PlayStation 2 — March 13th
SCEA/SCEA Santa Monica
One million pre-ordering gamers can't be wrong, can they? In this case, I'd say no; probably not. Online publications are usually bound to some kind of agreement to keep their reviews under wraps until the ship date, so it was certainly curious when reviews started popping up a full month before God of War II was slated to hit retail. As the early reviews attest, SCEA has absolutely no reason to keep the game under wraps — it's fantastic; as awesome as the original, if not a bit familiar. Our own Chris DeAngelus had this to say in his glowing 9.0 review of the game:
"God of War II is a worthy sequel. It adheres very strongly to the concept of, ‘If it isn't broken, don't fix it,' perhaps to the point of excess. It is a well-designed game, with terrific level design and a smooth, excellent combat system, but it also doesn't particularly bring anything dramatically different to the field. This isn't a bad thing at all, but returning players will surely feel a serious case of déjà vu on Kratos' latest adventure. However, that's the worst one can say about this latest outing."
Considering the quality of the original, I'll take that as a ringing endorsement. Clearly the biggest release of the month (if not the season), God of War II will hit stores on March 13th as a two-disc set, with the second disc delivering a bevy of bonus content. This epic sequel will likely serve as the final must-have exclusive for the PlayStation 2 — which is fitting, as the console itself was somewhat of an epic sequel.
PlayStation 3 — March 6th
The PlayStation 3 is in a bizarre state of limbo right now, it seems. Phil Harrison and the Sony bigwigs claim that demand is high and that there will be shortages until April or May, yet I see a stack of at least 30 systems every time I go into Best Buy. And I go often. Hey, I get it — $600 is a hell of a lot of money to spend on a system with one or two must-play titles. Those of us who already took the plunge (and logged onto the PlayStation Network Store) have been staring at this far-off oasis in the desert for months, but it is finally here: MotorStorm is hitting stores next week!
MotorStorm is a stunningly beautiful game, but that's not even the main draw. Whether you opt for analog or motion controls, the feel of it all is unparalleled, with a sharp physics engine and a variety of available vehicles. MotorStorm is chaotic yet realistic, creating perhaps the first entertaining off-road experience that doesn't feel like an over-the-top arcade racer. Japan got MotorStorm in December, but theirs was a gimped release; online play has been added to this riotous racer, so get ready to fire up your broadband connections for some absurd match-ups. Truck vs. motorcycles vs. buggies vs. rally cars? Yes, please!
PlayStation 2/PSP — March 6th
EA Games/EA UK
Two recommended, UK-developed racers launching on the same day? Believe it. Burnout Dominator may not be the full-fledged sequel to 2005's phenomenal Burnout Revenge (that would be Burnout 5, launching later this year), but it should prove to be a worthy stopgap release for burners around the world. Original Burnout developer Criterion Games worked alongside EA UK to complete this (currently) PlayStation-exclusive release, which strips away the excess meat from the series and focuses exclusively on the racing elements, including some left behind in recent iterations.
For my money, the racing has always been the best part of the Burnout games, though the Crash and Traffic Attack modes were certainly enjoyable in spurts. The actual ability to perform Burnouts returns from the first two games in the series, though my most anticipated addition is that of Maniac Mode, which awards burners a score based on their ability to drive like a madman. It seems like a natural evolution for the series, though I wonder if the changes made to Burnout Dominator will be reflected in Burnout 5. For example, the ability to check traffic has been removed, which may make this a tricky transition for those who were enamored by Burnout Revenge. Still, if the game is half as good as the ones that preceded it, Dominator will dominate PS2 and PSP systems for weeks to come.
Xbox 360/PC — March 6th
With a title that long, will the front cover be able to show anything other than text? Lengthy titles aside, the first GRAW for Xbox 360 was a massive fan favorite and something of an insta-classic, reinventing the longtime franchise to take advantage of next-gen hardware. One year later, GRAW 2 is back to steal you away from Rainbow Six Vegas and Lost Planet: Extreme Condition. Though many other worthwhile action games are now available for the Xbox 360 (as opposed to the barren wasteland last spring), I have a feeling that won't stop the masses from plunking down another $60 to take control of Captain Scott Mitchell and the Ghost Unit.
While certainly not the overhaul that its predecessor was, GRAW 2 looks to further refine the classy interface and visual experience that GRAW unleashed on the world of gaming. Dynamic weather effects will influence the gameplay, and additional work has been put into improving the dazzling particle effects. Squad A.I. and customization has been greatly enhanced, giving you additional input into who will have your back in any given situation. My personal favorite of the many upgrades is the dismissal of the checkpoint system, as you will now be able to save at any point. GRAW 2 looks to combine visual upgrades with user-friendly enhancements to create a better overall experience. (PlayStation 3 and PSP versions will be available at later dates.)
PC — March 26th
EA Games/EA LA
I won't pretend to be an authority of any kind on this title. I rarely play PC games, and my first real RTS experience came with last year's The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth II — for the Xbox 360. But as a longtime gamer and a student of gaming journalism, I understand the incredible importance of the Command & Conquer franchise, and instinctively know that a numbered iteration of the series is a huge deal. Especially now, when it is likely the first huge PC release of the year that doesn't have the word "Warcraft" or "Burning" in the title.
The battle between the Brotherhood of Nod and the Global Defense Initiative rages on, but the two forces face an additional threat in the form of the Scrin, an unknown alien force. The visual enhancements are considerable, but C&C3 is thankfully not a Vista exclusive. Several notable actors will be featured in the live-action cut-scenes, including Billy Dee Williams (Lando!), Josh Holloway (Lost), and Grace Park and Tricia Helfer from Battlestar Galactica. Thankfully, console gamers will not have to wait for long to get a taste of this C&C entry — the Xbox 360 version is currently set to hit retail in May, and will likely resemble the aforementioned Battle for Middle-Earth II. Score!