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The year's (video) game changers

This year looked to be a golden one for gaming. Despite hedge funds getting mown down and US banks falling over like zombies in a gory shooter, the video game industry looked to be recession-proof.

While the pixel trade wasn't exactly capable of seeing off the recession easily, it did weather the financial storm relatively intact. Geeks who stayed inside and played games when the world's markets were good seemed just as happy staying inside when they were collapsing.

This was underlined last month when one of the most-awaited games appeared on shop shelves. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a gritty first-person shooter, put players in the middle of a terrorist war - and put a walloping £192 million in the till on its first day on sale.

That smashed an entertainment record set by another violent game, Grand Theft Auto IV, with the top box office taker, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince following at a distance.

This shows that games - even those which have a propensity to wind up cotton-wool Mums incapable of reading R18 tags on games - remain a force to be reckoned with across all entertainment mediums.

The E3 games conference in Los Angeles - traditionally the launching pad for titles and technologies - was humming with talk of game control.

Nintendo's Wii, currently the only device to have a true motion control system, looked to be overshadowed by Microsoft's announcement of Project Natal for Xbox 360. The E3 demonstration used no controllers, with players literally using their body movements to manipulate on-screen action. It didn't appear particularly accurate, and then Sony revealed its own motion control system - with players holding ice-block-sized sticks in each hand - with demo players pulling virtual arrows from a quiver and accurately removing the heads of enemies. This has potential to put the console war between the "'Big Three" on to a whole new battleground.

Online extras are also becoming important to the console makers - Xbox now delivers (paid) high-def movies over its Live service, plus access to social networking behemoths Twitter and Facebook, while PlayStation now delivers ad-supported music video across its network.

Top games for 2009

1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

Rollicking third-person action adventure title that takes hero Nathan Drake on an Indiana Jones-style quest to find the legendary Chintimani to lead him - not to mention his heavily armed and fairly humourless enemies to Shangri La. Action leaps effortlessly between cinematic cut scenes and firefight chaos, all tastefully tied up with some of the best voice acting and script work seen in video games ... ever. Twenty-six levels of genius and a solid warning to the rest of the electronic entertainment industry to lift its game. Also play: Halo ODST on Xbox 360.

2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

Hyper-realistic war games are guaranteed to, er, draw fire from some quarters and this blockbuster pushed it to the absolute limits. The respected team at Infinity Ward delivered a frantic, high-action war game that pits special forces against terrorist organisations, tied to exceptional graphics and audio. Modern Warfare 2 broke records - possibly on the back of controversy over one scene that puts the hero undercover in a terrorist cell and involves the player shooting innocent civilians. Also play: Left 4 Dead 2 on Xbox 360.

3. Gran Turismo PSP.

Gran Turismo is one of the success stories from the Sony PlayStation realm and while PlayStation3 users wait with bated breath for GT5's much-delayed release, this PSP racing game managed to overtake some stiff portable gaming competition to be the best across Nintendo and Sony's portables. Eight hundred cars, dozens of track options and the choice between time trial, race and drift modes for the single player - plus ad hoc game modes to play against other PSP gamers - make it a tough one to pass up. Also play: GTA Chinatown Wars on Nintendo DSi

4. The Beatles: Rock Band.

Guitar Hero and Rock Band versions have been released in a multitude of ways and are responsible for much of the wedge banked by games companies. But the long-awaited Beatles' back catalogue release timed with a Rock Band game devoted to the Fab Four's songs, with incredible visuals, room for players on guitar, bass, drums, vocals and back-up singers was worth the wait.

It was even heartily endorsed by the surviving members - Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. Also play: Guitar Hero 5 on Xbox 360, PS3.

5. Forza Motorsport 3.

While Sony's Gran Turismo has been stewing away in Polyphony's studios, the Xbox 360-exclusive Forza Motorsport has been lifting the quality of racing games. This serious simulator has been pushed to the point that everything has been modelled. With exceptional gameplay and well-sorted AI, this realistic sim with 400-odd cars and around 100 track variations can be tailored to suit noobs and race game veterans. Also play: Colin McRae Dirt 2 on Xbox 360 and PS3.

Source: NZ Herald