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Video Games Should Score Big in 2004

8 Jan, 2004 By: John Gaudiosi

This year is shaping up to be huge for game franchises old and new. With the anticipated price drops for both Sony's PlayStation 2 and Microsoft's Xbox, the gaming audience for 2004 will be the largest in the industry's history. This should equate to a perfect storm by fourth-quarter 2004, when the bulk of the big games hit store shelves.

The Wait Is Over
The year will start off as most years do, with an influx of fourth-quarter games that have been delayed until the first quarter. Capcom's “Ghosts 'n Goblins” franchise sequel Maximo vs. the Army of Zin will be available Jan. 20. That same date will see the delayed Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II available for consoles. Feb. 10 is shaping up to be a blockbuster date. Tecmo's Xbox-exclusive Ninja Gaiden is finally shipping, complete with online game play. Vivendi Universal Games' Starcraft: Ghost, which takes the best-selling PC game franchise to consoles with a sexy new heroine, is also due. Electronic Arts' Bond 007: Everything or Nothing, which features an all-star virtual cast, including Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Heidi Klum and Shannon Elizabeth, streets on the same date.

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Acclaim will ship the long-delayed Alias video game Feb. 14. Activision will revive its revamped “Pitfall” franchise with Pitfall: The Lost Expedition Feb. 24. It looks like Vivendi's The X-Files: Resist or Serve will finally expose the truth March 9. And March 30 is the latest in a never-ending string of release dates dating back to fourth-quarter 2002 for the comic-book-inspired Daredevil: The Man With No Fear from Encore Software.

Originally slated for fourth-quarter 2003, Atari's comes out March 23. The “Driver” franchise, which has sold more than 12 million units on PS One, hits next-gen consoles with an all-star Hollywood cast and the ability to drive through real-world cities and also explore on foot (a la Grand Theft Auto [GTA] and True Crime). Another ‘M'-rated holdover, Mafia, ships Jan. 27 from the makers of GTA and puts players in the world of 1930s organized crime.

Given the popularity of the ‘Mature'-rated genre, these games should have long legs.

A pair of horror titles ship this year from Midway, both of which were given additional time and money in the hope of launching franchises. The Suffering (March 8) takes place inside a haunted prison, while Area 51 (Sept. 14) is a sci-fi first-person shooter set in the infamous military facility.

Midway also has the delayed sci-fi action game PSI-OPS: The Mindgate Conspiracy, shipping in May.

Spreading It Out
While video game companies still ship the bulk of the big games at the end of each year (November and December account for more than 55 percent of annual game sales), there are more ‘AAA' games shipping year-round.

In addition to the previously listed delayed titles, Sony's Gran Turismo 4, which ships this summer, is an excellent example of new games shipping early. This PS2-exclusive driving franchise has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, as well as countless PS2 hardware units, and will remain an evergreen seller and rental for years to come. Ubi Soft Entertainment's Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is slated for a March 16 release. The Splinter Cell protagonist Sam Fisher stars in his second console stealth adventure, which is sure to be another smash hit. And Sony's new Jet Li franchise, Rise to Honor, which ships Feb. 17, could be the start of a new virtual action series for the martial arts star.

Other huge games for 2004 include the next “Grand Theft Auto” game from Rockstar Games, which is expected to bow in late October as a PS2 exclusive. Activision's Doom 3 for Xbox, Vivendi's Half-Life 2 and Microsoft's Halo 2 -- none of which have actual ship dates but are expected to debut in 2004 -- should sell millions when they hit stores. Halo 2 will be the biggest title for Xbox since Halo Online gameplay has been added to this sequel, which brings the epic battle home to Earth. Doom 3 has wowed audiences at E3 for two years running and has the added momentum of a Warner Bros. feature in the works.

Solid Snake returns this fall in Konami's Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Other surefire sequels include planned fall releases Capcom's Onimusha 3, Square Enix's Disney's Kingdom Hearts 2, Namco's Dead to Rights: Hell to Pay and Vivendi's Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude. Sony's bundling of Square Enix's Final Fantasy XI online game should help drive the hard-disc drive's sales (the game comes free with the $99 peripheral).

Hollywood Lends a Hand
Hollywood licenses remain a big part of the video game landscape. Electronic Arts serves up Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban this summer just in time for the feature film. Activision ships Shrek 2 and Spider-Man 2 day and date with the summer 2004 films. THQ has a trio of family games based on Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles, The Polar Express and Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants feature films. Vivendi has the monster-hunting game Van Helsing slated to debut in May with the Universal blockbuster. Electronic Arts has The Lord of the Rings Trilogy set to debut in Q4. The two-disc set will incorporate game play and footage from all three films. Bam Entertainment will bring Warner Bros.' summer adaptation of Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder to the video game screen in the fourth quarter.

One of the biggest licensed games for 2004 could be LucasArts' fall release Star Wars Battlefront, a new online game for PS2 and Xbox that will allow teams of eight players to choose a side and battle on foot or in vehicles on one of eight planets. Like the popular PC game Battlefield 1942, this console online game will allow players to explore detailed locales, this time in exotic locations like the ice planet Hoth or the sand dunes of Tatooine, and even interact with characters from all the films.

Something Old, Something New
Another strong trend will continue in 2004 as game publishers dig into the movie archives. Vivendi will release a game based on Fox's Fight Club in the fall, while Capcom digs into Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas for Halloween. Rockstar Games serves up a classic in The Warriors June 21. And in a unique twist, Sammy Studios reimagines Akira Kurosawa's classic film as a sci-fi action title in Seven Samurai 20XX.

What's Cooking With Comics?
Comic characters continue to glow in the spotlight in both big--screen and interactive adaptations. Activision has X-Men: Legends, an action role-playing game shipping May 11, and a fall release for a Fantastic Four video game. THQ will bring The Punisher to gamers in the fall, which should be timed nicely with Artisan's anticipated DVD release of the April big-screen adventure. Midway will bring Justice League: Divided We Fall to consoles in September, and Take-Two has Mad Comics' Spy vs. Spy heading to next-gen systems this spring.

Anime Answers
Anime continues to spawn video games, as gamers gobble up the latest DVD releases. Bandai's Cowboy Bebop, Atari's Transformers Armada: Prelude to Energon and Take-Two's Robotech: Invasion are just a sampling of games in this genre that should find a large audience.

The Big One
A pair of World War II first-person console shooters will duke it out this fall as Activision's Call of Duty: Their Finest Hour competes with Electronic Arts' Medal of Honor: Rising Sun. LucasArts is expected to deliver a combat flight sequel for Secret Weapons Over Normandy as well.

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