Eye On '07: Xbox 360

What to watch out for in the next 12 months.

As a child, my parents regularly admonished me for never being happy with what I had. An early and keen believer in the idea that faraway hills were altogether more lush and green, I was not satisfied with the present, but instead obsessed with the future; utterly disinterested in the lolly in my own hand, instead burning with desire for the ice cream shop around the corner. In other words, I was a bloody nightmare of a child who probably needed a clip around the ear.

Some things never change (I still obsess over ice cream, for a start), and more importantly, like most gamers, I'm never happy with what I have. Despite the veritable feast of gaming which has landed on my doorstep this Christmas, I find myself scanning next year's release lists and salivating over the delectable morsels which will be available in a few scant months' time. So while the rest of the Eurogamer galley slaves whirl themselves into a lather debating which the best games of the last twelve months were, over the next five days I'm going to be your guide through what some of the best games of the next twelve months may be.

The Xbox 360 is a good place to start. With a full year in the market under its belt, and with gamers still reeling from a stunning display of software at X06 this autumn, Microsoft's pitch for market leadership is looking stronger than ever - and however the console wars may turn out this time (I don't know, and I don't care - and neither do you, nor should you), the Xbox 360 looks like leaving a lasting legacy of amazing games.

Onwards!

Eurogamer's Top Picks

Alan Wake

alanwake
  • Developer: Remedy Entertainment
  • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
  • Also Available On: PC
  • Gamepage

Ever since we saw the first screenshots and teaser videos for Alan Wake, there was a sense that this game was going to be a bit special. Max Payne creator Remedy has superb pedigree when it comes to fantastic visuals, and the setting of Alan Wake - the fictional town of Bright Falls in the American north-west - looks like being a showcase for the capabilities of next-gen graphics hardware. This is far from a pretty-but-dumb game, though. A Stephen King style concept in which a horror writer is trapped in a town which begins to resemble his books is expanded upon to provide a free-roaming world in which light and shadow, day and night, are the key weapons in your arsenal against the dark forces closing in on you.

Described by the developer as a "psychological action thriller", this has the potential to combine the best elements of Grand Theft Auto and Silent Hill with the most advanced graphics ever seen in a videogame. Being Remedy, though, it also has the potential to be delayed again, and again, and again - but Max Payne proved that it's worth keeping the faith sometimes, and the might of Microsoft behind the title might even keep a 2007 release date on the cards. If so, it's damn near the top of our most wanted list for the year.

Bioshock

bioshock
  • Developer: Irrational Games
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Also Available On: PC
  • Gamepage

The name is different, but make no mistake; this is a new System Shock. Or rather, a "spiritual successor", which is the term preferred by the developer. Whatever. It's a new System Shock, and that's what matters.

For the uneducated, the System Shock series is the benchmark for intelligent first-person gaming. Kick-starting the revolution which would go on to give the world Deus Ex and which has influenced the design of countless other games, what System Shock does is to seamlessly integrate brilliant narrative, a complex, interactive world and thoughtful first-person action into a brilliant, atmospheric whole. Bioshock promises to deliver all that and then some.

This time out, the team is adding what they call an "AI ecology" to the mix - giving other characters and entities in the world their own objectives and personalities, which interact with both the player and with each other to create surprising, complex scenarios, unlikely alliances and even moral dilemmas. Transposing the action from the abandoned space station setting of System Shock to an art deco undersea city, designed as a mid-1900s utopia before the discovery of a powerful bio-engineering substance made it all go horribly wrong, has given the game a unique visual style to complement its extraordinary gameplay - and is just another reason on the growing list of reasons that Bioshock screams "instant classic" at us.

Forza Motorsport 2

forza2
  • Developer: Turn 10
  • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
  • Xbox 360 Exclusive
  • Gamepage

When you've got a generation and a half, and a hundred million unit head-start, to catch up with, one way to start closing the gap is to make sure you have an answer to every major title in your rival's arsenal. Forza Motorsport is exactly that, and it's largely unapologetic about it - this is Microsoft's answer to Gran Turismo. Thankfully, it's also really, really good.

Coming out at the tail end of the original Xbox' lifespan, the first Forza turned heads with fantastic visuals and top notch handling and physics - and the second instalment in the series looks set to be the choice of any hardcore petrol fume aficionado, adding to the formula with stunning next-gen graphics, even more realistic handling, more cars and tracks, and of course, the prospect of decimating other wannabe Richard Hammonds (that's the fast cars bit, not the brain damage - in most cases, anyway) on Xbox Live.

People who think "fuel injection" is a neat slogan for an energy drink, snigger when you talk about a "big end" and wish Jeremy Clarkson would shut up and get a real job need not apply. Of course, in an ideal world, it would have come out in time for Christmas, but good things come to those who wait, eh?

Halo 3

halo3
  • Developer: Bungie
  • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
  • Xbox 360 Exclusive
  • Gamepage

Without Halo, there would probably be no Xbox 360. There were many long, cold months for the original Xbox after the launch of Bungie's seminal first-person shooter in which the console was that saddest of beasts, a one-game platform; a few hastily scattered money hats aside, it took the long term success of Halo, and consequently of the Xbox, to convince the rest of the world that this might be a system worth developing for. Launching the Xbox 360 without a Halo game was a demonstration of how far Microsoft has come since then - but for many Xbox fans, it doesn't change the fact that Halo 3 is The Big One.

There are plenty of unanswered questions about Halo 3 - we know, of course, that the single-player is intended as the conclusion of the current trilogy, and that once again Bungie is planning for this to be a showcase of the console's online multiplayer abilities. We know that it looks amazing, we're sure that it'll sound amazing... But what we don't know is where the focus of the game is. Is it on providing a compelling, atmospheric single-player experience, like Halo 1 did? Is that being sacrificed, to some extent, in favour of being an Xbox Live showcase, as happened with Halo 2? We can only hope that the extended development time means that Bungie has learned to balance both things. Finish the Fight, the trailer requests - we will, with exceptional pleasure, as long as you Finish the Game this time.

Mass Effect

masseffect
  • Developer: Bioware
  • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
  • Xbox 360 Exclusive
  • Gamepage

When George Lucas was busy defiling the corpse of his best-loved franchise, Canadian wunderkind Bioware was crafting its own lovingly executed, fantastically written and superbly involving Star Wars prequel. In an ideal world, we could forget episodes I to III and pretend that Knights of the Old Republic was the true heir to the Star Wars legacy. As it is, it's the best reason (along with other great reasons like Baldur's Gate and Jade Empire) to be very, very excited about Mass Effect.

Designed from the outset as the first game of a trilogy, Mass Effect is Bioware's latest attempt at building their own universe rather than playing around in someone else's. A graphically stunning science fiction yarn, it places you in the space-boots of the first human ever to join a species-spanning special forces unit which takes on trouble around the galaxy - and places you at the heart of action and intrigue against, of course, the backdrop of an ancient evil (oooh) that threatens all known life (aaah).

Videos of the game in action show a battle system which is much more action-focused and real time than in Knights of the Old Republic, but it's Bioware's reputation for building fantastic character interaction systems that really make Mass Effect interesting - with the firm promising even more enhancements to its already superb conversation systems, including the ability to interrupt characters with your response before they've finished speaking.

All of which adds up to one of the most fascinating and promising titles of the coming year - Bioware's pedigree is near-impeccable, the game and its premise look and sound brilliant, and quite frankly, we may wet ourselves in anticipation if we don't get to play this soon.

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