1. God of War III
From: Sony For: PlayStation 3 Release Date: March 16
God Of War III Proving you should never judge a book (let alone gory Greek tragedy dressed as an epic hack-em-‘up odyssey) by its bloodstained cover, let’s dispense with the formalities. Yes, there’s the usual blend of action-based puzzle-solving, furious melees and timed button-mashing sequences (love wrenching chimeras’ body parts off and stabbing them to death with their own horns) to be had here – and in gruesome high-definition at that. But what really makes the tale, chronicling eternally enraged and artfully body-painted anti-hero Kratos’ battle against Olympus, so compelling is its sheer bombast and sense of imagination. New features include the ability to use corpses as battering rams, hitch joyrides on shrieking harpies and wrench gods’ heads off and utilize their decapitated craniums as grotesque flashlights. However, from watching rampaging titans tear cities apart to top-speed flights up crumbling air vents, expect to be wowed more by the designers’ imagination and range of stunning set pieces. You never know what crazy encounters or challenges they’ll come up with next…
2. Mass Effect 2
From: Electronic Arts,For: PC, Xbox 360,Release Date: January 26,
Mass Effect 2 Set aside, for a second, all the controversy surrounding the first game’s (admittedly rather nondescript) simulated sexual encounter, which got so many newscasters’ boxers in a bunch. More notable in our minds was the futuristic role-playing saga’s sheer scope and unwillingness to talk down to players, as well as a slate of morally-challenging missions that tied lasting consequences to each action. Here, uber-developer BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) takes the concept to its next logical step, offering a greater range of featured ethical dilemmas, deeper conversations/characterization and a more detailed mix of stat-crunching and furious shootouts. Look for combat that offers a wider array of foe-felling options (e.g. detailed limb targeting), sharper storytelling and camerawork and a more advanced narrative structure that’s flush with compelling characters and gripping scenarios.
3. Halo: Reach
From: Microsoft,For: Xbox 360,Release Date: Fall
Halo: Reach Most of the attention surrounding Microsoft so far this year has been devoted to Project Natal, a 3D camera system that ditches the gamepad and lets you power games using physical movement. Nonetheless, said much-ballyhooed reinvention of the bestselling Halo first-person shooter franchise looks like it’ll soon hog its fair share of the limelight as well, what with its much darker storyline and array of new weapons and multiplayer options. Little is known about the game (a franchise prequel) at this point, but we can confirm that longtime series developer Bungie is again on the case, and that being largely freed from the confines of the original storyline will give the studio much more liberty to experiment with settings, characters and core gameplay elements that it’s previously enjoyed. Bearing this in mind, the potential here is all but limitless, and we can’t wait to lock and load shortly, with a multiplayer beta we get giddy just thinking about planned sometime well before launch.
4. Final Fantasy XIII
From: Square-Enix,For: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360,Release Date: March 9
Final Fantasy XIII
Years in development and by far one of the most frequently delayed games on this list, there’s still no denying that excitement is high for the newest episode in the industry’s longest-running, most well-respected fantasy/steampunk role-playing series. Originally intended as a PlayStation 3 exclusive, it’s since found its way to the Xbox 360 platform as well, meaning that even more rabid sword and sorcery enthusiasts are looking forward to experiencing its gorgeous aesthetic and sweeping tale than initially anticipated. Sure to be as notable for its melodramatic, anime-inspired story overtones and androgynous characters as detailed combat and character customization elements, say what you will about the franchise’s decline in recent years. We suspect that come this outing’s March release, you’ll be seeing closet adventurers be dusting off their giant blades, pistols and spellbooks by the flying airship-load.
5. Splinter Cell: Conviction
From: UbiSoft, For: PC, Xbox 360, Release Date: April
Splinter Cell: Conviction Millions already know and adore the top-selling stealth-action series for its clever setup, which blends suspenseful tiptoeing about the shadows with bouts of intense close-quarters combat or gunplay and cinematic story interludes. In its latest installment, we find star and former Third Echelon operative Sam Fisher investigating his daughter’s death by hanging from ledges to get the jump on opponents, tagging enemies and objects for blasting in rapid succession, and using brutal interrogation tactics. Extensive co-op multiplayer options should only extend its value and appeal, which (despite the title’s emphasis on methodical takedowns over pure run-n-gun mayhem) promise to blow fans of military shooters, third-person action-adventures and tactically-minded strategic challenges away. The upshot being that if you’re into shows like Burn Notice or 24, or just a fan of James Bond-style clandestine ops, it appears to be a thoroughly welcome license to kill.
