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“Best of E3” Winners

Posted by g3tech on August 10, 2007

GENERAL AWARDS

Best of Show: Rock Band – MTV Games

Best Trailer: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – Activision

Most Innovative: LittleBigPlanet – SCEA

Best Graphics: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – Activision

One to Watch: Resident Evil 5 – Capcom

Best New Franchise: LittleBigPlanet- SCEA

Best Non-Game: Jam Sessions – Ubisoft

Best Music/Rhythm: Rock Band – MTV Games

Best Hardware: Xbox 360

GENRE AWARDS

Best Action/Adventure: Assassin’s Creed – Ubisoft

Best Puzzle/Parlor Game: Zak and Wik: The Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure – Capcom

Best Strategy: World in Conflict – Vivendi

Best Role-Playing: Eternal Sonata – Namco/Bandai

Best Sports: Madden NFL 08 – Electronic Arts

Best First-Person Shooter: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – Activision

Best-Third Person: Fracture – LucasArts

Best Online: LittleBigPlanet – SCEA

Best Racing: Burnout Paradise – Electronic Arts

Best Fighting: Virtua Fighter 5 – Sega

PLATFORM AWARDS

Best Xbox 360: Rock Band – MTV Games

Best PlayStation 3: LittleBigPlanet – SCEA

Best Nintendo Wii: Super Mario Galaxy – Nintendo

Best Nintendo DS: The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass – Nintendo

Best Sony PSP: God of War: Chains of Olympus – SCEA

Best PC: Half Life 2: The Orange Box – Electronic Arts

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Post-E3: The (New and Improved) Console Comparison

Posted by g3tech on July 21, 2007

Now that the annual video games trade show E3 is over and done with, the state of the console market is a lot easier to predict. In short, the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii are all hitting their stride and demonstrating outstanding lineups. No matter which machine you favor, you’re going to be torn between decisions. But for once, it’s easy for us to be optimistic about the future of all three major platforms. It’s looking to be an epic year indeed — even for the PS3.

Trimming $100 off the $599 price of the PlayStation 3 was starting to look like Sony’s first smart move this generation, but we really should have known better. After a flurry of mixed messages and rumors towards the end of E3 2007, details emerged that the price cut was more of a discount on end-of-line stock, and will run out within a few months. One step forward, one step back.

Sense isn’t something that’s been in ample supply with the PlayStation 3’s marketing campaign thus far. That’s a shame, because E3 saw the machine’s upcoming game selection really start to impress. Sony dished up exactly what we were hoping to see — a catalog of impressive, original, and tantalizing titles that, for the first time, really make the machine look like a good deal. LittleBigPlanet, Killzone 2 (for real this time), and Infamous all showed well, and the PS3 is also set to receive cross-platform sure-fire hits, Madden 08 and Grand Theft Auto IV.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s games division could be forgiven for looking a little smug. Unusually, the company chose to focus its E3 presentation almost entirely on games coming out in the next six months rather than showing off flashy pre-rendered demos of games that could be years away. Given the lineup the 360 has to look forward to over the next six months, their confidence looks to be justified.

Chief among the holiday big hitters for the Xbox is, you guessed it, Halo 3. Can there really be any doubt that this huge first-person shooter is all set to post record-breaking sales, both for the game itself and for Xbox 360 hardware? It’s lining up to be another good year for the machine, and for Microsoft’s bottom line.

Backing Halo 3 is a strong selection of exclusives like the fantastic-looking Mass Effect. Of course, it’s sharing a number of big releases with the PS3, like Grand Theft Auto IV and Assassin’s Creed — and the 360’s decidedly slimmer price tag will make the machine look like a better buy for those looking to enter the next-gen market. Lest we forget, when the 60 GB bargains are gone, it’ll once again be possible to pick up an Xbox 360 and a Wii for less than the price of a PS3.

