VIDEO: The trailer for Street Fighter IV
It seems that the video game industry has reached a state of equilibrium. No longer is there an off-season or even a chance to catch our breath after the fall deluge. From intriguing new properties to long-awaited sequels, these days, no matter what it says on the calendar, there's a new game to suit your fancy.
After the developer Pandemic struck gold with the Star Wars: Battlefront series — which allowed players to relive all of the classic battles from the Star Wars films — it was only logical for them to take the reins of LORD OF THE RINGS: CONQUEST (January 13; PS3, Xbox 360, PC, DS). Players can participate in one of two campaigns: playing for the "Good" side, they can control heroes like Aragorn, Legolas, and Gandalf in a series of battles that closely follows the events of the books. Or, in a neat bit of retconning, players can also take up arms as the "Evil" side and try to help Sauron retain possession of the One Ring. Because players can switch between characters on the fly, there's likely to be a playing style to suit everyone.
If you're a freestyler at heart, you may want to hold out for SKATE 2 (January 21; PS3, Xbox 360). Electronic Arts' original Skate was an epic shot across the bow of Activision's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series, so commercially and critically successful that Activision actually held off on releasing its next Tony Hawk game. The scary part: Skate wasn't even close to as good as it could have been. It was addictive, yes, and its open-world skateboarding gameplay offered almost infinite possibilities. But a few niggling annoyances kept it from greatness. If Skate 2 can deliver on the promise of its predecessor, then who knows when we might next see a Tony Hawk game?
Here's hoping that one new franchise succeeds, if only due to the brilliance of its name. AFRO SAMURAI (January 27; PS3, Xbox 360), based on a globally popular anime series, features the voice of Samuel L. Jackson as the title character. That, plus a slick cel-shaded graphical look, make it worth a shot. Still, all the style in the world can't make up for lackluster gameplay — the last thing the world needs is another hack-and-slash button-masher. The designers promise something a little more elegant than that. Consider me intrigued.
One game that shouldn't need to prove its bona fides is F.E.A.R. 2: PROJECT ORIGIN (February 10; PS3, Xbox 360, PC). Its storyline dovetails with that of the first, fleshing out the paranormal tale of a telekinetic girl named Alma. The original F.E.A.R. was creepy as hell and featured a bullet-time mechanic that worked very well. It suffered a bit in the transition from PCs to consoles, though, mostly due to awkward controls. Since the sequel was conceived from the start as a console shooter, the hope is that these issues will have been resolved. If not, at least we'll have more creepy little girls to look forward to.
Grand Theft Auto IV came out more than eight months ago, and it's possible that by now you might even have played everything it has to offer: Never fear: THE LOST AND DAMNED (February 17; Xbox 360), the first of two downloadable expansions available exclusively to Xbox 360 owners, is coming to fill the void. In the new episode, players take control of Johnny Klebitz, a member of a biker gang called the Lost. At $20, The Lost and Damned probably won't offer the same hours-to-dollars ratio as the full game, but if you've been looking for an excuse to revisit Liberty City, this is it.
The question on the minds of fighting fans is whether the wait was worth it for STREET FIGHTER IV (February 17; PS3, Xbox 360, PC). Capcom has historically brought their "A" game to the true sequels in the venerable series. The fourth installment retains the two-dimensional gameplay the franchise is known for, although the characters and backgrounds are three-dimensionally rendered in a stunning, hand-drawn style. Most of the popular warriors return from past games, along with four brand-new ones, including a masked luchador. By now, Capcom has earned the benefit of the doubt, but surely Super Street Fighter IV Turbo Hyper Fighting Champion Edition can't be far behind.
Just because the first video game to star the rapper 50 Cent, Bulletproof, was a flop (earning an ungodly Metacritic score of 47), that's no reason not to try again. And you'd have to take yourself really seriously not at least to chuckle at the very existence of 50 CENT: BLOOD ON THE SAND (February 24; PS3, Xbox 360). After a promoter bilks 50 and G-Unit out of their fee for playing a show in the Middle East, the crew decides to get revenge by blowing up half the region. No, I am not making this up. If it succeeds, Blood on the Sand could be the guiltiest pleasure since Postal. If it fails, well, I think 50 has some other things to fall back on.