Games for 2010: Hope, hype and the year of the sequel


Predicting the likely blockbusters of the coming year delivers a curious cocktail of hope, hype and, in the case of the evolving (but not always improving) series that dominate the market, already heady expectation.

It is also worth observing that the number of titles slated for release in 2010 runs into the hundreds, so any digest is likely to be notable as much for its omissions as its contents.

To begin with what Donald Rumsfeld would probably call the 'known unknowns' if he ever eschewed half-baked warmongering for games reviewing, the plethora of mooted sequels probably constitute the most reliable harbingers of quality.

god of war II

Apollo space mission: God of War II has sophistication and simplicity

God Of War III (PS3) has my inner (classically educated) schoolboy salivating. A beguiling blend of surprisingly sophisticated mythology and hack 'n' slash simplicity, the series properly steps up to the PS3 this year after setting the gold standard on the PS2 for years with the promise of a commensurate leap in scale and execution.

At the other end of the space/time continuum, futuristic underwater thriller (not, admittedly, an over-populated genre) Bioshock 2 (PC, 360, PS3) faces the double challenge of rescaling the heights of storyline and visuals scaled by its predecessor and delivering an ending that doesn't feel like a snapless cracker.

Crysis 2 (PC, 360, PS3) sees the game often cited as the apogee of sci-fi shoot 'em ups by that weird tribe who play only on PCs finally arrive on the consoles.

Early indications are that a new multiplatform engine (the program with which programmers create games) will deliver one of the year's biggest show-stoppers.

That said, Mass Effect 2 (PC, 360), Halo Reach (360), Metroid: Other M (Wii) and possibly even Lost Planet 2 (PS3, 360) will be exploring similarly inter-galactic territory in similarly explosive fashion.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii) will need to be pretty blooming special to live up to its superlative predecessor, but there is nothing to suggest that it won't be.

And after a quiet-ish year for Nintendo, it's fair to conclude that the company won't risk releasing anything that is less than excellent.

Facing a similar challenge in simply matching previous instalments is Gran Turismo 5 (PS3).

Four years in the making and boasting a reported $60 million budget, it will need to raise the already lofty bar of racing games by a considerable margin to set the world alight.

At first glance it looks great, but true depth of quality takes a while to establish.

As, indeed, it does with the annual glut of football games, no doubt set to be further embellished by the World Cup.

This year, after more than a decade of playing FIFA and latterly PES, I found myself openly wondering whether the yearly improvements were becoming too incremental.

Repeated play saw FIFA particularly confound this suspicion, but the fact remains that it's getting harder to see how it could get much better.

Among the 'unknown unknowns', Alan Wake (360) stands out from the crowd. Like the equally exciting Heavy Rain (PS3) it was originally mooted for release last year (and both featured in this column's 2009 predictions).

But unlike in Hollywood, release delays are often indicative of looming quality rather than the opposite.

Both promise to stretch the bounds of original storytelling within avowedly noir-ish contexts.

And both, for me at least, deliver that frisson of excitement and anticipation that helps explain why (nearly) nobody laughs any more when (nearly) middle-aged men contend at Christmas lunch that video games are no longer child's play but a rich and varied art form, increasingly worthy of comparison with anything on screen, stage or page.

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