Assuming you can actually find a Wii, that is. If you’ve tried looking for one lately, you’ll know Nintendo’s budget-priced and innovative machine is still flying off the shelves. Reaching out to those traditionally untouched by video game marketing is undoubtedly paying off for the company. How many Wiis would have sold if Nintendo had been able to manufacture them fast enough to keep up with demand, we wonder? As Wii Fit demonstrates, this initial success is just the start, and if Nintendo can really deliver on the vast mainstream appeal of that title, you’re still not going to find Wiis on shelves any time soon.

Somewhat ironically, hardcore Nintendo fans are starting to wonder about the direction of the system. Recent Wii releases have tended to favor minigames and family-friendly hijinks in preference to the deep and multi-layered experiences that characterize the company’s classic franchises. That’s all about to change this year, though, with the return of three key Nintendo series: Super Mario Galaxy, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. All are looking superb, and all will be out before 2008 rolls around.

But which console should you buy? If you positively must be playing right now, the choice is really between the Wii and Xbox 360. Nintendo’s kit is perfect for parties and family-friendly fun; the Xbox has its share of these types of games, too, but its specialty is satisfying gamers craving the high-end and hardcore. But if you’re more of a forward-thinking type, now is undoubtedly a good time to snag a bargain PS3 and wait for those awesome exclusives to start rolling in. Whichever you choose, you won’t lose out.

————————

Sony PlayStation 3

Released: Nov 2006

Price: $499

Hardware:
* Blu-Ray optical drive
* 60 GB hard drive
* Memory card reader
* Wireless network support
* Tilt-sensitive wireless controllers

Get it?
* Best high-def support
* Tantalizing exclusives

Forget it?
* Most expensive
* Current software library still limited

Top 2007 PS3 Exclusives:
* Heavenly Sword
* Ratchet and Clank Future
* Haze
* Lair

In a sentence: We’re withholding judgment on the price cut until its long term status is clear, but the PS3 is looking more and more desirable by the day.

—————–

Microsoft Xbox 360

Released: Nov 2005

Price: $299 (Core), $399 (Pro), $479 (Elite)

Hardware:
* Varies with package.
* Optional 20 GB, 120 GB hard drives
* Optional HD-DVD drive for high-def movies
* Optional wireless controllers
* Optional wi-fi networking

Get it?
* Superb online functions
* Broadest software selection
* Strong hardware capabilities

Forget it?
* Lacks genuinely original software titles

Top 2007 X360 Exclusives:
* Halo 3
* Project Gotham 4
* Mass Effect
* Eternal Sonata

In a sentence: The Xbox 360 is really showing its maturity this year, bringing a nigh-unbeatable lineup of promising games to holiday shoppers.

———————

Nintendo Wii

Released: Nov 2006

Price: $249

Hardware:
* Motion sensitive controllers
* Wi-fi networking
* SD card reader for photos and saves
* Gamecube controller ports

Get it?
* Original software library
* Classic Nintendo franchises, past and present
* Unique control method irresistible to non-gamers
* Strong multiplayer and family library

Forget it?
* Inferior graphics and sound
* Misses out on most big cross-platform releases
* Full-featured online games still a pipedream

Top 2007 Wii Exclusives:
* Super Smash Bros. Brawl
* Metroid Prime 3
* Super Mario Galaxy
* Nights: Journey of Dreams

In a sentence: The only place to get that unique Nintendo experience, the Wii is poised to captivate even more households this year.

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The Top 10 Things Learnt At E3 2007

Posted by g3tech on July 14, 2007

1. It will be the best holiday ever.

…this is according to Microsoft honcho Peter Moore, but we’re not going to argue. The bulk of the games shown at E3 07 are due out within the next six months, including a dizzying array of triple-A blockbusters. No matter what console you own or plan on buying this holiday, there’s bound to be a game or five easily worth your Christmas bonus.

2. Sony fights back.

Sony made quite an impression with their quietly confident press conference. It was the favorite among those who also attended Microsoft and Nintendo’s briefings, and the positive reception has already helped turn back some of the backlash against Sony and the PS3.

While the other two hardware companies focused more on numbers and describing their influence, Sony unveiled several new games, like InFamous from Sly Cooper creators Sucker Punch and intriguing new PlayStation Network games like Echochrome and Everyday Shooter. Sony seems to realize that great games are the fasted way to legitimize the PS3, and steps have obviously been taken to deliver them.

