Preview

Look Ahead: May 2009 Games

Fuel, Pokemon, rock 'n' roll and beyond

EA Sports Active Wii 21st May

EA are fast becoming Nintendo's new best friend with their ongoing, wide-ranging support for the Wii. Next month we'll see the arrival of their MotionPlus sports titles Tiger Woods 10 and Grand Slam Tennis. EA Sports Active gives us a chance to shape up in May and ensure we are in tip top condition when the proper sports games arrive.

EA Sports Active: Personal Trainer, to give it its full name, is an exercise game based around the Wii's motion controllers. A combination of Wiimote, Nunchuck and optional Balance Board are used to track a player's progress through an array of health and exercise routines. The game comes with a packed-in pouch to strap the Nunchuck to their legs in order to track their lower body movements. The Wii Balance Board will also be supported but is not required for play.

Workouts include running, boxing, softball, dance and tennis mini-games and can be completed to a customised playlist drawn from previous EA Trax soundtrack games. Add to this the supervision of a virtual personal trainer to persuade you through a 30 day challenge and you have the makings of a comprehensive addition to anyone's healthy diet regime.

Pokémon Platinum DS May 22nd

Pokémon is a game that splits the gaming audience. Those that love it simply can't get enough and will lap up this month's Platinum release. Those that can't stand the kiddie visuals and simplistic gameplay will pass by uninterested. This time around, the DS version of one of the biggest selling video game franchises brings a few new treats to the table. That a host of new characters occur in the game's story is unlikely to cause much of a stir, although the new Pokémon forms are more interesting. The new Wi-Fi Plaza also sounds worthwhile. This provides social connectivity sounds a lot more interesting. Here, up to 20 players can chat, play minigames and post battle videos for each other to watch.

Either way there is no getting around the fact that this role play game has seen more investment, development and extension that any other DS game. For that reason alone, we can't help feeling a little fizz of excitement for Pocket Monsters this month.

Fuel PS3/360/PC May 29th

Racing games have recently trended toward more restrained track experiences than wide open tundra; EA's recent showing of Need for Speed: Shift a case in point. Fuel however looks to buck this trend, and in some style. It's a racing game development by Asobo Studio that offers an impressive open world experience. Picking up the common post-apocalyptic theme, the game is set after global warming has ravaged our poorly planet. For players this means a variety of extreme weather effects from tornadoes to sandstorms. Add to this the full day-night cycles and some 5,000 miles of road to explore and you have a game that is knocking on Burnout Paradise's door - in terms of environment at least.

While turning its back on the closed track simulation of Grid, Dirt and Need for Speed, Fuel is taking a trick or two from the MotorStorm playbook. Accordingly, players can choose from a variety of two, three and four wheeled vehicles, as well as a hovercraft. If the game delivers all this, as well as the promised minimal loading times and impressive visuals, it will have little trouble wooing the hearts of racing fans whether on the PC or consoles.

Virtua Tennis 2009 PS3/360/Wii May 19th

Virtua Tennis is still one of the most respected names in video game tennis. The 2009 game comes back to the table again from Sumo Digital and follows up the previous Virtua Tennis 3 title. With the move from haphazard to yearly releases for the franchise also comes a more comprehensive offering.

The World Tour mode offers a full online ranking system, whilst the new create-a-player feature is promised to be flexible enough to create anyone from Ivo Karlovic to Olivier Rochus. With 40 different courts including exotic locations such as Dubai and Shanghai the breadth of coverage promises to match the new toys. Gameplay wise there is a great emphasis on court positioning. Line up correctly for a shot and you can generate even more power and angle. This is balanced by the removal of the shot saving dives that players used to execute. That goes in favour of a stumble that leaves you on your feet and more chance of staying in the shot.

Interestingly, Virtua Tennis beats EA to the punch of first MotionPlus controlled tennis game. The Wii version supports this feature and enables players to play as they would in real life. As well as direction the Wii controls promise to enable players to slice or top spin with a simple twist of the wrist. With or without the waggle we're looking forward to giving the prestigious series a serious run out.

