GameSpot's Month in Review for April 2004

Our monthly feature sums up all the reviews we posted in April 2004. Check out our Game of the Month awards and our GameSpot Complete PDF Buyers' Guide.

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April has come and gone--for those of us living in the United States that means we've all had to complete our taxes. On the bright side, many of us will soon be receiving a refund check. We can't think of a better way to spend that money than blowing it all on the month's hottest games. As always, the GameSpot Month in Review includes links to all of the reviews for the month, covering all the major platforms: PC, Xbox, GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Game Boy Advance. We've also hand-selected the Game of the Month on each platform. But keep in mind that these awards don't just go to the highest-scoring game for each month. We carefully debate the merits of all deserving games before coming to a decision on which one should get the award.

After the flurry of games in March that earned the coveted Editors' Choice award, the frenzy died down a bit this past month, with just a couple of games scoring over a 9.0. But there were still plenty of games worthy of your attention and, most importantly, your gaming dollar. Sports fans scored big this month, but action, adventure, and strategy game fans will still find a lot of new games waiting for them at the store that are sure to please.

With more than 50 games reviewed in the past month, our buyers' guide comes in handy for sorting it all out. GameSpot Complete members can click on the download links on the right sidebar to grab the guide in Acrobat format. It's printable, so you can take it with you to the store or anywhere else the urge to read about games may strike. Questions or comments about this feature? Send us an e-mail.

PC Game of the Month

Review Excerpt

See screenshots of Painkiller
"Painkiller is a simple game at heart, but it's very well-put-together and does what it does exceedingly well. That is, it offers up lots of spectacularly visceral, bloody, in-your-face action through its numerous, action-packed single-player levels. And it looks beautiful, it sounds great, and it's got a pretty good old-school multiplayer deathmatch mode, for good measure. If you enjoyed the genre's pre-Half-Life classics or its more-recent games, like Serious Sam, then you'll love Painkiller."

Watch the video review of Painkiller First-person shooters used to be characterized by their elegant simplicity. Fast-paced action, responsive feel, and tons of carnage were the calling cards of the true classic shooters like Doom, Quake, and Duke Nukem 3D. Painkiller, a new FPS from developer People Can Fly, is a throwback to the golden age of shooters. Everything down to the game's goth-horror theme hearkens back to the good old days. It even offers instant weapon switching, for the ultimate in twitch deathmatch. Despite taking so many cues from the past, Painkiller certainly leverages modern technology to its fullest, using a fun physics engine that allows you to pin enemies to walls and blow them into tiny bits with a well-placed rocket. The game's utterly massive boss characters must be seen to be believed. Yes, those who are overly enamored with the slower-paced, tactical pace that most shooters offer today may find the game monotonous, but those of us who grew up playing the classics will find Painkiller to be a breath of fresh air in today's action game market.

Check out our other PC reviews in April

World Soccer Winning Eleven 7 (9.1)
"Winning Eleven 7 is a superb game that sounds great, looks impressive, and gets the most important element--playability--just right."

Rise of Nations: Thrones & Patriots (9.0)
"Thrones and Patriots is an expansion pack that offers more than just new content; it also makes a superb real-time strategy game even better."

Tournament Dreams College Basketball (8.9)
"Tournament Dreams College Basketball comes as a blast of much-needed fresh air to the somewhat predictable pro-sim scene."

Manhunt (8.3)
"Manhunt is an audacious game that backs up its extremely violent subject matter with solid stealth action gameplay."

TOCA Race Driver 2: The Ultimate Racing Simulator (7.7)
"It may not be quite up to the level of quality of its Xbox counterpart, but TOCA 2 is still a very good choice for PC owners on the hunt for a new racer."

Hitman: Contracts (7.6)
"Hitman: Contracts delivers some time-tested and sometimes highly entertaining stealth action, which any fan of the genre might as well check out."

Sacred (7.6)
"Sacred is a great-looking, generally solid action RPG that provides a few interesting gameplay innovations."

Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps (6.6)
"As good as the game looks, some flawed mechanics and a general lack of polish keep it from being as fun as it should be."

FaceOff Hockey 2004 (6.3)
"The developers may have designed a serious hockey simulation for the serious hockey fan, but the dated, almost DOS-like interface and absence of nifty accessories make it an acquired taste."

Midnight Nowhere (6.3)
"The early promise of this Russian-designed horror adventure game feels like it literally got lost in translation."

Crystal Key 2: The Far Realm (6.2)
"While Crystal Key 2 sure isn't a stunner, it's still a fairly solid adventure game that has its charms."

War Times (5.3)
"War Times is a very conventional real-time strategy game that suffers from slow pacing and poor pathfinding."

Northland (5.1)
"Those who are new to the series may not get past Northland's dated graphics engine or game design, which hasn't evolved with the rest of the RTS genre."

Breed (4.2)
"Breed makes a horrible first impression and then keeps making more bad impressions as you play."

Beyond the Law: The Third Wave (3.7)
"There's really no reason anyone should play Beyond the Law: The Third Wave."

Everest (3.4)
"There's so little to Everest, and what it does offer is dull."


Score 8.7
Developer: EA Sports
Publisher: EA Sports
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Xbox Game of the Month

Review Excerpt

See screenshots of Fight Night 2004
"In the end, Fight Night 2004 isn't without its flaws, but that doesn't stop it from being the most complete boxing game ever created. Everything the game offers--in terms of gameplay and presentation--all comes together to deliver one cohesive boxing experience that finally cracks the code and stands as a boxing simulation with the level of control and the fast-moving gameplay that makes it as fun to play as any arcade-styled boxing game before it. This is one title that just about every boxing fan should own, and it's one that even fighting game fans might enjoy, since it's deeply rooted in skill-based gameplay that tests your defensive and offensive abilities equally."

Watch the video review of Fight Night 2004 Boxing is a sport that has been underserved for many years by the game industry. In fact, there hasn't even been a boxing simulation game released in North America at all in more than a year. Electronic Arts has filled the void in digital pugilism admirably with Fight Night 2004, which offers the most realistic control, gameplay, and graphics ever seen in a boxing game. At the heart of Fight Night is its innovative control, where instead of pushing buttons to throw punches, you use the right analog stick to mimic the motion of the different punches. By switching punch control to the analog stick, the game becomes more skill-based, forcing you to be more deliberate about your motions if you want to throw the correct punch, as opposed to mashing on buttons. An exhaustive training mode ensures that you get used to doing combos, as well as other key aspects of boxing, like blocking and dodging. Rounding out Fight Night 2004's extensive list of features is a comprehensive career mode and a roster of 32 licensed boxers that include today's stars (Roy Jones Jr., Felix Trinidad, and more) on down to legendary fighters like Roberto Duran, Muhammad Ali, and Joe Frazier.

Check out our other Xbox reviews in April

Manhunt (8.3)
"Manhunt is an audacious game that backs up its extremely violent subject matter with solid stealth action gameplay."

NBA Ballers (8.2)
"NBA Ballers offers a unique gameplay experience, with a high quality presentation overlaid on a solid game design."

TOCA Race Driver 2: The Ultimate Racing Simulator (8.2)
"If you're a racing fan with an Xbox and $30 burning a hole in your pocket, TOCA Race Driver 2 is a great way to go."

ESPN Major League Baseball (8.1)
"Some aspects of ESPN Major League Baseball may look sloppy, but the game is great where it matters most."

Hitman: Contracts (7.6)
"Hitman: Contracts delivers some time-tested and sometimes highly entertaining stealth action, which any fan of the genre might as well check out."

Alias (6.3)
"The core concepts found within Alias are of a proven ilk, but the devil's in the details, as they say, and the sloppy execution of said concepts can't keep the game enjoyable for very long."

