The truly great action films of our time – such as “Die Hard,” “The Road Warrior,” “Aliens” – can be summed up in one word: relentless. Once they get in gear, they put the pedal to the metal and don't slow down. If only “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Whatever” had such single-minded drive.
The classic arcade games of the 1980s could be called relentless: “Asteroids,” “Defender” and even “Ms. Pac-Man” didn't give you many chances to catch your breath. But as games have gotten more complex, their big action sequences are surrounded by a lot of downtime.
Much as I love “Grand Theft Auto IV” and “Metal Gear Solid 4,” they take awhile to get going.
Not the games reviewed here. Each one starts with a bang and doesn't let up. They may not have the depth of a sophisticated role-playing game like “Lost Odyssey,” but sometimes all you want is the video-game equivalent of a popcorn movie.
‘Ninja Gaiden II'
Microsoft, for the Xbox 360, $59.99
“Ninja Gaiden,” the 2004 reboot of a series that began in 1988, has a well-earned reputation as one of the most difficult games on the original Xbox. While it makes some concessions to less-skilled players, “Ninja Gaiden II” still provides enough of a challenge for hard-core veterans.
If you expect your ninjas to be at least a little stealthy, Ryu Hayabusa isn't the man for you. Ryu's technique is to leap into action with sword (and staff, shuriken, flail and tonfa) flying.
Your enemies don't back down easily, either: Some keep attacking even after you've hacked their limbs off. This is an extremely gory game, with most battles ending with a pile of dismembered body parts.
The action is satisfying and the graphics are impressive, but the game has some major failings. One is a wonky camera that often blocks the best view of the action and prevents you from seeing approaching monsters. The other is an incomprehensible story, which at times becomes unintentionally funny.
Still, if all you're looking for is a pure adrenaline rush, “Ninja Gaiden II” delivers.
The Bourne Conspiracy'
Sierra, for the Xbox 360,
PlayStation 3, $59.99
The Matt Damon “Bourne” movies, particularly the two directed by Paul Greengrass, are nearly perfect examples of the hyper-kinetic Hollywood thriller. Developer High Moon Studios has done a fine job translating the story into a game, even without Damon's participation.
While Jason Bourne may be a $30 million killing machine, his moves are easy enough for fighting-game novices to handle. Still, you really need to master the timing to be effective.
Land enough punches and you can activate a “takedown,” which allows Bourne to use environmental objects – a desk, a vending machine, a neon sign – to inflict real pain. Shooting and driving sequences are much less entertaining, with stiff controls that don't deliver the same visceral kick.
“Conspiracy” mixes the scenes from the first film, “The Bourne Identity,” with flashbacks to missions before the superspy lost his memory. It's a fresh approach to familiar material, but most fans will focus on the intense hand-to-hand combat.
Ubisoft, for the PlayStation 3, $59.99
This heavily promoted first-person shooter heaves you right into a futuristic war between Mantel Global Industries, a private military contractor, and The Promise Hand, a South American guerrilla army. You begin as a Mantel trooper, teamed with some of the most loathsome characters ever seen in a game, but eventually you switch allegiances. (That's not a spoiler; the manual gives it away.)
Mantel troops have access to a drug called Nectar, which enhances perception and makes some attacks more powerful but can cause you to lose control if you overdose. The guerrillas have to live more by their wits, but they have some abilities that balance the fighting. Unfortunately, the artificial intelligence is dreadful, making your squadmates on either side stupid and nearly useless.
“Haze” also has unimaginative level design, sloppy graphics and repetitive audio, and the Nectar gimmick isn't used very effectively.