From the ''Grand Theft Auto'' crew: Table tennis?!? Gary Eng Walk plays Rockstar's surprising (and awesome) Xbox 360 title. Plus: Paul Katz on ''Jaws Unleashed''

By EW Staff
January 03, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

From the ”Grand Theft Auto” crew: Table tennis?!?

Rockstar Presents: Table Tennis
(Rockstar, Everyone, Xbox 360)
Ping-Pong has about as much street cred as, say, fencing or synchronized swimming — even if you call it table tennis. So it’s more than a bit shocking to see the edgy guardians of the bloody and brutal Grand Theft Auto franchise take this basement pasttime and give it the videogame treatment. It’s a bold, nutty stunt — this much is consistent with a publisher that prides itself on the audacious and controversial — and somehow, Rockstar sticks the landing.

That said, Table Tennis is an all-business sports sim. It isn’t a parody or joke; you won’t find big-headed cartoon characters or flaming Ping-Pong balls. Instead, you’ll find a hyper-realistic game that tries to get every last spin of the ball to conform to the proper laws of physics. Wasting no time on less powerful consoles, this Xbox 360-only title serves up some amazing visuals, the best of which are well spent on the highly detailed athletes. Sweat gradually builds up on their brows and shirts over the course of a match; facial contortions express elation, frustration, and even bravado.

The most special sequences happen when a particular point evolves into a lengthy, epic rally. The lights dim, a spotlight bathes the two competitors in an ethereal glow, and a subdued techno soundtrack kicks it up a notch, transforming the moment into a surreal yet satisfying rave of forehand smashes and topspin returns. It’s at this moment when you realize how far games have come since the days of the original Pong. Even if you’re not old enough to recall a dot bouncing between two rectangles, you have to appreciate the Moore’s Law-esque beauty of Rockstar’s addictive treat. AGary Eng Walk

Jaws Unleashed
(Majesco; Mature; PS2, Xbox, PC)
You’re not gonna need a bigger boat — just a better game. Game devoloper Appaloosa International starts off by taking the fine premise of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 beach-horror classic and — rather then mucking about with plot or characters — lets players do what they’ve always wanted to do. Which is bite, chomp, and maim. The wafer-thin story has something to do with a big corporation trying to bring money to Amity Island, but it’s pointless. Worse still: Jaws Unleashed takes all the joy out of the mayhem of smashing into boats and swallowing swimmers by saddling players with sluggish controls and graphics more reminiscent of cinematic stinker Jaws 3-D.

There are shark missions that involve attacking other creatures of the sea and a constant need to feed (if your hunger level drops below a certain point, ol’ Bruce goes belly-up), but not even flopping on shore to scarf down a sunbather makes the game more then momentarily entertaining. Not to be cold-blooded about it, but Unleashed feels like a subpar flotsam-and-jetsam knockoff from a movie that deserves so much more. So, yes, the game bites — just not in a good way. DPaul Katz