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Top 10 Games to Watch for 2008

5. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Developers: LucasArts, Krome Studios (Wii)
Publisher: LucasArts
Release Date: Summer 2008

The Star Wars feature film series may be over according to George Lucas, but there's plenty more to be explored. And LucasArts' forthcoming title Star Wars: The Force Unleashed will do just that, filling in some of the blanks between "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" and "Episode IV: A New Hope." Specifically, players will assume the role of Darth Vader's secret apprentice (remember that Vader doesn't know young Skywalker exists until "Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back") and the hunt for the remaining Jedi scattered throughout the galaxy. LucasArts' newest Star Wars title aims to do exactly what its title indicates: give players the ability to use the Force in ways they've never experienced before. In fact, the premise of the game, according to LucasArts, is quite simply being able to "kick somebody's ass with the Force" with telekinesis, Force Lightning, and a new ability that amounts to a "Force explosion." And instead of being a high-minded Jedi bound to a moral code, players will instead get to act like a wreaking ball with Vader's apprentice, who wields him like an attack dog. The premise and storyline are irresistible, and the technology behind the game is tantalizing as well. The Force Unleashed utilizes three impressive technologies for its graphics: NaturalMotion's Euphoria for 3D character animation, Havok for physics, and Pixelux's Digital Molecular Matter engine for dynamic destructible environments. Early footage of the game's graphics in action has been impressive (most impressive). And Star Wars fans that have fantasized about using the Wii's motion controls for light saber action have been rewarded. The Force Unleashed looks like it could earn a spot alongside Knights of the Old Republic for the best Star Wars titles of decade.
Upside: Gamers can wield the full powers of the force with reckless abandon.
Downside: The lack of a PC version really hurts.

4. Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Platforms: Wii
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: March 9th

Despite the Wii's astounding success in the next generation console war, the platform has a mere handful of truly great titles that stand out from the numerous third-party flops, weak ports and bad ideas (Ninjabread Man, anyone?). The Wii could definitely use another hit to compliment the likes of Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, both of which used the Wii's motion controls to perfection. Surprisingly, the best may be yet to come for the Wii: Super Smash Bros. Brawl has become a sensation in Japan, where it was released last month, earning perfect scores from publications like Famitsu while selling a million copies in less than two weeks. The game has also generated considerable hype in the U.S., thanks to popular demos at video game events like E for All. So what's the fuss about Brawl? The follow-up to the underappreciated GameCube title Super Smash Bros. Melee obviously incorporates the Wii's motion controls for its fighting gameplay, but the real attraction is the dozens of popular playable characters and their signature fighting moves, known as "Final Smashes." Brawl features everyone from Nintendo favorites like Link and Samus Aran to third-party guests like Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog. While the game is predicated on both multiplayer and online multiplayer action, Brawl also comes with an intriguing single player campaign called "The Subspace Emissary" where players can engage in side-scrolling fighting while enjoying character-specific storylines. With new characters, gameplay, stages and campaigns for both single and multiplayer, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is poised to be the Wii's blockbuster title for 2008.
Upside: A popular demo and early success in Japan portend great things.
Downside: It is, after all, just a fighting game.

3. World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
Platforms: PC, Mac
Developer: Blizzard
Publisher: Activision/Blizzard
Release Date: 2008

World of Warcraft celebrated a banner year in 2007, reaching 10 million subscribers and enjoying monster sales of the game's first expansion pack, The Burning Crusade, which sold 2.7 million copies worldwide in its first 24 hours on sale. In the U.S., Burning Crusade became the best-selling PC title of the year by a wide margin (in fact, the closest title only sold approximately 914,000 copies, and that was the original World of Warcraft). With that kind of success, the next move for the franchise seemed pretty obvious: launch another expansion pack. So Blizzard plans on releasing Wrath of the Lich King sometime later this year. The game will take place in the icy realm of Northrend with a villain familiar to Warcraft III alumni - the Lich King Arthas - and provide new customization features for players' characters. The forthcoming expansion pack will also feature a new level cap of 80 and new Hero character ****called the Death Knight, which will be available to both the Horde and Alliance factions. Blizzard has also added a new profession with Inscription and will also provide players with more talents and powers. And while World of Warcraft has never been known for its graphics, Blizzard said it's working on some technical enhancements for the game's visuals. It doesn't look like Wrath of the Lich King will add any groundbreaking or innovative features to the World of Warcraft universe, but it's a good bet that millions of eager subscribers are going to make the series' second expansion pack another huge hit.
Upside: The World of Warcraft phenomenon isn't slowing down.
Downside: Will Lich King really offer anything new?

