So far in our 2010 preview we've covered shooters and racing games, dabbled in the instant thrills of fighting, puzzle and arcade games and settled in for the long haul in what looks like a big year for MMOs and RPGs. In tomorrow's final instalment, we'll look at one genre to rule them all and another that's making a healthy comeback. Today, however, it's all about tactics and accuracy (and sibilant alliteration) as we explore strategy, simulation and sports games.
Every year, you hear promises to take the RTS forward, other promises to roll it back, further promises to make it work on consoles, and one or two lonely voices wondering what's so great about doing strategy in real time anyway.
The games themselves are usually well-meaning and at least partly successful at what they do, but the end result of being pulled in all these different directions seems to be that strategy gaming always ends up back where it started. 2010 will probably be no different. But at least everyone will be sitting up straight and paying attention because, after seven years away conquering the world, Blizzard's back in the room.
Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight
On: PC / Developer: EA Los Angeles / Publisher: EA / Release: 19th March 2010
No more soap star slap-and-tickle, no more standalone expansions to sequels to alternate-universe prequels, no more camping it up to camera - and after this, there's a real possibility that there will be no more Command & Conquer. At all. Word is that most of the C&C development staff were let go in the last round of EA layoffs, while the producers themselves have vowed to bring the 15-year-old Kane story to a close. In honour of that, they're playing it pretty straight in cut-scenes and on the battlefield - but the mobile bases are the sort of apparently casual change that can destroy decades of hard-coded RTS habit. For good or for ill, we don't know yet.
Napoleon: Total War
On: PC / Developer: Creative Assembly / Publisher: SEGA / Release: February 2010
"The history book on the shelf / Is always repeating itself," ABBA sang when comparing one of the most decisive battles in military history to letting someone snog them in Waterloo. Creative Assembly begs to disagree, letting you rewrite the course of events in 18th and 19th century Europe in this Empire spin-off, the most focused and personal Total War yet - insofar as you can ever call the great, century- and continent-spanning strategy series focused or personal. But if its only crime is thinking big, it couldn't have a better poster-boy than Bonaparte, anyway.
This year's sacrificial lamb to console controls and high-concept accessibility in real-time strategy is this World War II entry from Parisian developer Eugen. R.U.S.E. is all about the big picture, whether in the extreme zoom levels of the camera or the philosophy of simplification, stripping out micro-management in favour of the titular deceptions and gambits. It's easy enough to grasp, but still hard to tell if this will get Ubisoft any firmer a foothold in RTS than Tom Clancy and voice commands did.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
On: PC / Developer: Blizzard / Publisher: Activision Blizzard / Release: Spring 2010
Yes, it really will come out this year, although we wouldn't be surprised if spring was a dim memory by the time this epic development climaxed in the launch of the first of three games. Blizzard's been held up by the perfection of the new Battle.net, a next-gen Xbox Live-style service that will be individually tailored to every game it releases. Good, they needed slowing down. In seriousness, the superb new ladder system will open competitive StarCraft to ordinary people and be the most copied online gaming feature of the new decade, while the campaign chooses to innovate in endlessly varied level design rather than time-honoured mechanics. We were sceptical that this could ever justify the amount of time it's taken, but the closer it gets, the more we believe.
Supreme Commander 2
Creator Chris Taylor's pitch for Supreme Commander 2 - that the hardcore RTS doesn't need innovation and accessibility and experience points, it needs careful fine-tuning and a better single-player experience - should get a warm reception, even if it brings his game uncomfortably close to Blizzard's war machine. Still, with unit design that's simultaneously tighter and showier, and a firm focus on awesome scale, there's no reason to think this won't deliver the goods (on PC - the first Supreme Commander was an awkward fit on 360).
Also in 2010
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II expands with Chaos Rising; Stardock takes its turn at fantasy strategy with Elemental: War of Magic; we love DS "struzzlegy" Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes so much we just had to mention it again - it's out next week; Sony Online Entertainment knows its card-battling onions, so is a good choice to make Magic: The Gathering - Tactics; Kingdom Under Fire II is sort of an MMO on PC, sort of not on 360, makes little sense and looks awesome either way; Heroes of Newerth is an interesting indie take on Defence of the Anicents; and is the tower defence thing over yet? Not a chance - they'll be clogging every format you can think of.