You know, we were going to focus on the PlayStation Portable - but looking over the list we made, it struck us that it would make sense to include the PlayStation 2 in this list as well. The PS2's release schedule a little thin in terms of high quality games this year, but there are still some stunning titles to come - and interestingly, many of them cross over with PSP versions, so merging the lists was an obvious step.
All the same, these lists couldn't be more different in some respects. The PlayStation 2 is seeing enormous, blockbuster titles emerge at the tail end of its lifespan as a leading platform, each of them the result of five years or more of evolution and utilising the PS2's hardware in ways we wouldn't have dreamed of at the start of the last generation. The PSP, in contrast, is still finding its feet - not least because it has faced tougher competition than expected from the DS - but this year's list shows that there's plenty to celebrate for PSP owners. The console may not have had the widespread adulation of the DS, but some of the games coming out in the next 12 months make this a system any self-respecting gamer will want to own.
Eurogamer's Top Picks - PSP
Final Fantasy Tactics: Zodiac Brave Story
- Developer: Square Enix
- Publisher: Square Enix
- PSP Exclusive
Two Final Fantasy games in a row might make the PSP look like a one-trick pony (or chocobo), but the games in question couldn't be more different. Final Fantasy Tactics is one of the best-loved titles on the PS1, a superbly balanced and finely honed turn-based strategy whose incredibly deep and thoughtful gameplay was a total U-turn away from the cinematic, cut-scene heavy direction which the main Final Fantasy series was taking at the time. Sadly, the original FFT never made it out in Europe, but many players will have experienced some of the basics of the series in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, a somewhat watered down but nonetheless excellent follow-up that appeared on the GBA a few years ago.
Thankfully, however, Square Enix hasn't forgotten about Final Fantasy Tactics - and has dragged it out of the cupboard, dusted it down thoroughly and is now in the process of dressing the superb game up in shiny new clothes for an outing on the PSP. The game (which is acquiring a subtitle in the process) is indeed a port of the PS1 original, as opposed to an entirely new entity, but several changes are being made along the way which should make even fans of the original happy to immerse themselves again.
The most noticeable change - aside from the move into 16:9 widescreen, of course - is that the cut-scenes have been re-rendered in a lovely cel-shaded style, which brings the cut-scene designs much closer to the in-game graphics, while the stirring soundtrack has been entirely remastered. Some minor gameplay changes have also been made - new jobs and new characters, in particular - but we're still waiting to hear about multiplayer modes in the game. Here's a hint - turn-based online play could make this into our most wanted game of the year.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
- Developer: Square Enix
- Publisher: Square Enix
- PSP Exclusive
Calm yourselves - this isn't the Final Fantasy VII remake you're looking for. On the other hand, the latest title in Square's rather variable quality Compilation of Final Fantasy VII series, which fills in various gaps before and after the storyline of 1997's classic PS1 role-playing game, is arguably the most promising of all the various games which are fleshing out the world of Cloud and his pals. It's also the first Compilation title (in the west, at least) to deal with events before the original game, as opposed to tying up loose ends after the main story, which automatically renders it more interesting to many players.
The game focuses on the SOLDIER unit to which both Cloud and arch-villain Sephiroth belonged, and on its involvement with the nasty human experiments being carried out by the unscrupulous ShinRa corporation. Many characters from FFVII will feature in some form, but the central character appears to be Zack, a minor but crucial character from FFVII itself. Early peeks at the game reveal superb graphics and lavishly directed cut-scenes, as well as character designs in the Advent Children archetype, and most of the solid voice cast which Square Enix has assembled for the FFVII crew in recent years return to reprise their roles.
However, after the divisive Advent Children movie and the disappointing Dirge Of Cerberus (good narrative, weak game), the thing that's really interesting about Crisis Core is that it marks the first Compilation title which actually plays to Square's strength - making really excellent RPGs. Gameplay details on Crisis Core are thin on the ground, sadly, but we do know that the game is an action RPG, a genre which Squenix can take on with both its hands tied behind its back. In other words, this looks like finally being a return to the world of FFVII which will do the original masterpiece justice - and finally ensure that every JRPG fan has to own a PSP.
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops
- Developer: Kojima Productions;
- Publisher: Konami
- PSP Exclusive
The first few Metal Gear outings on the PSP have divided opinion somewhat; while the card battling system of Metal Gear Acid struck a chord with many players (the second game in particular was superb), plenty of vocal gamers longed openly for a traditional Metal Gear outing on their powerful handheld platform. The wait is almost over; Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, a direct sequel to MGS3, delivers exactly what fans of the series have been waiting for.
While the game continues the same sort of stealthy gameplay for which the MGS series has become known, Kojima and his team have made sure that it's built as a portable game from the outset. As such, it divides the experience into a number of enclosed, sandboxed mission areas, essentially distilling the game into travel-sized chunks. It's not afraid to innovate within the MGS formula, either; the game sees you recruiting new team-members as you go along and managing a team of four in the field, which is a radical departure for Metal Gear.
Presentation-wise, Portable Ops looks great too, with the series' trademark cut-scenes being rendered in dramatic comic-book style as a concession to the platform, while the in-game graphics are easily up to PS2 standards. The cherry on the cake is an extremely well implemented multiplayer mode, which will have you sneaking up on your pals and breaking their necks with glee for hours. Whether you loved Acid or not, it looks like Portable Ops is the Metal Gear game the PSP has been begging for since day one.
Tomb Raider Anniversary
- Developer: Crystal Dynamics
- Publisher: Eidos
- PSP and PS2
What a difference a year makes! This time last year, there's no way that a remake of the first Tomb Raider title would have been on our most wanted list, despite the obvious quality of the early games in the series - but post-Legend, our outlook for the whole franchise is much rosier. In Crystal Dynamics we have a developer who can hopefully be trusted not to mess up the formula that worked in the superb first game, while still having an eye for judicious improvement.
Anniversary isn't a totally faithful remake of the original game - Lara's abilities and moves will be influenced by her outing in Legend, and the levels have been modified to take account of that. They'll also be larger than they were in the original game - but all of the set pieces will remain in place. Including, of course, the famous T Rex battle, as well as pretty much every other memorable moment from the first game.
Interestingly, the team has also chosen to make Lara's character look noticeably younger than she was in Legend - while the superb Keeley Hawes is expected to reprise her voice acting role. As for whether the developer will introduce human enemies, a major bugbear with Legend - nothing has been said as yet, so the signs are looking good on that front too. Lara's back, and in Anniversary, she's going back to basics - which could well make for the finest Tomb Raider adventure yet.