2. Grand Theft Auto IV
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Take-Two Interactive
Release Date: April 29, 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV was unfortunately delayed last summer about a month after the game's all-too-brief preview at E3 2007 (which should have been a hint of the news to come). The game's epic launch date was pushed back from October to the following spring amid rumors about development issues for the PS3 platform. But the bright side is that, according to Rockstar Games, whatever technical issues that plagued the game have now been fixed. And it's most likely that GTA IV will be worth the wait. For one, the game boasts an all-new, redesigned Liberty City that looks and feels like its real-life inspiration, New York City. While the map is reportedly smaller than what Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas offered, the GTA IV environment shines like none before it, with gorgeous landmarks and authentic details. Even better, perhaps, is the newest GTA title will be powered by the RAGE game engine, which provided the graphics for Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis. In addition to the graphics upgrade, GTA IV gets an additional coat of polish with NaturalMotion's Euphoria technology (also used in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed) for 3D character animation. The GTA series has been known for gameplay - and wanton violence - much more so than its graphics, but it looks like GTA IV will change that. The game's story follows a new character, Nikolai "Niko" Bellic, who has emigrated from Eastern Europe to Liberty City at the behest of his cousin Roman in the hopes of living the American Dream. It turns out that Roman is in deep trouble with some shady characters, and Niko is forced to take action with the Liberty City underworld. With new gameplay features, multiplayer modes, and enhanced graphics, GTA IV could rival the current highlight of the series, Vice City.
Upside: Nobody does sandbox gameplay better than Rockstar.
Downside: Let's hope whatever technical problems that caused the delay have been corrected.

* 1. StarCraft II

Platforms: PC, Mac
Developer: Blizzard
Publisher: Activision/Blizzard
Release Date: 2008

The godfather of the real-time strategy genre makes its long-awaited return, and that gives StarCraft II the number one spot on this list. After all, millions of Korean gamers can't be wrong, can they? Fans had long suspected Blizzard was secretly working on the game, codenamed Medusa, behind closed doors. Sure enough, Blizzard confirmed the suspicions last May with a big announcement at the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational in Seoul, Korea, and a cinematic teaser trailer complete with the clever line "Hell, it's about time." The story picks up a few years after the events of StarCraft: Brood War, which left off with "Queen of Blades" Sarah Kerrigan becoming the dominant ruler of the sector after crushing the Terran Dominion and Protoss. Blizzard says the original three race ****s - Terran, Zerg and Protoss - will return in the sequel and the Xel'Naga species will also play a prominent role in the single player narrative but not as a playable race. StarCraft II will feature new units and gameplay features to further distinguish each race. In addition, the sequel will be powered by a new 3D graphics engine that will bring the StarCraft universe up to the visual level of other recent RTS titles like Company of Heroes. Of course, StarCraft II will have some new multiplayer features for match-making and competitions, as well as a game editor for players to create custom maps and mods. The most intriguing part of the game, however, may be the game's single player campaign - or rather, campaigns - which Blizzard calls "groundbreaking." The campaigns for each race will be unique, and according to Blizzard, the Terran campaign will non-linear with open-ended gameplay and optional missions. StarCraft's narrative has always been an under-appreciated part of the series, but that may change with this highly anticipated sequel. StarCraft II could turn the RTS genre's recent resurgence into a full-blown renaissance.
Upside: The king of all RTS games makes its triumphant return.
Downside: It's been 10 years - will StarCraft still have it? Actually, that's a dumb question...

