This is basically an award for how much hype surrounds a forthcoming release and ranges across all consoles and genres. With the marketing for a game playing an ever greater part in its success or failure, this award gives publishers an idea of which games are at the forefront of player’s minds. Hit the jump for what I think of each nominee and some ideas of my own as to what should have been included.

Grand Theft Auto IV
This was obviously going to be in the list, if only because its the descendent of the best selling and award winning GTA series. It markets itself really and little needs to be done to ensure its success. Such success is vital to Take-Two however, whose share price took a 16% hit when it was announced last week that GTA IV wouldn’t make the Christmas season. This being the first GTA title to be released on the next-gen consoles, great things are expected of it. I can’t help feeling that ultimately we’ll be disappointed. Nothing I’ve seen of the game leads me to believe that it is anywhere near as ground breaking as GTA III was in its day. The sandbox style gameplay and freeform mission structure remains the same as it has since the first top down GTA on the PS1, with side missions and mini-games to distract you from the main storyline. What does intrigue me about this latest episode is the addition of multiplayer. There was a limited kind of multiplayer present in Vice City and San Andreas, with the sandbox mode being available in a limited form on the PSP spin offs. If done properly this time around there is the possibility of a persistent, free roaming GTA world to play in. Take-Two and Rockstar have denied rumours of there being MMO elements in the multiplayer of GTA IV. We’ll just have to wait and see. One to keep an eye on, though not to the exclusion of all else.

Assasin’s Creed
Featuring gorgeous settings, revolutionary crowd AI, intuitive go anywhere movement, and a gripping combat system, Assassin’s Creed tells the tale of Altair. Set in the middle east during the third crusade and the first in a trilogy, there are hints that the setting is not all that it seems, with leaked ‘Game Over’ screens seeming to show a computer menu where the player can choose from a variety of apparently futuristic options including “Access Genetic Memory”. This is the first game on the next-gen consoles by the team that brought Prince of Persia back to the forefront of gaming, there were originally plans for a next-gen PoP but that was put aside for a new character and story. The movement system in Assassin’s Creed uses techniques culled from the street sport Parkour, and allows the players to basically go anywhere using jumps, climbing and wall running to escape pursuers. Crowds can also be used to your advantage, or prove to be an obstacle depending on how you interact with them. Each member of a crowd has their own individually calculated AI which will react differently depending on a variety of variables, making for the most realistic crowd behaviour seen in a game. I’ll certainly be trying to get my hands on a copy, as soon as I can get a console to play it on.

Crysis
First off, Crysis is beautiful. There’s no denying it. The tricks learned by the developers Crytek in the making of Far Cry have been put to good use. Secondly, the gameplay has the potential to be insane. With a suit that can change your character’s abilites on the fly, from cloaking to super speed or strength, your options for dealing with the situations you find yourself in are nigh on infinite. Combined with weapons which can also be customized on the fly, the potential for re-playability is almost unbounded. Thirdly, the terrain is completely malleable. If you need cover, increase your strength, uproot a tree (a big tree mind) and carry it around in front of you before throwing it at your enemies. Or you could shoot at the tree till it falls over, breaking at the point where the bullets hit home, and crush your adversaries. Some of the tech demos and gameplay videos available on YouTube are stunning and reveal a depth of thought and consideration that has gone into a game where the potential for destruction is unparalleled. This game looks to redefine the Supersoldier Vs Aliens FPS subgenre for years to come.

Halo 3
This was another shoe-in, the hype about Halo 3 has been building since Halo 2 came out. This will be the killer app on the 360, there’s no way round it, and it’ll have almost a full 6 months lead on GTA IV. The multiplayer beta was a huge success, having been played for a combined total of 1400 years if there had only been one participant. Being the third and last in this storyline (though there are more to come from the same universe, including the RTS Halo Wars) people are going to want to know how the war with the covenant turns out. New features in the game include a 4 player online co-operative mode, customizable armour and the obligatory new weapons and vehicles. All the Halo fanboys out there will be voting for it so expect Master Chief to make a good showing if nothing else.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl
This has been widely anticipated since the Wii came out, along with Super Mario Galaxy. The original, on the GameCube was one of the unexpected successes of the Wii’s predecessor but was lacking in a single player story mode. This issue is resolved this time around with Nintendo having just announced the inclusion of a side scrolling single player element to the game. All your favourite characters form the Nintendo stable are here, ready to bash each other’s brains out. Though how the beat ’em up will make use of the Wii’s idiosyncratic control system is still under wraps, but it promises to be something quite interesting to see. Not up there with GTA IV or Halo 3 but one for the Nintendo fans to keep an eye on.

Metal Gear Solid 4
The last Metal Gear game to feature Solid Snake, and not surprisingly since he looks about retirement age in the videos I’ve seen, MGS4 will have all the hallmarks which have made the series great. Sneaking, gadgets, convoluted plot, and those little eccentric touches that mark the entire series as a work of greatness. Hideo Kojima, who’s been directing the Metal Gear series since it first appeared in 1987, has also made this his last visit to the Metal Gear games as well as Solid Snake’s, though he will still be around making other games. It really has been his humour and innovation that has driven the series and MGS 4 seems to be no different. If you remember the cardboard box you could hide in in MGS1, this time around its an oil drum which can be used as camoflage, or knocked on its side and rolled towards enemies, after which Snake climbs out and is violently ill. Its little details like this which have set MGS apart from other games and somehow made them more human. Will MGS4 be a fitting end to the series? It certainly looks like it.

