- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2003

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

Comics plugged in

Famous movie monsters battle for control of a planet in Aliens Versus Predator: Extinction ($39.99). Electronic Arts takes an Xbox or Playstation 2 owner on a real-time strategy adventure based on the popular 20th Century Fox film property in which he engages in 21 levels of troop-controlling action to dominate a very hostile environment.

What’s the story? On the distant planet LV-742, a unit of Colonial Marines has made a terrifying discovery. On this cold planet, a monstrous battle is being waged between a cunning Alien hive and a clan of merciless Predators.

With the arrival of the Colonial Marines, bloody skirmishes have morphed into all-out war among all three species — the ultimate prize is total domination over all life-forms on LV-742.

Characters’ character: After watching an amazing computer animated sequence highlighting hostilities between all combatants, the player gets his chance to control either Colonial Marine, Alien or Predator units through seven bloody missions each.

The three species have unique strengths and weaknesses, and each offers its own set of upgrades, with 10 types of characters bought by collecting credits for killing enemies and controlled through a menu-driven interface.

Those in charge of the frail Colonial Marines will find the most firepower available to them but will also have to be incredibly careful of keeping key members of the unit alive to survive, such as a CommTech, to order new troops and supplies or a Medic, who will quickly heal injured troops.

The player looking to provide guidance to the Aliens will be thrown into micromanagement purgatory as he not only is responsible for hatching a queen, but also for having her lay eggs, getting face huggers to impregnate opponents and protecting Chestbursters who eventually becomes acid-spitting drones — all the while trying to stop Marines or Predators from ravaging his hive.

Most amateur gamers will bond with the Predator species that not only manages to heal itself with a procedure ripped right out of the movies, but also have cloaking abilities and utilize a wide range of cool weapons to take out opponents and their equipment very quickly.

The game also includes an encyclopedia to identify all forms of species and mood music along with sound effects making for aurally tweaked scenes of carnage.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? After a quick tutorial on the combat, the lieutenant chose to control the Predators. By using a primarily over-the-top perspective, he was able to maneuver three tough cookies through mountainous terrain with the click of a button and take on swarms of Aliens in one mission … or assault heavily guarded Marine outposts in another by simply clicking out his commands and watching the action.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 190/150, break out the toe tag. Luckily the graphic presentations are miniature in scale and often hard to decipher, so an adult observer only has to hear and not gratuitously watch rib cages exploding, skulls being torn from spinal columns, humans being immolated and three types of blood and body parts being scattered and splattered over the landscape.

Suffice it to say that only teenagers of sound mind need apply to take part in this time-consuming slaughter.

What if I feel like reading a book? Dark Horse Comics has been the only place to enjoy stories chronicling the meetings between these science-fiction cinema legends. I suggest the trade paperback Alien vs. Predator ($19.99), collecting the five-part 1989 series for sequential art lovers unfamiliar with their exploits.

What’s it worth? AvP: Extinction offers a basic introduction to the real-time strategy genre of games that concentrates much more on live action rather than strategic minutiae. The lack of any multiplayer level hurts its overall replayability, but fans of the science-fiction films will absolutely love its faithfulness to the species and the ferocious fights.

• • •

Pop bytes

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

• Aquaman, by TDK MediaActive (for Xbox and GameCube, rated “T,” suitable for players 13 and older, $19.99). This wasted effort pays tribute to writer Peter David and artist Marty Egeland’s one-handed version of DC Comics Atlantean superhero as a single player controls the famed member of the Justice League through 21 missions as he tries to stop archenemy Black Manta from looting and destroying his undersea home.

Unfortunately, the 3-D action game never lives up to its plot potential and murky graphics within undersea environments. A schizophrenic roving camera, incredibly stupid villains and button-mashing battles do little to take advantage of the graphic powerhouse gaming consoles.

Further aggravating matters for the Aquaman fan, explanatory segues between missions are presented through terrible looking computer-generated panel art.

Hey, developer types: The game is about a comic book hero. If you must use this method, then why not get a comic book artist to draw some really neat splash panels with big word bubbles and let players interact with them to reveal the plot?

The potential to play as the original Silver Age Aquaman and the five levels of sub-based action (which looks like fight scenes from “Independence Day”) and the puny price offered little solace to a simulation that appears to be a half-hearted class project rather than a polished homage to a 62-year-old hero.

• Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends: Complete First Season, by Bullwinkle Studios (for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $39.99). Any human aware of such television cartoon luminaries as Snidely Whiplash, Dudley Do-Right, Mr. Peabody, Sherman and Boris Badenov will appreciate this DVD spectacular that crams 26 episodes of Jay Ward’s revolutionary animated lunacy onto four discs.

Timeless segments such as Fractured Fairy Tales, educational trips on the Wayback machine and the humorous adventures of moose and squirrel translates into over two hours of popular culture, pun-filled merriment.

The bonuses are a bit paltry. I did enjoy the promotional spots, Bullwinkle Puppet tests and the 16-page book on the history of the show, but any fan of animation will only care about joyously reliving some twisted characters from the 1960s through digitally remastered sounds and visuals.

@$:Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853,or e-mail [email protected].

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