Most Anticipated Games for 2008

Most Anticipated Games for 2008

Now that 2007 is well behind, it's time to look at the top games scheduled for release in 2008. In putting a list together of the 10 most anticipated games for this year, we looked at each title's pedigree, including the developer talent and track record as well as previous titles if the game is a sequel. Of course, hype played a big factor - does the game have a playable demo? Has it been shown at conventions and trade shows? Does it look polished enough for release this year. We also examined the platforms and sales potential for each title. For example, title A may be released on three or four platforms and take in more sales, while title B may only be released on one platform but if it dominates that particular platform, then it may rank higher on the list; then again, depending on the platform, title B may not. Here's a quick look at 10 top shelf titles scheduled to launch this year:

10. Halo Wars
Platforms: Xbox 360
Developer: Ensemble Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
Release Date: Late 2008

This might be the strangest title on the list. And it certainly has the biggest risk/reward ratio. On one hand, Halo Wars bears the Halo namesake, which automatically gives it an excellent chance of success. On the other hand, it's not a first-person shooter - it's an exclusive real-time strategy game for the Xbox 360. Before you laugh off that idea, consider that Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars made its may to the Xbox 360 last year, and recent RTS hits World in Conflict and Supreme Commander are headed to the House that Halo Built as well. So it turns out that maybe RTS console games aren't so bad after all. And what better way to improve the genre's fortunes on consoles than to make a Halo RTS? Ensemble Studios steps in for original Halo developer Bungie, and the developer brings a solid resume to the project after achieving success with the Age of Empires series. Halo Wars is a prequel to the original Halo: Combat Evolved, focusing on early battles between the UNSC and the Covenant. The story follows the crew of the Phoenix-****UNSC ship Spirit of Fire and its AI persona Serina, who stumble upon the Covenant and an ancient Forerunner artifact on the planet Harvest. Both the UNSC and the Covenant will be playable in Halo Wars, but it's unknown if the Flood will make an appearance in the game. Players will be able to control various units and vehicles like Scorpion Tanks and Warthogs. And what about the controls? Fully aware that console controllers aren't exactly made for RTS games, Ensemble reportedly spent several months working on the controls before it even approached Bungie with the idea for Halo Wars. Halo Wars could be a spectacular misfire, but it also could be one of the top titles of 2008.
Upside: A proven RTS developer plus Halo equals major potential.
Downside: Consoles aren't exactly known for outstanding RTS games.

9. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Platforms: PlayStation 3
Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: Q2 2008

You could argue that no other exclusive title for the current generation console war has more riding on it than Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. And that's if the game actually remains a PlayStation 3 exclusive, which has been in doubt over the past 12-18 months because of persistent rumors regarding a possible Xbox 360 port. Nevertheless, MGS4 has been hailed as the PS3's killer app for quite some time, and the console could certainly use a strong exclusive to help gain ground on its rivals. So what does Guns of the Patriots have going for it beyond a strong legacy of MGS predecessors? Basically, the fourth and reportedly final installment of the Metal Gear Solid franchise (according to series creator Hideo Kojima) will feature the same kinds of suspenseful stealth action, cool weapons, memorable villains and labyrinthine plot for which the series has become famous. Guns of the Patriots picks up in 2014, five years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 2. The aging hero Solid Snake has been charged with assassinating his old enemy, Liquid Ocelot, who is operating private military companies across the globe and planning a major offensive. The plot will take Solid Snake and his allies, including Meryl Silverberg and Raiden, to locations in the Middle East and South America. In addition to the game's impressive graphics and visual **** Guns of the Patriots will have a few changes. First, Solid Snake will have a new OctoCamo suit to enhance his stealth abilities and protect players from physical damage. Second, the series' close quarters combat system has been revamped, and the game will actually have an optional first-person view instead of the traditional third-person perspective. And finally, there will be plenty of new boss villains, including the Beauty and the Beast Unit. If this is truly the final MGS title, then expect Guns of the Patriots to go out with a bang.
Upside: Kojima hasn't made a bad MGS title yet.
Downside: Being a PS3 exclusive will give it a narrow audience.

