FIFA 09 (multi - out now)
Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (PS3, 360, PC - out Oct 17th; PS2 - out Oct 31st; PSP - out Nov 7th)
Having been a long time PES fanatic, I backed FIFA over Konami's title last year for the first time ever. PES suffered two poor seasons and EA really got their act together with the superb FIFA 08.
For FIFA 09 they've retained and built upon a winning formula. Cool new stuff include Live Season, which lets you download up-to-date stats on players that change teams in-game; an impressively flexible tactics system that really lets you dictate your teams playing style; and action is more physical, as players aggressively jostle for the ball. Presentation is ultra-slick, as you'd expect, with all the right team names, kits and players.
PES has finally pulled up its socks for the new season. Gone are the silly technical issues that dogged last year's version, and it looks and plays slicker. PES has always suffered through a lack of licences: alas, we still have to put up with the likes of London FC (Chelsea) and North London (Arsenal), but a fantastic addition is the Champions League, which feels just like the TV coverage; and Man Utd fans will be pleased to know their team is officially represented (though, sadly, Berbatov didn't make it).
It's now no longer a case of one game being better than the other: they both offer a markedly different style of footy. FIFA is now unquestionably the most realistic take on the beautiful game: the pace is considered, games are often poised on a knife edge, and you really have to grind out every result. PES, on the other hand, is faster-paced and more 'arcadey' - less realistic, but it leads to some genuinely thrilling passages of play.
This year, the great FIFA vs PES showdown goes into extra time. These are both excellent kickabouts, and it comes down to how you prefer to get your kicks.
LittleBigPlanet (PS3 - out October 24th)
What a great British success story this is - a tiny studio in Guildford has created arguably the most important PlayStation 3 game so far. LittleBigPlanet is utterly unique. The tagline is 'Play, Create, Share'. For play, think a traditional platform game, albeit a stupidly beautiful one, with levels bursting with imagination and good ideas - and it's all narrated superbly by Stephen Fry. But Create is where the game excels - an incredibly detailed set of tools allows you to customise the game in all sorts of ways and even build your own levels and designs, then share them with the rest of the world over PlayStation Network.
The possibilities are dizzying, and what people have come up with already on the beta version bodes very well for the future of this game. Bear in mind that, as fun as it is in single-player, you're only getting half the experience if you don't go online.
It's not perfect: the basic controls of your character are a little fuzzy, and the creation tools will probably prove too complicated and time-consuming for casual users. But since you can play everyone else's crazy designs, that's not a real problem.
This is a landmark title, and probably the most persuasive reason so far to invest in a PlayStation 3.
If you want a glimpse of the game in action, check out the following trailer: http://www.eurogamer.net/tv_video.php?playlist_id=13122
Lego Batman (multi - out now)
The millions of fans of the brilliant Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones games know the drill by now. This time, Gotham gets the plastic bricks treatment as Batman, Robin and assorted heroes and villains are transformed in the series' trademark charming style.
It's not tied into any films this time, as they're considered too 'adult' for kids, but most of these characters will be instantly recognisable to many. It's every bit as slick as you'd imagine, is great fun for kids and adults alike, and is a safe bet if you've enjoyed previous Lego titles.
Saints Row 2 (PS3, 360 - out Oct 17th; PC - out Nov 7th)
I think this is going to take a lot of people by surprise. The original Saints Row was a shameless Grand Theft Auto rip-off for Xbox 360, while everyone was still waiting for GTAIV. In the year of the latter's release, few expected a Saints Row sequel to make much impact. But it has and it's sticking two-fingers up to Rockstar's blockbuster in the process.
If GTA is serious satire, Saints Row is stupid, silly fun. The basic game style if emphatically GTA-like. But where Saints Row 2 succeeds is in the sheer variety of stuff you can do. There are endless side-missions, distractions, mini-games, things to explore and see. Characters are customisable to an impressive degree so if you want to be a fat man with moobs, wearing a dress and clown make-up, you can!
And one thing this offers that GTAIV never has is full online co-op play - messing around with another player is just stacks of fun. It might lack the production values and epic scope of Rockstar's masterpiece, but it's simply bags of fun and well worth it if you're ready to move on from Liberty City.
Korg DS-10 (DS - out now)
This is a great little piece of software that turns your DS into a fully functioning digital music studio. By tweaking with beats, melodies, rhythms, effects and frequencies you can create highly impressive compositions - people have already released an album online created exclusively on a DS.
It makes a big difference if you already have experience of fiddling with similar programmes, but for dance music aficionados on the move this is a tempting little beat box.
Hell's Kitchen (DS - out now)
What's Cooking? with Jamie Oliver (DS - out Oct 24th)
The TV super-chefs go head to head on DS, with wildly different releases. Hell's Kitchen seeks to capture the tension of the show. You're a lowly kitchen hand tasked with seating and serving customers while juggling cooking in the kitchen, while a CGI Gordon glowers and swears at you from the top screen.
It's a very simple game, but surprisingly tense and fun in short bursts, plus it comes complete with a bunch of Ramsay recipes. My mum loved it.
What's Cooking is less a game, more an interactive cookbook. You're given access to a kitchen area with fully stocked pantry, and cooking, chopping and serving areas. You literally prepare dishes by collecting ingredients, mixing and cooking them, then serving up, while Jamie lets you know how you're doing.
You can work your way through stacks of Jamie's recipes, or create your own which are then stored in ingredient lists for later reference. While it's a neat idea, I struggle to see the point of much of it, and the 'cooking' part is all novelty, without actually teaching you any real skills.
PSP 3000 (£149 - out Oct 15th)
The latest addition to the PSP family. This isn't as major an update as the Slim & Lite, but still boasts a few notable improvements over that model. Most significantly, the screen is noticeably sharper and brighter, and colours are more vivid. This really shows when you go back to older models.
There's also a built in microphone, which can be used for games (as with the DS), and also for software like Skype. The directional pad has also been redesigned slightly for the better and it comes with a far less clunky power adaptor.
It's not worth the upgrade if you have a Slim & Late, but is perhaps food for thought for owners of the original, lumpier model. If you don't have one, though, there's never been a better time.
London Games Festival
There's a series of events for the public running in London at the end of the month, where you can try out the biggest Christmas games, find out how to get a job in the industry and even listen to an orchestra perform classic videogames music. Events include:
The Eurogamer Expo - (Oct 28-29th at the Old Truman Brewery near Liverpool Street station in Central London.) - Hands-on with major Xmas titles, including Prince of Persia, Street Fighter IV and Tomb Raider: Underworld
GamesIndustry Career Fair - (Oct 28-29th at the Old Truman Brewery) - If you're a graduate or school-leaver and fancy a job in the gaming, this is the place to be. Experts from all areas of the business (including myself) will be there to answer your questions.
Videogames Live - (Oct 24th at the Royal Festival Hall, London) - Themes from Sonic, Mario, Final Fantasy and more, all performed by a top orchestra.
More info on locations, times and ticketing can be found here: http://www.londongamesfestival.com/
Xbox 360 Price cut
Microsoft recently slashed the price of 360, making the lowest-spec version the cheapest current-generation home console on the market. The new prices are:
Arcade (no hard drive) - £129
Premium (60Gb hard drive) - £169
Elite (120Gb hard drive) - £229
This compares with £179 for Wii, and £299 for PlayStation 3. Both Nintendo and Sony have said they are not planning any further price cuts before Christmas.
Wii - £179
PS3 - £300