In addition to obvious first-party exclusives (Gran Turismo, Heavenly Sword, Warhawk), Sony came out ahead of Microsoft and Nintendo with respect to third-party exclusivity. The company has made a deal with popular PC MMO company NCSoft (Guild Wars, City of Heroes) to create exclusive content for the PS3. Could we see Tabula Rasa or a brand new MMO property on the system soon? Unreal Tournament III will also make its console debut only on the PS3 (an Xbox 360 version will eventually follow) and for the time being Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 4 is also a Sony exclusive.

The only real letdown was the unveiling of the new PSP. Now, the new system is actually quite nice. It’s thinner, lighter and powered by a better battery than the original, though it lacks the one feature many hoped for: a second analog stick. But bundled with a game and 1GB memory stick for $199, the October release is a much better buy than the first generation handheld, and could provide crucial competition for Nintendo’s DS.

3. Nintendo keeps it casual.

Riding high on the runaway success of the Wii and the steady dominance of the DS, Nintendo came into the show with little left to prove. While Sony and Microsoft slugged it out over cutting-edge third-party exclusives, the company that Mario built is keeping its bright, cheery eyes on the prize: your mom’s wallet. Casual fare like Brain Age 2 and Flash Focus aim to make you a better person, not a better gamer, and the just-announced Check Mii Out Channel blends the social networking of Facebook with a somewhat unnerving Mii avatar version of “Hot or Not.”

But Nintendo biggest hopes rest on the scales of Wii Fit. Targeting the expanding waistlines of the expansive Wii audience could be the company’s shrewdest move yet, provided people are content working out when it isn’t dolled up in Dance Dance Revolution clothing. So long as obesity remains a hot-button issue, expect Wii Fit to remain a hot-button game.

Really the only disappointment from Nintendo’s camp was the limited showing of new software. While first-party behemoths like The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Super Mario Galaxy are destined for success, all were already announced and shown at last year’s show. Mario Kart Wii is a nice addition, but what about more new games for that huge mascot roster? Starfox, Kirby, Luigi and Donkey Kong must be getting a little lonely warming the bench.

Still, E3 07 was another good for Nintendo. So long as they start getting some Wiis on (and then immediately off) retail shelves, consider it a safe bet that the beloved industry workhorse will continue its staggering ascent to the top of the pop culture mountain.

4. Microsoft lays low.

E3 07 started off on a very quiet note, thanks in large part to Microsoft’s unwillingness to divulge much new information about much of anything. Xbox 360 price drop? Nope. A fourth version of the console? Sorta, if you count the Halo 3 special edition, which you probably shouldn’t. We’re happy to hear about a few new games like Viva Pinata: Party Animals and the PC port of Gears of War, but that’s not exactly earth-shattering stuff. Suffice to say, Xbox fans who watched the press event on Xbox Live were left scratching their virtual heads.

However, look a little closer and you’ll see a platform entering its prime. Games like Mass Effect demonstrate a combination of depth, detail and polish simply not found on the other systems. Microsoft is gaining ground left and right, enjoying a growing user base and a flourishing online marketplace. Why show your cards in the middle of the game?

Because everyone’s dying to see what you’re holding, that’s why. The real losers are the fans of the system hoping to get a peek at the first-party future of their newly-warranteed rig, though they’re about to forget about that pain entirely when a certain first-person shooter washes the canvas clean in a few months. Maybe we’ll see more fight from Microsoft once they finish that one.

5. Potent portables.

With the introduction of a new PSP and Nintendo’s continued commitment to games on the go, the portable space is really heating up for the 2007 holiday season. Here are three games to watch from each platform.

Nintendo DS

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings

Brain Age 2: More Training In Minutes A Day

Sony PSP

God of War: Chains of Olympus

Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow

Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron

6. Rock Band hits all the right notes.

We knew something big was coming when the stars aligned around EA, MTV and Guitar Hero developer Harmonix, but the result of their combined musical prowess, Rock Band, literally blew everything else off the stage. Sterile meeting rooms became sold out arenas as waves of journalists waited patiently to test their “metal” on the guitar, bass, vocals and – drum roll please – uh, drums. Without question, it was the talk of the show.

