Driver 2 PlayStation Video Game Review

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This review was originally written on July 27, 2002
A Game So Unplayable You'll DRIVE Back To The Store To Return It!

I *LOVE* Grand Theft Auto 3 (for the Playstation 2) and I wanted a game that would be similar to it. I know that no game, except for possibly GTA4, could even come close to GTA3, but I still wanted "more." From what I read about this game, it seemed like a poor man's GTA3. I had Driver 1 on the PC, but could never actually play the game itself because I could not pass that stupid driving test at the beginning of "Undercover" mode. When I read that Driver 2 did not have a driving test, that gave me even more reason to want it.

GAMEPLAY

When I popped the game into my PS2, I immediately went into "Free Ride" mode so that I could get a feel for the controls and check out the scenery a bit. I didn't even move one inch when the cops were after me. Yes, that's right, I was STANDING STILL and the cops were on my butt. If the cops are going to be on me like white on rice, I'd at least like to know WHY. I gave the cops no resistance, allowing them the chance to come up to the car and pull me out (like real cops would, and those in GTA3), but they thought it would be best to just keep ramming me!?!

Since this game lacks the Police Bribes and the Pay And Spray of GTA3, the only way I could get the cops off my tail and reduce my felony meter (the equivalent of GTA3's Wanted stars meter) was to hightail it out of there in the hopes that I could lose them. Even though the game promises that you can wipe your felony meter clean by getting out of your vehicle and carjacking another one, since you can't get out of the car and switch vehicles while being wanted/chased, there's no practical use of this "feature."

I decided to try the main "Undercover" mode, hoping that it would be better. The first mission was simple enough. Get from point A to point B. The first time I tried it I failed it because I didn't get to the place on time (I was going the wrong way from the start). Once I figured out that all I had to do was make two lefts then go right every chance I could, I got to the destination with time to spare. Mission 1 Passed! Perhaps this game WOULD get better ... until Mission 2, that is!

Mission 2 involves you having to follow another car. The problem is, unless you're (at most) two car lengths behind him, the game will say that you lost him and thus failed the mission ... even though his car is clearly visible on the screen! After attempting this mission three or four more times, only to get as far as around the corner, I had enough punishment and immediately decided to bring the game back to the store with my receipt to get a different game. ANY game would be better, even Barney The Dinosaur!

Not even cheats codes could help make this game playable. I used two Game Shark codes to unlock the in-game Invincibility and Immunity (no felony) cheats. However, neither of these would help with mission 2. The Infinite Time Game Shark code would not work, otherwise I *might* have had a chance of barely playing the game ... the key words there are "might" and "barely."

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GRAPHICS

This game has the WORST graphics ever seen in a video game of any age. Pong and Pac-Man look high-tech compared to this.

There is more pop-up in Driver 2 than in a marathon of Pop-Up Video on VH-1. You look ahead and see an open piece of land. You plan to cut across that land in order to make the turn at a high speed without having to slow down (or just to take a shortcut). Just as you get within a car's length of that land, a building pops up out of nowhere. BAM! You crashed and damaged your car. Repeat indefinitely and you've got the graphics of Driver 2.

REPLAYABILITY

In order to have replayability, a game must first have playability.

TO BUY OR TO RENT?

NEITHER!

I wouldn't even give the CD to my dog as a chew toy.

The Italian Job PlayStation Video Game Review

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This review was originally written on July 27, 2002
Not A Great Game, But Not A Bad Game Either

The Italian Job video game is based on the 1969 movie starring Michael Caine (as Charlie Croker), Noel Coward (as Mr. Bridger), and Benny Hill (as Professor Simon Peach). Interestingly, the movie was remade in 2003 with Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, Seth Green, and Donald Sutherland. That movie also had a tie-in video game on the PlayStation 2, which is a completely different game than the one I will be reviewing today.

The plot of the movie and the game is very simple: A gang of crooks steal four million dollars through a traffic jam, while avoiding the police and mafia. HOW they do it is the fun part!

The game contain 16 missions across three different locales. Eight are in London, six are in Turin, and the final two are in the Alps.

I'd like to preface these next few paragraphs by telling you that I saw the film in it's original widescreen format (aka letterbox) on the Speedvision cable channel. Although this is a commercial channel, I presume the film was not edited. If it WAS edited, some of what I'm about to write may be incorrect.

