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The games of 2008

The games of 2008

GHOSTBUSTERS


PUBLISHER: Vivendi/Sierra
RELEASED: Autumn
FORMAT: DS/Wii/PS2/PC/PS3/360

Gamers have long dreamed of having the chance to destroy the StayPuft Marshmallow man, or tear after Slimer in a hushed hotel ever since the release of Ivan Reitman’s classic action comedy back in 1984.

Now, thanks to the chaps and chapesses at Vivendi, they finally have it – and a whole lot more besides.

Original cast geniuses Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis have returned, both to re-enact parts of the first two outings – and, more excitingly, to lend their talents to all-new sections of plot.

Arriving under the Sierra label, Ghostbusters is the jewel in the crown of Vivendi’s big releases this year, which also include The Spiderwick Chronicles, Chronicles Of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena and Prototype.

Ghostbusters will be released on six formats – PS2, PS3, Wii, PC, DS and Xbox 360 – and development duties have been shared by Terminal Reality and Red Fly Studios.

“Sierra is extremely excited to not only deliver fans, old and new, this next chapter in the Ghostbusters universe, but to allow them inside the universe for the first time,” said president of Sierra’s worldwide studios Martin Tremblay.

“Us and our developers have worked closely with the team at Sony Pictures Consumer Products. Together we will create the ultimate Ghostbusters experience, full of the characters, ghosts and other paranormal creatures so many have come to adore over the years.”


ROCK BAND

PUBLISHER: EA
RELEASED: 2008 TBC
FORMAT: PS3/360

Now that Guitar Hero has made us feel like rock stars for just twiddling with plastic, EA is ready to come in and turn the fun up to 11.

Rock Band allows gamers to perform tracks from some of the biggest names in music with friends as a virtual band – using drum, bass guitar, lead guitar and microphones.

Record labels EMI and Warner have allowed EA access to their back catalogues, whilst other big names such as Sony BMG and Universal have also supplied master recordings.

The thrill of setting up an entire ‘virtual band’ has certainly sent the US specialist press into a Motley Crue-like frenzy. The accolades go on and on: “The fun you’ll have with friends – and even alone – is truly priceless,” reckoned the US version of OPM; “This is a recipe for one of the year’s best games, bar none,” said GameSpy; “Consider the bar raised,” harked IGN.

MTV-owned Harmonix – the developer behind Guitar Hero – created the title, using the expertise gained when working on Activision’s original game. And now that genre-defining franchise has a genuine rival.

“Our vision for Rock Band is to completely change the way people interact with and enjoy the music they love,” explains MTV Program Enterprises’ EVP Jeff Yapp.

“By joining forces with EA and the music industry’s largest record labels and publishers, we are striving to create a groundbreaking new platform that allows people to connect with their favourite music and artists in ways that they never have before.”


ALAN WAKE

PUBLISHER: Microsoft
RELEASED: 2008 TBC
FORMAT: 360/PC

It’s been widely reported that the immersive nature of gaming storylines are set to hit new heights in 2008, and Microsoft’s narrative-driven Alan Wake looks to be leading the way. Pitched somewhere between a David Lynch nightmare and a Jerry Bruckheimer action classic, the title’s plot concerns the struggles of a novelist who suffers horrific, chilling dreams – and subsequently sleepless nights, following the death of his wife.

As time goes by, these horrendous visions begin to creep into his waking life – as gamers are asked to carry him through his psychological disruption. Is he caught in a psychosomatic-fiction-meets-reality dystopia? Has losing his spouse made him hugely paranoid – to the point of coincidence ruining his everyday life? Is he plainly mad? There are no easy answers – but 360 owners will have the chance to help ‘our Alan’ realise his true fate.

Developed by Remedy, the game has won plenty of plaudits for its ultra-realistic graphics already – but it may end up being its intriguingly fresh approach to action/adventure gaming that really sets this one apart.

