Like an oil slick no one expected, Christmas calmly rolls towards game-packed release schedules in waves of destruction, and next Friday it'll start to hit the first beaches. Traditionally, it's about this time in December when publishers give up on their perpetually slipping shoot 'em ups and Tomb Raider rip-offs, doff the PR-writing mitts and settle down with brandy and cigars until evening dawns on the festivities and the hard sale can once again begin afresh. Well, not afresh, this is the games industry after all...
But that's all the more reason to savour the last of 2002's significant reverberations. Out this week we have several "highly anticipated" first person shooters, a number of "expanded and enhanced" sequels, a motley assortment of ports and one or two "innovative" concepts. You know, like cartoon race cars instead of devilishly realistic ones.
Our standout choices this week include Championship Manager: Season 02/03 from Eidos. Trumpeted as the series' exclusive return to Xbox, this is little more than a "speedbump" in product roadmap terms. Comprising overhauled data and a couple of fingers short of a handful of new features, it really isn't much of an improvement in traditional terms, but fans of CM will relish the opportunity to gobble up the changes, and anybody who picks this up anew could lose their life to it - as the woman who recently divorced her husband on the grounds of another woman named Champ will attest.
Elsewhere, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault Spearhead finally rears its head in the darkness of the Normandy night and steals in through the roof of a barn. It's a strangely short companion to one of the year's finest shooters (and probably the best WW2 shooter we know of), but at £20 some may question its value. Fans won't though, and it certainly deserves to be played by them.
Other highlights, then. Despite its girth, the PS2's list doesn't actually include anything remarkable this week. Auto Modellista failed to make a significant impression on us, while BMX XXX (also on Xbox, Cube and GBA) didn't even deserve to make one. The only vaguely enigmatic entries are Big Mutha Truckers (on Xbox too, described as Gran Turismo in trucks by overzealous journalists, but perhaps best described as one of those "almost brill" games you never thought would work), Star Wars: Bounty Hunter (which has received okayish reviews, but has been challenged for its repetition) and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon, which, along with a Live-enabled Xbox version, has been receiving top scores from many of the more popular rags.
The Xbox, on the other hand, remands Dynasty Warriors 3, Medal of Honor: Frontline, Serious Sam and Ghost Recon into its custody for the considerable future. All are ports, of course, but none is a bad one either. Many of the single-format mags have used Frontline as a thinly veiled opportunity to attack its idolisation on PlayStation 2 as fabricated, but as someone who slogged his way through wartime France earlier this year, I can confirm that it's a decent port (as is the Cube version), but the addition of multiplayer is a bit limp. Make your own mind up.
Speaking of the Cube, it's the battle of fore considerable titles. Well, two. Tiger Woods and Ace Golf are both chipping in [uuugh - Ed] and it's difficult to pick between the two - luckily, you don't have to, because we'll be doing that ourselves later today.
And with that (and brief mention of unproven Asheron's Call 2 Fallen Kings on the PC), we leave you for another week. Next week's pickings will be remarkably slim, but with titles like [grabs nearest case] "Simpsons Skateboarding"... out this week, um, who needs more?