PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, PC, DS, GBA – May 4th
Spider-Man 3 will hit every active system on the market (a PSP version will follow this fall), but each version brings something a little different to the experience. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions pick up where Spider-Man 2 ("Grand Theft Spidey") left off, with a much larger city (including a comprehensive sewer system), 10 storylines (including that of the film), and much-improved visuals. While the Xbox 360 version has the obvious benefit of force feedback and Achievements, the Special Edition release on the PlayStation 3 features an additional playable character in the form of New Goblin, who can be controlled via the SixAxis motion controls.
The Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 2 versions should be quite similar in structure and overall presentation, though the Wii version makes use of the Wiimote and Nunchuk to allow freeform swinging around Manhattan. Regardless of which version players choose, the "black suit" from the film figures heavily in the action, though the various iterations handle its usage a bit differently.
I had a chance to play a few of the versions in late March, and I came away most impressed by the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 iterations. The sensation of weaving through the buildings was better than ever, and the battle system felt more expansive and flexible than in previous games. While I did not see the PS2 game, the Wii version seemed solid (in a last-gen sort of way), but the visuals suffered and the motion controls needed refinement. If you've got the choice, nab one of the flashy next-gen versions.
Xbox 360 – May 29th
Microsoft Game Studios/Turn 10 Studios
Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews (we gave it a 9.1), Forza Motorsport arrived a bit too late in the original Xbox's lifespan to really establish itself as a smash franchise-to-be. But the top contender to the Gran Turismo simu-racing throne is back with an all-new iteration, creatively titled Forza Motorsport 2.
Rather than toss aside what worked extremely well, Forza Motorsport 2 looks to make several improvements across the board, with enhanced visuals and vehicle damage heading the list. Vehicle customization was a key element of the original, and now players will have thousands of layers with which to paste rainbows and unicorns on their Lamborghinis. Online functionality is what really gives this young pup a shot at taking down Turismo, and the sequel features online multiplayer, leaderboards, and considerable community functions, including the Auction House, which lets players buy and sell their digital vehicular creations.
And while it's unlikely that I'll ever get a chance to experience it, I'm most impressed by Forza 2's ability to support eight networked Xbox 360 consoles and eight televisions to create a 360° perspective around the user. I really can't think of a better use of $30,000.
Nintendo Wii – May 29th
It's easy to talk smack about the Mario Party franchise (now in its eighth iteration), but few games do a better job of entrancing small groups of gamers. Based on my experiences with the GameCube iterations, Mario Party is very similar to a pre-made drink mix – add liquor and enjoy! But if sober and single-player is your thing, you might want to stick to Super Paper Mario or whatever it is you whippersnappers are playing these days.
The lack of concrete information on Mario Party 8 is a little disconcerting (I wouldn't be surprised by yet another delay), but expect an experience similar to that of recent series entries, albeit with amusing motion controls. With over 70 mini-games and six game boards, Mario Party 8 may be the best bet for multiplayer fun on the Wii since … well, Wii Sports, really. It's been a slow couple of months for Wii owners, but Mario Party 8 will hopefully make the summer months a bit more bearable. And if not, ditch the Party and stick to the aforementioned beverages.
As with last month, the slow stream of truly worthwhile new releases means that I'll be mentioning a handful of high-profile ports instead of detailing games that have a good chance of being bunk.
Now supposedly, this Halo 2 game coming out for the PC is kind of a big deal. Though largely the same game that came out on Xbox two and a half years ago, expect sharper visuals, an all-new map editor, and Vista exclusivity. That might make for a better port, but I suspect that XP users who waited over two years to play Halo 2 are going to be a bit bummed.
I'm surprisingly excited about the Xbox 360 port of Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, considering the fact that I've played through one RTS game in my life (last year's The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth II). C&C3 looks and plays remarkably similar to that successful LotR RTS, and the downloadable demo on the Xbox Live Marketplace offers a generous taste of what to expect from the final boxed version.
The PlayStation 3 version of MLB 07: The Show should finally see the light of day in two weeks, and while I'm excited to get my hands on another next-gen baseball sim, I can't say that I'm terribly impressed by the trailers released to date. If the gameplay is as good as that of the PS2/PSP versions, it should be a successful entry, but it certainly looks as though MLB 2K7 will earn the presentation crown for this season.