The specialist press have already been whipped up into a frenzy over Alan Wake, despite having only been given very few glimpses of the title since E3 2006. Designed to take the free-roaming psychological thriller genre by the scruff of the neck, it’ll certainly be causing a stir at retail – just keep an eye on MCV for that all-important release date...


GRAND THEFT AUTO IV

PUBLISHER: Rockstar
RELEASED: April 29
FORMATS: PS3/360

Many of us have forgotten how to successfully maim gang members and what the correct etiquette is in the presence of a ‘ho. So it’s just as well Rockstar is back to remind us – with one of the most hotly anticipated games of the decade.

The publisher has remained pretty tight-lipped on what treats GTA fans can expect, but the meagre number of sneaky videos the firm has released have at least given away a fair few clues.

It certainly looks as though the setting is eerily New York-esque, with a redesigned Liberty City consisting of five boroughs, including Brooklyn-like Broker, Bronx-like Bohan, Manhattan-like Algonquin and the New Jersey-like Alderney. Some have even ruminated that there’s a slice of Ol’ Blighty in there, with the ‘Hove’ area of the game looking the spit of Brighton Beach.

After months of speculation – and a delayed release from the original launch date in 2007 – Rockstar last week confirmed it would go with an April 29th release date.
“We are so excited to be releasing Grand Theft Auto IV,” says Rockstar founder Sam Houser. “We’ve pushed ourselves very hard to make something incredible and hope the games sets a new benchmark for interactive entertainment.”

The title shouldn’t struggle to get the hype machine whirring. Forget the many hundreds of games journos raving about this – it’s already got perennial censorship-lover Jack Thompson in an apoplectic tailspin. The omens look very good indeed.


Wii FIT


PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASED: Q1 2008
FORMAT: Wii

Despite sterling efforts from the likes of Sega’s Mario and Sonic, much of the gaming fraternity is still struggling to get rid of those post-Christmas bingo wings and wobbly abs. The arrival of Nintendo’s Wii Fit – and its forward-thinking Balance Board – should help to rectify the general porkiness of our industry’s audience when it arrives. And Nintendo is pretty confident it will pull in yet more non-gamers to the beauty of Wii.

As users stand on the Balance Board, they have to learn to block virtual footballs, swivel their hips or balance to hold dextrous yoga poses. The gadget also measures things that even disgraced ‘doctor’ Gillian McKeith would struggle to find in your excrement – such as an accurate reading of your Body Mass Index (BMI) and ‘Wii Fitness Age’.

In total, there are more than 40 types of training activities included, which fall into four heart-boosting categories: aerobic exercise, muscle conditioning, yoga poses and balance games.

The whole concept of the game – which was the brainchild of Shigeru Miyamoto – is to ‘get families exercising together’.

And it’s obviously worked in Japan, where the title has sold over a million copies since going on sale in December 2007. Impressive stuff.


SAINTS ROW


PUBLISHER: THQ
RELEASED: 2008 TBC
FORMAT: PS3/360

Little is currently known about THQ’s sequel to 2006’s sandbox, free-roaming smash – but the publisher has promised a ‘darker and more sinister’ atmosphere for the series’ second outing.

Developed by THQ-owned Volition using their proprietary open-world engine, the title promises a totally transformed and expanded city of Stilwater, all new vehicles, sandbox tools and toys, as well as both online co-op and multiplayer.

Judging by the success of the initial, multi-million selling iteration of the gang-orientated shooter, there should be plenty of fans anticipating this one with baited breath.

And THQ’s decision to release in the same year as GTA IV suggests a confidence that it might just have something special on its hands – not least because of the blackly comic edge Saints fans will be expecting.

“Saints Row set the bar for next-gen open-world development, earning praise for its unmatched customisation, controls, and the genre’s first-ever online multiplayer,” explains Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of sales and marketing, THQ.

“The team at Volition is leveraging invaluable experience gained on Saints Row to build Saints Row 2 into a game that sets the standard for combat, player freedom, customisation, vehicle game-play, team-based co-op and the most compelling online open world experience to date.”

