You're more than welcome to play the good guy in "Fable," slaying beasts and winning the hearts and minds of the people. But it's equally satisfying -- albeit ethically troubling -- to be as wicked as you want.
Just remember: There are long-term implications for your behavior.
That's because much like the real world, "Fable" creator Peter Molyneux has made a game with consequences, where every action tends to have a significant reaction.
It kicks off with a tragic tale of a farm boy (you) who thinks he's the only one in his village to survive a bandit attack. Seemingly alone, he suddenly gets recruited into a hero training school.
As you follow the story and grow from lanky boy to muscular man, be mindful of your decisions.
Go ahead, attack the villagers, burglarize their homes if you want. You'll have every guard in the fictional world of Albion after you, ready to toss you in prison (or worse).
"Fable" has everything you'd expect in a role-playing game, and action isn't forgotten amid all the ethical dilemmas.
There are miles of caves and winding forest paths to explore, all of them filled with monsters just waiting to destroy you.
The game is split into a series of increasingly hard quests. Completing them advances the story and unlocks better weapons and spells.
You can choose to finish the quests and nothing more, or select a boast to go along with it: brag about fighting a pack of wolflike Balverines without taking damage, or better yet, battle them in the nude. Complete these extra tough or embarrassing boasts and you're rewarded with even more riches, important for acquiring better weapons, armor and magic potions.
If you focus on completing main quests instead of probing the game's many pleasant secrets, this $50, M-rated Xbox exclusive shouldn't take you very long to complete.
But you'd be missing out on perhaps the best part of "Fable."
There are myriad opportunities to dig for gold, cast a line and go fishing, buy a house or present gifts like a box of chocolates to that special lady friend. You can even get tattoos or a stylish haircut complete with mutton chops (apparently all the rage with the ladies here).
I can play about any game and kill monsters. It's the personal interaction with the characters, the constant ethical decisions, that make "Fable" such an enjoyable game.
Three and a half stars out of four.
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Video games like "Gradius V" should come with a warning label. Something about nasty thumb blisters would seem appropriate.
After only a few hours with this side-scrolling space shooter, my fingers were red and cramping. But this impossibly difficult game kept luring me back for more punishment.
Perhaps I'm a softie for old-school games like this, but I just HAD to keep playing and get to the next level. Fingers? Bah, who needs 'em?
This new T-rated PlayStation 2 game is quite possibly the pinnacle of a genre that's been around for years. It's a simple notion -- move your ship around the screen, dodging weapons fire and swarms of enemy spacecraft that come at you from all directions.
I can't remember the last time I had this much fun piloting a space ship through endless waves of alien hordes.
It's not without frustration. Few games require the lightning-fast reflexes of "Gradius V," and apparently my reflexes aren't what they used to be.
Thank goodness there's no quarter slot in my PS2. I've already dropped well more than the $30 the game costs.
There are some new additions to this version, notably a two-player cooperative mode. Not only is playing with a friend a healthy social thing to do, we managed to get a lot further with the added help.
And now you can post high scores to a national leaderboard, if your PS2 is connected online.
It's hard to focus at times with so much going on, so give those hands a rest occasionally and watch someone else play. You'll be amazed at the colorful, gorgeously rendered three-dimensional backgrounds that zip by at incredible angles.
"Gradius V" is extremely tough but serves as great reminder of the 1980s golden age of arcade games. I just hope my hands can recover.
Three stars out of four.
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Matt Slagle can be reached at mslagle(at)ap.org
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