This is possibly one of the greatest seasons ever for gamers, with tons of great new stuff crowding the shelves, but wallets and purses are light on cash this year. So what are the absolute must-haves? Try these standouts:
The name of the game is cooperation in Left 4 Dead, Valve's four-player zombie apocalypse nightmare. Gathering three buddies to try to escape the flesh-eating hordes is frantic, confusing and exhilarating, just like a fake doomsday scenario should be. Also an Xbox exclusive is Gears of War 2, the sequel to Epic's legendary run and gun. Its over-the-top action is matched only by its addictiveness (and is way better than the PS3 wannabe Resistance 2).
If you're looking for exclusive co-op play, Sony scored a bullseye with Little Big Planet. Long touted as the next big IP, the level-creating new kid on the block is fun enough that everyone will want to play. Plus, those little Sackboys are adorable. And don't forget Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, the biggest and best installment in the saga of Solid Snake. Its release way back in June kept the PS3's nose above the waterline all year.
Also, both platforms support two of my favorites of '08: DICE's Mirror's Edge is a parkour-inspired free-running FPS that offers an innovative new way to play. EA's Dead Space is everything great about the Resident Evil series, but set on a decaying spacecraft. Freakin' sweet. And finally, Ubisoft's Prince of Persia just came out this week, and while I haven't yet scored it, the cel-shaded graphics, multiple pathways and everyone's-a-boss-battle storyline have been garnering high marks.
There's precious little new for the Wii this season, but Wii Fit is a winner. Using a pressure-sensitive board to emulate soccer headers, hula hoops and yoga mats is something everyone can find time to enjoy. Minigame collection Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party will keep the kids busy, too. Otherwise, pick up something with Mario in the title, if you don't already have it, or give Wii Points for downloads, because pickings are slim.
Yes, Chrono Trigger is finally out. Will you please stop asking Square Enix for it? As a personal favorite, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia keeps the whip-wielding vampire-killing genre alive. And even though it's available on lots of other platforms, Sid Meier's Civilization: Revolution feels good on the DS, if you want to take on some light strategy.
Just like the Wii, there are precious few new releases. Stylized actioner N+ is a big deal on the handheld, but we have to go way back to March's God of War: Chains of Olympus to find a truly superlative title. Or download the Escher-esque Echochrome from the PSN Store if you want innovation, challenge and a game worth $10.
Somehow, playing Fallout 3 on the PC just seems right. The original was a home computer staple way back in 1997, and even though the new storyline isn't quite the same, the free-world quest options will keep you enthralled for a couple work weeks' worth of game time. World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King deserves a mention, too, but chances are if you're a WoW fan, you got this expansion pack the day it arrived.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.