Alongside a certain Rockstar title, gamers in the mood for some high quality, high definition big pimpin’ in 2008 will have plenty of options to choose from.

GRAN TURISMO 5


PUBLISHER: Sony
RELEASED: 2008 TBC
FORMAT: PS3

Forza, Need For Speed and Project Gotham won many plaudits amongst racing fans last year.

But you couldn’t help but feel there was a void left in the genre after the news that GT5 would be released this side of New Year’s Eve.

The appetite of eager speed freaks should be sated later this year, as Sony’s flagship racing title finally arrives. Expectation is high, and rightly so – Sony has shipped 47 million units of GT5’s predecessors.

So high, in fact, that even the ‘taster’ of GT5 Prologue, released on March 28th for £25, has got fans in a spin.

Development duties were taken up by Polyphony Digitial, which had over 50 licensed cars to work with, including vehicles by Lotus and Nissan. The title features five sprawling, reversible tracks from all corners of the globe, including taxing circuits from London and Japan.

For the first time in the history of the series, a new in-cockpit view provides a unique perspective for racers, whilst a never-before-seen physics engine promises more realistic handling than ever before.

Much has been written about the series’ jump forward to run in HD 1080p, but perhaps the greatest evolution will be the involvement of online features.

A personalised homepage, My Garage, will offer players a friends’ list and more, whilst a new concept, Gran Turismo TV, will post classic racing television shows online for enthusiasts to view. A triple-A title for Sony and its PS3.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED


PUBLISHER: LucasArts
RELEASED: Spring/Summer
FORMAT: Wii/PSP/DS/PS2/PS3/360

It’s no secret that, on top of munching an unhealthy amount of Cheesy Wotsits and fiddling with their undercrackers, the typical hardcore gamer is a big fan of Star Wars. Let’s face it – we all are.

So when a game promises the prospect of (a) scything through rebel scum with a motion-sensing Wii Remote lightsabre and (b) taking on the role of Darth Vader’s all-too-willing assistant comes along, you know its release is going to be a galactic-sized event.

Activision and LucasArts have remained very tight-lipped about what gamers can expect from The Force Unleashed, with behind-closed-doors previews and a sluggish drip feed of press materials. But what we do know should have Star Wars aficionados very hot under their replica Stormtrooper get-up.

Standing by Vader’s side, the title promises new truths about the Star Wars universe – with its story set somewhere between the conclusive Star Wars: III Revenge Of The Sith and Star Wars IV: A New Hope.

The Wii version has built up particular excitement because of the motion-sensing lightsabre possibilities, but versions on other systems have also enjoyed serious hype. LucasArts has developed the PS3 and 360 versions internally, and has utilised the latest in studio technology – such as Euphoria by face-aping experts NaturalMotion.
The sales Force really will be with this one later in the year.

GOLDEN AXE: BEAST RIDER


PUBLISHER: Sega
RELEASED: 2008 TBC
FORMAT: 360/PS3

Anyone who doesn’t remember slicing and dicing their way through the hordes of barely-explained enemies with gusto in the original Golden Axe can’t really lay claim to knowing what retro joy is all about.

The title, which was first released back in 1989, is currently enjoying something of a rebirth at the hands of Nintendo, as gamers remind themselves of its Megadrive-fuelled brilliance through the Wii’s Virtual Console.

This year, Sega is set to bring the much-loved franchise bang up to date, with an epic ‘re-imagining’ on next-gen systems. Although the publisher is keeping much of what fans can expect under their hats, we do know that development duties are being handled by San Francisco-based studio Secret Level – which Sega acquired back in 2006.

The plot is as in-your-face as it ever was, as gamers take control of a bunch of bulky riders who are fighting to prevent the annihilation of their sacred breed.
Players can both attack enemies on foot and – harking back to one of the most exciting things you could do on a console in the late Eighties – hop on the back of untamed beasts to help your quest. Fighting, skill, wits and magic all play a part in the defeat of evil enemies.

