ROCKY Formats: PS2, Gamecube and Xbox. Price: shop around. Publisher: Rage.

ROCKY Balboa is on the verge of a comeback, it seems. Movie producers are talking to Sylvester Stallone with a view to him stepping back into the ring for one last pay day.

The reason for the sudden interest in the Italian Stallion would seem to be the phenomenal success of Rocky: The Video Game which is probably the sleeper hit of 2002 and still selling well into this year.

So what's all the fuss about? After all, a Rocky game is nothing new - I have an old Rocky cartridge for my ancient Sega Master System - and boxing games are ten a penny these days.

The difference, my friend, is the incredible attention to detail taken by the Newcastle-based team who toiled on Rocky.

Fans of the movies will be knocked out. It's all here from the Philadelphia boxing club where Rocky first cuts his teeth, to the meat market where he works out on sides of beef, even down to the type of trunks Balboa wears in his fights with Apollo Creed. This is the Rocky series rendered down to the smallest detail. I half expected to find a sub-game where you chase chickens (check out Rocky II for that one).

Unlike other boxing games, Rocky also features a fully animated three-dimensional crowd that reacts to events in the ring. If you play it cautious, constantly moving around the ring, jabbing and moving away, they will boo and jeer because the fight is boring. Keep it up and, at some venues, they will even throw bottles at you.

Get stuck in with your fighter and the crowd cheers and chants your name but try not to get too carried away or you'll end up being carried out.

Rocky isn't a very easy game to get to know. In movie mode (where you play through Balboa's movie career all the way to Tommy Gunn in Rocky V) it's a bit too hard early on... my fighter kept getting ten bells knocked out of him and it took a heck of a lot of perseverance to get beyond the first few fights.

What's more, you only have three chances to carry on after a defeat before you are forcibly retired. That's a shame. I'd have liked to see the same kind of learning curve as used in Victory Boxing where defeat didn't mean instant disqualification from playing the game. You could go back to the gym and train your fighter up as many times as needed so they could progress to the title.

The fighters themselves look great. Rocky changes, taking on the looks of his movie alter-ego (did anyone notice how Stallone looked more like a middleweight in Rocky III and IV?) as the game progresses. You'll also find Clubber Lang (Mr T) and Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) waiting for you further up the career path; neither of them is particularly easy to beat, especially Drago who has superhuman strength and fists like atomic bombs.

The game features an exhibition mode that is standard in most sport titles and, as you would expect, you simply choose your fighter then go and beat your opponent until he's no longer standing. There is also a multiplayer knockout tournament for up to 16 players to compete in, although this mode is only unlocked after completing movie mode.

Fans of the films will find plenty to like about Rocky but budding pugilists may have to practise for longer than they think in order to lift a Lonsdale belt.

COMBAT MISSION: BARBAROSSA TO BERLIN. Format: PC. Publisher: CDV Price: £24.99

SET in Eastern Europe, Barbarossa to Berlin is a World War II tactical combat simulation that takes place immediately after the German invasion of Russia in 1941 (hence the title).

Allowing you to rewrite history the game runs all the way to 1945 when Berlin finally fell to the Allies.

There are three options open to you: single player, two player and online. The single player option takes you through 60 white-knuckle combat scenarios while two player has you playing with a friend in a take-your-turn kind of deal. There's even a Scenario Editor that allows you to design your own battles.

Players may well be familiar with Combat Mission - this game's predecessor - which was highly acclaimed by strategy fans.

Barbarossa To Berlin takes things to the next level. If you prefer first person shoot 'em ups like Medal of Honor then this game isn't for you.

The name of the game is tactical thinking. You choose a battle scenario complete with specifics (location, weather patterns, Allied nationality and unit size), choose a side (Allied forces or Axis forces) and start the campaign.

Set in a fully 3D environment, the battlefield can be easily surveyed by moving the mouse across the terrain. You won't be able to see the enemy, however, until you make your first move. And, as this is a turn-based game, you must carefully consider every move before making a decision, otherwise the battle could be over sooner than you think.

Clicking the right mouse on a unit you would like to manipulate brings up a short menu of orders. You tell them what to do and where to go.

It's kind of like a bloody chess game, clicking on your units, sitting back and watching them carry out your orders, then waiting for the computer to react. And just like chess many hours can slip away until the victor is finally declared.

Games like this are becoming a rare commodity these days; gamers seem to prefer the instant gratification offered by shoot 'em ups to the more cerebral pleasures to be had with Combat Mission but I happen to think a strategy game is much more satisfying, especially when your thinking is proved correct.


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