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RACCOON IS BACK ON THE RUN IN 'SLY 2: BAND OF THIEVES'

A sense of style can go a long way. Sony's latest PlayStation 2 title, "Sly 2: Band of Thieves," has plenty of it, and it's a great game, too.

A sequel to the fun "Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus," "Sly 2" ($49; suitable for all ages) is more of the same with a few extra game play twists.

Once again, the game features you as Sly Cooper, and you have to sneak across rooftops, past guards and into heavily fortified enemy lairs. Sly is a fluid little raccoon, and you'll learn how to run, jump and grab onto light posts, railings and electrical wires in no time flat.

While you can get into knockdown, drag-out fights, you're better off staying stealthy -- that is, when you play as Sly.

Sly is part of a small band of merry thieves. Occasionally you get to play as a tough hippo named Murray, who can pummel the bad guys with his bare hands and hurl chairs, crates and other objects, and as a turtle named Bentley, who can fire tranquilizer darts from long range.

The puzzles are simple, as they were in the original game, but complex enough to keep older gamers from getting bored.

For example, early on you have to sneak into the bad guy's office and swap one of his paintings for one of yours that has a listening device planted in it.

Once you do that, the main mission is done. And if you get the original painting to your safe house without getting hit, you can sell the painting and buy upgrades for your character.

Graphically, "Sly 2," like the original, makes great use of the cel-shading technique. The animation is superb, as well, and the music is fun to listen to and never gets annoying.

Unfortunately, camera problems that popped up in the original game also appear in "Sly 2," especially when you're indoors where columns and sharp turns can block your view.

"Sly 2" is a great purchase for young gamers, who will enjoy working through the puzzles. Older gamers will probably need only a weekend rental to appreciate the excellent game play and cool graphics.

Risque DS ads

Nintendo's DS continues to build positive buzz among gamers, but the company is experimenting with a risque marketing strategy that may startle fans expecting a cutesy hand-held for kids.

Its TV ads feature a sultry female voice telling viewers that "Touching Is Good," a sly reference to the DS's touch screen. Nintendo will also run print ads in magazines such as Maxim and Blender, telling readers "How to Score." GameSpot.com reported that the DS was the third best-selling console in Japan, despite the fact that the system won't debut there until Dec. 2. It comes out this week stateside.

The only systems to outsell the DS in that time were Nintendo's GBA SP and Sony's PS2.

No online play

Some slightly disappointing news for two of the biggest holiday games this year.

First, "Halo 2" will not have online co-operative play, in which a friend teams up with you instead of opposing you.

Microsoft's TeamXbox (news.teamxbox.com/xbox/7065/No-OnlineLA N-Coop-for-Halo-2) confirmed with Bungie that although co-op play will be available, it will be off line only, as it was with the original "Halo."

But all the other online multiplayer modes -- death match and so forth -- remain intact and will be available when "Halo 2" ships this week.

The other bad news is that Valve, which has released "Half-Life 2" on Nov. 16, will require an online activation with its Steam service before you can even play the game's single-player mode off line. For most gamers, this will be a minor annoyance. But it is frustrating that your $50 purchase requires an online tether to the developer, presumably for marketing and/or anti-piracy purposes.

Just let us play the game!

-- Dallas Morning News

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