A Most Wanted list you say? Cripes, whatever next: a Tips and Cheats pamphlet to go with Eurogamer's promotional Pacman Beach Ball cover mount? Still, it's the summer, there are precious few games around and, with an awful lot of new titles coming up towards the end of the year you might quite reasonably want to know which ones to keep an eye on.
So here are the rules: each game on this list will, at time of writing, be released this side of Christmas day as a full release boxed title. Sadly these restrictions mean we can't mention forthcoming Live Arcade treasures such as John Hare's beautiful game Sensible World of Soccer or Jeff Minter's psychedelic but under - no - circumstances - point - out - it - looks - a - bit - like - Tempest, Space Giraffe. Nor are we able to salivate (at least on this page) over Namco's Beautiful Katamari, Mistwalker's Lost Odyssey or Treasure's new and as yet unnamed action game, all titles that demonstrate the Xbox 360 has more to offer than just guns, football, guns, driving and guns.
Anyhow, what follows is a quick rundown of the videogames coming to 360 that are promising the most and which are, crucially, backed by developers who seem to be mostly staying abreast of those promises. These are the games which, if all goes to plan, will be uplifting and glorious experiences rather than those all too frequently visited digital playgrounds of missed opportunity and buyer's regret.
Everything that is successful and critically-lauded enjoys something of a backlash but the Internet has been especially vicious towards the Halo series of late. Despite accusations, history testifies to how the original game sold the Xbox with effortless style and grace to a furiously sceptical videogaming world. Buoyed by the first game's success, the sequel saw Bungee drunk on whim and spectacle but, despite the game's many successes, swollen and unfocused ambitions meant in some crucial ways, the game failed to match its forbear.
Now, with an enormously successful multiplayer beta test behind it, the third game in the series - the first to grace the 360 - appears to have simultaneously upped the stakes while regaining focus, character and, dare we say it, a little humility. The game's mechanical evolutions, such as the new control scheme and myriad special items, will keep the formula fresh. Likewise, a single-player campaign that is, by most accounts, built less around grandiose set-pieces and more on the on-the-fly tactics which made the first game so great, ensures Halo 3 is deservedly the brightest star on 360's studded horizon.
The videos 'leaked' onto the Internet earlier this summer allayed what slim fears gamers might have had that publisher EA's Midas touch might have drained Harmonix of their rhythm and style. The sight of four players, cramped into a rehearsal room, singing, plucking and drumming their way through Guns n' Roses' Welcome to the Jungle in glorious harmony was enough to prove Guitar Hero's natural evolution is near complete.
With so much GUI splayed over the screen much of the cod-rock style of the Guitar Hero series is diminished - a good thing for those tired of that wearying parody. Big free-for-all outro sections allow room for some much needed user creativity in an otherwise immovable rhythm action framework. The chance to form and compete in bands online seems a feature too grand to be true - especially for a genre where lag and latency spell out-of-time nightmare. But with all of these considerations in the hands of the most competent rhythm action developer currently at work, the only question mark really hangs over the final cost of the thing.
Call of Duty IV: Modern Warfare
There are too many videogames set in World War II cried the masses and, in response, Infinity Ward set their sights upon Tom Clancy and Ubisoft's domination of the contemporary console war-game. Much of what has defined the previous titles in the series appears to have been dropped here. A cinematic plot will thread together the lives of various soldiers playing various roles for various countries.
One moment you'll be the pilot of a Cobra helicopter offering air support to ground troops, while the next you'll be pairing up with a sniper as a marksmen unit. Such disparate experiences (albeit united under the wide theme of 'Modern Warfare') could mean the game lacks focus and mastery in its tackling of all war trades. Nevertheless, it's rare for a developer to respond to consumer cries for something different, especially when it means shifting the direction of a hugely successful IP, and for that their bravery is to be applauded.
Bully: Scholarship Edition
- Game page
- Release Date: November 2007
Despite Jack Thompson's best efforts it wasn't so much a media storm as a media breeze that billowed, all hot air and empty accusation, ahead of Bully's (Canis Canem Edit to Eurogamers) PlayStation 2 release. In actuality the game is a relatively tame adventure in which you play as young delinquent Jimmy Hopkins as he endures something of an education at the correctional Bullworth Academy.
