Ten for 2010
So, did you have a nice Christmas? Have you even had a Christmas yet? If so, did Santa Claus bring you all the games from your list you hastily scrawled onto a scrap of paper and stuffed into his mouth while you were sat on his lap at the local supermarket?
Unless you're obscenely rich, the answer is probably no, because the latter part of 2009 has turned out to be yet another high watermark year for games. Unfortunately, we have more bad news for your bank balance. 2010 is shaping up to be even better, with a whole glut of gaming goodness fast approaching in Q1 alone. That's before the rest of the year's games begin flooding the shelves of your local emporium.
Start scraping those Christmas pennies together then, as 2010 promises to be a veritable banquet of delectable treats. To help the more discerning gamer however, we've rounded up our pick of 2010 thus far. Bon appetit.
1. Mass Effect 2
We were going to start our list with Bayonetta: Platinum Games' ultra mental action title, opening the year in style when it finally hits Europe on January 8th, but we've already covered that with our import review. Instead, our run down begins with arguably one of the year's most anticipated games and second chapter in a projected sci-fi trilogy of truly epic proportions.
At the moment, frankly nothing else can light up our anticipo-meter like Mass Effect 2 can. We've played it twice already and had to be physically dragged away kicking and screaming each time like a spoilt toddler having his stickle bricks prised from his clammy paws.
Come January 29th though, we'll finally be able to get our hands on the finished game at long last, import our old Shepard over from Mass Effect 1 and embark upon yet another interstellar tale of intrigue.
2. Splinter Cell: Conviction
Sam Fisher returns for another bout of hard-edged stealth, this time without the aid of former employers, Third Echelon. With Fisher going rogue, there's a more improvised, rough and ready approach to stealth, sharing more in common with the likes of Bourne than Solid Snake.
That said, the strategy will be left entirely up to you, so you're equally well equipped to enter a situation by taking a hostage, before shooting the rest of the bad guys with the game's brilliant new mark and execute feature.
Being able to interrogate enemies for information in interactive scenes is the icing on the cake as our hands-on with the opening scuffle in a public toilet demonstrated. You can slam your victim's head into toilet bowls, sinks and mirrors or just beat the living daylights out of him until he goes limp.
Trust us when we say with conviction that this is going to be very special indeed. SCC is slated for a February 5th launch.
3. Red Dead Redemption
Starting life on PlayStation 2 after Capcom dumped the license, Rockstar's cult western-themed action title, Red Dead Revolver was - for those who played it - a brilliantly realised and fantastically quirky shoot 'em up.
Now almost five years later, Rockstar has resurrected the IP and are busy creating what potentially could be one of the most intricate and detailed open-world games ever conceived. It'll undoubtedly be the greatest Spaghetti Western game ever made, you can bet on that.
Bigger than GTA IV and boasting the very same tech that was used to rebuild Liberty City, Redemption also has it's very own living, breathing ecosystem with animals and people going about their daily business around you. If you haven't already read our two previews, do so now. Mark our words, varmint - Red Dead Redemption is going to be one of 2010's biggest and best games, that's for darn sure.
Our wagons will be heading west for April 27th 2010.
4. God Of War III
Since polishing off Chains Of Olympus on PSP last year, we've been itching for more Kratos - more blood, more viscera, more blade swinging, arterial-slicing, brutal decapitation, more balls-out, gore-laden action.
If like us you're thirsting for another hefty dose of fluid and fast-paced slice and dice, carve March 2010 into your forehead, because that's when the God Of War franchise makes both a triumphant return and belated debut on the PS3.
Either way, you'll be tearing heads and limbs from torsos and fighting Hades in an immense battle to the death. That's the good news. The bad news? Word is, God Of War III is reportedly the last in the series. Sob.
5. Heavy Rain
Like God Of War III, Heavy Rain is another PS3 exclusive. Unlike God Of War III however, Quantic Dream's spiritual follow-up to Fahrenheit is another story - a driven, overtly cinematic slow-burner with an emphasis on serpentine mystery and a deeply involving plot.
While the developer continues to keep narrative details closely guarded what we do know serves as more than enough to pique our interest. Playing as four different characters at a variety of junctures while on the trail of the enigmatic Origami Killer, you'll see four divergent perspectives on the case, so as you progress, you'll gradually be able to piece together the mystery and draw your own conclusions.
