Xbox 360 – February 20th
Microsoft Game Studios/Realtime Worlds
When Microsoft announced that Crackdown would be packaged with an invitation to the Halo 3 multiplayer beta test, all I could think about was Zone of the Enders. Back in 2001, Konami opted to package a playable demo of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty with the PlayStation 2 mech shooter, effectively showing a lack of confidence in its ability to garner mainstream success. And though I really dug Zone of the Enders, it can be argued that a significant amount of people only bought the game to spend some time with Solid Snake.
Including the Halo 3 beta invitation made me think that Microsoft had little faith in Crackdown, a futuristic take on the Grand Theft Auto formula. Sure, I understand that many of you may be tired with the open-world gameplay of GTA and its copycats; I am as well. I couldn’t play more than a few hours of Saints Row or even Vice City Stories without losing interest. Crackdown is not a straight-up copycat of its spiritual predecessor. Though the unique setting and visual style help set it apart, the biggest difference comes with the enhanced abilities of the main character.
By upgrading your skills, you can kick cars into the air and make vertical leaps of up to 40 feet. Playing Crackdown is somewhat like going to Liberty City twenty years in the future as a low-level superhero. It may sound silly, but the ability to jump from rooftop to rooftop may be the single most interesting addition to the genre since Grand Theft Auto III really got things going back in 2001. Crackdown is a breath of fresh air in a genre that has been getting a bit stale, and should be able to sell itself without the help of Master Chief.
PlayStation 3 – February 20th
The PlayStation 3 software drought has been pretty rough. While a lack of worthwhile software is an unfortunate reality following the majority of system launches, it has seemed especially bad in the case of the PlayStation 3 (perhaps because of the price tag). Thankfully, Virtua Fighter 5 is scheduled to hit the shiny black box later this month, marking the first compelling reason to use the thing in almost three months (aside from watching Blu-ray flicks).
Virtua Fighter 5 looks to continue the trend of quality entries in the series, and speaking of looks – have you seen the game? It is quite stunning, displaying visuals in 720p and a widescreen aspect ratio, allowing us to experience the fights like never before. The characters look a bit shiny, but the animations are superb, and the detailed environments are rather breathtaking. One major caveat: the game lacks online play, which may be enough to turn away some potential buyers. Virtua Fighter 5 may lack the flash of Tekken or Dead or Alive, but those in the market for a technical brawler with killer visuals cannot pass this up.
Nintendo Wii – February 27th
EA Sports BIG/EA Montreal
Of the many game-related memories I’ve racked up over the years, one of my fondest was taking home my launch PlayStation 2 and just being floored by the original SSX. Though it was initially the visuals that took me in, it was the gameplay that had me glued to my TV for weeks. Subsequent entries added all sorts of innovations (from celebrity voice actors to skiing), but it is the original that I continue to hold on a pedestal.
SSX Blur looks to recapture the spirit of the original by relaunching the series on the Wii with a completely new motion-based control scheme. Utilizing both the Wiimote and the Nunchuk attachment, riders will be able to weave their way down the mountain and perform tricks without pressing a button (though doing so activates additional abilities). While many elements of the previous sequels have been retained (such as skiing and uber tricks), Blur looks to be its own beast, which may attract gamers that lost interest with recent years. If all goes well, SSX Blur should recall the simple but immense fun of past classics like 1080 Snowboarding and the original SSX.
PlayStation Portable – February 13th
SCEA/High Impact Games
The release of Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters oddly mirrors last year’s release of Daxter in many ways. Both are portable offshoots of Sony-published series with four previous entries. Neither was developed by the company known for putting together the console iterations; rather, each is the first product from a studio comprised of former employees of the original developer. Here’s hoping the similarities continue with the most vital aspect of all; Daxter was awesome – will Size Matters also mirror the quality of its console-based predecessors?
All signs currently point to “most likely.” Visually, it looks just like its big brothers, and the gameplay should return the series to its pre-Deadlocked heyday, complete with many of the weapons that made the first three titles so memorable (along with a couple new ones). Add to that a wireless (infrastructure!) multiplayer mode, and Size Matters looks to be a true highlight in the beleaguered PSP lineup. Though the subtitle claims otherwise, Ratchet & Clank will hopefully prove that the size of the hardware doesn’t matter when it comes to quality gameplay. Check back next week for a hands-on look at the final game.
PlayStation 2/PSP – February 27th
I took the breakup of Major League Baseball and the MVP Baseball series rather poorly. MVP Baseball 2005 was the apex of modern baseball gaming, but it would be the last major league MVP to hit stores, as 2K Sports snatched up the exclusive third-party rights for MLB games. I wasn’t quite ready to move on last year, but I have finally come to terms with the loss and am looking for a new suitor.
MLB 07: The Show may be what I am looking for. Though I may wait for the yet-to-be-revealed PlayStation 3 version (set to release in April), the PlayStation 2 and PSP iterations look to pack quite a bit of content into their respective packages. Online leagues have been added to both, and the Road to the Show mode has been expanded to present a better-rounded big-league simulation. Add in a number of gameplay enhancements (including the Adaptive Pitch Interface and Pitch Command System), and The Show should offer a complete MLB experience, regardless of your preferred PlayStation.