Christmas has traditionally been a time when developers release their blockbuster titles hoping to maximise sales as people scour the shops looking for presents. But there has been a shift in focus this year, with many big name titles set to land in the first half of 2010 instead of the usual pre-Christmas rush. I've highlighted six games which I'm really excited about that will launch in the first half of the new year
Heavy Rain - PlayStation 3
The spiritual successor to 2005's Fahrenheit, Quantic Dream prove they are the masters of storytelling with Heavy Rain - a rich and complex narrative-driven experience which sets the benchmark for visuals and animation in video games. Heavy Rain is a psychological thriller, which puts you in control of four characters, all bound to the activities of a murderer known as The Origami Killer. Through interacting with people and objects, the player slowly unravels the mystery, with each choice having a lasting effect throughout the game. The story is beautifully crafted and thanks to the jaw-dropping visuals, the player is sucked into the dark world Quantic Dream have created. I've had preview code for the last few weeks and can confirm the game is set to be something truly special. Its slow pace might put some people off, but those looking for a deep and rewarding experience will find Heavy Rain irresistible when it launches next month.
Mass Effect 2 - 360/PC
Bioware's original sci-fi epic was launched in 2007 and became a worldwide success. The sequel once again puts you in the shoes of Commander Shepard, as he and his team investigate the rise of a new enemy who are abducting human colonies in deep space. Mass Effect's galaxy has been expanded for the sequel, while gunplay looks to have been tightened up - something that was desperately needed after the original's slightly flimsy shooting action. Character interaction was one of Mass Effect's high points, with dialogue choices impacting on how others perceived your character. Knowing Bioware, this feature will again play a central role in the sequel. Mass Effect 2 also looks spectacular, boasting better animation and improved textures. With a raft of improvements right across the board, sci-fi fans looking for an epic adventure should be well catered for when the game blasts off on January 29.
Final Fantasy XIII - PlayStation 3/360
After years of waiting, the 13th installment of the most popular role-playing game on the planet is almost here. It's already shifted 1.8million copies in Japan since it launched in the middle of December and it's clear this will be one of the biggest titles of the year in the West. Following Final Fantasy XII's free-roaming, action-orientated approach, FF XIII returns to a more linear format. The Japanese demo only gave a small taste of what we can expect from the combat, but turn-based battles return, although random encounters have thankfully been canned. The art team at Square Enix have been hard at work and the sumptuous visuals are incredible, while gamers can expect another epic musical score to set the tone. Final Fantasy XIII is released on March 9.
Monster Hunter Tri - Wii
Monster Hunter has been the saviour of the PSP in Japan, where people simply can't get enough of the series. Millions of copies have been sold on Sony's hand-held, but for the first time since the PS2, the series is coming to a home console. Unlike traditional role playing games, Monster Hunter doesn't feature a main story to wade through. Instead, the player takes on a series of quests to slay wild creatures, and use their remains to craft elaborate and effective armour and weapons. Hundreds of items can be crafted, and it's this kill and craft gameplay which is so compulsive. Full online play will be included, with up to four hunters taking on quests together. This should make the Monster Hunter much more fun than trudging through quests solo.
Yakuza 3 - PlayStation 3
Following months of speculation, Sega announced they will be bringing part three of their celebrated series to the West. The Yakuza games focus on Kazuma Kiryu, a hard-hitting Japanese tough guy with a heart of gold and fists of steel. The storyline in the first two PS2 games was wonderful stuff, delving into the murky depths of the violent Japanese underworld, with plenty of twists, turns, backstabbing and memorable characters. While the combat was satisfying, it wasn't perfect - with the player often taking fresh air swings due to slightly clumsy controls. Judging from the Japanese demo, nothing much has changed in that regard. Still, with beautifully polished visuals and plenty of side quests - including golf, pool, darts, roulette, Black Jack, dice throwing, hostess clubs, videogame arcades, karaoke bars and 10-pin bowling, Yakuza 3 is definitely one to watch when it launches across Europe in March.
BioShock 2 - 360/PlayStation 3/PC
I'm not the world's biggest fan of first-person shooters, but 2007's BioShock completely changed my opinion on the genre. Let loose in an atmospheric underwater city, full of genetically modified freaks, was a thrilling experience and BioShock 2 - which is set 10 years after the events of the first game - is set to eclipse its predecessor. Taking control of the original Big Daddy - a hulking brute clad in ancient deep sea diving gear - the player will stomp their way through the decaying city of Rapture. Plasmids return, with these genetic super powers able to unleash chaos through the Art Deco inspired underwater city. With full multiplayer included this time and 2K's usual attention to detail, BioShock 2 is set to be one of the highlight of 2010 when it's released on February 9.