MAKING YOU CRY The noirish Heavy Rain is said to be a game where character and story take center stage.
Do not adjust your calendar. Christmas has not been moved to March this year. Yet the winter's slate of video games is tempting enough to put the holiday release schedule to shame. From new franchises to long-awaited sequels, this winter is looking hot.
Sega kicks things off on January 5 with the release of BAYONETTA (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360), a third-person brawler that takes a page from Devil May Cry to encourage style over substance. Our hero is a sexy, bespectacled witch who pummels opponents with a variety of spells and weaponry, all over a cheerful J-pop soundtrack. Sounds silly, but curmudgeonly Japanese rag Famitsu awarded Bayonetta a rare perfect score.
We can also expect silliness from ARMY OF TWO: THE 40TH DAY (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Portable) when it drops on January 12. The original featured screaming jihadists with bombs strapped to their chests, though in the sequel the bad guys are a rival private military contractor. The 40th Day will build on the teamwork that made the first game fun, allowing players to use co-op moves anytime instead of at predetermined moments.
There's no cooperative mode in Capcom's DARK VOID (January 19; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC) — unless you consider your jet pack to be a partner. This one's a duck-and-cover third-person shooter that integrates on-foot segments with Rocketeer-like flying modes. Vertically designed levels and mid-air combat could keep it from being just another Gears of War clone.
If you're in the mood for a Star Wars clone, keep an eye out for MASS EFFECT 2 (Xbox 360, PC) on January 26. Developer BioWare mined its experience on the Knights of the Old Republic series to launch this intergalactic franchise, and the second installment promises to be bigger and deeper. But let's hope the interface sucks a little less this time.
Travis Touchdown and his beam katana return for more raunchy fun in NO MORE HEROES: DESPERATE STRUGGLE (January 26; Wii). The first outing was a satirical triumph that still managed to be a blast to play. Director Suda51 promises a better game world and more fulfilling side quests this time, but it would be a shame if the sequel smoothed over too many of the rough edges of the original.
One release that looks polished to a shine is Sony's MAG (January 26; PlayStation 3), a first-person shooter that supports on-line games of up to 256 players, broken into squads and platoons. As opposed to discrete, stand-alone games, the conceit in MAG is more like that of World of Warcraft, in that the war is happening all the time, whether you're on-line or not. It's probably not enough to topple Modern Warfare 2 from most-played lists, but the effort is appreciated.
Microsoft has released three Forza Motorsports games since the last time Sony shipped a full-fledged Gran Turismo, so GRAN TURISMO 5 (PlayStation 3) will have to fulfill lofty expectations when it arrives on February 2. Photorealistic graphics and lifelike handling are a given, along with about a thousand cars and 70 racecourses. With long-time holdouts Lamborghini and Bugatti now in the mix, Gran Turismo 5 could be the ultimate in car porn.