Out of the eight London missions, only two are directly based on the film: "The Ambassador's Car" is implied in the film (they don't explicitly show you driving from the prison directly to the garage to pick up your car). "Peaches For Peaches" is also implied in the film (we see the hookers outside in Charlie's car while at Peach's place, but we never see him actually pick them up and take them there). The other six missions are completely made up using characters from the film.

The first mission in Turin is completely made up. It's just there to help you locate the places that you'll be visiting in later missions. I don't know why they make you visit the police station, since it is never visited in the game (or the film). The other five missions are directly based on the film (although the game maker's had to take a few minor liberties to make them work in the context of the game). Both Alps missions come directly from the film.

This is the only game that I can think of based on a film (or TV) license that makes PERFECT use of that license. To have a game this faithful to it's license is extremely rare.

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GAMEPLAY

Before you even get to play any missions you have to deal with an extremely long loading time of about 30 seconds for each mission. This could be enough to turn some people off, and make them turn off the game, but I had enough patience to wait out each of these loadings.

Some of the missions are extremely fun, some are downright annoying, and one or two are hard as heck. Since I couldn't pass a few of the missions, I had to use the in-game cheat code to unlock all of the missions. This was great because it allowed me to play all of the missions (or at least attempt all of them) and I could keep playing my favorite ones.

"The Getaway" mission in Turin (a near-exact recreation of the film's iconic Mini Cooper chase scene) is one of my favorites even though I could never pass it. The reason why I couldn't pass it is one of the game's few faults: the cops. They are completely annoying, but are a lot better than the cops in Driver 2. As you get their attention, they (of course) pursue you. The only way to get the cops off your butt is to drive fast enough and take enough turns so as to lose them. When you have a timer counting down and a mission objective to take care of, this is a major annoyance. As if that wasn't bad enough, while they're chasing you, the cops are trying to write down your license plate number. If they get your whole number, you're busted (or "nicked" as the game calls it). Although this is a major improvement over the way the cops deal with you in Driver 2, it has one major flaw. Logically, and in real life, even when the cops get your entire license plate number, you can still drive away and have them chase you. For the game to simply have your mission end because the cops got your entire license plate number is ridiculous. Most often the cops are the reason why you'll fail missions (such as why I couldn't pass "The Getaway").

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Using a walkthrough found at GameFaqs, I went into Free Ride mode and tried to recreate the path of "The Getaway." Although it didn't have the thrill and excitement of the actual mission, for the most part, I was able get a sense of what that mission is like ... and that was a lot of fun. It was because of that that I got interested in seeing the film (I first played the game without having seen the film). I wanted to see if the cool getaway in the game was just as cool in the movie. I never thought I'd say this about a game based based on a film, but the game's getaway was BETTER! The film cuts back and forth between the getaway chase and scenes that take place elsewhere at the same time. This completely throws off the continuity and excitement of the getaway. Still, a game that will make you want to see the movie it's based on is a good thing indeed (especially for the studio that owns the film and the license).

AUDIO/VIDEO

The music is a top-notch mixing of an instrumental of Quincy Jones' "Get A Bloomin' Move On" (aka The Self Preservation Society theme) from the film, bits of "Rule Britannia" (a traditional song also used in the film), and quirky background music that fits the setting perfectly. I enjoyed the Quincy Jones theme so much that I put the game CD in my computer's CD-Rom drive and extracted the short song to my hard drive for later recording onto a music CD so that I could listed to it with my regular music collection. How often do you want to do that with video game music?!?

The graphics are standard Playstation 1 graphics, though they're actually pretty good. There's nothing graphics-wise that stood out as being really bad or exceptionally good, so there's not much to say.

REPLAYABILITY

After finishing the main game ("The Italian Job" mode) you will have access to the Challenge mode, which consists of short missions with tough times where you will test your skills in braking, turning and jumping. There are five jump tests, but since all five use the same course, this gets boring real fast. There is one break test, but it isn't as hard as it initially seems. A checkpoint race on an icy road, a survival lap around the city, and two destructor races (one on an icy road and another viewed from overhead) round out the rest of the challenges.

Along with "The Italian Job," there are other modes that are unlocked from the start. They are:

• Checkpoint - You have to reach all of the checkpoints in the allotted time. Each checkpoint you reach gives you a little extra time to make it to the next one.

• Destructor - Here your mission is to destroy the line of cones in the sequence before the time runs out.