8. Resident Evil 5
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 2008 (possibly 2009!)

The Umbrella Chronicles wasn't exactly the worthy successor to Resident Evil 4 (which most consider to be the high point of the series) that many fans were expecting. That leaves Resident Evil 5 as the game to satisfy zombie lovers. Capcom made headlines when it announced that the game would be released on both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, which marks the first time the Resident Evil series moves to Microsoft's console. The game is also noteworthy for the fact that original Resident Evil hero Chris Redfield is the main protagonist for Resident Evil 5. The rest of the details about the game are murky, though the somewhat controversial trailer shows Redfield in what looks to be an African desert town infested with - what else? - zombies. Resident Evil 5's story takes place a decade after the events of the original Resident Evil and will fill in the blanks of Redfield's life during the previous 10 years. The developers have stated that the gameplay will be similar to that of Resident Evil 4, and a quick glimpse of the extended trailer proves that to be true. But instead of doing battle in a remote European village, gamers will be grappling with faster, more vicious zombies (ala "28 Days Later" and 2004's "Dawn of the Dead" remake) while also fending off intense desert heat. If Capcom can follow the successful formula of Resident Evil 4 while also bringing some new elements to the table, then Resident Evil 5 looks to be a winner. The only problem may be the game's launch date; last summer, one of Resident Evil 5's producers told Famitsu that the game would probably be pushed back to 2009. There's been no official word from Capcom about the game's release date, so cross your fingers.
Upside: Zombies, next-generation graphics, and Resident Evil 4-****gameplay.
Downside: The game's intended 2008 launch has been in doubt.

7. Fallout 3
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: Fall 2008

Bethesda Softworks years ago decided to take on the daunting task of developing the long-awaited third installment of Fallout, the popular futuristic RPG series created and produced by legendary (and now defunct) game maker Interplay. Bethesda picked up the rights to the Fallout franchise after Interplay cancelled its Fallout 3 project, codenamed Van Buren, in 2003 before falling into financial disarray. The good news is that Bethesda, makers of the Elder Scrolls series and the acclaimed Oblivion, appears sincere in its desire to stay true to the Fallout franchise, blending the game's post-apocalyptic setting with dark humor, a strong narrative and compelling characters. In fact, some familiar names return for Fallout 3, including original Fallout narrator Ron "Hellboy" Perlman and the Mr. Handy robot companion. An early build of the game was shown at E3 2007, and it looks quite impressive. However, Fallout 3 will look and play decidedly different from its predecessors. For one thing, the graphics have gotten a nice next-generation polish and the game will feature a first-person view as well as a third-person overhead perspective. Also, Fallout 3's turn-based combat system gets a slight makeover with V.A.T.S., or Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, which allows players to hone in on specific body parts of their enemies and aim for the sections that present the highest probability of success. Still, Fallout purists may be put off by some changes, including the shift from California to Washington, D.C. Fallout 3 will also bring back the Pip-Boy interface, but only 14 skills will reportedly make the cut rather than the 18 skills of the first two Fallout titles. Despite the changes, RPG fans should be pleased that Fallout 3 is no longer vaporware.
Upside: A strong RPG developer has picked up the Fallout torch.
Downside: The potential console-ization of Fallout is a concern.

6. Spore
Platforms: PC, Mac
Developer: Maxis Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: Sept. 9, 2008

Will Wright's God game series The Sims is one of the great successes of PC gaming; not only is it a monster selling franchise, but the games have been enormous crossover hits for non-gamers. Unfortunately, Maxis and Electronic Arts can only ride the Sims' gravy train for so long before it gets tired. So Wright and Maxis are making a bold attempt to break new ground with Spore, a new kind of God game that will allow players to create and control an entire galaxy of life forms. Spore begins with players developing multi-cellular organisms in the "Tidal Pool" phase of the game. The life forms then evolve into larger, sentient land-based animals in the "Creature" phase. The "Tribal" phase of the game further follows the evolutions of the players' creations into more developed, intelligent beings, and the "Civilization" and "Space" phases move the creations into the latter stages of development, exploring new regions and planets. It all sounds incredibly ambitious, but how exactly will Spore be played? That's where the game gets interesting: Wright says the game blends different **** of gameplay depending on the different phases. For example, the Tidal Pool phase will have a primitive hack-and-slash **** while later phases will be more similar to SimCity, Civilization, and Masters of Orion. Players will be able to create and develop their life forms with an assortment of gameplay features and editing tools for procedural generation. While there's no multiplayer component for Spore, the game is being touted as a "massively single player game" that will allow players to upload their creations and share their progress with other Spore players. The game will also boast a funky soundtrack from Brian Eno. Not only is Spore the most anticipated original title for 2008, but the game may outdo the Sims.
Upside: Will Wright returns with a bold, genre-bending title.
Downside: Spore's enormous scope may intimidate some.

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