- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Here’s a look at some of the latest software available:

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition from Capcom (for XBox 360, Rated: Teen, $59.99).

A frozen tundra on a distant planet sets the stage for a third-person shooter loaded with cinematic action.

In this interactive science-fiction story about humans who try to colonize E.D.N. III and find some very dangerous life forms, the player takes control of Wayne Holden. He lost his memory and his father after a massive creature nicknamed Green Eye squashed the elder Holden.

The hero sets out on a one-man crusade to find his dad’s killer, wipe out some greedy space pirates and uncover a plot by Neo Venus Construction Corp.

As the player maneuvers Wayne, he becomes part of a blockbuster-movie experience, fighting through subzero weather conditions, subterranean lairs, caves, abandoned railroads and destroyed cities.

His main nemeses are the planet’s indigenous species, called the Akrid, which have a big-bug Starship Troopers design. They can dig up from the ground to surprise victims, roll up into balls to run over hunters and use a variety of tentacles, claws and crusted appendages to kill.

Wayne must constantly inject an orangish-red antifreeze solution called Thermal Energy to stay alive in the harsh conditions, and it just so happens the stuff runs through the anatomy of his monstrous opponents.

His survival is made much easier by a grappling anchor he uses to climb buildings and mountains, and an ample supply of weapons found strewn about, such as hand grenades, rocket launchers, shotguns, sniper rifles, machine guns and a “Terminator”-sized Gatling gun.

The best of his armaments are mechanical exoskeletons and “Transformers”-like vehicles called Vital Suits that the hero can easily climb into to wield their power. Different versions of these beauties can convert into a snow bike, hover away from opponents and be equipped with cannons, homing lasers and laser rifles.

Beautiful visual effects abound in the game, appreciated most by those who use a high-definition monitor, and all the chaos is supported with a chilling orchestral score.

Some moments of sheer visual and interactive splendor include watching defeated bugs quickly turn into frozen carcasses that Wayne can shatter to collect Thermal Energy, and smoky indoor firefights punctuated with awesome explosions and projectiles that whiz by the hero’s head.

After conquering Wayne’s adventure, a robust multiplayer option allows Lost Planet fans to challenge up to 15 others through the XBox 360 Live broadband interface in elimination, squad and fugitive competitions.

Lost Planet is not as impressive, or violent, as Microsoft’s Gears of War but still delivers an eye-popping and thumb-cramping adventure.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 from Nintendo (for DS, Rated: Teen, $29.99).

For a totally different type of virtual experience, Nintendo offers an interactive novel for its magical, dual-screen hand-held system loaded with visual and cerebral appeal.

In the story, a disgraced New York-detective-turned-salesman becomes involved one night in a 30-year-old mystery at a run-down Los Angeles inn called Hotel Dusk.

The player is the cop and holds his DS sideways, like a notebook, while he drags and clicks around the hotel through an over-the-top map on the touch screen to seek out encounters with characters.

During the action, he might need to fill out a form, knock on a door, collect a key, ring a bell and answer a phone (all with help from the stylus pen to manipulate the items) but, most important, he gets involved in superlengthy conversations with guests and staff to propel the story and reveal clues, depending on the questions asked.

Ask the wrong questions or be too belligerent, and the detective can get tossed from the hotel to end the game.

The stylish on-screen presentation offers a rotoscoped design of characters (refer to the annoying “A-ha” video from the 1980s) mixed with watercolor backgrounds.

Overall, Hotel Dusk is a time-consuming, story-driven affair that requires brains rather than thumb-mashing brawn and is a great addition to the eclectic DS library.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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