Perhaps it was because the game failed to deliver the shocking scenes of victimisation promised by both its US and European title that the game sold relatively poorly. Indeed, despite the solid design of the game's various missions there was little to shock that you wouldn't find going on in the shadier corridors of Hogwarts.
This update of the original game, which our own skew-whiff-capped Bramwell described as being 'an empire of fun' in his 9/10 review (that was the score he gave the game, not our retrospective appraisal of his criticism, although it's probably a fair mark there too) adds in various, as yet unspecified features. But with the inevitable promise of achievement points, hi-definition visuals and possible online content, Bully: Scholarship Edition will surely open Bullworth's doors to a fresh and larger intake.
As if being the 'spiritual successor' to the geekier-than-thou PC gamer favourite System Shock 2 weren't pressure enough, Bioshock's lofty claims of 'emergent gameplay' and 'unprecedented interactivity' threaten to break its back under hyperbole and expectation. Unquestionably the most important release on any console this August, Bioshock is set, unusually, on a seabed in 1960.
The underwater city Rapture, once the utopian project of an industrialist entrepreneur, forms a backdrop of disrepair and weary history. The antagonists who inhabit this forgotten world are effortlessly intriguing; the upgrade systems of plasmids, which are used to enhance and grow your character in unique ways, appear to allow customisation and creative approach that is rich and involved. Finally, Ken Levine's imaginative and original story should comfortably achieve the bar-raising success at which it so clearly grasps.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Being pencilled in so close to Halo 3's release we'll have to wait and see if this, the 360's second biggest catch of the year will slip closer to a Christmas store date. Set in a contemporary and redesigned Liberty City, Rockstar's latest instalment to a series which only really found favour once it popped into 3D, casts players as Eastern European immigrant Niko Bellic.
While the game will certainly build upon the template that has proved so successful in the past, Rockstar have assured players that the lines between in-mission and out-of mission activities will be blurred, hopefully furthering the developer's exploration of how narrative and interactivity can more seamlessly interface.
The first words anybody heard Bellic utter (in March's hotly anticipated trailer) were: "Life is complicated; I killed people, smuggled people, sold people. Perhaps things here will be different." With GTA's mechanics and rhythm so firmly established and with Rockstar playing employer to some of gaming's most competent designers, players hoping for something a little different this time can only echo the sentiment.
Despite flutters of concern following Ubisoft's clunky demonstration at E3 earlier this month, fears that this was all Unkle-soundtracked style over substance were dampened once we spent some time playing Assassin's Creed ourselves. For a setting Ubisoft Montreal have settled upon the cities of Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus at the time of the Third Crusade. You play as Alta´r, a member of the Hashshashin sect who is working towards eliminating the nine western figures driving the crusades.
As well as introducing some new game-speak in the form of 'social stealth' (a.k.a. walking around in crowds) the game is also championing a context sensitive control scheme. Here buttons generally map to the character's limbs and perform actions appropriate to situation and environment at any given time. While the game's themes and setting might seem a little incendiary right now, numerous clues as to a possible heavy science-fiction reveal as well as the fact Altair is, conveniently enough the son of a Christian mother and a Muslim father might seek to take any sting out of this tale.
Players who fell in love with Bioware's treatment of the Star Wars mythology in the RPG Knights of the Old Republic will be pleased to see the similarities in Mass Effect. The big and pleasant surprise at E3 this month, both Bioware and Microsoft clearly have high hopes for the game billing it as the fist in a trilogy of titles of the 360 that will also enjoy episodic content over Xbox Live. Set in 2183 you assume the role of a veteran elite human soldier, Commander Shepherd, the man in charge of halting the armies of a megalomaniacal former colleague.
Featuring twelve different character classes Mass Effect will, in all likelihood, mirror the successful template of Bioware's previous form: action (invisibly based upon traditional RPG dice rolls) and intricate narrative decision making. Indeed, Bioware have stated that protagonist Shepherd, as a veteran commander has carte blanche to 'get the job done in whatever way he sees fit'. Therefore every choice and decision you make in approaching the problems thrown at you will have narrative and mechanical implications further down the line. For Western action RPG fans this is certainly a game to watch with keen interest.
Ostensibly this is a long way from Tetsuya Mizuguchi's original 1995 white-knuckle arcade rally game with which it shares a name. Developed in Solihull under the watchful eye of a man named Guy (Wilday - Director of SEGA Racing Studio) the circumstances surrounding its development hardly echo those of its neon-blinking, tub-thumping Japanese ancestor. But while the game is aimed at a western audience for whom the realism and range of automotive geekery in the likes of Forza and Gran Turismo is key, Sega Rally has a lot more in common with Sega Rally than you might expect.
