- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2003

Superheroes 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 melding of pop-culture characters and Silicon Valley with a look at some …

Comics plugged in

Pop-culture creator Todd McFarlane’s legendary sequential-art legend burns his way into PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube owner’s television screens through the third-person action game Spawn: Armageddon ($49.99).

Namco gives one player the chance to control the misunderstood hero in a three-dimensional environment as he battles against the forces of evil through 23 missions while using the same powers that made him a comic-book superstar.

What’s the story? Professional assassin Al Simmons’ life comes to an agonizing halt after he is double-crossed by his boss, Jason Wynn, and torched to death. His only chance for retribution and ever seeing his wife, Wanda, again involves making a pact with the lord of the underworld in which he becomes a powerful Hell Spawn — and agrees to help lead the evil army when the apocalypse begins.

Now trying to escape his future, and enveloped in a living costume to conceal his horrendous appearance, he struggles to protect the disenfranchised in New York City while being caught in a conflict between factions in heaven and hell.

Characters’ character: The game does an amazing job of allowing the player to control every facet of Spawn. As he roams the darkest areas of such familiar locales as the Bowery, the subway and Central Park looking for evil, his super strength allows him to scale walls, his symbiotic costume shoots out razor-sharp chains to grapple, and his flowing red cape gives him the ability to land gracefully on rooftops.

Spawn eventually faces some of his archenemies, such as Cygor, Redeemer, Violator and ultimately Malebolgia as he engages them through hand-to-hand combat and unleashes an abundance of weaponry — including axes, submachine guns and brimstone cannons — upon them or uses those deadly chains from his living symbiotic garb.

Additionally, the character absorbs necroplasm during successful encounters, which he can use to wield his substantial dark-world powers — ranging from deadly beams of energy to hell speed to a demonic fury — that devastates opponents.

Spawn fans also will feel immersed in the character’s world thanks to a voluminous encyclopedia on the villains he challenges, as well as the ability to collect comic-book covers of their favorite vigilante in action.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? A relatively simple combat system combined with an overwhelming arsenal gave the lieutenant plenty of opportunity to stop the likes of flying imps, blade-wielding berserkers and gorgeous female whip demons. Paths to complete the mission are marked clearly by burnt icons, but trouble can occur while trying to climb walls or executing attacks, thanks to a clunky camera system.

Parental units’ blood-pressure meter: 200/150, off the chart and bursting from every artery. Blood, blood and more blood flows from Spawn and his enemies as they chop and blast away at one another in this very violent video game. It may be the most authentic imagining of the Hell Spawn’s universe, so only very mature individuals (ages 17 and older) should take part in the carnage. Even controversial recording artist Marilyn Manson lends the tune “Use Your Fist and Not Your Mouth” to the game.

What if I feel like reading a book? Mr. McFarlane has been churning out sequential-art issues of Spawn comic books for the past 11 years, and each features awesome but usually grotesque artwork of a man trying to make up for the sins of his past ($2.50 per issue).

What’s it worth? If the game were as good in play as it looks, it would be one of the best of the year. However, enemies are a bit dunderheaded, and exploration can become way too repetitious. Overall, experienced gamers will get bored and will appreciate Namco’s Soul Calibur 2 (which features Spawn in the Xbox version) more to their liking. However, anyone looking for a computer-generated visual masterpiece of Spawn’s violent universe will sell his soul for a copy.

Pop bytes

A brief review of game titles that didn’t have time to become fully plugged in:

Battlestar Galactica, by Vivendi Universal Games (for Xbox and PlayStation 2, rated Teen, suitable for players 13 and older, $49.99). A 1970s science-fiction television show comes back to life through a new series on the Sci-Fi network and this flight shooter simulation filled with nostalgia and interstellar dogfights.

As a single player listens to the rousing theme, he must take control of a young Adama as he pilots such crafts as Vipers and bombers and mans the guns of a starship to battle the Cylons and protect the remaining human colonies from obliteration at the hands of maniacal machines.

Comic-book writer Grant Morrison (Justice League, X-Men) supplies the plot. Stars of the original show Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch offer their characters’ voices, and developer Warthog (“Star Trek Invasion,” “Mace Griffin Bounty Hunter”) works the software magic as the game becomes a watered-down — but extremely difficult to master — version of the popular Star Wars video-gaming franchise Rogue Squadron.

For more details, Marvel Comics offered a 23-issue “Battlestar Galactica” sequential-art series in the 1970s (priced at $6.50 each in near-mint condition), and Realm Press offered a five-issue series devoted to the show in the late 1990s (priced at $3 each in near-mint condition).

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail [email protected] or write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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