• Party Play - This is the multiplayer mode in which you can play with up to 8 people in different Checkpoint, Destructor and Challenge mode stages.

• Free Ride - Here you can cruise around London and (if you unlocked it) Turin in any car (you start off with one unlocked). You can use this mode to familiarize yourself with the cities, but be aware of the cops. You'll even find some secrets within this mode. Check the walkthrough here are GameFaqs for more info.

As you complete the missions in "The Italian Job" mode, you will unlock extra cars and tracks for these other modes.

The problem with all these extras is that they get boring after a while because it's just the same thing over and over again. At first it's fun, then it's just tedious.

TO BUY OR TO RENT?

Rent. The game is just too darn short to have as a permanent part of your collection, even with the unlockable extras.

Tiny Toon Adventures: Plucky's Big Adventure PlayStation Video Game Review

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This review was originally written on July 26, 2002
It's Resident Evil Without The Zombies!

Tiny Toon Adventures: Plucky's Big Adventure (PBA) is a "hunt and gather"-type puzzle game just like Resident Evil (RE). In both games you have to find an item, use it in conjunction with something else, and then take it someplace to complete a puzzle or objective. In RE you have an inventory capable of holding eight to ten items, in PBA you can only hold two items at a time (one for each hand, I guess). In RE there are Item Boxes which can hold 50 or more items (I don't know the exact count), in PBA you have a locker which can hold nine items (although each character has his/her own color-coded locker and combination, they can use each others lockers and the items in the lockers are shared). If this seems like PBA is a bit deprived, keep in mind that in PBA you don't need weapons, ammo, herbs, and health items.

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Every game needs a danger element, and this one is no exception. Instead of zombies and other assorted creatures which you can mutilate with a vast arsenal of weapons like in RE, you have Elmyra and Montana Max who patrol five of the six hallways in an attempt to catch you (luckily they don't venture into the hall with the lockers or any of the rooms). If they catch you, you have to quickly press left and right on the D-pad (or jiggle the analog stick left and right) in order to break free of their grasp. If they grab you too many times, your character will be captured and it's up to the previously character you played as to rescue them. You start playing as Plucky Duck, then Hampton J. Pig, Babs Bunny, and finally Buster Bunny (no relation). If Buster gets captured, you have to play as Babs to rescue him before resuming play as Buster ... and so on. If Plucky gets captured, then it's game over. You have no weapons and no defense again Elmyra and Montana Max. You just simply have to avoid them.

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GAMEPLAY

The controls are pretty solid. I had no problem at all moving the character around, avoiding Elmyra and Montana Max (ducking into another room and coming back out also helped), picking up and using items (though there was one or two items which gave me problems). The controls that deal with your inventory may be awkward at first (especially if you're used to RE control), but they're very easy to get used to. By the way, I chose to play with the D-pad (I turned off the analog mode on the controller), so I can't comment on how well the stick handles.

Some of the puzzles are easy, and some are really hard. I had to resort to a walkthrough in a few places ... not something you'd expect to do with a Tiny Toon Adventures game. Thankfully the environment (the school [aka Looniversity]) isn't as large as the RE environments, so when you have to do some backtracking, you're not going from one end of the world to the other.

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The gameplay definitely surprised me when I first loaded up the game. I bought it expecting a traditional platformer like most of the other Tiny Toon games from the past (most notably the ones from Konami). It was very refreshing to play a different style of game with the Tiny Toons characters.

STORY

The story, which is loosely based on the episode "A Ditch In Time" (available on the Season 1, Volume 1 DVD set), involves you finding parts for a time machine so that Plucky can travel back in time to do the homework he didn't do. Unfortunately that's the only element of the episode which was carried over into the game, which is why the game is so darn short. If you've seen the episode, you know the ending. If you haven't seen the episode, you can probably guess the ending. Sadly, the ending isn't very spectacular (I've seen better endings on old NES games). You will undoubtedly be very disappointed once you see it.

AUDIO/VIDEO

The familiar Tiny Toons theme is present (in instrumental form, of course), and the background music during the game is quite fitting and cartoony. However, that's all there is (save for a few odd sound effects). There is absolutely no character voices whatsoever! Couldn't they shell out a few bucks to have the original voice cast come in and record a few lines? The lack of character voices isn't too bad for Plucky, Hampton, Babs, and Buster; but when you have to constantly have to press X to scroll through Elmyra and Montana Max's dialogue every time you encounter them, it gets to be downright annoying. The only bright side is that by having the game pause for you to press X, you'll have ample time to decide where to go to avoid Elmyra & Montana Max. (Having voices, instead of the game pausing, would have increased the danger!)

