Of all PlayStation 3's forthcoming releases, the most interesting and significant is neither a game nor for sale. Home, Sony's more structured, sanitised and solid attempt at a Second Life world might seem innocuous enough but with the screenshots of its cinema space and the implied possibility of fully downloadable movies, there's the chance it might eventually outgrow even its host platform in significance.
Of course, 360 is kind of there already. With game demos on Microsoft's console oftentimes upwards of 1GB in download size, the first dual high street and virtual major game release is surely only just around the corner. But Home, with its customisable avatars, apartments and achievements looks to be providing a more personal and tactile way to access the future than Microsoft's colourful but dry menus. Whether the platform can grow and develop in kilter with Sony's aspirations remains to be seen but, come launch in October, it might prove to be a secret weapon of unexpected magnitude.
Anyway, there's a lot more than just a new social networking world to look forward to in PlayStation 3's run-up to Christmas - and not all of it is 360's sloppy seconds. Here Eurogamer performs that thankless task of looking over the games that stand to deliver the best experiences of the latter portion of the year. Of course, until we actually sit down with each game's final build it's all consumer frottage and speculation but at least you'll know what to put on your Christmas list.
(Note: here is our Most Wanted list for 360 titles - you'll notice several of the games on that list are also present here, so we've tried to give more weight to titles that are either PS3 exclusives or weren't mentioned in the 360 list. Several appear on both lists - by necessity, as they're simply too good to ignore.)
Call of Duty IV: Modern Warfare
"There are too many videogames set in World War II," cried the masses, and, in response, Infinity Ward has set its sights upon the contemporary war-game instead. 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 numerous soldiers playing various roles for different countries.
One minute 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 its bravery is to be applauded.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Despite the historical overtones (protagonist Nathan Drake is supposedly a descendant of the famous namesake explorer) the undertones are decidedly low culture. Drake's plot synopsis has something of the Lost about it: a group of companions stranded on a remote island while being hunted by mysterious mercenaries.
Even so, the game's pedigree is solid, developer Naughty Dog being the hands behind Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter. With an overarching mission to discover the fabled treasure of El Dorado, this is looking like one of the PS3's most intriguing new IPs.
The developer is promising clues, puzzles and danger, a combination that has served Lara Croft well in similar climes. Whether Drake can command its influences rather than be driven by them remains to be seen. But doing so will be the key to delivering a fresh, new and distinct game with its own soul.
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 its 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.
Lair was ill-served by those over-ambitious staged sky battles that promoted the game ahead of the system's launch. Gamers never look favourably upon pre-rendered footage that is passed off as being in-game and, as such, Lair suffered something of a backlash before it had even begun.
But now, in the wake of some more realistic and fun-looking videos, popular opinion seems to have swung back onto this, the latest title from Rogue Squadron's Factor 5. Playing as dragon-riding knight Rohn, Lair promises to provide gamers with the kind of fast-paced combat that delights fans of the Panzer Dragoon series, with none of the on-rails framework that put many off. As one of the few games which seems to be championing Sixaxis controls as a core aspect to the game it will be interesting to see whether Lair will silence or justify the cynicism that it met with upon its original unveiling [early US reviews suggest not - Ed].
Heavenly Sword's lead character Nariko has long served as poster girl for the kinds of visually arresting and, crucially platform-monogamous new titles Sony wants to showcase on their system.
This high-profile take on the hack-and-slash genre has been hotly anticipated since long before the PS3's launch but, with the recent PlayStation store demo, some of that enthusiasm has been dampened. In truth, many of the criticisms are unfair. The Shenmue-style Quicktime Events integrate well with the game's cinematic leanings while the freeform combat mechanics are rich and textured.
Nevertheless, if the game positions itself as an evolution to the PS2's God of War II (something many fans have been eager to do) it might have a harder time convincing the genre faithful - 1000 characters simultaneously on screen at once or not.
That ex-Rare team members created Free Radical Design holds less sway today than it did in 1999. While the company's Timesplitters series found many staunch fans, for some its fast pace and frantic execution was a step too far from the games which earned these designers their name.
With Haze, FRD is clearly looking to re-establish the studio as being at the forefront of FPS design and innovation, with a more weighty and serious tone pinning its aspirations down.
Set over a three-day period in 2048 you're cast as Sergeant Shane Carpenter, a member of the Mantel Global Industries army fighting South America rebels.
