The toughest thing to do in the video game world is to blink. There you are, racing a car at 120 mph, or shooting cranky aliens on war-torn planets. Either way, environments whir by at a deadly pace. To bat a dry eye is to blink and die.
My friends always can tell when I’ve been gaming too much. I don’t get sore thumbs. My dead giveaway is a pair of bleary, bloodshot yokes. And now, two fast-moving, winter games stress my pupils to the max.
In the first dry-eye challenge — the fun but unremarkable “Unreal Tournament III” — you play as a basic sci-fi girl or guy (your choice). You shoot big guns at sprinting rivals in steely corridors that look related to the metallic spaceship guts of “Aliens.”
While playing online against other gamers, everything is a blur of spacesuits and ammo. When you croak, you’re immediately resurrected. But the game often restores you to life right in front of a competitor’s gun. Blam.
If you close your eyes for a moment, you may be shot. If you survive during a long blink, you will be discombobulated afterward, as all kinds of battle movements will have blown by during your visual rest.
That’s the point. It wants to drive you insane with frenzy. That’s a noble goal, I think. Games ought to take over your senses. This one certainly does.
The action slows to a lighter, slower pace if you tackle “Tournament III” as a solo mission against the computer. But the solo journeys seem like warm-ups to the online shooting, which is what has made the “Unreal” series so classic.
I’m not totally won over by this sequel. It’s entertaining and includes good, dorky game modes, like “Capture-the-Flag.” But it’s an overly familiar romp of running-and-gunning. It’s probably best-suited for enthusiasts of the series, and nonblinkers.
The other eyeball-reddening game on the agenda is “Need For Speed: ProStreet.” The “Need for Speed” series defined the artistry of driving games. Settings pass prettily around your auto while you control superb steering and car-handling.
You zoom down a road at 100-plus mph. You see cracked, black streets rolling underneath your tires at an exhilarating rate. You also see the reflection of that road’s gravel and crevices shimmering quickly across the surface of your shiny car. This is extraordinary.
“ProStreet” especially comes alive when you compete online, as long as you get to drive a traditional race, and not just enter a drag race, which is a drag (step on the gas, shift gears, race over, boring).
Unlike previous “Need for Speeds,” “ProStreet” challenges you to drive on actual racetracks, instead of “Need’s” usual array of city streets. I’m not cool with that. City routes are way more interesting to crest over, with the traffic lights, and the urban skyscrapers, and all that mood-setting.
The tracks of “ProStreet” are isolated away from town, pretty much, so the race feels hemmed-in by railings. If I’m going to suffer red eye on the run, I want a more open-road experience. My eyes deserve that reward for feeling like they’re going to resign in protest and storm out of my skull.
(“Need For Speed: ProStreet” retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for Wii; $40 for PS 2; $30 for DS — Plays fun online, sort of fun offline. Looks great. Moderately easy to challenging (depending on settings you choose). Rated “E 10+” for suggestive themes. Three stars out of four.)
(“Unreal Tournament III” retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3 — Plays mostly fun, except when it’s too fast and familiar. Looks very good. Challenging. Rated “M” for blood, gore, intense violence, strong language. Three stars.)NEW IN STORES
“Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom” is an action role-playing sequel that lets you play in cooperative mode with other gamers along a set, fantasy course.
There’s fighting, magic potions and hit points. It retails for $60 for Xbox 360. It’s rated “M” for suggestive themes, violence, blood and gore.
“NFL Tour” plays a lot like EA’s previous “Street” football games, where you pass, run and tackle as real stars, pulling off spectacular jumps and runs, on squads of seven. But unlike the back alleys of “Street,” “Tour” is set in fancy new stadiums and features fireworks and loud craziness. It retails for $40 for Xbox 360 and PS 3. It’s rated “E.”
“Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law” is an action-adventure that offers five episodes where the Cartoon Network superhero gets to the bottom of cases and crime scenes, with voice-overs from the cartoon’s cast. It retails for $40 for Wii; $30 for PS 2 and PSP. It’s rated “T” for crude humor, mild language, sexual themes.
— By DOUG ELFMAN