The emphasis is again on accessibility and fun, that combination of Sega blue skies, streaking snow capped hills and fifty metre gravelly powerslides. For gamers concerned that this will just be a paper thin, five minute arcade-a-thon there will be thirty vehicles, 6-player competitive racing online (possible between 360 and Vista players) and, more importantly, the kind of accessible but deep racing that made the original so very inspirational.
- Release Date: TBA
In all likelihood, of all the games on this list Lego Batman is the least likely to make it out this year. But that won't stop us from slipping it in here in the hope that kind of announcing it might make arive sooner. In their approach to the Lego Star Wars franchise, Traveller's Tales demonstrated that, with time and freedom, they could make an astonishingly robust, appealing and successful movie-tie-in videogame.
The move to Gotham seems perfectly natural, with the Batman mythology providing just as many opportunities for the developer to take the gameplay in the creative and compelling ways that so characterise the Lego Star Wars games. Brilliantly, for a hands-on preview of the characters, vehicles and environments to expect you need only pop into your local Lego store.
Half Life Episode 2
The game opens with idiosyncratic geek protagonist Gordon riding the very same train carriage that took him and Alyx off into the end credits of Episode 1. This feeling of continuity and uninterrupted narrative defines Half Life Episode 2, the second game in a trilogy of episodic releases now spread across PC, PlayStation 3 and 360.
Boasting a new 'cinematic physics system' which presumably improves on the astounding physics system which saw items bouncing and flying around so gracefully in its predecessor, Episode 2 promises to build an as yet unrivalled suspension of disbelief in players' minds. New enemies, such as the tripod walking 'Hunter' can be defeated with new weaponry and Valve is promising more emphasis on the puzzles which were so scarce in Episode 1. As a counterpoint to Halo, the Half-Life games offer a different weight and flavour of First Person Shooter but one which is no less enthralling in style or substance.
Stranglehold is the Hollywood collaboration between Midway and John Woo that aims to put Hong Kong cinema in our hands. The game is based around Woo's film Hardboiled, and Chow Yun-Fat will be reprising his role as tough cop Tequila, who you'll control as you attempt to take down an entire crime syndicate.
Expect things to blow up, lots of things, as you twirl gracefully through the air and hammer out magazines of bullets from your twin pistols. Slow motion camera, stuns, explosions, noise, mess, guns, action – it is all going to combine to knock you out of your seat, apparently. And it will look cool doing it. Has a big budget and is shaping up well, and ticks all the right third-person action boxes. With a few months to go there's plenty of time for polishing what could turn out to be John Woo's biggest hit for a while.
Atari recently snaffled up the rights to publish this Japanese role-playing game across Europe in November. Bizarrely, it's based around the last moments in famous composer Frederic Chopin's life. He was suffering from tuberculosis and apparently drifted off to a fairy-tale land a few hours before he died, where people with incurable diseases had great magical powers.
Despite its strong musical integration and focus, Eternal Sonata is largely a traditional JRPG fair, with deep strategical elements and an engrossing storyline. We had a chance to play it nearly a year ago at the Tokyo Game Show, and felt we came away having only just scratched the surface.
The game is known as Trusty Bell across the US, and is already out in Japan, where it has received extremely high critical praise. Eternal Sonata is cheerful, colourful, and beautiful, and helps fills the Japanese-style void Microsoft's portfolio has lacked to date.
Project Gotham Racing 4
Bizarre Creations created the third instalment in the series to launch alongside the Xbox 360, and has since come out and admitted to having rushed the title so it was ready in time. It won't make the same mistake again, this time we're promised a from the ground-up next-gen experience that's done when it's done. Which is September, according to Microsoft.
Featuring this time around is a gorgeous and dynamic weather system that effects the track and cars as real conditions would; motorbikes, which you lot will like; hordes of shiny cars, and a heavy emphasis on fun over realism. Kudos points are back again for those who like to do dangerous things, and this time you will be able to record all of your races ever. So if you get knocked out of a tournament you can still watch all the action and maybe stick pins in voodoo dolls of people that have beaten you in the hope they'll lose.