Monday, January 02, 2006

Gazing into the crystal ball

Hope everyone had a good time ringing in the new year and didn't wake up the next day regretting anything, at least not too much.

For the 1/1 Sunday's Arts section, my editor wanted to put together a "what to expect in 2006" feature. Thus the article below, where I read the tea leaves and try to figure out what everyone's gonna be buzzing about in 06. As you might imagine, my picks are pretty obvious.

Happy 2006 everybody.

What awaits the world of video games this year? Oh, just a little device called the PlayStation 3.

Sony will release its new, next-generation console. Sony is saying spring, but I’m guessing it won’t hit stores until late summer.

Official release date aside, the arrival of the PS3 will easily be the most significant gaming event of this year. Many consumers are no doubt foregoing a purchase of the Xbox 360 to see what this system has in store. It will be interesting to watch how the two industry giants, Microsoft and Sony, slug it out to garner the top spot in the console food chain.

But that’s not all. Nintendo also plans on releasing its next-gen system, being billed as Revolution, later this year.

Eschewing Microsoft’s and Sony’s high-tech approach for a path less taken, Revolution features a wireless controller shaped like a TV remote that responds directly to your wrist and hand movements. Move your wrist from left to right and the game you’re playing responds accordingly.

Such a design seems filled with heretofore unimagined possibilities. But will such a unique console catch the imagination of the nongaming public as Nintendo hopes? If the company can garner enough solid software, not only from its developers but also from respected third parties, then the Revolution might surprise everyone in the same way that the DS did.

On the political front, expect to see more and more anti-game legislation appear on the books. Laws such as the ones in California and Illinois are just the tip of the iceberg. And don’t be surprised if the federal government decides to get in on the act with such senators as Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman jumping on the bandwagon. It remains to be seen if the industry can adequately defend itself.

Of course, there will also be games. Lots and lots of games. Some notable titles are:

"Electroplankton" — This rather unusual game for the Nintendo DS has players making music by interacting with a variety of virtual fish. It’s certainly untraditional, but early reports suggest it is quite addictive.

"Starcraft: Ghost" — Finally, after years of delays, the action/stealth spin-off of the popular strategy game is expected to arrive in February.

"Gears of War" — This futuristic action/horror game from the creators of the "Unreal" series could possibly be the system seller for Xbox 360...

"Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" — ... unless this epic, huger than huge role-playing game decides to take that title instead.

"Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure" — Despite the lengthy title, this graffiti-focused game, where you play a tagger spraying paint in a totalitarian city, shows a good deal of promise.

"The Godfather: The Game" and "Scarface: The World Is Yours" — Can these two titles, based on classic, highly revered films, succeed enough to be held in high regard on their own merit and not endure unwieldy comparisons to their source material? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, but you never know.

"Okami" — Taking a cue from Japanese folk tales, "Okami" puts you in charge of a mythic wolf given the task to restore color to the world. Screenshots suggest a painterly, almost calligraphic look unlike any game out there right now.

"Bully" — In what is likely to be the most controversial game of the year, you play a reform school student who must intimidate or be intimidated. Expect lots of swirlies and Indian burns.

"Final Fantasy XII" — Probably one of the most anticipated sequels of 2006, FFXII features some marked differences from previous games in the series. Whether or not that’s a good thing depends upon how big a fan of the previous games you are.

"The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess" — Also known as the GameCube’s swan song, "Princess" forgoes the cartoonish art style of the last Zelda game in favor of a more realistic design. Fans can expect the same high quality of game play, though.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


At 12:28 AM, Blogger MegoSteve said...

2006 should be an interesting year for games. I agree that PS3 will be dominant again; Sony is incredibly smart to include backwards-compatibility with such a huge installed base of PS2 gamers. Blu-Ray is another selling feature for the console, should that DVD format take off.

Microsoft will suffer a backlash from launch shortages that will impact their sales down the line, though they'll probably peel away a few percentage points of Sony's marketshare. I'm not seeing anything particularly strong that makes me need to have the 360 yet, either (though I'd love to play the new Amped or Dead or Alive 4).

Nintendo really is the dark horse in this. Though I'm most excited about the PS3, the Revolution controller certainly has some interesting gaming possibilities.

Your article didn't touch on portables, but I'd predict Nintendo DS will continue to outshine the PSP, which already seems to have been abandoned by Sony in favor of their home console. It just amazes me that the PSP arrived with so much hype, yet the most interesting thing to happen with it in terms of software has been homebrew ports of classic console games that hackers have released. The PSP's titles are basically ports of PS2 games. My PSP pretty much gathers dust.

I initially scoffed at the DS and its gimmicky touch screen, but I was wrong. Nintendo seems devoted to releasing innovative and fun games like Nintendogs, Trauma Center and Phoenix Wright. There just isn't an equivalent of those on the PSP side.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Yeah, the PSP is probably the biggest disappointment of last year, for me at least. Outside of Lumines, it's hard to think of another game that's grabbed me at all. Hopefully something good will appear on the horizon. "Exit" looks nice.

I think part of the problem is that Sony obviously aimed the machine to be the swiss army knife of handhelds, and thus became a "jack of all trades, master of none," if I may mix my analogies. The DS on the other hand, is solely focused on playing games in an innovative way.

We'll see how the PS3 does. There's already some storm clouds forming on sites like Kotaku. They could stumble if they try to release it before it's ready (i.e. spring) or if the price is too high. I'm not seeing a lot of great games for the system yet either, though it's still early.

I think the Revolution has the potential to surprise everyone, but they need to offer more than Luigi's Manion 2 and WaveRace at the launch.

I remember when I was putting together a preview story on the 360, some pundits wondered if the shortages weren't deliberate on MS's part. It's clear now that wasn't the case as they're really suffering some serious pr fall out. They probably shouldn't have tried to do a worldwide launch within a few weeks. I hope for their sake they can roar back before the PS3 takes all the press.


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