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THIS IS HARDCORE 2 - March 1999

It may be winter outside, but in my heart it's spring. By which I mean, of course, "Hello viewers!"

Although the issue of Arcade you're reading says "May" on the front cover (and you're probably reading it in April), it's still freezing cold early March as I write this column (Sunday the 7th, just before Coronation Street, if you're interested), and that's never a great time to be hunting down fab new video games. Like a big smelly grizzly bear that's a bit slow on the uptake, the games industry goes into a long hibernation at the end of every December (until around the following October, in fact), because even though you, the gamers, are mostly in your early-to-mid-20s these days, it reckons you all still get most of your video games as Christmas presents from Mummy and Daddy. Silly old the games industry, eh? (Of course, the business presents the much higher sales figures around Christmas as proof that this is still the case, conveniently ignoring the fact that of course sales are higher around Christmas, because that's when all the good flipping games get released, all at once. Tch. As the recent record-breaking sales of Metal Gear Solid show, today's gamer is prepared to go out and buy games in big numbers at any time of the year, if only anybody would release some.)

I mention this to excuse the fact that the most interesting things I've managed to find to play this month have been Zelda DX on the Game Boy Color (the original GB Zelda was one of those games I just never quite got round to, and what an oversight that's turned out to have been), and Namco's much-overlooked Libero Grande on Playstation. (I was going to write a column about how exciting and groundbreaking Rollcage was, but I'm not that good a liar.) Now, you mightn't, at first glance, imagine that those two titles had anything in common. But they do, and what's more it's the same thing that makes Ridge Racer 4 (also featured this issue) so great - believability. Not "realism", that worthless false god of the mediocre and imaginationless, but believability - the convincing adherence to the laws of their own worlds. Ridge 4 and Zelda you probably know enough about already, so let's take Libero Grande as our example.

Despite its player's-eye-view approach to football, this isn't a "realistic" game - even the dimmest footballers rarely get totally confused as to which way up the pitch they're running, and unless you're an Aberdeen supporter like me, it's difficult to imagine anyone as incompetent as your Libero Grande team-mates ever being employed as professional footy players in real life. But because you spend so much time running around just trying to get into the action, and because your colleagues are so frustratingly fallible, and because you consequently get so much more of a thrill out of putting a clever move together and scoring a goal (rather than having simply weaved up the pitch from a detached viewpoint and banged one in on the diagonal as with most conventional football games), Libero Grande actually comes closer to recreating the experience of playing football than the likes of FIFA, Actua or even the lovely ISS could ever dream of. Now, LG itself is too flawed to be a classic (though it's better than its reviews suggest), but if the future of games is a choice between hugely immersive, joyous experiences like this, or an unchanged-for-20-years template with ever-more-detailed motion capture and Michael Owen's smug little chipmunk face crudely nailed onto the front, I know what I'm cheering for. Vote for the rainbow, chums, not the rain.

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