Here's the problem with setting a video game in outer space: There's nothing to do out there. It's a vacuum. No one can hear you scream.
So most science-fiction games don't actually spend much time there. Space travel is about as romantic as a crosstown bus ride, merely a means to get from point A to point B. Yes, there are exceptions like the old "Star Wars" dogfighting games, but usually all the action is planetside.
I'm talking about some of the greatest franchises in gaming — "Halo," "Metroid," "Doom," "Xenosaga" — so I'm not really complaining. The games reviewed here, which range from mediocre to superb, also take place mainly on solid ground, ranging from humid jungles to frozen wastelands. In the meantime, I'm still looking for a game that truly captures the grandeur of spaceflight.
— "Rogue Galaxy" (Sony, for the PlayStation 2, $39.99): The vessel that roams around "Rogue Galaxy" is an old-fashioned wooden ship, somehow retooled to handle the rigors of space. A boy named Jaster is recruited into a pirate band in search of lost planet called Eden and a treasure that promises immortality. It's a lighthearted romp from Level 5, creators of "Dragon Quest VIII" and "Dark Cloud 2," and it shares those games' whimsical comedy and cartoony graphics. There's a lot of ground to cover (and a lot of monsters to kill) each time you land on a new planet, and the fights, while fast-paced, do require some strategy.
There are also some intriguing side quests: You can collect insects for a "Pokemon"-like competition, or you can use a factory to turn your loot into weapons and talismans. Those secondary missions are so enjoyable that they can easily distract you from the main plot for a few hours at a time.
"Rogue Galaxy" isn't quite the masterpiece that "Dragon Quest VIII" was, but it's unusually rewarding. And how can you dislike a game with a robot named Steve? Three and a half stars out of four.
— "Lost Planet: Extreme Condition" (Capcom, for the Xbox 360, $59.99): Oddly enough, this game is set on a planet called E.D.N. III — obviously, our game designers have been reading the Old Testament. This time the name is ironic, for E.D.N. III is covered with ice and snow and populated by giant bugs. It's a really dumb place for the human race to try to settle, but "Lost Planet" isn't the sort of game you'll enjoy if you're a stickler for logic or plausibility. Instead, it's pure blood-and-guts frenzy, with the object being to slaughter as many of the monsters as you can. The unforgiving cold provides additional motivation: You can't stay outside too long unless you collect the heat-generating substance the insectoids release when you kill them. There's also a preposterous human conspiracy to deal with, but most of the time you'll be happily blowing up bugs and admiring E.D.N. III's breathtaking snowscapes.
"Lost Planet" isn't much more than a really good-looking blast-a-thon, but it's entertaining enough in short bursts. Two and a half stars.
— "Star Wars: Lethal Alliance" (Ubisoft, for the PlayStation Portable, $39.99; for the Nintendo DS, $34.99): Yeah, we've all heard of the Rebel Alliance; "Lethal Alliance" is something else. It refers to Rianna, a Twi'lek mercenary out for revenge against the Empire, and Zeeo, a droid that can zap Stormtroopers and hack computers. They ultimately become part of a plot to steal the plans for the Death Star, meeting luminaries like Princess Leia, Boba Fett and Darth Vader along the way.
Most of the segments, which have Rianna running around mazes and killing Empire forces, are forgettable, but there are some decent puzzles where you have to figure out how to use Zeeo to progress. The PSP version is superior, mainly because Rianna is larger onscreen and has more room to pull off her acrobatic moves. "Star Wars" fans will be pleased, but the rest of you gamers won't be missing anything. Two stars.