But the game itself is just the beginning of the jam. During the show EA announced heavy-metal powerhouse Metallica’s contribution of not only the seminal track “Enter Sandman,” but also access to a selection of other songs from the band’s lengthy catalog. Those will be distributed digitally alongside hundreds of other tracks.

And that’s not all. Fresh from his questionable death on The Sopranos, Little Stevie Van Zandt (otherwise known as Tony’s consigliore Sil) has signed on to chair the newly formed Rock Band Music Advisory Board, which will help guide the selection of weekly downloadable songs and, for the first time, full albums.

Will this groundbreaking partnership between industry giants pay off? If the incredibly fun, accessible gameplay is any indication, take our word for it and don’t stop believin’.

7. The PS3 comes home.

One of the main highlights of Sony’s showing this year was Home. Introduced in March at the Game Developer’s Conference, the online service is, in some ways, Sony’s way of combining The Sims and Xbox Live. Now in beta with many user suggestions and comments reflected weekly in updates, Home is becoming a very interesting take on the online social space.

The basics are simple: visualize your Home space through powerful graphics tools that build high-tech mountain retreats or serene Japanese structures for your digital avatar to occupy. It’s a 3D version of the basic online space Microsoft has dominated with Xbox live, and theoretically PS3 users will be able to interact not only with each other, but seamlessly with their digital worlds.

For instance, you can now gather friends together in your digital pad instead of an online game lobby to start a multiplayer session. Game titles can be launched directly from the Home interface. You can also access digital media like photos and video clips.

Another neat feature of Home is the ability to snap a photo with your cell phone and upload it directly to a virtual home environment. Unfortunately, you’ll have to have a compatible Sony Ericsson phone to do so, but in the future perhaps we’ll be able to download a client for other cell phones that will interact with Home.

It’s not such an outrageous idea. Phil Harrison (Sony’s head of worldwide game development) and Sony have obviously taken the popularity of MySpace and FaceBook to heart. With the option to create your own ‘social networking’ web page based on your Home content they’re very keen on creating not only a virtual space for your PS3 games and media, but through which you could keep in touch with anyone via the web. It’s a much more ambitious project than Xbox Live. Now we just have to see if Sony can follow through, and if the masses take to more complex digital living.

8. Quirky is the new cool.

When we first saw the original Katamari Damacy at E3 several years ago, we knew immediately that it would have an effect on the American game market. In fact, the runaway (or is that rollaway?) success of the Katamari series and games like Loco Roco has created a whole ‘quirky’ subgenre. This year’s E3 sees the small but influential corner of gaming populated by many offbeat new titles hitting a variety of platforms.

Surprisingly, Sony’s PlayStation Network is the home for several of the standouts. We’ve loved LittleBigPlanet from the moment we first encountered it at GDC. Now that we’ve had a chance to play the irrepressibly cute and bouncy game, it’s obviously more than a physics showcase, and with the ability to endlessly customize characters and create worlds, it’s one of the coolest game building tools to arrive in a long time.

The PlayStation network will also host Echochrome, which looks like the old-school classic Lode Runner crossed with M.C. Escher’s art. You rotate worlds drawn in simple but attractive black and white lines to help a little hero navigate physically impossible puzzles. Everyday Shooter, meanwhile, is a brilliant mix of Geometry Wars style shooting, vibrant line art and music.

Dewey’s Adventure for the Wii may be a pretty obvious take on Sony’s Loco Roco, but it’s still fun, and offers a kid-friendly game space with a focus on an intrepid drop of water, which can be frozen, liquefied or changed into gas to navigate levels. If you want a more legit follow-up to the blobby PSP game, there’s Patapon (another PSP title) which in a short introductory video looks like Loco Roco infected with Worms gameplay. THQ brings the fascination with goo home in De Blob, which mixes Katamari Damacy gameplay with a coloring book — roll up colored characters then literally paint the town to restore vibrancy to a black and white world. Quirk has finally come full circle.

