].

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