- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Halloween arrives early for game players through a couple of frightening, first-person challenges and a hilarious DVD set.

First, in Darkwatch (from Capcom for Xbox and PlayStation 2, rated M: content suitable for ages 17 and older, $39.99), imagine a melding of Halo and the legendary film “Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula” within a game that has a Wild West outlaw battling a legion of fanged foes.

As Jericho Cross, a single player watches his character unintentionally free the king of the vampires, Lazarus, who then bites him. Now, the player takes control of Cross (who is turning into a blood sucker) and spends a whole lot of time blasting the undead back to the netherworld.

The player must find a variety of weapons that range from a dual crossbow to Blackfish carbine to participate in the nonstop, although predictable, action, which mixes defeating bosses who use patterned attacks and skeletal minions that pop up in predictable places.

The game still stands out due to a Blade-meets-Van Helsing character, awfully creepy environments and bloodcurdling sound effects that take a bite out of a player’s nerves.

I could have used a radar device to keep track of enemies and would have appreciated more time riding the demon horse, but I won’t deny that repeatedly unloading a shotgun into the chest of rampaging skeletons to have them burst into sparkling flames is quite a delightful stress reliever.

Darkwatch definitely will give the mature horror fan a fun time at the ol’ corral any night.

Next, a player assumes the role of John Raimi, a specialist in biological and chemical threats who finds himself turned into a ghost during a diabolical experiment by Volks Corp. Now, Raimi must escape in the horror adventure Geist (from Nintendo for GameCube, rated M: content suitable for ages 17 and older, $49.99).

This first-person shooter distinguishes itself by allowing a single player to possess and take control of both objects and beings to accomplish missions.

The possession angle is further inspired as players must first figure out how to frighten living creatures before they can be taken over. This plays out in such bizarre tasks as becoming one with a garbage can to shoot plasm blobs in the air to spook a soldier, and merging with a dog bowl to be able to control a pooch.

Unfortunately, the enjoyment of the experience is hampered by having to repeatedly return to traditional gaming such as battling bosses, finding ways to open doors and shooting enemies.

While in spectral form, the game is from a third-person perspective, but quickly turns into a first-person affair when possessions occur. Yes, that means often seeing the world as a grenade crate, rat, bunny and even a soda machine.

Players must constantly possess something to stay healthy in the spirit realms, and with the ability to jump from frightened enemy to enemy, it adds an exciting level of strategy.

This game easily could have been a new Myst-like breath of fresh air for the gaming industry, as its exploration and puzzle-solving potential seemed limitless amid the mechanics of magical possession. Instead, by pushing for an M rating by adding gratuitous violence, bloodshed and pinch of nudity, Geist simply has catered to a dunderheaded “it-blowed-up-real-good” audience.

Finally, the Ghostbusters Double Feature Gift Set (from Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, rated PG, $19.99) does not go far enough for the DVD fan looking to deconstruct and become one with his favorite group of paranormal investigators.

Sure, the movies are remastered and look great as they highlight veteran Second City alums (Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray) chasing down spirits in New York City.

Viewers of the “Ghostbusters” disc get a commentary track offering witty banter from director Ivan Reitman, producer Joe Medjuk and writer Mr. Ramis, some deleted scenes, featurettes, conceptual art and the almost redeeming special effects comparison feature using the remote’s angle option.

However, supplements to the “Ghostbusters 2” disc are just a couple of episodes from the uneven “Real Ghostbusters” cartoon series from the late 1980s. Is that really all Columbia Tristar could muster for a pair of films in which all the principal cast members and production crew are still alive?

Furthermore, knowing a 1999 DVD release for the 15th anniversary of “Ghostbusters” is still out there, with more bonus features, does not help sell this set.

These enduring creepy comedies always will make me chuckle, but the collection needed to deliver a much more robust digital video experience.

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

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