The Nectar system, a kind of injection that imbues your character and his team members with various upgrades (at the cost of being able to distinguish friend from foe) appears to ring introduce some interesting mechanics to what initially looks like a fairly orthodox modern FPS. However the game uses a bespoke graphical engine apparently to allow for FRD's various design ideas to be implemented more smoothly and as such is of compelling interest.
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
The Ratchet and Clank series has always fared well in front of critics but has traditionally found a younger platforming audience. This, the sixth title under the name will be hoping to convince the older, early-adopting PS3 demographic of its worth.
That said, the plot details so far are pure Saturday morning kid's TV. The titular protagonists face an alien invasion from a species known as Cragmites. During a huge battle over the streets of Metropolis the duo manage to steal a warship in which to make a getaway and begin an adventure to find out the origins of the attack.
The game mechanics appear to focus strongly on the platforming elements that defined the earlier games eschewing much of the weapon-based combat of more recent iterations. This is accompanied by a more light-hearted approach to both gameplay (the Groovitron grenade is a glitterball weapon which immobalises enemies by playing irresistible disco music at them) and storyline.
Unreal Tournament 3
An Unreal Tournament game with a single player storyline? If that's not a surprising enough feature for a series that has traditionally sidestepped even the most fleeting brush with narrative, then the huge reduction of multiplayer modes will surely stop fans in their tracks.
While the game, the latest title in a run-and-gun FPS series that has outlived most of its id Software rivals, does include Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Warfare mode, that's almost it. This more streamlined approach is intended to distil the series most successful achievements into a compelling package.
While the game is exclusive to PC and PS3 for 2007, it will launch on 360 early next year. Players concerned about how well the lightning-paced battles will play out on a Sixaxis controller have been told to rest assured that Epic's Gears of War team has been working "day and night" to get them just right ahead of launch.
With both Project Gotham and Forza now firmly established racing brand successes for the 360, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue has a heavy burden of expectation and responsibility to bear as Sony's flagship racing title.
Numerous new features help propel the series deeper into sim territory. Speedometers and odometers as well as rear and side view mirrors are now visible from the in-car view. Reportedly, it will even be possible to turn your driver's head within the car to look around you using the d-pad.
However, the series has, in more recent times, attracted criticism for being too dry and too sim-like to really connect with a wide console audience. Prologue looks to be addressing some of the issues by promising to integrate fully with Home (the PS3's new social networking environment) as well as providing on-line voice chat. Nevertheless, most of these features are already present in Forza 2 so GT5 Prologue really needs to provide something over and above that excellent game if it's to maintain its position at the forefront of the console racing world.
Sony Studio London's clean and inviting menus and user interface reflect the game's modern, mainstream and graphic design-savvy awareness. Indeed, the well-ordered and sleek screenshots of the Singstore put most other videogame front ends to shame.
And it's the Singstore that most clearly communicates the game's evolution from its current interminable mix-tape treadmill of PS2 releases. In addition to the 30 tracks included on the disc you'll be able to download new songs quickly and easily from myriad artists in diverse genres and styles. This propels the game into iTunes territory allowing users to construct their own game from a gigantic catalogue of musical options (350 at launch with 50 a month added thereafter).
Online high-score tables are a fantastic development for players who want to compete but prefer to sing alone while Singstar's established mechanics will provide the all-important bedrock for these ideas and inventions to build upon.
Eye of Judgment
Sony's Eyetoy camera promised so much upon release in 2003 but it has mostly failed to deliver anything important or indispensable to the gaming canon. The PlayStation Eye, Eyetoy's PS3 update is looking to break out of the passable mini-game monotony that plagued its forbear with the Eye of Judgement.
The game comes bundled with a tablemat upon which players place and move cards to carry out their moves on screen. By holding cards up to the camera health points, attack points, special abilities and effects can all be checked and the game will ship with a starter pack of 30 cards.
This style if gaming has recently become wildly popular in Japanese arcades but this will be the first time it's been used in a console game. The game's producers have said that they spent a full two years working on the game mechanics and Eye technology before they started on implementing the graphics. With that in mind, one can only hope that such a hefty investment of time and energy ensures the game is more than just a cute curio with a neat gimmick.
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.
- 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.
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 has 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.
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.