The game looks as good as you'd expect for a 3-D Playstation 1 game. The character graphics are, of course, not the best in the world, but they suffice quite nicely. It's a few steps above the character graphics and animation in Scooby-Doo And The Cyber Chase for the Playstation 1 (the beginning cut scene in Scooby-Doo is unintentionally funny).

REPLAYABILITY

This is where the game fails BIG TIME! Once you've beaten the game, there is nothing left to do. There is no reason whatsoever to replay it (unless you want to "relive the experience" all over again). The Resident Evil games gave you alternate clothing and a bonus mini-game. This game gives you zip.

TO BUY OR TO RENT?

I picked this game out from the $10 bargain bin at Target. I chose it because it was a Tiny Toons game. I always liked the tv show and the previous games, so I figured that this would be a nice addition to my collection. Had I known what type of game it was and how short it was, I never would have picked it out. I don't hate it, but since it has no replayability, I doubt that I'll ever play it again.

Whether you like "hunt and gather" puzzle games or Tiny Toon Adventures, I don't see any reason why you'd want to do more than rent it.

Signatures of the Stars Book Review

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This review was originally written on March 10, 2001
I See Dead People ... Too Many Of Them!

I bought "Signatures of the Stars: A Guide for Autograph Collectors, Dealers and Enthusiasts" by Kevin Martin to learn about the stars signing habits and see example of their signatures, so I'd know which stars would be my best bet to write to. Unfortunately, most of the stars listed in this book are DEAD! It does me no good to know the signing habits of dead celebs, since I obviously can't write to them. I bought the book in conjunction with the same author's "The Autograph Collector Celebrity Autograph Authentication Guide." While there are some signature examples in this book that aren't in the authentication guide (such as John Candy and Kathy Ireland), finding them is quite a pain because this book lacks an index. The authentication guide has an index, and practically doesn't need it because it's much better laid out than this book. The back cover of this book says that inside "you'll find the actual signatures of the stars reproduced". While that's true for most of the stars, there are very few reproductions to none at all when you get to the back of the book, in the "cast" and "Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame" sections. There should be authentic examples for *everyone* that is listed. To sum up this book, I think that it's trying to be too many things to too many people - price guide, authentication guide, and more ... it should stick to just one subject.

The Autograph Collector Celebrity Autograph Authentication Guide Book Review

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This review was originally written on March 10, 2001
BOOK OF ADS ... and celebrity autograph authentication guide

The first thing you'll notice about The Autograph Collector Celebrity Autograph Authentication Guide by Kevin Martin, the minute you open it up to page 1, are the ads. That's right, this book has *advertisements* in it. But not just a few ads, 25 FULL PAGES OF ADVERTISEMENTS! The ads clutter up the front and back of the book, which makes it a pain to quickly locate the index at the back of the book (placed right before all the ads). What good is an index if it itself requires a little bit of searching to find?!? The ads are mostly for companies selling autographed photos. A list of these companies should have been put at the back of the book (before the index) for those who are interested. Putting full-page and half-page ads is ridiculous. Because of all the ads, I feel that this book should be free, or at least cost less than half of what it currently sells for.

Now that let me get to the REAL content of the book - the autograph examples. The book lists many, many stars, including a few I was surprised to see (Melanie Chartoff and Ray Parker Jr., for example), but there are also many that are missing which should have been in there (Samantha Mathis and Hayley Mills, for example). Granted, I know that it is virtually impossible to list every celebrity that ever existed, but they could have made the autograph examples a little smaller and fit more people in there. In fact, there are some pages where there is only one or two examples on the entire page. Heck, come to think of it, the text in the introductory lessons to authenticating autographs is way too large. It should have been shrunken down to standard size, so that more autograph examples could be placed in the book. Also, it would have been a great idea to put, at least, two examples of each star's autograph in the book, just to account for variations in the way a person signs (no person signs his/her name exactly the same way every time).

All griping aside, this is actually a great book and I *am* glad that I bought it. The ads are a pain to deal with (I'm tempted to rip them out, but I don't want to ruin the book), but I guess nothing in life is perfect. At least now you have a little more information about this book than I did when I purchased it.