9. The end of Metal Gear?

We’ve heard it before. Hideo Kojima, the revered creator of Metal Gear, wants to finish the series, retire anti-hero Solid Snake and move on to other projects. Years ago we thought Snake Eater might be the last chapter, but in 2006 we were blasted with the trailer for Metal Gear Solid 4, with Kojima in full form.

The question for people who don’t follow the series is probably, ‘OK, it’s over. So what?’ But for the gaming universe, the end of Metal Gear is akin to Marvel Comics announcing that the X-Men are done. Not only because both are fiercely loved by a devoted fanbase. No, Metal Gear and X-Men have a kinship that go beyond fandom. Both have a wide roster of singularly strange and frightening characters, and both series are constructed on a series of labyrinthine plot lines that take a reference manual to decode.

The density of Metal Gear’s plot is what makes the potential final chapter so interesting. Kojima promised that Solid Snake’s story would end and that all secrets would be revealed, answering all of the many lingering questions. That means a story that effectively began over twenty years ago might finally be wrapped up, leaving an empty space for a new bizarre mythology to preoccupy gamers.

With efforts leaning more towards storytelling than gameplay innovation, Hideo Kojima has arguably been lapped by Ubisoft and Tom Clancy in the stealth department, but the end of the series would be a great time for Kojima to unleash a last masterstroke of stealth and action. We can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

10. And that’s not all, folks…

The best part of E3 is the secret part, the behind-closed doors, hush-hush looks at games that won’t be due out for at least a solid year. Sure, it’s a lot of hype, but if your pulse doesn’t quicken when you hear about these upcoming heavyweights, you might want to see a doctor. Keep an eye on:

Fallout 3

Resident Evil 5

Killzone 2

Starcraft II

Mario Kart Wii

LittleBigPlanet

The Agency

Infamous

Silent Hill 5

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

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Microsoft (Xbox) Price Cut Rumours?

Posted by g3tech on July 13, 2007

After Sony chopped $100 off the price of the PlayStation 3 over the weekend, numerous industry analysts are predicting Microsoft will make a similar move at its press conference later today. Expectations over just how much cheaper the Xbox 360 might become vary, but most commentators are predicting between a $50 and $100 drop across some or all of the Xbox retail packages.

Microsoft’s press conference kicks off at 8:30 PM PDT, so there isn’t too much longer to wait.

What you won’t see, though, are a few photos that were mysteriously removed from the page earlier today. Close-up pictures of the stage area during a rehearsal, they clearly showed four Xboxes arranged in a line: two white, one black (an Elite model) and one…grey? Could it be a new addition to the Xbox lineup: perhaps a new budget model, or the version with built-in internet TV functions that’s been discussed by Microsoft in the past? Maybe it’s just a trick of the light. We’ll find out all later on today — and we’ll have all the news here as soon as the conference wraps up.

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E3 – Day One: Microsoft

Posted by g3tech on July 11, 2007

Boasting strong showings for Halo 3, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty 4 and Resident Evil 5, tonight’s Microsoft press conference in Santa Monica demonstrated a solid Xbox 360 line-up for the rest of the year, but failed to deliver the shocking hardware or software unveilings that often characterize E3 briefings.

Host and Microsoft VP Peter Moore began the evening’s presentation by promising that every game shown that night would be releasing before the end of the year, and proceeded to show the eager crowd exactly what we can expect to be playing before 2008 rolls around.

Confirming that Mass Effect will ship this November, Moore opened with a trailer showing gameplay footage from this eagerly anticipated Bioware-developed action RPG. Thanks to its history with the Knights of the Old Republic series, Bioware’s console RPG credentials are second to none, and the new trailer certainly put smiles on plenty of faces.

Moore followed the Mass Effect trailer with a run-down of the games we can expect on Xbox Live Arcade over the next few months. Most of the titles he announced were already expected, but there was one surprise: the original Sonic and Golden Axe games went up on Xbox Live Marketplace tonight and are already available for download. More sure-fire hits will follow over the months to come, with classic Hudson multiplayer action game Bomberman and old-school Bungie FPS Marathon (which shares roots with Halo) chief among them.