“Golden Axe is one of our most treasured brands and is a complete re-imagining of the story that will take gamers on an unforgettable journey,” reports a coy Sega of America.

“The vision we have for the remake of Golden Axe is nothing short of truly remarkable – and it can only be realised on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.”


METAL GEAR SOLID 4

PUBLISHER: Konami
RELEASED: Q1 2008
FORMAT: PS3

Solid Snake’s been away for a long time on home console – but that certainly doesn’t mean he’s been forgotten. The sneaky slayer returns in a title that fans hoped would be a launch date release on PS3, but that looks every inch as if it was worth the wait.

Set amidst a large scale war, Snake’s (supposedly) farewell outing promises to give gamers exactly what they’re after – that is, plenty of snooping techniques, sleek next-gen graphical touches and a truly epic storyline.

The title is purportedly a real end of an era – the last Metal Gear game developed by Hideo Kojima. Then again, Kojima seems about as keen to retire from MGS as Tony Blair was from Number 10, so it won’t be any surprise if he can’t resist a return.

Set across locales including the Middle East and South America, Snake has to haul his middle-aged ass to some pretty far-flung places. The main objective of the game is to assassinate Snake’s oldest foe, Liquid Ocelot – but gamers can expect a host of giant Kojima-designed bosses before they get to settle the score.


ALONE IN THE DARK


PUBLISHER: Atari
RELEASED: May
FORMAT: PC/PS2/Wii/360/PS3

The game that inspired the Resident Evil series is back, looking better than ever – and is looking to snatch that series’ gory, strategic crown.

Sixteen years after AITD first appeared on PC, Atari brings back protagonist Edward Carnaby for a chilling adventure through New York’s Central Park. The title is presented as a complete season format of episodes – a bit like a 24 or Sopranos boxset, but with more blood and a higher chance of soiling your pants.

The storyline is split into several episodes averaging around 30 to 40 minutes each. These conclude with a cliff-hanger ending and, once the player leaves the game, a teaser of the next episode will appear. Every stage also offers a Neighbours-style summary of the previous episode.

The New York Times best-selling author Lorenzo Carcaterra was pulled in for script duties, to give the release a network television feel. Carcaterra is best known for penning Sleepers – later turned into a smash film starring Robert De Niro and Brad Pitt.

With Alone In The Dark, Capcom’s Resident Evil 5 and EA’s Dead Space due this year, 2008 should be an interesting time for the increasingly popular survival horror genre.


But that’s not all, folks…

There’s no doubt that the previous eleven titles are all set to take retail by storm. But be sure to keep an eye on these babies as well…

The release of RTS Halo Wars will also be watched closely by Master Chief fans. Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell: Conviction will perform well, as will long-awaited FPS Haze.

In addition, the French publisher’s Lost adaptation is getting noticed in the national press, alongside Rainbow Six: Vegas 2.

Capcom’s Resident Evil 5, Devil May Cry 4, Sony’s Killzone 2 and the latest FIFA and Pro Evo titles are also dead certs to sell like hotcakes.

Elsewhere, THQ’s Frontlines: Fuel of War, Codemasters’ Turning Point, Warner Bros’ Project Origin and Eidos’ December-bound Tomb Raider: Underworld will all shake up the charts.

Midway has kept pretty quiet on what its biggest releases of the year will be, but PS3 fans have been buzzing about Unreal Tournament III.

And it’s not just the big boys who could win out. Smaller publishers should get in on the act in 2008, too. Rising Star Games’ No More Heroes on Wii has been garnering exemplary reviews, whilst System 3’s Ferrari Challenge has already been praised for its exceptional handling and realism.

Square Enix’s two new Dragon Quest titles should cause quite a stir too, whilst Disney’s Turok and Narnia: Prince Caspian have ‘hit’ written all over them.

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