2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii
Age rating: Everyone
Soccer is kind of an odd duck for gaming -- how best should a game developer spice up a sport in which the final score is often 1-0? Here's a look: 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa is the official licensed video game tethered to the real competition. It includes all 199 teams that took part in qualification. The player names and faces are familiar, as are the playing styles of soccer stars. I played the Xbox 360 version and started off with a quick tutorial to learn some kick and pass controls. Once I booted a few balls past a practice goalie, I was off to play a match. I began my quest for the cup in Group C, alongside England, Algeria and Slovenia. I opted past the qualifying rounds and used the straight-to-the-finals options. England trounced me straight away, 7-0. No surprise there, but I toughened up a bit and made the following matches closer by leaning on two of my squad's strongest ball-handlers, Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore. The trouble for soccer video games still exists when you try to make hard cuts with the ball. There's a bit of a lag on this title, and most others, that gives the computer defender enough time to bust up your play. Sure, you learn to dish the ball off a little sooner as you gain more experience, but it perhaps too closely mirrors real-life soccer in which nearly all journeys to the goal end in, well, no goal at all. That aside, the sport is beautifully rendered here. The replays are fantastic on goals and near-misses. The announcers and ambient crowd noise are the best I've heard in a sports game. They call each play accurately, barking out the names of the players. Hearing the game called in such realistic fashion helped keep me engaged and learn my players and their nuances.
Green Day: Rock Band
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii
Age rating: Teen
Only a few bands have catalogs deep and versatile enough to carry their own version of Rock Band. The Beatles? They've already pulled it off. Beyond the Fab Four, it's a short list: the Rolling Stones, the Who, maybe Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin. Green Day? Not so much. And this is a band I like a lot -- far more than Aerosmith, Metallica and Van Halen, the acts that have anchored Guitar Hero editions. The problem is that despite Green Day's ambitions and accomplishments, there's not much variety in its set list. You have your fast, punky songs and your slow, melancholy ballads, but a sort of sameness settles in after a few hours of Green Day: Rock Band. Developer Harmonix pulled out all the stops when it came to the Beatles, producing elaborate, psychedelic animations for the songs. Green Day, however, gets just three venues to play in. The disc has 47 songs, including every track from 1994's Dookie and 2004's American Idiot. There's a smattering of singles from the period between those two landmarks, including Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). And there's about half of last year's 21st Century Breakdown -- if you want the rest, you have to pay to download it. If you're paying $60, the publisher ought to throw in those extra six tracks for nothing extra. And if you want to transfer the songs on the Green Day disc to your hard drive (so you can play them in other Rock Band games), you have to fork over an additional $10. You get those things free on the $70 Green Day: Rock Band Plus edition, but it feels like MTV is nickel-and-diming its loyal audience. Almost all of the songs are fun to play, even if just once, and if you're a Green Day fan, this is an essential purchase. With Rock Band 3 right around the corner, though, casual admirers of the threesome aren't likely to get $60 worth of fun out of this edition.