No doubt eyeing the smash success Nintendo has had playing to a casual crowd unfamiliar with videogame conventions, Microsoft’s Jeff Bell – in one of the evening’s only truly unexpected announcements – unveiled a new Xbox Live version of the successful “Scene It” board game. Scene It games, if you’re not familiar with the series, are trivia games with accompanying DVDs – and the Xbox 360 version will ship with four friendly-looking controllers bearing big red buttons and little else, all for the regular price of a 360 game.

On the PC front, a decent portion of the evening was given over to discussing the future of Microsoft’s Games for Windows initiative. Surprising no-one, Gears of War is coming to the PC this year, complete with content that looks suspiciously like it’s made up of all the stuff Epic wanted to ship in the original 360 version but couldn’t. Lead designer Cliff Bleszinsky demonstrated one of the new fights, against the colossus-like “Brumak” creature that made a brief appearance in the 360 game. Viva Pinata, Rare’s half-gardening, half-management game, is also on its way to PC.

Call of Duty 4 also made its debut at the press conference, and impressed many attendees with its graphical realism and sense of atmosphere. Project Gotham Racing 4 was also confirmed as releasing this year, and was demoed live on the amphitheater’s vast screen: it’ll feature bikes as well as cars, for the first time in the series’ history.

Assassin’s Creed also raised plenty of eyebrows, although the rough edges in the demo made some wonder quite how close it is to being ready, especially given its fast-approaching November release date. Producer Jade Raymond took us through a complete encounter in the ancient city of Jerusalem, beginning with a dramatic leap from the rooftops into a haycart in a crowded square (“Luckily, no-one saw that,” she quipped) and ending with an equally dramatic chase sequence across rooftops and through the game’s bustling streets.

Despite Moore’s earlier promise, one game on show tonight won’t be coming out this year. Resident Evil 5, demonstrated in the form of a brief trailer that’ll no doubt be available here very shortly, appears to take place in Africa and has a feel that recalls Black Hawk Down, continuing Resident Evil 4’s departure from the series’ established zombie norm. It was hard to glean much in the way of gameplay details from the few minutes of footage that were on display, but we liked what we saw.

And the two big rumors that accompanied the run-up to the conference? The score is, one wrong, one mostly wrong. No mention of the widely anticipated price cut was made, and there was absolutely no indication that Microsoft’s even considering it. The “grey” console some sharp-eyed fans spotted in a Microsoft-issued photo of a rehearsal session turned out to be nothing more than a dark green Halo 3-themed, HDMI-equipped 360 special edition launching this year with a range of matching accessories. Olive drab is not a sexy color for a console. Or anything else, for that matter.

vg_halo3xbox360console.jpg

Still, on balance tonight proved a solid showing for Microsoft, if rather short on surprises or big announcements for some tastes. Tomorrow holds the Nintendo and Sony press events, so check back soon for all the latest details.

Posted in Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty 4, Computers, E3, Games, Gaming, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Microsoft, PC, Project Gotham Racing 4, Resident Evil 5, Technology, Viva Pinata | Leave a Comment »

Games coming (or came out) out this summer

Posted by g3tech on July 9, 2007

Pokemon Battle Revolution (Wii) – June 25 – What can anyone say, it’s more Pokemon! (Pokemen, Pokepeople?) Whatever you want to call it, expect it to deliver tons of trainable creatures, not to mention cross-functionality with Pokemon Pearl and Diamond. Battle Revolution is also the first online multiplayer game enabled for the Wii, so you can finally display your Pokeprowess to players all over the globe.

Guitar Hero Encore (PS2) – July 17 – Summer is the perfect time for a makeover, so frost those tips, squeeze into skintight leather, and bring headbanging back into style with the latest entry in the acclaimed Guitar Hero franchise. A 30-song set list covers a wide assortment of 80s jams, from the obvious (Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran (So Far Away)”), to the obnoxious (Poison’s “Nothin’ But A Good Time”), to the obscure (Eddie Money’s “Shakin'”). Whether you’re a scrappy punk, a New Wave artiste, or a Sunset Strip glam rocker, you’re bound to hit the right notes.

