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Video games are starting 2010 strong

Thanks to the Great Recession, 2009 turned out to be a real dud for the video game industry, creatively and financially, with dozens of titles being pushed into this year. The good news is, while the holiday season forced us to make do with only a few choice titles like Borderlands and Modern Warfare 2, 2010 has a bumper crop of software ripe for the picking.

Besides Sega's acclaimed Devil May Cry-aping Bayonetta (360, PS3), which came out Jan. 5, this month sees one of the biggest releases of the year with Bioware's Mass Effect 2 (360, PC), out Jan. 26. The sequel to the 2007 title promises to expand upon the yawning storyline, but the real hook is how players will be able to load the data from their completed Mass Effect campaigns to follow the events of the specific Commander Shepard they've created.

Speaking of returning to familiar environments, gamers will be heading back to the underwater city of Rapture on Feb. 9 in Bioshock 2 (360, PS3, PC). This time you won't just be fighting the Big Daddies — you'll be playing as a Big Daddy (the first one, in fact) the entire game. You'll again have a choice involving the Little Sisters, but this time you'll either rescue or adopt them. Hopefully this time 2K Games will allow you some latitude concerning the ending when trying to choose.

Feb. 23 is a big day for console exclusives, with Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction (360, PC) marking the fifth adventure in the series, this time following Sam Fisher as he battles a group known as Third Echelon. If you're looking for an original IP, try Heavy Rain (PS3), a character-driven concept set in Philadelphia, in which constantly changing player choices will affect the outcome of encounters. It's touted as a giant step into narrative gaming, but it remains to be seen if Quantic Dream's effort will be able to topple Fisher's newfound abilities to interrogate prisoners.

Final Fantasy XIII (360, PS3) came out in Japan last year, but localization for North America should be wrapped up and the game should be ready to ship March 9, just in time for geeks to lock themselves in over spring break while everyone else is out enjoying the beach. Aiming to emulate Advent Children battles, this anchor title in the Fabula Nova Crystallis series has Square Enix trying to dress up the same old formula, likely to milk the development of one universe simply to populate it with redressed characters in future games. No matter, as the rabid fan base will lap it up regardless of any stale content in subsequent titles. It's also worth noting both Xbox and PlayStation faithful will get a chance at this one, telegraphing a big payday for Square Enix.

Also in March, Sony's God of War III (PS3) will allegedly bring to an end the saga of Kratos. This fifth title in the series shoves Kratos squarely in the middle of a war between the Gods and the Titans. Rumors abound that the gameplay will focus on the end of Greek mythology, likely at the blades of the god of war himself. A concrete date in March is still not set after delays of more than a year, however.

Looking into the later part of the year, Alan Wake (360) is another character-driven drama, which unfolds in an episodic format. Remedy Entertainment has tried to draw comparisons between it's psychological thriller and some of the installment-driven series on premium cable. If Heavy Rain is half as good as it's being touted as, Alan Wake's flashlight-wielding exploits fending off light-sensitive creepy crawlies may just work as advertised. Look for it in the second quarter.

Another long-delayed sequel is Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty (PC, Mac), the followup to Blizzard's 1998 original, which sold a whopping 11 million units and still is a favorite among tournament players. Unfortunately, despite the delays and a still-fluctuating ship date (Blizzard promises it will be the first half of the year), the only playable races will be the Protoss, Terran and Zerg factions. We'd expect at least one new species, but, hey, it's only been 11-plus years.

And while 2010 is starting slow for Nintendo, Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii) is slated for this year. Anything's got to be better than the half-hearted effort from last season's New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com.

Video games are starting 2010 strong 01/11/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 11, 2010 7:41pm]

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