Ryan Chartrand

If you want to view paradise, simply take a Gerry Rafferty CD and listen. Anything you want to do, do it. Want to the change the world, “Baker Street” lets you…do it:

As hard as it is to admit, we “hardcore gamers” sometimes need a break from climbing raging colossi, solving the most mind-numbing puzzles and making sure America wins World War II all over again. Rather than giving in to the thrilling experiences that can be found at “The Grad,” we turn to sports games for our pop culture needs. Alas, I give you the three sports games that have somehow seeped into my stack of “sweaty and competitive digital men (and women!)” games.

Torino 2006:

2K Sports is best known for its “ESPN: NFL 2K” series. After Electronic Arts bought the almighty rights to the NFL, however, 2K Sports left football fans without any hope of ever seeing anything like the intensity of a first-person mode in a football game ever again. Without their prized NFL game, 2K Sports had but one choice: cover as many sports as possible to make up for the loss. With a strong swing of desperation, 2K Sports added to its wasted development a game called “Torino 2006” that apparently has something to do with the Winter Olympics.

The game consists of 15 events from the Winter Olympics-or so it says. Opening “Torino 2006” is like opening a box of cereal only to find an oddly molded piece of plastic called a “toy.” The game actually only covers alpine skiing, slalom, speed skating, the luge/bobsled (entirely identical), the biathlon/cross country events (also entirely identical and inaccurate) and ski jumping. Switch off between men’s and women’s for each and you have successfully made it look like the game covers all 15 Winter Olympics sports. But where are the ever-popular snowboarding, curling or ice hockey events? When it comes to content, “Torino 2006” had a hole the size of Texas that 2K Sports filled with nothing but disappointment.

Thankfully, the gameplay mechanics prove that “Torino 2006” is no more than a last-minute attempt by 2K Sports at “covering all sports” and making a few extra bucks over the popularity of the Winter Olympics. Each event consists of button mashing and poorly developed strategy that makes the game more difficult than it should be. It’s a good thing I’m not constantly being tempted to want to play a Winter Olympics game right now-

One day, perhaps on a different planet, a developer will find the secret to making an enjoyable Olympics game. “Torino 2006” has thankfully provided those futuristic developers with step one: content!

The Word on the Screen: 9.8 (that’s Italian for “3.0”).

Madden NFL 06 (Xbox 360):

One of the most highly anticipated launch titles for the Xbox 360 was the over-hyped “Madden NFL 06.” When fans opened the box and hoped that the system wouldn’t damage the game, all that they found was an anorexic version of “Madden NFL 06” for the Xbox. Modes vanished as fast as Terrell Owens’ career (ouch). The ability to create a team or a player, save a replay, play the “superstar mode,” challenge a play, play the “owner mode,” play the mini-games or take players through the off-season training mini-games were all stripped from the Xbox 360 version. And in return for this cruel and unusual punishment?

Graphics, my friends, graphics.

While I appreciate being able to see the wrinkles forming on Brett Favre’s face, it takes more than the next generation of visuals to impress me. The gameplay is a bit less fluid than the Xbox version but after playing it on the Xbox 360 for a month, trying to go back to the original is like trying to use a typewriter. When it comes down to it, however, “Madden NFL 06” for the Xbox 360 is still a decent game. The season mode offers enough to make the game last a solid two months for hardcore fans of the series. For those just looking to enjoy the exciting gameplay of the Madden series, “Madden NFL 06” is simply too glitch-ridden to be worth buying a $400 system and a $70 game to play. With that said, this year’s upcoming Madden for the Xbox 360 will be one of their most crucial installments yet.

The Word on the Screen: 7.5

WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006:

Sports games are known for making yearly installments with little improvement on the faults of the previous year’s title. The “WWE Smackdown” series has been known for this, making very small strides with its past three titles on the PS2. With the next-generation

systems looming around the corner, the team at Yukes, developer of the series, decided it was time to truly “lay the smackdown.”

“WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006” is the first of the “Smackdown” titles to actually be overwhelming in the amount of content available. Among the slew of new modes, Yukes added a create-a-title mode that allows you to design your own title, a create-an-entrance mode that lets you customize how your created superstars make their entrances down to the camera angles and pyrotechnics and a “GM mode” that lets you take over either the RAW or the Smackdown franchises and book matches while trying to attract the most fans. For wrestling fans, the customization of the latest in the series is very similar to the freedom found in the Nintendo 64 classic “WWF: No Mercy.” Finally, Yukes remembered how important customization is to wrestling fans and let them take back control of their game.

The gameplay flaws from the previous installments are still visible and the grappling animations continue to look worse each year, but this time around there’s more to enjoy than to pity. With a revamped online mode that flows a bit more smoothly than before, a new submission system that incorporates mini-games beautifully and the fact that a steel chair finally deals damage like a steel chair ought to, “WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006” is easily the most polished in the PS2 “Smackdown” series. Of all of these improvements, however, the one that still keeps me hooked is Yukes’s ability to finally capture the spirit of professional wrestling. Instead of giving every character ridiculous animations with poorly translated dialogue, the actual superstars voice their animated counterparts. On top of that, the motion capture and the camera angles capture the drama of the WWE perfectly. And although the storylines within the season mode may be more scripted than usual and may also involve a few too many annoying characters, but Yukes still captures the raw brilliance of what once made the WWE entertaining and most certainly “lays the smackdown” wonderfully for the last time on the PS2.

The Word on the Screen: 8.7

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