An innovative control system also promises to change the way you're accustomed to playing this type of game too, with head and body movement handled via a combination of shoulder button and analogue sticks that on paper sounds very odd indeed. We have faith that the mechanics will work when the game releases late February and the visuals alone are proof enough that Heavy Rain can't fail to be an unreservedly captivating murder mystery.
6. Mafia II
Something has to fill the vast sandbox cum crime thriller void left by GTA IV, and for 2010, Mafia II is the very game to step into that game's very big shoes. That's not to cheapen how potentially huge Mafia II will be when it hits the streets in mid-2010. Far from it.
Taking its cue from the first Mafia title, the sequel shifts time periods forward to the 1940s and 50s in an impeccably realised New York City that perfectly evokes the period setting to a remarkable degree.
Made man, Vito Scaletta is your ticket into a world of glamorous cars, looming skyscrapers, gang violence, excessive cash and Tommy guns as you build your crime empire from the ground up. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.
7. Max Payne 3
Alarm bells started ringing when we heard that the original Max Payne voice actor had been ditched for a brand new set of vocal chords, but then we remembered that the third game in the series is a Rockstar project and well, they only tend to make really great games. Consider all fears immediately allayed.
Max Payne 3 has had very little coverage since its announcement with only a meagre smattering of screenshots and something about a new even grittier direction (like Max Payne ever needed more grit). Still, if Rockstar manage to retain the blend of molasses-black humour and John Woo-style gunplay (with a liberal dash of weirdness chucked in for good measure) that made the previous two games so eminently playable, they won't go far wrong.
We're still not too sure about a skinhead Max Payne though...
8. BioShock 2
Chances are you might know a little something about this game already, seeing as it's the sequel to one of the most groundbreaking FPS titles in recent years.
Returning to Rapture as a Prototype Big Daddy, you'll have access to a great big drill arm and you'll be able to dual wield weapons and plasmids at the same time rather than having to switch between the two. It's an intriguing set up, but can it successfully build upon the first game's genius story?
The jury's still out on whether 2K Marin will repeat the success of the first game due to some fairly dubious decisions such as being able to swim outside Rapture's leaky interior (that's the claustrophobia gone then) and the addition of a multiplayer mode (does BioShock really need it?).
We still can't wait to find out how BioShock 2 turns out though and come February 9th, we'll see whether you'll choose Rapture once again.
9. Alpha Protocol
An espionage RPG, Alpha Protocol could be one of the biggest games for 2010 due to its blend of third-person action and a deep dialogue system that should give Mass Effect a run for its money.
You play as a rookie CIA agent adept in firearms and hand to hand combat who happens to be on the run from the US Government. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to expose the conspiracy and survive long enough to tell the tale.
Character and weapon customisation both feature amid a globetrotting spy story that'll take you to all manner of exotic locations, making Alpha Protocol one to look out for in Spring 2010.
10. Dante's Inferno
A few months ago, this wouldn't have made our shortlist. Not a chance. Having recently played the first section however, we were inclined to change our minds about Dante's Inferno.
Not only will it satisfy your raging bloodlust until Kratos turns up for a ruck in God Of War III, but it should also stand up on its own merits with fast and fluid combat all running at a super-slick 60fps.
While Dante himself bears little relation to the passive spectator of the original Commedia poem, the vision of hell that Visceral Games has whipped up in collaboration with Hellboy movie artist Wayne Barlowe is both uniquely disturbing and visually spectacular. The moment the walls of your world fall away to reveal the eponymous fiery pit of damnation is truly amazing.
You'll be able to see what we mean when we all go to hell on February 5th.
And that's it. That's our top ten for 2010. Take a moment though to reflect back on the decade gone by. How much has gaming changed in the past ten years? What will the next ten years be like? Reflected? Good. Now have a Happy New Year.
Bubbling under (didn't quite make the list): Alan Wake (will it ever come out?), The Last Guardian (would have made the list had we a specific date and more details), LA Noire (same problem), Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (it's more Battlefield, what more do you need to know?), Aliens vs. Predator (Rebellion redux their finest PC FPS title), Army Of Two: The 40th Day (a massive improvement over its predecessor).
...and the tail end of 2010: Fable III, Brink, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Halo: Reach, Deus Ex 3, WoW: Cataclysm.
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