Boom Blox Bash Party Wii May 29th

Boom Blox was largely received as one of the best third-party games on the Wii. And now, a year later, it still stands out amongst its peers. Never being ones to rest on their laurels EA are back with a follow up - Boom Blox Bash Party.

The game promises to extend the original in a number of ways whilst retaining the simplicity and directness of controls. Not least are there a whole host of new ways to interact with the environment. From the slingshot tool to being able to pick-up and throw the in game characters, it looks like there will be more ways than ever to solve each level.

The environments themselves are also a lot more interesting. Not just because of the inevitable visual improvements but because they now effect the run of play. In the space level for instance the blocks have less gravity and float off when struck, whereas the underwater areas impose their floaty physics to gameplay.

The jewel in the crown is the ability of players to create their own levels using the same tools as the developers. These can then be shared, LittleBigPlanet-like, with an online community that can play and vote on your creations. If this was just a little more of the same we'd be excited. But with these additions we are on the edge of our seats for some proper time with Stephen Spielberg's plaything.

Battlestations Pacific PC Xbox 360 May 15th

Sensibly sticking to what they and the PC platform does best, Battlestations: Pacific is a real-time strategy game from Eidos Interactive. The game takes the series on and expands the concept in several ways. New combat features such as island invasions affect the run of a battle in progress. New weapons, planes and ships also feature - such as HVAR rockets and experimental jet fighters like the Kikka and Shinden.

The theatre of war also shifts beyond Midway and focuses on American forces as they continue the war in Okinawa. The biggest change promises to be that of a Japanese campaign that follows a "what if" scenario where Japan is victorious at Midway and invades America.

Always a big part of these games, the multiplayer options have been boosted with five new modes for both humans or AI opponents and either on or offline. Island capture for instance tasks you with spending points on ships, submarines, planes, landing craft to fight your way through enemy defences and capture the islands unlocking further unit types as you go.

Guitar Hero Metallica 360/PS3 May 29th

Guitar Hero continues its stream of special editions with Guitar Hero: Metallica this month. This follows up the previous Aerosmith themed game that was well received late last year. Guitar Hero: Metallica features 49 songs, 28 from Metallica, and 21 more from other bands that are "their personal favourites and influences from over the years". Activision report to have worked with Metallica to select songs from their catalogue that "pretty evenly represent all the different phases" of the band.

This version of Guitar Hero is a little harder than those past. No bad thing as players' familiarity with the format has increased somewhat. To this end the game features an Expert mode for drummers that adds a second bass drum pedal, providing they have the necessary additional peripheral. The game also includes the music creation mode from World Tour that enables players to create their own songs. In contrast, the Battle mode comes from Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, although including Metallica influences with power-ups like "Fade to Black" and "Trapped Under Ice".

Although we have seen most of this before, the offer of a Metallica themed outing for our fake plastic guitars is as mouth watering as ever.

UFC Undisputed May 19th

UFC 2009 Undisputed returns this year with its mix of martial arts and ring fighting. Ultimate Fighting Championship 2009 has plenty to carry on its shoulders as THQ look to refresh the franchise which remained without release since 2004's UFC: Sudden Impact.

UFC 2009 takes the game away from the plethora of pro-wrestling titles and instead promises more realistic martial arts combat. A wider range of moves and more attention to timing than button mashing, UFC 2009 will attract players looking for a more skilful experience. And with around 100 UFC personalities across the five weight classes the game should offer plenty of breadth to matched the nuanced fighting.

Having hit the wall with wrestling games, we are more than happy to hear about some new ideas being thrown into the ring, and look forward to giving the game a good run for its money.

PS4 Preview
10 minutes with Lords Of The Fallen
Can CI Games' new RPG shrug off comparisons with Dark Souls?