SUPER SMASH BROS BRAWL (Wii) is no sure thing either, but don’t tell that to the legions of Smash fanatics around the world or they’ll L-cancel you into oblivion. Originally scheduled for a pre-holiday release, Brawl was pushed back to February 10 in order to allow for some last-minute enhancements, such as the addition of Sonic the Hedgehog to the roster. The historic magnitude of the moment is diminished somewhat because Mario and Sonic already starred in last fall’s Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, but at least in this game the two mascots can punch each other in the face — thus settling an untold number of decades-old playground arguments. Brawl also benefits from the inclusion of another third-party character, Solid Snake, as well as from on-line play.
Sonic’s copyright holder, Sega, makes a bid for an older and more bloodthirsty audience on February 19 with the release of THE CLUB for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. It’s an arcade-style shooter from the developers of the Project Gotham Racing series. As in PGR, the emphasis is less on the substance than the style. Killing your foes isn’t enough; you also must rack up style points by stringing together weapons-based combos. Difficult shots lead to higher score multipliers, as does incorporating environmental hot spots. And since your combo meter will vanish unless you keep the body count rising, camping is strongly discouraged. Given the recent trend toward more serious content in console shooters, The Club may appeal to those looking for a blast of remorseless mayhem.
If you feel the ground trembling beneath your feet on March 3, don’t be alarmed. It’s probably just millions of gamers stampeding their local stores to pick up GRAND THEFT AUTO IV, which arrives that day for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Rockstar has released three appealing trailers that have shown progressively more of the game. But the first, a rather somber number inspired by the documentary Koyaanisqatsi, was the most intriguing: it depicted a faithful virtual depiction of New York City and introduced the world to a lead character who — we’re shocked to say — seemed to harbor some inner conflict about his criminal deeds. Heady stuff for Grand Theft Auto, to be sure. But we know Rockstar can make an engaging, convincing open world. What it needs to deliver now is a game that’s as sophisticated thematically as it is technically.
A fiscal quarter can’t pass without a new Tom Clancy game, so it’s no surprise that RAINBOW SIX VEGAS 2 is on its way to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in March. But it’s the launch of a brand-new Clancy franchise that’s the most intriguing. TOM CLANCY’S ENDWAR, also for the PS3 and Xbox 360, zooms out from the ground-level perspective of games like Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell to depict nothing less than World War III. EndWar is a real-time strategy game writ large, featuring a massively multiplayer game world whose battle lines are redrawn daily depending on the results of that day’s matches. Although not without precedent, this type of multiplayer experiment has never been attempted on such a large scale. EndWar will ship on April 1 — if the developers can finish it in time. Which brings to mind this important caveat for the coming season: release dates are always subject to change.
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