Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: neo Software
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When originally released on the PC, no one knew what to expect from Remedy Entertainment's third-person shooter. After more than three years in development, the world was pleasantly surprised with an original shooter that surpassed expectations with its innovative gameplay mechanics, cohesive style, and undeniable playability. PC-to-console conversions have had a spotty track record, especially when it came to shooters, and Max Payne's announcement for the Xbox was met with skepticism. Thankfully, this turned out to be unfounded, as the game looks just as good and is just as playable as its PC counterpart, making it one of the best console games as well as one of the best PC games of the year. The story of a New York cop avenging the death of his wife and child seems rote even for a b-grade action movie, but in the context of Max Payne's gritty style, it works. The game's use of bullet-time, an effect that momentarily puts the action in slow motion, serves as both form and function. Using bullet-time, any of the games innumerable firefights feel as though they were pulled straight for a John Woo action movie, and adds an interesting twist to what would have otherwise been a pretty straightforward shooter.
Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec
Developer: Polyphony Digital
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It took the PlayStation 2 a while to get going, but now its library is highlighted by some of the most polished and entertaining games in recent years. The recent string of top-notch PS2 software can be traced back to the release of one game, Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec by Polyphony Digital. At one time, the game was known as Gran Turismo 2000 and was simply an enhanced port of the PlayStation game, GT2. However, at some point during the game's development cycle Sony and Polyphony Digital made the wise decision to use only limited code from the PlayStation game and develop virtually an entirely new driving game utilizing the power of the PlayStation 2. Racing fans have been thankful for that decision ever since.
GT3 doesn't have nearly as many car models as its PlayStation predecessor, but that is because it has prudently kept the key manufacturers and ditched most of the derivative cars types. In fact, the development team has even added a few high-profile car models, such as the Mazda RX-8, that weren't included in the two previous incarnations of the series. Several tracks are also new, and the returning ones have been completely overhauled to more closely match their real-life counterparts. The improvements aren't in visual terms alone, as the game has better physics, more realistic handling characteristics, and some of the best sound ever for the racing genre. The Gran Turismo series was already brilliant on the PlayStation, and those games were regarded by many at the time as the epitome of the simulation racing subgenre. Gran Tursimo 3 improves on just about every aspect and is easily one of the most rewarding and memorable games of the year.