NCAA Football ’08 (PS3, Xbox 360, PS2, Xbox) – July 17 – Fans of college football might disagree with the archaic science behind the BCS rankings, quibble about conference strength, and argue over the best tasting Lite beer (Coors, clearly), but they can all agree on one thing —NCAA Football is THE gridiron game for them, bar none. Never content to keep the updates meager, the ’08 edition introduces a wealth of new plays, a reworked Campus Legend mode, and the ability to boost your team’s motivation by taking control of big plays. Best of all is an innovative real-time weather system piped in courtesy of the Weather Channel. Forecast calls for chance of awesome.

Mario Strikers: Charged (Wii) – July 30 – Okay, so it’s not Super Mario Galaxy, but at least it’s not another collection of mini-games, and that makes this sequel to the Gamecube game Super Mario Strikers an easy choice for fans of the fat mascot. Uncluttered by strict rules and overzealous refs, the game keeps its eye on the ball with a roaring pace and intuitive controls. Waggle the Wiimote to shake defenders, or take on the world with ranked and unranked online play. The Italian national team might be plagued with scandals, but Mario and the usual suspects offer good, clean summertime fun. Capisce?

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (PC) – August 1 – The bad news: Unlike the original Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, this follow-up is not available as a free download. The good news: Everything else. We’ve had our eye on Enemy Territory for a long time, but it looks like we’ll finally get our quivering hands on it this August. Set in the Quake universe, the game pits humans against the alien Stroggs in team-based multiplayer matches. With five distinct classes per side, the strategy well runs deep: construct giant weapons, gather recon, commandeer vehicles, or just blow stuff up. A new user-friendly objective system helps newbies find their footing, while the smooth, adaptable engine lets you focus on the combat instead of the system requirements. For hardcore fraggers, the near-future is bright.

Stranglehold (PC, PS3, Xbox 360) – August 6 – Based on director John Woo’s cult action film Hard Boiled, Stranglehold puts you in the scuffed loafers of Chow-Yun Fat’s flawed detective. Then, it makes you angry, gives you lots of guns and sets you loose in fully-destructible next-gen environments. The result? Riveting action gameplay. Case-sensitive controls let you flip around like a ballet dancer, pulling off classic moves like sliding down a banister while unloading a few rounds from your dual pistols, shattering glass, chipping wood, and hopefully making the bad guys lie down for a while. Sweet.

Madden ’08 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP, DS, PS2, Xbox, GC) – August 14 – After two relatively disappointing next-gen outings, things haven’t been entirely rosy for the pigskin juggernaut. But if the blazing framerate and cool new animations of Madden 08 are any indication, we’ll chalk that up to first-half jitters. One-handed catches, mid-air collisions, gang tackling, 24 special player abilities, and an updated Hit Stick help distance Madden 08 from its competition (namely, last year’s game). Vets will be thrilled at the long-awaited returns of Owner mode, fantasy drafting and customizable rosters. Opponents of the Tennessee Titans will also revel as they watch cover boy Vince Young succumb to the Madden Curse by twisting something important, but not before helping this year’s game go long. Touchdown, of course.

Lair (PS3) – August 14 – What’s this? An exclusive PS3 game? With dragons? Indeed, PS3 owners starving for software will find a reason to live again when Lair hits this summer. Two opposing factions vie for control of a dying planet, relying on fearsome dragons to wage war over land, sea and air. That’s seamless, by the way — you can fly around, swoop down to feast on some bad guys, hop off the dragon to get some exercise, and take off again without catching the slightest whiff of a loading screen. With gorgeous visuals, unique SIXAXIS control and a bevy of combat scenarios, Lair could be the spark that sets the PS3 fan base on fire.

