In the Year of the Rat, will Sony win the race?
It will soon be the Year of the Rat.
In Chinese astrology the Rat is considered a leader and a pioneer. Rats can also be controlling, having their own way whatever the cost. Although Sony were 'born' in 1946 (which makes them a Dog - incidentally the same sign as my good self), you might say there are certain attributes of the Rat that sit well with them.
If you think it is odd to mix Chinese astrology with a Japanese company then bear with us. Although the Japanese celebrate the new year on the 1st January, they send postcards to their family and friends with the relevant animal depicted on the front - harking back to when the lunar calendar and the 12 animal signs were in use throughout Japan.
So what will this year bring, and will Sony win the ratrace against their most fierce of rivals? Just how will the Dog fair against the Rabbit (Microsoft) and the Ox (Nintendo).
Burnout Paradise is our first indication that 2008 is going to be a good one for the PS3. Yes - I know... since it is being released in January it doesn't fall into the Chinese 'lunar year' which starts in February. But since the Japanese start their year in January too, we're going to run with this one!
Then it's the turn of Devil May Cry 4 to hit our screens. There was a time when I was particularly angry with the Sheep (otherwise known as Capcom) for taking DMC to other platforms. But now we've seen it looking particularly spectacular on the PS3 we're not so unhappy. Add to that some exclusive downloadable content and the grass is certainly looking greener on this side of the fence. Maybe we'll hold off on turning Capcom into lamb chops for now.
Haze can't be ignored. Although it is yet another FPS, it is a special one. I don't honestly think that it is going to compare in any way to the Rabbit's best effort (the ever present Halo franchise) but it is truly a much deeper and more involving experience than many of the existing 'shooter' offerings available on the PS3. Call of Duty 4 excepted.
Shortly after you've managed to figure out how to squeeze those three titles into your heavy social calendar, the Tiger of Rockstar will rip your diary apart with the launch of GTA: IV. Once again it is a title that will appear on the Rabbit's platform, but we're not bitter about it. I couldn't care less if it were on every platform - just as long is it rocks our world as much as we think it will!
Around this time in the Year of the Rat, we expect that two amazing innovations will have found their way on to our favourite black monolith. PlayStation Home and LittleBigPlanet.
Home promises to be more than just a 3D lobby, although admittedly the ability to launch you and your newly-made friends into the multiplayer part of any game you own is a great feature. With huge amounts of content promised for launch and throughout the life of Home, plus the 'social networking' abilities available via the web-based portal to your Home space, Home will become many things; a replacement for the XMB, a lobby, a content viewer (both yours and content from Sony and third-parties), a casual games arena, a social networking site, a marketing tool to reach non-PS3 owners, a vanity case of game achievements, a mobile blogging/photo centre and much more.
LittleBigPlanet is surely one of the most anticipated titles of the year with it's innovative mix of gameplay, creation and sharing. If there's one title that is destined to take on the marketing behemoth that is Halo 3, this is it. 'What?', I hear you cry. How can you compare LBP and Halo 3? Think about it.
There's Halo 3 characters, faceplates, headsets, controllers and skins everywhere you look on your favourite retailer's shelves. You can get ringtones, wallpapers and themes for almost any mobile device. If there is one thing I want to see this year it's a Sackboy that I can actually buy, along with fabric pens so I can modify him, just like in the game. And a Sackboy controller. And a Sackboy gift set. Sony should be marketing the crap out of this game. I want to see Sackboy on the shelves of Clinton Cards alongside that ever-present blue-nosed teddy bear. You get the idea.
As the year progresses, we'll be hit with another massive title that is definitely staying on the PS3 only. Metal Gear Solid 4 will arrive. Every indication is that this final chapter in the story of Snake will be monumental in every way. The recent previews we've seen show the game to be something really special and the ending is promising to be as epic as you would expect. Once again you're going to have to figure out how to balance still playing GTA and LBP when this one hits. Who said gaming was easy!
Although Europe will see GT5 Prologue early in the year (February we reckon), there's a good chance the full Gran Turismo 5 experience will hit our shelves in the Year of the Rat. Promising a huge amount of detail, cars, tracks and content, along with realistic damage (hooray!), real-time weather simulation, GT-TV content, My Garage homepages/social networking and - most importantly - the Top Gear Test Track, GT5 will give us petrol-heads something to really get our teeth into once we've completed everything Burnout Paradise can offer.
Finally, we'll be sinking our teeth into the Hellghast scum once again as Killzone 2 comes to the PS3. Whether or not the screenshots you have seen are 'doctored' or not, it doesn't really matter. The fact is that this game is one hell of an FPS. Incredible graphics, amazing character animation, deep storyline, real atmosphere and pixel-perfect shooting mean that this one title may just blow your mind as well as your wallet. Another PS3 exclusive, I predict Killzone 2 will be the biggest selling of them all, which is a risky bet given the massive appeal of the games we've detailed above.
Honourable mentions go to the other games that will hit this year in retail and PS Store form; Tekken 6, SOCOM: Confrontation, Madden 09, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Everyday Shooter and Wipeout HD to name but a few. And we've ignored the possible release of those other exclusives - Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy Versus XIII - because we just don't believe they'll make it onto shelves this year.
And don't forget the additional hardware and PSP interactivity that is due. Soon you'll be able to buy PlayTV in Europe and add a twin-tuner Freeview PVR to the list of incredible things you can do with a PS3, and view live TV or your recorded programmes via Remote Play. There's so much more to come from the PS3 this year and much of it will be delivered, free of charge, via firmware updates and the PS Store.
Simply put, the Year of the Rat will be the best one yet for Sony. The Dog can learn new tricks, it seems.
Check out the gallery below for various screenshots and wallpapers...