DUNGEON SIEGE II, Publisher: Microsoft. Format: PC. Price: £35. Family friendly? Rather too violent for the under 12s.

WESTERN fantasy role-playing games (RPGs) are so very different to their Japanese cousins. Where the likes of Final Fantasy build slowly to their explosive set pieces, gamers in Europe and America prefer some instant gratification.

Dungeon Siege 2 is non-stop action from beginning to end. In fact, it's so hectic that, at times, it feels more like a console-based hack and slash epic like the old Streets of Rage or Golden Axe.

The first game in this series was rightly lauded for its terrific fight sequences and "just one more go" compulsiveness. What it lacked was anything resembling depth.

Complex plot lines, intriguing puzzles and absorbing mini quests were all cast aside in the name of lean and mean action sequences.

The sequel attempts to address this shortcoming and it succeeds - up to a point.

Your band of adventurers has been whittled down to a tight-knit team of six. Focusing on a smaller band of friends makes the game seem more personable; in the first your character was supported by too many competent computer controlled characters that did all the hard work. Occasionally this made me feel more like a spectator than a genuine participant in a sprawling adventure.

Ironically, while your band of brigands is now much smaller, there's a greater onus on you as the leader to look after them, especially if they wander off and meet some bad guys behind your back.

Your can build your characters up by giving them experience. A swordsman will become a better fighter the more he engages the enemy in battle, ditto a wizard who casts frequent spells. Heck, your team mates can even stop and talk - although this is no Final Fantasy diatribe here, just a bit of (generally) pointless banter ahead of the hacking and slashing (of which there is still an awful lot).

Dungeon Siege II throws wave upon wave of enemies at you. Sometimes the on-screen action is so frantic you'll be gagging for a few seconds of peace. That's why some spells can clear the screen of bad guys but you must use these powers sparingly, otherwise you'll find your reserves serious depleted just when you need them to see off a boss.

The graphics are lip-smacking and the load times carefully disguised to make transition from one set to the next virtually seamless. There's no "loading" screen to snap you out of your world of wizardry fantasy or slow up the action.

At its core, Dungeon Siege II is really nothing more than a very impressive looking combat adventure. Compared to Japanese RPGs it's all a bit shallow, but I still reckon that PC fans starved of all action RPGs won't be able to get enough of it.

MOTO GP 3, Publisher: THQ. Formats: PS2, XBox, PC. Price: £35 (PC), £39.99 (console). Family friendly? Yes.

WHEN I was a kid my all-time favourite video game was Super Hang On. I loved motorcycles and Sega's bike-based arcade machine was the ultimate challenge. Once, on a college trip to London, I sloped off and set the top ten fastest times in a Soho amusements just for the sheer hell of it.

Of course, Super Hang On was fun because it pretty much ignored the laws of physics. You as the rider could go into corners faster, lean harder and accelerate quicker than any motorcycle in real life.

Nowadays, so many racing sims pride themselves on their accurate depiction of reality. But in making the transition from fantasy to (virtual) reality, I reckon a lot of them have lost that sense of fun that made Super Hang On such a blast.

Moto GP 3 is an attempt to get back to the good old days.

You scream down the straights, pull on the brakes and heel your bike over until your helmet is virtually touching the tarmac, safe in the knowledge that, unless you do something really stupid, your rider will come out of the bend safely.

The "sticky" tyres leave you free to concentrate on racing lines, out-braking your fellow riders and generally having a ball.

That's not to say Moto GP 3 won't teach the novice a thing or two about riding a bike. Grab a handful of front brake mid corner and your steed will stand up and go in a straight line just like the real thing. Use the rears instead but don't press too hard or you'll risk losing the rear tyre to a skid.

As well as the GP series, the game also includes a street-racing element on production bikes. A great way for fun loving speed freaks to get their kicks without breaking bones or bending their bike on real world roads. Highly recommended.

Published: 23/09/2005