Virtual Handshakes All Around

Some people hate goodbyes ? me, I despise introductions.

Think about it.

How uncomfortable were you the first time you met your friends at school? The initial moment you shook hands with your significant other? The time you sat there stunned as someone plopped a PlayStation 2 controller into your outstretched paws and said, ?Get to know this ? it?ll change your life.? (OK, so that last one?s a stretch ? still, wasn?t it a pain in the ass learning that dual analog joystick setup?)

But I digress. Here we are: just you, me and a whole lot of cyberspace, not to mention the multitude of computer and videogame publishers ? plus PC and set-top console manufacturers ? in between. So let?s dispense with the pleasantries, shall we: we?re all friends around these virtual parts? brothers in bullet-time, or butt-stomps, if you will.

Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Games People Play, a weekly look at various and sundry issues surrounding the interactive entertainment industry. Just a few of the topics we?ll be looking at: Handheld gaming; cell phone diversions; next-generation consoles; supercharged computers; the state of various software and technologies; massively multiplayer online titles; Lara Croft?s bodacious bum.

Yes, folks ? from Age of Empires III?s eye-popping visuals to ?griefers,? the cyber-bullies obsessed with torturing innocent n00bs (short for newbies, a.k.a. beginners? or dead meat, if you will), you?ll find it all here. The only things you won?t encounter? Intricate readouts on high-end graphics cards, steamy behind-the-scenes exposés on Japanese developers who haven?t seen the sun since Frogger first debuted (1981, for all you trivia buffs), and distressing, insider-specific jargon.

Age of Empires III Age of Empires III
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That?s right: we?ll be concentrating on ways to make gaming more palatable ? not it that needs much help, given that industry sales are expected to top $13 billion this year ? to the uninitiated. And, of course, show how it applies to the life of the average American, given that most players are 30 years old and 75% of households nationwide actively partake of the hobby.

After all, the next time you travel by air on business, try scanning the cabin. Dollars to doughnuts, you?ll see almost as many young professionals plugging away at a PSP as toddlers and teens.

Me, I?ll be your host for this grand adventure. And yes, before you ask: barring the odd editorial rant, I?ll save the self-aggrandizing for tradeshows, press junkets or times when I?m trying to pick up booth babes dressed as talking turnips. (Don?t ask ? only in Japan.)

The name: Scott Steinberg. The CV: features stints writing about gaming and technology since 1998 for over 200 illustrious outlets, including the one you?re now tuned into. The ironic twist? Unlike most critics, I put my money where my mouse is. See Heavyweight Thunder (www.heavyweightthunder.com), the first title from yours truly?s independent PC game production company Overload Entertainment.

Never mind the horn-tooting, however, even if we?re discussing someone who straddles the line? sometimes painfully? betwixt casual and hardcore gamer. You?ll know where I?m coming from just by considering the types of titles I prefer playing.

Given the choice, I?d take:

Laser Squad Nemesis or Rebelstar: Tactical Command over Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War ? slow, methodical, turn-based strategy tops real-time ruckuses every time.

Laser Squad Nemesis Laser Squad Nemesis
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Neverwinter Nights 2 before Jade Empire ? classic fantasy themes and adept storytelling are way more compelling than fancy visuals and scantily clad mistresses of martial arts.

Burnout Revenge rather than Gran Turismo 4 ? realism?s fun, but yo? sometimes, you just want to watch things blow up, real pretty-like.

Burnout Revenge Burnout Revenge
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Game Boy Micro prior to PSP ? better a lighthearted, graphically charming 2D title than one in 16:9 widescreen whose woozy 3D camera effects make you feel like hurling halfway into the first boss fight.

That said, from here on out, you?re free to form your own opinions. I?ll just be sharing mine from time to time, via the perspective of a casual observer, occasional insider, and frustrated creative type all rolled into one. The aim being, of course, to offer you the best ? and periodically worst, depending on how the computerized cookie crumbles ? of all worlds.

Because that?s what gaming is really about: having a good time while escaping from the confines of everyday life, and feeling the freedom to let your imagination and id run wild. Even if, heaven forbid, you should disagree with the subject or viewpoint in question? Or be unable to resist the urge to call me, as certain Halo 2 deathmatch players so eloquently do, a ?@#$!% nimrod.?

Ahem.

That said, before we consummate our relationship and set off on this grand adventure together, I thought I?d share with you a quick list of the games I?m currently playing below. They?re fun. They?re informative. They?re safer than speed dating. And the faster you become acquainted with them, the sooner we?ll all be through with this embarrassing icebreaker crap.

So enough babbling for one column: Here?s getting to know you, joystick jocks?

Resident Evil 4 (Capcom, GameCube/PlayStation 2) ? Be afraid. Be very afraid. Mostly because the game isn?t just atmospheric ? this murky tale of terror will actually make you wet your Depends. Anger-maddened villagers that stalk you relentlessly; crimson-clad priests in goat masks; a hero whose arsenal includes magnums, shotguns and rocket launchers? It?s like a living slasher flick. Good times!

Resident Evil 4 Resident Evil 4
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Sniper Elite (Namco, PlayStation 2/Xbox) ? World War II, yada yada? Secret conspiracy, blah blah? OK, so the storyline isn?t exactly Pulitzer Prize-winning material. But you?re one lone guy, who has to scan rooftops, sniff out ammo supplies and spend 90% of his time sniping away at much more well-armed adversaries. Tension?s shockingly high, and there?s this one great gimmick I should probably mention: Shoot someone, and the camera follows the path of the bullet until it explodes in their brainpan. Genius.

Sniper Elite Sniper Elite
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Capcom Classics Collection (Capcom, PlayStation 2/Xbox) ? If, like many twenty- and thirty-somethings, you grew up in an arcade ? or with a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) around the house ? be sure and cop this amazing anthology. Compiling 22 smash hits (e.g. Ghosts ?n Goblins, Gunsmoke, Mercs and 1942) in one value-priced package, 20 bucks buys you a first-class trip down memory lane. There?s even a port of Street Fighter II, in case all you rusty sorts need to brush up on your dragon punch.

Capcom's 1942 Mercs
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The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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