Bigger is the name of the game for 2005

By Jae-Ha Kim and Misha Davenport
Chicago Sun-Times
December 31, 2004

With 2005 just one day away, we look ahead to what’s in store for the videogaming industry. It’s going to be a busy year. With the introduction of its PSP, Sony will be making a bold move to break Nintendo’s domination of the handheld market. And fans of popular games such as “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” will be pleased to learn their favorites finally will be available on other platforms. Expect to see more mega-mergers along the lines of Sega-Sammy and Square-Enix as the industry morphs into a business model akin to the major Hollywood studios. For gamers, that means bigger, better produced titles, but fewer of them.

And speaking of big, look for major announcements about next-generation consoles from Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony to dominate the Electronic Entertainment Expo in May 2005. Without question, Sony benefited greatly from being first to market with its PlayStation 2 console (it had a one-year advantage before the Xbox and GameCube were released). Gamers can expect a three-horse race this time around. Microsoft and Sony both have an edge over Nintendo and it’s definitely evolve or perish time at the House of Mario.

Nintendo can’t even count on dominating the handheld market any more. While its latest handheld, the Nintendo DS, sold-out this holiday season, expect stiff competition when Sony’s first handheld system, the PSP, hits the market in Spring. Though the PSP garnered some harsh criticism for its relatively short battery life (approximately three to six hours) when it was released in Japan earlier this month, expect a big marketing push from Sony that will brand this the “Ipod of handhelds.”

Fans of professional football have much to mourn with EA’s exclusive, five-year lock on all things NFL. The deal means “Madden NFL 2005” will be the only NFL game in town next year (and, for that matter, through 2010). Who needs to be innovative or creative when you’ve got a monopoly? Look for other developers to fill the void with fantasy-league games. Our pick for most promising in 2005: Midway’s “Blitz: Playmakers.” Based on ESPN’s controversial TV series of the same name, “Playmakers” will take gamers beyond the gridiron with a storyline influenced as much by players’ antics off the field as on. Look for it in the Fall of 2005.

GAMECUBE

Many gamers (ourselves included) have watched the elflike Link grow from a boy to a hero in his many adventures. The latest “Legend of Zelda” game features a fully grown Link. He’s still out to save the world –he’s just a bit taller. Look for “Zelda” in June 2005.

PLAYSTATION 2

We’re looking forward to unleashing our inner Speed Racer with the release of “Gran Turismo 4” on PS2. Though some of the racing in the franchise has been tedious, this one promises to be lightening fast and invigorating. There will be more than 200 championship races and the ability to detail your car to the nth degree. It’s expected to hit stores in February.

Some have called it “a Greek Halo” and we can’t wait to get our hands on Sony’s “God of War” –a game which blends Greek mythology with butt-kicking. Sah-weet! Look for it in March.

Square-Enix has us eagerly awaiting the release of not one, but two games. First up is latest entry in the ever popular Final Fantasy role-playing series, “Final Fantasy XII.” Look for it in stores mid-April. The world of “Final Fantasy” merges again with characters from Disney’s animated universe in September with “Kingdom Hearts 2” –a sequel to one of 2002’s most surprising hits.

XBOX

Activision is guesstimating that the PC favorite “Doom 3” will be out on Xbox this February. Why is this such a big deal? Because this sequel to the 1990s franchise has the suspenseful intensity of a truly scary horror film and the intricate gameplay of a first-rate shooter video game. Just note that much of the action takes place in the dark, so be on the lookout for glowing orange eyes. Those belong to the demons, and will give you a clue as to when you’re about to be attacked. They’re not the brightest of creatures but they move surprisingly fast.

Also expected to be released on Xbox in June is one of the year’s best sellers, “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” Finally, Xbox afficionados can find out what PlayStation 2 fans have been harping about. This game is that good. It’s well thought out and impeccably executed in every way, from the graphics to the story line to the music. The developers of the game have a knack for even picking the appropriate music to set the right mood. In the past, the franchise has come under attack for a variety of reasons. But the characters and their motives are so well thought out that we get it. If there’s one thing Xboxers get that isn’t available to PS2 players, we would guess it would be a slightly faster loading time between vignettes.

Those gamers looking for Xbox exclusives should look no further than Majesco’s “Advent Rising” in stores spring 2005. Part one of a planned trilogy, this action/adventure game scripted by award-winning science fiction author Orson Scott Card has gamers enlisting to defend human colonies under attack by a group of aliens known only as The Seekers.

CROSS-PLATFORM

Perhaps it’s our love of government conspiracy theories, but we can’t wait to peek behind the chain link fence guarding Midway’s “Area 51.” Watch the skies for this first-person shooter in April.

When Microsoft made the decision last year to drop wonderkid game designer Tim Schafer’s “Psychonauts” from its slate of releases, things looked bleak for the non-linear action/adventure game. Schafer’s previous award-winning titles include “Grim Fandango” and “Full Throttle” (both for LucasArts). Well, Majesco knew a good game when they saw it. They snatched up the rights and now plan to release the game on the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and the PC. Featuring ample amounts of humor, challenging puzzles and graphics that look like Tim Burton’s “A Nightmare Before Christmas” mixed with “Beetlejuice,” “Psychonauts” invades store shelves in April.

Very few games based on any of the “Star Wars” films have been any good. Still, we’re hopeful about May’s “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” available on all platforms. Of course, we don’t have any choice. George Lucas has indicated that “Sith” will be his last “Star Wars” film, which means this is every gamer’s last hope that they get it right. Still, the development team working on the game, The Collective, worked on the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” game for Xbox. That game kicked butt, so we’re betting the Force will be strong with this one, too.

Ubisoft has been tight-lipped about its movie tie-in, “King Kong.” The film’s being directed by Peter Jackson. Electronic Arts’ games based on Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy benefitted greatly by Jackson’s direct involvement. Since Jackson is working directly with Michel Ancel (best known for the “Rayman” video game franchise and 2003’s sleeper hit “Beyond Good & Evil”), we’re betting “Kong” will make a monkey out of most other video games based on films. Catch it in December.

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