METAL GEAR SOLID 3: SNAKE EATER, Publisher: Konami, Format: PS2, Price: £39.99: Family friendly? Younger gamers will find this too frustrating to play for more than a few minutes.

OF all the blockbuster games appearing on the PS2 in 2005, this is probably the most eagerly awaited. Not even GT4 can approach the anticipation for Snake's third outing on a Sony console.

But I reckon casual gamers swept up by the buzz surrounding Snake Eater will be disappointed.

The first hour or so is frustratingly slow. It's not the game play, so much as the lack of it. For every few minutes you are in control, there are ten spent watching an increasingly tedious amount of exposition told via pre-rendered cut scenes.

At this point anyone who isn't a fan of the Metal Gear series will probably give up. That's a shame because the pace picks up markedly after the first 90 minutes or so and really hits its stride after you've played through the first third of this adventure.

As you approach the climax everything becomes clear and you will thank Konami for giving you such a lengthy introduction all those hours ago.

Of course, fans of the series have come to expect this kind of thing. The first two Metal Gear adventures were punctuated by long-winded pre-drawn set-pieces that flushed out the story. It's become something of a trademark.

Interestingly, though, other traditions have been tinkered with or even disposed of altogether.

For instance, Snake no longer has radar to help him avoid guards. This comes as something of a shock if, like me, you relied upon the tiny green blobs on the radar to sneak through enemy territory and avoid detection. This time around you really do have to be on your toes at all times. It's better to adopt a healthy regard for danger and fall back on your binoculars before launching a raid.

Thankfully the action is still mostly in the third person - so there's no danger of motion sickness for gamers who can't play in the first person perspective.

Snake is also more capable of defending himself. The neck snap that served so well in the first two adventures can be performed from the front as well as behind. Your character can also throw enemies and slash their throats.

Get used to this and you can breeze through enemy territory without using a gun - something that serves to preserve your life by not attracting unwanted attention. If you do get shot, then you'll have to dig out the bullet yourself, just like Arnie did in The Terminator.

And don't forget to eat. If Snake goes without food for too long, his stamina levels start to fall dramatically.

Ultimately, fans of the series will find much to enjoy about Snake Eater. Like Resident Evil and its sequels, the game succeeds because of its slightly anachronistic game play mechanic rather than in spite of it. Where the preponderance of story telling would deal a critical blow to other stealth games, here it is part of the Metal Gear magic just as the clumsy control in any Resident Evil game is a part of the formula for fun.

Casual gamers who stick with the adventure will also feel rewarded when Snake Eater drops a couple of gears and really starts to motor, especially as it nears a climax. Fans of other genres may even find themselves rewarded - there's a great mini game that revolves around another popular PS2 franchise hidden within Snake Eater.

The division between letting you watch an interactive movie and letting you participate may be very fine but this third PS2 outing for Snake is still a great romp and will undoubtedly become one of the best selling games of 2005.

ESPN NBA 2K5, Publisher: Global Star, Format: PS2, Price: £19.99. Family friendly? Yes.

IT'S tempting to imagine that Electronic Arts has the American sports sim market so tightly stitched up than anything without the EA logo must be rubbish.

Luckily for gaming, this isn't so. Witness Sega's ESPN NBA 2K5 - a basketball game which has every base covered - and all of them at a super low price.

There's a full season mode that mixes management with action, a 24-7 mode that encourages you to play your way into the professional game via the streets and the more straightforward exhibition mode.

The 24-7 game, in particular, is a novel twist on a generally tired genre. Each game is different and as you beat a player so you earn their respect and allegiance - crucial for the tougher games later on.

The graphics are pin sharp and the ESPN franchise support helps lend a professional atmosphere to a fun title. ESPN NBA 2K5 is a terrific little game that deserves to do well.

Published: 11/03/2005