Format: 360, PS3, PC | Developer: Crytek | Publisher: EA | Out: 22 February
Crytek face a tough challenge with Crysis 3: how do you reconcile a powerhouse shooter with ancient console hardware? A scalable engine. CryEngine 3 lets PS3 and 360 players run the game without it turning into a slideshow whilst still letting PC owners privy to all the volumetric clouds and lumpy frogs their rigs can handle.
Set in 2047, 24 years after Crysis 2, Prophet's out for revenge after learning the truth behind the corrupt Cell Corporation. In efforts to contain an alien invasion, they've erected Nanodomes over New York City. The official line is these massive transparent bubbles are for public protection, but in reality it's a land grab. Within the largest, the Liberty Dome, you'll hunt both Cell soldiers and alien Ceph using your speedy-strong Nanosuit, weapons both domestic and extraterrestrial, and a compound bow customisable with explosive or armour-piercing arrowheads.
Emergent shooters are a dying breed, so here's hoping Crysis 3 reignites the sandbox shooter with a million-particle-filled bang. BG
METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE
Format: 360, PS3 | Developer: Platinum | Publisher: Konami | Out: 22 February
Under Kojima Productions, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was a methodical actioner where players could literally slice through anything - melons, cars, even level boundaries. Now, under Platinum, the developers responsible for the brilliant Bayonetta, it's become a bona fide hack-and-slash - fast, fluid and with little time to linger between each mad scenario. (Mad scenario watch: Chopping up a helicopter after playing hop-scotch on its live missiles!)
In an effort to prevent players breaking the game, you can't just slash anything in half, but combat's now ultra-tight as a result. Fights against cyborg soldiers (and robo-dogs) and Gekko mechs feel as responsive and brutal as anything in Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden - and for those in doubt this is a true Metal Gear game, enemies will occasionally hide from you in cardboard boxes. BG
Format: 360, PS3, PC | Developer: Crystal Dynamics | Publisher: Square-Enix | Out: 5 March
A youthful Lara Croft is washed up on the shores of a mysterious island. She's not the backflipping, dual pistol-wielding hero we're used to: she's inexperienced, and can only hold one pistol at a time - at least at the start. She is, for the first time, an actual character, as opposed to the shallow inflatable doll of the PSone games.
We've played the first two hours of the game, and while the Tomb Raider staples are there (climbing, puzzles, killing animals), there's a lot more crouching behind cover and shooting. This is Ms. Croft's most cinematic game to date - QTEs, set-pieces, forced stealth sections, and a lot of climbing - and, because of that, there's the distinct whiff of Uncharted about it all.
So it's not the Tomb Raider you remember the Tomb Raider you emember. It's a reboot in a very literal sense, and strays from the formula of previous games in a way no game in the series has since - and we feel bad for even mentioning its name - Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness. But don't expect a disaster of that magnitude: it's not classic Raider, but it is a beautiful-looking action game with a compelling, mysterious setting. AK
Format: PC | Developer: Maxis | Publisher: EA | Out: 8 March
The pursuit of happiness is central to SimCity, the next logical step in Will Wright's legendary god game series. Out goes dry city-planning to bore the dullest of drainage men; in come intuitive systems that play organically into each other. Systems like happiness: manufacturing sectors will earn it through creating things, commercial sectors through selling things, and consumers will earn it through, well, splurging on a nice new sofa. Happiness makes the world turn.
Rather, it makes several. Multiplayer is right at the heart of SimCity, spilling the effects of one hub - wealth, happiness, crime rates - over to the next. The benefits are obvious: you can share coal or plastic, police forces and workers, and all-important credit-card-wielding citizens (tourists will sometimes visit your town and give your economy a boost). Hopefully there'll be no natural disasters or UFOs the week they visit. Streamlined and organic but no less deep, SimCity represents both a welcome and welcoming change. BG
STARCRAFT 2: HEART OF THE SWARM
Format: PC | Developer: Blizzard | Publisher: Blizzard | Out: 12 March
An expansion in development for three years? With Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, Blizzard is certainly being thorough. Set shortly after Starcraft II, in 2506, you'll play from the perspective of anti-hero Sarah Kerrigan, recently returned to her human state after a lengthy period of living Zerg. Twenty new missions centre on Kerrigan's quest to assume leadership of the Zerg swarm in her human form, despite them being split into several rival broods. Meanwhile, revenge on Arcturus Mengsk, Emperor of the Terran Dominion, is at the forefront of her mind.
Starcraft is just as popular for its multiplayer as its campaign, and it's seen numerous tweaks there too. Seven multiplayer units have been added, and three taken away. Take the Tempest, a massive capital ship, or brutal psionic warship, the Oracle. Even existing units have been given new talents, with the Nexus gaining a 'mass recall' ability which transports troops instantly.
Part of a proposed Starcraft trilogy, the third and final expansion, Legacy of the Void, will focus on the Protoss. Let's hope it doesn't take three years to materialise. BG