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GET READY FOR 'TERMINATOR 3'

In Atari's "Terminator 3: The Redemption," I am the Terminator, crushing everything in my path with a steely-eyed stare and spitting out one-liners all the while. And I like it.

This new video game is one of the most engaging titles I've played all year. A familiar story line, raucous cyborg destruction and a deft attention to design detail make this third-person shooter an addictive treat.

I tried the GameCube version, taking on the role of the T850 Model 101 (that's geek speak for Arnie's Terminator character).

As the game begins, I've been captured by the Human resistance and reprogrammed to travel through three different timelines to protect John Conner and Kate Brewster -- and the future of mankind.

The detail and scale that I felt playing this game is unmatched by any other I've tried.

When the Terminator hops in a pickup truck and barrels through a futuristic war-torn city, shots from my assault rifle plow through silvery cyborgs and glance off other distant objects with nicely detailed varying degrees of damage.

And I felt the immense proportions of desolate cities as I dodged streams of plasma fire to save the future. Explosions from your weapon blasts glow in the distance, with fire and plumes of black smoke peeking out behind tall buildings.

There are 20 vehicles from various timelines at my disposal, including a black hearse, though I walked through some levels for a little hand-to-hand combat with a multitude of cyborgs who shoot back with accuracy.

My Terminator character incurred damage to his shoulder as cyborgs nicked his body with rifle shots. One too many hits and it's "Hasta la vista baby!"

In one fun sequence, the Terminator bellows "I require a vehicle!" before jumping in a beat up Tech-Com car, equipped with a plasma cannon and a missile launcher on the roof. The player faces backward while a buddy drives, shooting at quick airborne enemies hovering above trying to keep him from reaching the goal that will propel him past the level.

There's never a dull moment in this $40, T-rated game, which also is available for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

4 out of four stars.

ESPN NHL 2K5

The NHL season may be on hold because of the owner's lockout, but "ESPN NHL 2K5" should help entertain hockey fans until the puck drops again.

The series has earned top marks over the last three years and "ESPN NHL 2K5" furthers the effort with new features and improvements that outweigh a few minor flaws.

For $20, "NHL 2K5" offers standard quick game and franchise modes as well as the best online hockey, an expanded Skybox mode, international hockey tournaments and a great new party mode.

Franchise mode gives you the freedom to hire coaches and scouting personnel, make trades, sign free agents and draft players.

"NHL 2K5" has top-notch graphics. From dekes to body checks, the animations are all beautifully rendered.

While a bit repetitious, the play-by-play and color commentary provided by Gary Thorne and Bill Clement is as good as it gets for a sports video game.

"NHL 2K5," rated E and available for Xbox and PlayStation 2, offers a new and highly entertaining Party Mode, a collection of mini games which includes a hockey skills competition.

"NHL 2K5" is an incredibly realistic simulation because of its remarkable controls and a perfect balance of offensive and defensive game play.

"NHL 2K5" has fine tuned the computer's artificial intelligence to increase goal scoring.

On defense, new "Intense Contact" features let you initiate various hooks and slashes as you move toward a skater. There's a catch -- it draws far too many penalties.

The more you antagonize your opponent, the higher the new Tension Meter rises. Higher tension leads to faster action and more fights.

Fighting has been improved as well with a new stamina meter to keep the fisticuffs from turning into button mashing drills.

3 1/2 stars out of four.

Associated Press

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