Once again, it's a difficult week for the man with forty pounds (or sixty euro, or whatever else), and there will be casualties. Some games just won't sell, despite fully deserving to. However I really, really hope one of the games that does well is Ubisoft Montreal's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. It is a gaming experience of such ingenuity and artistry that it deservedly ranks among the best games of the year. Unfortunately Ubisoft has signed what is no doubt a very lucrative deal with Sony to keep POP away from the Xbox and Cube until next year (they did the same for Beyond Good & Evil - another criminal decision), and given a handful of technical shortcomings it might well do to stick it out and pick it up on the 'box come 2004. But if you can't wait that long then you really won't be missing out if you buy it today - even on Sony's ageing spaceman radiator it's an experience comparable to ICO in terms of sheer enjoyment, and ICO was our favourite game of the whole of 2002.
One game that will probably succeed no matter what is Rockstar North's Manhunt. Although Rockstar hasn't been beating us with a hype stick anywhere near as furiously as they did for Vice City (a trip to their offices this week for example brought us face to face with Max Payne 2 on the Xbox, and not this), it's still a new game from one of the world's most exciting developers, and it threatens to take violence in games to a new extreme, which is something worth thinking about in any event. Early reviews have been largely positive, praising the game for its use of the USB headset in deploying your shrieks and exclamations against you, but I've also heard folks in the US commenting that it's really not much more than a new third-person stealth game. And if you're wondering why we haven't reviewed something this significant, it's because a typically restrictive Rockstar hasn't sent us a copy (we had to import Max Payne 2 as well, if you remember). I might pop out and buy one later though as long as it stops raining.
However we have reviewed a few of this week's other big releases: Rare's quirky but lovable Xbox debut Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Insomniac Games' Ratchet & Clank 2: Locked & Loaded, which might well turn out to be the platformer of the year, and the lacklustre PC port of an otherwise fantastic PS2 title, Pro Evolution Soccer 3. All of them are worthy of your money in some respects, which is a depressing fact in some senses, but it seems safe to say that if you pick any of the abovementioned games that you'll have an enjoyable weekend ahead of you.
There are also a number of other titles out this week which stand a good chance of being remembered - including Sports Interactive's Championship Manager swansong, CM Season 03/04, their final CM title as they give up the illustrious moniker and split from publisher Eidos. Kristan's busy playing this every spare moment he gets, so expect a review soon. Likewise for Sony's WRC3 (or World Rally Championship 3 for the old-fashioned out there), which does at least stand an outside chance of threatening McRae's dominance.
And it wouldn't be much of a week without something from Electronic Arts, right? Need For Speed Underground finally appears this week, an online-enabled arcade racer which could well give PS2 network adapter fans something else to do besides fiddle around with the atrocious menu system.
Also on the big boy consoles, we're faced with the latest game in Activision's longest-running extreme sports series, Tony Hawk's Underground. It's received a bit of a mauling from some quarters, and certainly there's an argument that it's little more than another structural overhaul with some appalling driving sections and lamentable platform mechanics thrown in, but for fans of Tony Hawk it will almost certainly be enough, with more wide-ranging difficulty settings and no doubt all manner of new tricks.
Finally this week I have a few words for Nintendo about Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga: Send me a bloody copy! Given that I'm away for the weekend for once (I'm being recalled for modifications and a service) I could happily make use of it on the old Game Boy Advance, but hey. If we do get our hands on it, it won't be tip-top priority, but you can probably expect a review in the next fortnight or so.
- Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu (PS2)
- Brother Bear (GBA)
- Championship Manager: Season 03/04 (PC)
- Contract JACK (PC)
- Fame Academy: Dance Edition (PS2)
- Grabbed by the Ghoulies (Xbox)
- Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup (GBA)
- Jimmy Neutron Jet Fusion (PS2, Cube, GBA)
- Kim Possible: Revenge of the Monkey Fist (GBA)
- Magic: The Gathering - Battlegrounds (Xbox, PC)
- Manhunt (PS2)
- Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (GBA)
- Need for Speed Underground (PS2, Cube, Xbox)
- Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (PS2)
- Pro Evolution Soccer 3 (PC)
- Ratchet & Clank 2: Locked & Loaded (PS2)
- Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (GBA)
- Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (Xbox)
- Star Wars: Flight of the Falcon (GBA)
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (GBA)
- Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (GBA)
- The Simpsons Hit & Run (PC)
- Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 (GBA)
- Time of Defiance (PC)
- Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Island Thunder (PS2)
- Tony Hawk Underground (PS2, Cube, Xbox, GBA)
- WRC3 (PS2)