Super Mario Galaxy
It wouldn’t be a Nintendo console without the moustachioed plumber and his brother around to jump on koopa troopers and rescue princesses from a giant spiky turtle. The last outing for Mario, Super Mario Sunshine, was a bit of a damp squib (sorry) really, not living up to Super Mario 64. Galaxies looks to be something a little different. In Sunshine the gimmick was the water jet pack that Mario had which was tricky to control and frankly a pain in the neck In Galaxy it looks to be gravity. Princess Peach is kidnapped yet again and Mario follows the culprit into the depths of space. What follows is a huge adventure strung across planetoids which each have their own gravity field which can guide or hinder Mario’s interplanetary flights. Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario’s original creator, has been talking up this installment in the plumber’s adventures and possibly being the best video game ever, but then he would say that.

Fallout 3
Fallout was the seminal postapocalyptic RPG of its era and gained a following of dedicated fans, a sequel and a couple of spin offs followed but what fans have really been waiting for is Fallout 3. Being developed by Bethseda Softworks, who acquired ownership of the IP earlier this year, Fallout 3 is still a long way from being finished with a release slated for the 1st or 2nd quarter of next year. From the screenshots and previews I’ve seen it looks absolutely gorgeous, almost photo real, and the game world is peppered with familiar North American landmarks riven by the ravages of thermonuclear devastation. While the original was completely turn based, with the player having a set number of action points per turn, the only feature to retain some turn based characteristics is combat which Bethseda are describing as a hybrid system. Another departure from RPG’s in general is the fact that you play your character through thier childhood and your traits are determined by your actions during this period. Another twist is that when you choose your appearance it affects what your father looks like aswell. This game has alot to live up to, and alot of people will be disappointed if it fails to do so.

Bioshock
The spiritual sequel to the System Shock games, which featured the nastiest female AI villain in any game ever, Bioshock is set in the underwater city of Rapture.Set against the player will be an entire ecology of mutated and bio-mechanical enemies (or allies) who not only attack the player but often each other as well. Much has been made of the interaction between the player and the game’s main antagonists, The Big Brother and Little Sister. The Big Brother is a hulking bio-mechanical brute, encased in armour reminiscent of a deep sea diving suit, and watches over the Little Sister, protecting her with his awesome strength and brutal weapons. The Little Sister is a genetically engineered little girl whose purpose is to gather the main resource of the game, known as ADAM, from the dead and reprocess it into a usable form. The player has to collect ADAM to modify their own genetics in order to survive, the thing is that they have to harvest it from the Little Sister. The ethical dilemma this puts the player in is quite a harrowing one, would you kill a little girl in order to survive? Bioshock is out later this month and if my machine’ll run it I’ll certainly be playing it. This looks to be the game of the year.

Warhammer Online: Age Of Reckoning
If any game can topple the monolithic World of Warcraft, this is the front runner to do it. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (officially abbreviated to WAR) is based on the immensely popular Games Workshop fantasy roleplaying game and tabletop strategy game and so already has a built in following of millions. The game makers, EA Mythic, have had over 800,000 applications for the closed beta phase of testing hinting that there are a lot of people out there who want to play this game. The game itself will feature two Realms which players can join, featuring all the fantasy standards paired off into natural opponent races. The realm of destruction is made up of the worshippers of the chaos gods, Greenskins (Orcs and Goblins), and Dark Elves while the Human Empire, Dwarves and High Elves comprise the forces of order. Realm verses Realm combat will comprise bot PvP and PvE elements including everything from Large scale objective based battles (PvP) to quests for solo players or small parties (PvE). This allows players of both styles to contribute to the greater conflict, which rages eternally. Having already been put back from an autumn release due to EA buying Mythic the game is due for release late next year, look out WoW your days may be numbered.

So thats the shortlist that the voting gamers think we should be watching in the coming year, in the main I agree with them. However there are a couple of titles waiting in the wings which are worth mentioning:

Portal
Part of the package which comes with Half Life 2: Episode 2, Portal is set in the same universe as Half Life 2 and puts the player in an experimental lab run by the Combine. Treated like a maze running mouse, they have to complete a series of tasks, using only one tool, the Portal Gun. The Portal Gun is a flash of brilliance in an otherwise stagnating genre, fire it at a wal and it opens a portal, fire it at another wall and it opens another, you may now walk through. You’re not restricted to walls either, you can create an entrance on the floor and an exit on the ceiling directly above it, jump through it and you can fall forever. The puzzles you are given to solve get increasing ly complex as the game progresses and the Portal Gun allows you to use your environment and the objects in it in new and interesting ways to solve them.

Left 4 Dead
Another Valve title, this time a stand alone game which pits you and up to four (see the 4 in the title) friends agains a horde of slavering zombies. These aren’t your plodding Romero zombies though, these are your maddened, screaming and above all fast zombies from 28 Days Later. The unique selling point of this game is that there are always 4 people on your team, if you’re playing alone three will be AI. If your playing with less than four real people but aren’t on your own things get interesting, you aren’t told which of your team members are real or AI until the end of the round when you’re all dead or you’ve completed the objective. This forces you to watch everyone’s back, and you need to watch everyone’s back because it gets alot harder when you lose people. If there are more than four of you some will get to play the zombies, and not just any old zombies, you get the super zombies which come in a variety of classes and have unique abilities, like being able to climb, telepathically direct the hordes of lesser zombies or explode on cue right in the middle of the human team. A new kind of teamplay is coming, and it sounds dead brilliant.

I know they’re both from Valve, but to be honest there aren’t any others that caught my eye and aren’t already in the shortlist. Are there any games coming soon which you think should be in the shortlist but aren’t? Let me know in the comments.

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