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Mediocre Fantastic Four rise against Silver Surfer

- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 14, 2007

Superhero and cartoon characters have become integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. Around the world, youngsters and guys who can't get dates spend countless hours in front of their computers and video-game systems.

With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and Silicon Valley with a look at some ...

Comics plugged in

FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER (TAKE-TWO INTERACTIVE FOR XBOX 360, RATED E +10, $39.99)

Marvel's elder superhero family has a new movie and a video game partly based on Twentieth20th Century Fox's efforts. As many as four players can now cooperatively save the world in this third-person adventure that pits legendary comic book villains from the team's history against the Fantastic Four's cinema counterparts.

What's the story? From the instruction booklet: "The Fantastic Four meets their greatest challenge yet as the enigmatic, intergalactic herald, The Silver Surfer, comes to earth to prepare it for destruction. As the Silver Surfer races around the globe wreaking havoc, Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben must unravel the mystery of the Silver Surfer and confront the surprising return of their mortal enemy, Dr. Doom, before all hope is lost."

Characters' character: The good news is that the game is cooperative and that all the heroes have their signature powers.

That means Sue Storm becomes invisible, Reed Richards stretches, the rocky Ben Grimm (aka the Thing) is superpowerful, and Johnny Storm bursts into flames.

Each hero's basic attacks are of the martial-arts variety (kicks and punches), but each also can tap into his cosmic energy during battles to find superpowers, such as Sue's force shield and Reed's extended-periscope punch.

Johnny's effects are really fun to watch as, while on fire, he can fly, shoot flame balls and turn into a blowtorch to attack enemies.

Additionally, players can press buttons on each of their controllers at the same time and have the team members react together to perform a battle move in a visually spectacular fashion.

As the team's missions are played out in the streets of New York, in an underground military bunker, in Shanghai and in outer space, they will encounter the classic archenemies Super Skrull, Terrax and Red Ghost, and ultimately face off against Dr. Doom.

Heroes usually work together, but some added individual missions (Johnny trying to follow the Silver Surfer in a New York tunnel to just name one) slightly spice up the action.

The bad news is that the game's look is just average compared to similar titles, the film cast did not participate in the voiceovers, the design is very lazy (the Thing can lift a car and pound it into foes, but it never is destroyed) and the players never control the Silver Surfer or face off against Galactus.

A small saving grace to the game's mediocrity is the ability to unlock collections of comic book covers from the Fantastic Four's 46-year history enhanced with a zoom feature to appreciate the slick artwork.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? He found that certain powers, used in repetitive excess, were the keys to victory almost every time. Between Johnny's fireballs and the Thing's shock wave move, most enemies and obstacles were obliterated. An occasional door or switch to be activated required more finesse and the use of powers such as Sue's telekinesis (she can pick up a larger object with a force field and control it) or Mr. Fantastic's stretch ability.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 120/80, normal. The main characters never die but run out of health, are temporarily knocked out and quickly return to the action. Minions, be they Skrulls, mechanical monstrosities, rock men or Red Ghost's apes, are all dunderheaded and perish in piles of multicolored orbs, absorbed by Fantastic Four members to enhance their powers and health.

What if I want to read a book? Marvel has kept the Fantastic Four on retailers' shelves since its debut in 1961. I would suggest a look at the current Ultimate Fantastic Four series, which reimagines the origins and universe of the team, and issue Nos. 42 to 46 ($2.99 each) for a look at a five-part story featuring the Silver Surfer.

What's it worth? Boring dialogue, zero innovation, a confusing story (hopelessly lost in the game), repetitive action and dull computer-animated scenes present nothing special here for the advanced gamer. However, younger children will enjoy a rental of the title for the colorful mayhem and ease at conquering the entire story in hours rather than days.

Pop bytes

A brief review of game titles that didn't have time to get fully plugged in.

TOMB RAIDER ANNIVERSARY (EIDOS FOR PLAYSTATION 2, RATED "TEEN," $29.99)

Video gaming's famed female explorer, Lara Croft, whose legend has been chronicled in movies, comic books and action figures, returns to celebrate 10 years as a pop culture star in a game that takes players back to her roots.

Tapped into using Sony's last, but still most popular console (the PlayStation 2), the game is a re-imagined tribute to her original adventure in 1996, when she set out to retrieve the mythical Scion artifact.

The hard-core fan of Tomb Raider will revel in the nostalgia and updated graphics as he travels around the world with Lara to challenge his puzzle-solving skills while controlling an acrobatic hero who packs just enough heat to take down a wide range of ferocious enemies.

New players, just exposed to the Croft legacy, will now know what all the fuss was about and find the third-person adventure more than a challenge.

ZADZOOKS! WANTS TO KNOW YOU EXIST. Call 202/636-3016, Fax 202/269-1853, E-MAIL jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com, visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times' Web site (http://video1.washingtontimes.com/zadzooks/) or write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.