- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Here is a look at some hardware and software now available:

Armed & Dangerous, by LucasArts for Xbox, rated T: content suitable for ages 13 and older, $49.99. A band of merry buffoons offers a clever combination of sophomoric antics and bizarre armaments in this fun third-person shooter.

Imagine Kevin Smith writing and Quentin Tarantino directing star Mike Myers in a “Robin Hood”-meets-“Lord of the Rings”-type epic, in which a four-member team steals a prized artifact and unwittingly gets stuck in a rebellion against a tyrant king.

Now toss in rocket launchers, guns that shoot hungry land sharks at the opposition, and bombs that distort gravity and detonate tiny black holes that consume everything near them. A single player will find himself chanting, “It blowed up; it blowed up real good,” through a silly grin.

Adults and teens in need of stress relief take control of the Lionhearts gang — Roman, a cockney criminal mastermind; Jonesy, a Scottish mole miner; Q1-11, an upper-class, tea-drinking eliminator ‘droid; and Rexus, a Yoda-like seer who doesn’t smell so good — as they battle King Forge’s minions across the lands of Millola.

Within 21 action-packed missions ranging from rescuing peasants to destroying massive robots to defending castles, Armed & Dangerous takes the linguistically eclectic gang through five harsh environments as they eviscerate armies of animalistic Orcian Grunts, mechanical Goliaths and burrowing Twiglets.

The game really shines during combat as the player controls Roman, who takes the brunt of the nonstop action. In addition to wielding plenty of firepower — and adding to it during any level by stopping in a friendly pub — he can take control of stationary cannons to pulverize buildings and flying aircraft while directing his associates to defend him or an area.

Controller aficionados should look to Gamester’s FPS Master ($29.99) to really feel part of the Armed & Dangerous experience. The olive-green controller resembles a pair of futuristic pistols melded together, sans barrels, and offers on-the-fly reconfiguring of buttons via an LCD screen prompt and a pair of analog sticks firmly in union with each thumb.

Armed & Dangerous lives up to its name and wields a Middle-earth mentality with a sense of humor to provide at least a couple of evenings of excitement.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico, by Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment, for DVD-enabled computers and home-entertainment centers, rated R, $19.99. While on the topic of brain-numbing violence, speedy director Robert Rodriguez’s final chapter of his salsa-fied spaghetti Western arrives on DVD with just enough extras to keep movie fans and gamers satisfied.

The tale of a musically destructive mariachi who exacts revenge on the general who murdered his wife and child stars Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp and Willem Dafoe, with flashback assistance from Salma Hayek.

After enjoying 102 bullet-riddled minutes, viewers can learn a bit about special effects; get a lesson from the director on preparing a tasty dish, puerco pibil; get the director’s glowing opinion of using high-definition digital cameras in the filmmaking process; and discover how he uses the “fast, cheap and in control” method to keep costs down in his movies.

With the disc popped into a computer’s DVD drive, players will find two challenges to tweak trigger fingers and a bit of the cerebrum.

First, Tiro al Blanco (the shooting gallery) takes the player to the movie’s church scene and allows him to blast pop-up villains and spare the good guys by targeting them through mouse-controlled cross hairs. Success leads to a second level and more noisy antics.

Second, the Lotteria Game involves selecting tarot cards picturing the primary stars and using knowledge from the film to decide how a character might act in a situation by choosing the correct multiple-choice answer. Right choices lead to the collection of pesos, guns and “suerte” (luck), while wrong answers deduct from the treasures.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]washingtontimes.com).

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