Brain Age 2: More Training In Minutes A Day (DS) – August 20 – Q: What’s dumber than a bag of hammers? Answer: You! Unless, that is, you spent minutes a day getting schooled by the original Brain Age (and with over 8 million copies sold worldwide, you probably did.) But since you also stopped playing that months ago, your perky, youthful gray matter has likely reverted back to being mushy and stupid. Thanks to improved handwriting and voice recognition as well as a bunch of new games, Brain Age 2 will get those neurons back on track. You’d have to be an idiot to pass it up.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii) – August 20 – Despite the Wii’s overwhelming success, many fans claim that Nintendo has neglected its hardcore following by focusing too much on family-friendly, casual fare, failing to do justice to the company’s beloved mascot roster. After spending the spring season reviewing 20 mini-game compilations, we wouldn’t argue with those fans either. So to call Metroid Prime 3 an anticipated Wii game is to blurt out an embarrassing understatement: This is THE Wii game of the season, if not the entire year. In addition to the interesting new control scheme, fans will delight in rediscovering the stackable beam system made popular in the old 2D Metroid games. With a batch of new visors and a heap of new abilities, Wii owners looking for their next purchase should stop, drop, and roll like a morph ball to their local retailer the moment Corruption hits shelves.

BioShock (PC, Xbox 360) – August 21 – One way to beat the summer heat is by diving into the cold, icy waters of this spiritual successor to cult PC hit System Shock 2. Set in Rapture, a mysterious city lost beneath miles of ocean, BioShock‘s bold Art Deco style and macabre atmosphere only scratch its horrific surface. A customizable ability system lets you solve puzzles and defeat enemies in a multitude of ways, allowing you to simultaneously wield weapons like Rambo and hack security like Neo. And you’ll need that kind of power when dealing with the creepy denizens of Rapture. Think you’ve seen it all? Then you haven’t witnessed the gruesome sight of a genetically modified child nibbling away at a corpse under the ever-watchful eye of the lumbering Big Daddy, a mute giant wearing a rusty old diving suit. If that doesn’t make you wet your pants, maybe the omnipresent threat of being crushed by a billion pounds of water will.

Medal of Honor: Airborne (PC, Xbox 360) – August 27 – Yep, but we swear this time it will be different. Forget forging down narrow streets as you crawl from one bombed-out locale to the next — Medal of Honor: Airborne reworks the formula from the ground up by letting you parachute down to any location on the map. That means a totally open-ended approach to each of the game’s enormous levels. Drop into a safe spot behind friendly lines, or be sneaky and land on the roof of an enemy bunker. Either way, you’ll relish the newfound freedom of fighting those pesky Nazis at your own pace.

Tiger Woods ’08 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP, DS, PS2, Xbox) – August 28 – Summer weather and golf go together like peanuts and M&Ms, but let’s face it — those green fees are pricey. For a fraction of that cost you can shoot nigh infinite rounds with the latest Tiger Woods game. In addition to the typical upgrades like new players and courses, Tiger Woods 08 introduces GamerNet, a broadband network that opens the door to player-driven content. Any shot you hit in the single-player game can be uploaded as a challenge for others to download. You can even tweak success criteria, much like calling a shot in a game of H-O-R-S-E: Hit the tree, bounce off the cart path, over the sand trap and on to the green… and into your game library.

Stuntman: Ignition (PS3, Xbox 360, PS2) – August 28 – You have to hand it to the minds behind Stuntman. While the rest of the industry is constantly worried about sending the wrong message to concerned watchdog groups, here’s a game that lets you plow into incoming traffic, barge across intersections, sideswipe innocent cars and smash government property simply to earn a perfectly legal living. It won’t be easy, though. The last Stuntman game was ruthlessly difficult, and unless those time constraints have been relaxed a lot, this one could prove to be similarly stressful.

Blue Dragon (Xbox 360) – August 28 – Developed by an All-Star team of Japanese designers that includes legendary Final Fantasy mastermind Hironobu Sakaguchi, Blue Dragon is a shoo-in for 360 owners yearning for a spiky-haired savior. The hook here is found in the gigantic shadow creatures over which you have total power, leading to plenty of meat-and-potatoes turn-based combat in a massive fantasy world. And by massive, we mean it spans a whopping three DVDs. It’s also currently the best-selling 360 game in Japan, and those folks know their role-playing games. Soon, so will you.

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