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Mayhem (5.6)
"Parents whose kids have Scooby-Doo hot on the brain from the movie can safely rent this one, or not, without worry of missing much."

Trivial Pursuit Unhinged (4.7)
"Does Trivial Pursuit Unhinged improve upon the actual Trivial Pursuit experience? The answer is a resounding 'No.'"

GameCube Game of the Month

Review Excerpt

See screenshots of Pool Paradise
"Pool Paradise is one of those rare, surreptitious little games that drive you to fritter the hours of your life away playing it, without ever gaining so much as a clue as to what it's doing to you. Its puzzlingly addictive nature simply cannot be reasoned with, yet at the same time, it helps solidify the game as one of the best games of pool to come out on a console platform in many years. Even if you don't appreciate the game's offbeat sense of humor and strange presentational design, you simply cannot deny that it provides some of the most polished pool gameplay around, as well as an extremely deep inventory of pool games and bonus games, which also happen to be quite fun. Even if Pool Paradise weren't the only available pool game for the GameCube, it would still be a strong choice for any billiards fan."

Check out this gameplay clip from Pool Paradise On the surface, Pool Paradise seems to be a cartoonish parody of real pool, with bizarre characters and irregularly shaped pool tables. Some of the characters you face include a loan shark (who is an actual shark), a scary glove-wearing guy named OJ Stumpstem, and a monkey in a wizard's outfit. Once you get past the oddball veneer of the game, however, you'll actually find that Pool Paradise offers a solid game of pool, with a strong physics engine to back it up. You can use multiple camera angles to help line up your shot, and then use the control stick to execute each shot, applying the proper amount of speed and force. Once you get more advanced, you'll learn how to apply spin to your shots in order to better position yourself for the next ball. Aside from standard 8-ball and 9-ball, you'll be able to play tons of other game types, including 6-ball, rotation, 14 to 1, killer, and more. Those who aren't averse to breaking out of tradition can also look forward to unlocking strangely shaped tables, like a T-shaped table, a cross-shaped table, and more.

Check out our other GameCube reviews in April

WarioWare Inc.: Mega Party Game$ (7.0)
"This GameCube update is largely the same as last year's Game Boy Advance game, right down to the GBA-quality graphics used in the minigames themselves."

Serious Sam: Next Encounter (6.5)
"Next Encounter is able to deliver an experience that is at least a rough approximation of a Serious Sam game."

Bomberman Jetters (6.0)
"Anyone hoping for a game of equal quality to Bomberman Generation will ultimately find Bomberman Jetters to be a bitter pill to swallow."

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Mayhem (5.6)
"Parents whose kids have Scooby-Doo hot on the brain from the movie can safely rent this one, or not, without worry of missing much."

Space Raiders (2.9)
"Fans of modern shooters will have no use for this trite, monotonous junk, and fans of the original Space Invaders will simply be appalled at how Taito has butchered its classic gameplay into this one-dimensional mess."


Score 8.3
Developer: Midway
Publisher: Midway
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PS2 Game of the Month

Review Excerpt

See screenshots of NBA Ballers
"NBA Ballers offers a great gameplay experience for fans of the NBA and of streetball culture. Midway has done a great job at combining a fun style with a solid underlying gameplay design to create a unique basketball game experience. If you've ever watched and enjoyed the Rucker Park tournaments or the And1 Mix Tape Tour on television, you owe it to yourself to check out NBA Ballers. Fans of arcade-style basketball and people who live for unlockable challenges will find no shortage of stuff to discover in NBA Ballers."

