As Christmas approaches and thoughts turn to what to do during the dark days after the food-induced comas have worn off, most will turn to video games in order to stave off the boredom. The line up of games released before the festive season is always excellent, so let us dive straight into the fun and frolics.
Tony Hawk Ride
Since this is the billionth game in a slowly declining series, its developers have chosen to take a very different approach to what has traditionally been an arcade-style affair. They’ve ditched the ridiculous scores, silly storylines and outlandish list of tricks in favour of a much more ‘realistic’ experience. That means the game now comes with a massive plastic skateboard controller, which you use to wirelessly guide your extreme athlete around the cut down list of courses. The control scheme is less than perfect and the learning curve is steep, although those looking for a slightly more authentic skating game may well find a lot to like if they can swallow the inflated price tag.
Whilst console gamers have had the chance to play this game for a month or so, December sees its release on the PC. Some may forget that this is the series that used to be a Colin McRae-endorsed run through the world’s most famous rally courses, aiming for realism rather than pick-up-and-play mechanics. Dirt 2 is an interesting mix of the two, with online play and excellent visuals that will really sparkle on a high end machine. It is also one of the first racing games to engage with the gaming community rather than expect them to tag along, so expect it to have an enduring place on your regular rostra of titles.
Gran Turismo 5
Since this is a PlayStation 3 exclusive not everyone will get to play this latest title in the hardcore racing series. However, given its focus on immersion and reality it may be that many people will not really be that bothered. With hundreds of real cars and tracks to pick from fans will know exactly where they stand, but since this requires commitment beyond that required by most games it could still leave some feeling a little out of their depth. On the other hand it will have photorealistic graphics.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Although the home console versions of the Zelda games have moved on, this new DS game sticks rigidly to the cartoony aesthetic of the Gamecube iteration. This is by no means a bad thing as the vivid cell-shaded graphics suit the capabilities of the DS well. Expect to be drawing wildly with the stylus and shouting crazily into the microphone as you battle your way through another epic fantasy adventure.
Beneath a Steel Sky: Remastered
Some would say that the heyday of the adventure game was nearly 20 years ago. However, there is a growing trend of reissues. First we saw Broken Sword jazzed up and on the Wii, then there appeared The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition for PC and iPhone and now Beneath a Steel Sky is coming to the iPhone and iPod touch in time for Christmas. The story is a masterpiece of dystopian sci-fi, with beautifully realised artwork and a unique story that has stood the test of time. Fans of puzzling, narrative and mobile gameplay will find a lot to like here.
James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game
Game adaptations of feature films are universally acknowledged to be terrible. The successes can be counted on the fingers of one hand. But with each major release there is sure to be a multi-platform videogame to accompany the hype. Enter Avatar, available on every handheld and home console in December. Slated as an action game, it is likely that Avatar will fall into the box labelled ‘mediocre’ rather than the one labelled ‘terrible’. All being well, the backers will have injected a reasonable level of funding into it and with development coming from Ubisoft it may even feel like a sci-fi Prince of Persia.
Whilst games set in the various world wars are extremely common, one in which you take on the role of an underground agent of espionage in an open world environment is certainly a unique idea. This is the niche filled by The Saboteur, which takes its cues from the long dead Commandos series in order to provide a bit of sneaking about as well as gunplay. Though it may not be to everyone’s taste, with the big guns at EA behind the scenes there should at least be a lot of polish to the end product.
Lord of the Rings: Siege of Mirkwood
This is actually an expansion pack for LOTR Online. Whilst nowhere near as popular as World of Warcraft, there is a decent online following of the multiplayer experience set in Tolkien’s Middle Earth and this add-on should provide more of the same for PC gamers.