6. Heavy Rain
From: Sony For: PlayStation 3Release,Date: February 23 ,
Heavy Rain As veteran video game experts well know, the industry has seen more than its fair share of serial killer dramas and psychological horror outings before. Nonetheless, ones which promise to offer an artfully textured, seamy potboiler of a script and photorealistic backdrop upon which to experience such terror are much fewer and far between. A spiritual successor to the critically-acclaimed Indigo Prophecy, this long-awaited thriller presents countless plot twists and turns from multiple stars’ perspectives, and challenges players to explore, interrogate and experience timed reflex-testing events. Notable for its chilling suspense and convoluted plot – laced with murder, mystery and a host of catchy mindbenders – it may be just the thing to capture the imagination of players who enjoy long evenings spent in the company of a moody paperback.
7. BioShock 2
From: 2K Games,For: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 ,Release Date: February 9
BioShock 2 Small wonder millions stood in awe of this first-person thriller’s forerunner – as gaming’s most hyper-literature shooter, you couldn’t help but marvel at its myriad story contortions, Oscar-level scriptwriting, moody voice-over's and haunting ‘40s-era art deco ambience. Picking up where the tale left off, albeit now casting you as a lumbering armored diving suit-clad, drill-armed “Big Daddy,” the much-anticipated sequel sends you hurtling back to Rapture, a capsizing undersea paradise inhabited by hook- and gun-wielding DNA-splicing mutants. Offering players the option to slaughter opponents using rivet guns and genetic enhancements that bestow superhuman powers (e.g. electricity- or fire-flinging abilities that let you hurl lightning at pools of standing water or set oil spills ablaze), don’t be fooled. New multiplayer options, underwater levels and support for adopting glowing-eyed toddlers (“Little Sisters”) are all well and good, as is an endless virtual sandbox filled with deathraps and new adversaries. But it’s vastly deeper characterization, a more compelling cast of heroes/villains and endless ways to experience the adventure with each new play that promise to make this bar-raising saga another standout.
8. Super Street Fighter IV
From: Capcom For: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Release Date: April 6
Super Street Fighter IV Wham, bam, thank you ma’am – pure old-school one-on-one martial arts mayhem is all that’s on the docket here, a blessing to anyone who grew up basking in the neon glow of early-‘90s arcades. Remixing the original home outing, one of the best (and most artfully animated) throwbacks in recent years, this nifty update adds about eight characters (including both returning vets like T. Hawk and newcomers such as female Taekwondo master Juri), bringing the total roster of combatants to well over 30 scrappers. Beyond offering even deeper ink-spraying, hand-drawn action courtesy of ostentatious ultra combos, it also reintroduces classic car-smashing bonus stages and multiple new game modes, including eight-player team battles. Albeit no revolution in scope or gameplay, we’re willing to forgive and forget given just how many hours of happy dragon punching it promises to deliver.
9. StarCraft 2
From: Blizzard,For: PC,Release Date: TBA
Starcraft 2 Never mind that fans have been waiting for a sequel to the sci-fi real-time strategy category’s defining challenge for upwards of 10 years. Or that it will be split into three separate installments, each featuring jaw-droppingly rendered battles between hundreds of miniaturized human, insectoid and alien units and their associated weapons of war, which you command. What we’re really jazzed about here is a return to the franchise’s highly polished game elements, massive raft of multiplayer options and keenly balanced battle scenarios, which tax both mind and reflexes. Small wonder then that the prospect of new units, powers and backdrops displayed at stunning resolutions on top of all this has us drooling over our keyboards already.
10. Super Mario Galaxy 2
From: Nintendo For: Wii , Release Date: TBA
Super Mario Galaxy 2 Notable for its spherical worlds and classic, candy-colored platform-hopping action, millions adored the portly plumber’s last foray into the world of 3D head-stomping excitement. While we don’t expect much deviation from the formula here apart from the ability to ride dinosaur buddy Yoshi (complete with retractable tongue), who’s complaining, given that the original approach wasn’t broken? On the bright side, enhancements will include new power-ups (e.g. a drill that lets you dig in the dirt) and a fresh array of eye-popping planets to bumble about as you battle Bowser and co. As family friendly entertainment goes, we expect it to be one of the most popular titles of the year, and why not? Promising to offer more of the usual button-mashing mayhem fans know and adore, it should do an excellent job of giving classic gameplay concepts a 21st century makeover.