Watch the video review of NBA Ballers While it might be easy to dismiss NBA Ballers as a cheap attempt to cash in on the success of NBA Street, basketball fans who overlook Ballers are missing out on a game that is extremely fun and unique in its own right. Rather than being a three-on-three game like many other arcade basketball games, Ballers is primarily a one-on-one game. It leverages the popularity of street basketball, since many of the moves you do in the game are based on the exciting maneuvers pulled off by professional streetballers. If you've seen a move in an And1 streetball tournament, you can do it in Ballers. For example, you can throw the ball to yourself off the backboard, wrap the ball around your opponent's head, throw the ball off his face, or kick the ball between his legs. You can even chain all these together to earn maximum points. With more than 80 NBA players ranging from today's stars like Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant, to legends like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the game is sure to have one of your favorite pro hoopsters. Tons of unlockable content and a story mode that lets you create and customize your own player should keep you busy as you try to accrue as much bling as you can and build the most outrageous crib possible with the money you earn. Best of all, the PS2 version of the game has online play, so you can challenge others across the country using the NBA players you've unlocked or using your own created player.

Check out our other PS2 reviews in April

Fight Night 2004 (8.8)
"Fight Night 2004 offers the most realistic control, gameplay, and graphics ever seen in a boxing game."

Onimusha 3: Demon Siege (8.3)
"If you're a fan of the series or just want to play an action adventure in which you can hack up tons of ugly monsters--with style--then this game is just the ticket."

Hitman: Contracts (7.6)
"Hitman: Contracts delivers some time-tested and sometimes highly entertaining stealth action, which any fan of the genre might as well check out."

All-Star Baseball 2005 (7.5)
"The various minor improvements should give owners of All-Star Baseball 2004 a reason to upgrade and may convince fence-sitters to take the plunge this year."

Crimson Sea 2 (7.4)
"If you're looking for a game in which you can shoot up or cut up hundreds of ugly aliens for hours on end, you've come to the right place."

EyeToy: Groove (7.3)
"EyeToy: Groove delivers a rhythm action experience that's entertaining, if a little familiar."

Resident Evil Outbreak (7.2)
"Outbreak can be a fun experience--online and off--for diehard fans of the series, but the trite conventions and clumsy gameplay will probably turn off the average player."

Siren (6.7)
"Siren's dreamy, unsettling experience is ultimately marred by tedious trial-and-error-based design that makes it best suited to survival horror fans with a good store of patience."

Serious Sam: Next Encounter (6.5)
"Next Encounter is able to deliver an experience that is at least a rough approximation of a Serious Sam game."

Alias (6.3)
"The core concepts found within Alias are of a proven ilk, but the devil's in the details, as they say, and the sloppy execution of said concepts can't keep the game enjoyable for very long."

Destruction Derby Arenas (6.2)
"The online mode makes this game worth a rental for fans of the genre, but there isn't enough to Arenas to make it worth the $40 retail price."

UFC: Sudden Impact (6.0)
"Sudden Impact is easily the most unflinchingly halfhearted effort in the series to date, and it only serves to further run the once-promising UFC name into the ground."

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Mayhem (5.6)
"Parents whose kids have Scooby-Doo hot on the brain from the movie can safely rent this one, or not, without worry of missing much."

Trivial Pursuit Unhinged (4.7)
"Does Trivial Pursuit Unhinged improve upon the actual Trivial Pursuit experience? The answer is a resounding 'No.'"

After some deliberation, we decided to not award a Game of the Month to any Game Boy Advance games this month. We believe it's important to keep these awards meaningful, so we will never give one out for the sake of it. It's rare for something like this to happen, but there simply were no games we reviewed this month on the Game Boy Advance that we felt met the standard of quality expected of a Game of the Month winner.

Check out our other GBA reviews in April

CT Special Forces (7.0)
"Comparisons to Metal Slug aren't without merit, but CT Special Forces carves its own identity thanks to the intricacy of its levels."

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow (6.2)
"The game basically controls well and looks good, but it's difficult to the point of excess, and it has no lasting appeal once you get through its nine tough missions."

Street Jam Basketball (3.4)
"Every aspect of the game suffers because there's so little to see and do."

R-Type III: The Third Lightning (2.8)
"R-Type III for the GBA is a terrible port of a great SNES game."

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