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THE TOP NEW VIDEO GAMES OF THE WEEK: <I>Thunder Strike: Operation Phoenix, NASCAR Thunder 2002, Grand Theft Auto 3</I>

4 Sep, 2001 By: John Gaudiosi

Thunder Strike: Operation Phoenix
PlayStation 2
Eidos, $49.99
Genre: Action
Rating: Teen
Available: 9/25
This next-generation sequel to the old Sega CD arcade helicopter game has much improved with age. Players jump into the cockpits of an attack chopper and embark on a number of first-person perspective missions through such locales as Europe, Indochina and Antarctica. Using the PS2’s dual analog sticks for controlling the chopper, players take out enemy air and ground forces with Vulcan cannons, guided missiles, rocket pods and iron bombs. With nice visuals and plug-and-play gaming, this is a fun arcade experience.

Bottom line: The combat helicopter genre has been left alone on PS2, which bodes well for this first entrant. The game could attract a broad audience of gamers and is definitely worth stocking as a rental.

NASCAR Thunder 2002
PlayStation 2, Xbox
Electronic Arts, $49.99
Genre: Sports
Rating: Everyone
Available: PS2 9/30, Xbox 11/6
The latest NASCAR game from EA Sports features a full 43-car track, improved graphics and a smoother frame rate. The crashes, an integral part of any race, are much more detailed with visible damage as cars bump while jockeying for position. Improved artificial intelligence of the rival drivers adds to the gaming experience. Extras like a detailed Career mode, the ability to create your own cars and four-player racing add to the replay value of this solid sequel.

Bottom line: EA Sports will battle against Infogrames’ NASCAR Heat 2002 on both PS2 and Xbox this year. EA Sports should get a boost from NASCAR fans with its three-year sponsorship of Talladega Superspeeday’s NASCAR 500. Anything from EA is a must-have rental that will do well at retail.

Grand Theft Auto 3
PlayStation 2, Xbox
RockStar Games, $49.99
Genre: Action
Rating: Mature
Available: PS2 10/2, Xbox 2002
The first completely 3D version of the international and controversial best-selling carjacking franchise is a dark, but brilliant game. Making the most of its Mature rating, the game asks players to work their way up through an underworld crime syndicate, partaking in numerous missions that involve offing people and jacking cars with over 1,000 vehicles to choose from). Liberty City is a detailed living world that turns from day to night, bringing out hookers, druggies and thugs. Players must steer clear of the police as they progress through the game. With so much depth and an intriguing R-rated storyline, this is one of the best forms of interactive entertainment to hit gaming systems this year.

Bottom line: RockStar games has worldwide recognition with this franchise, so it won’t need much marketing to push this sequel. The anticipated media frenzy that will ensue once Sen. Leiberman and the media get a hold of this game will only help sell this Mature-rated material to its targeted older demographic. A must-have rental that should see strong sales on both systems.

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