San Francisco: The summer video game doldrums are almost here, but a small flurry of new titles over the next couple of weeks may help tide gamers over until the fall bounty.
Microsoft Corp. research is making the biggest splash with three games this week. The software giant’s Xbox 360 console gets the long-awaited racing simulator “Forza Motorsport 2”, as well as “Shadowrun”, a shooter that mixes swords and sorcery with modern firepower such as rocket launchers and sniper rifles.
PC purists who sniff at the idea of playing a shooter on a console will finally get their hands on a Windows version of “Halo 2”, Microsoft’s blockbuster sci-fi title for the original Xbox that came out nearly three years ago.
“Shadowrun” is also for sale in a PC version, and Microsoft is bridging the gap between PCs and consoles by letting players of the different versions combat each other over the company’s Live online service.
“Forza 2”, which was delayed from its original release date in late 2005, puts players behind the wheels of more than 300 super-realistic cars. Players can customize the performance and appearance of their rides and share them online.
Dan Greenawalt, game director for “Forza 2”, said the game should do well despite hitting the market at the start of what is the industry’s slowest season.
“We slipped (the release of) this game out and the reason is that you don’t ship a date, you ship a game. It just wasn’t the game we wanted to make,” Greenawalt said. “I can’t speak to the broader portfolio, but I think it’s a great game at suboptimal time.”
Owners of Nintendo Co. Ltd.’s Wii console have complained about a dearth of new titles, and they get a respite with “Mario Party 8”, a collection of multiplayer mini games that make use of the machine’s motion-sensitive controller.
“One game that will be a bigger hit than expected will be ‘Mario Party 8’, not because it’s a particularly good game but because everything for the Wii is doing well right now,” said Dan Hsu, editor-in-chief of gaming magazine EGM.
In mid-June, Nintendo will also offer “Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree”, a console version of its popular mind exercise series for its DS handheld.
“Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas”, the popular tactical shooter from French publisher Ubisoft storms onto Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 3 in mid-June.
But PS3 fans won’t get an exclusive title until the end of July with the debut of “Lair”, a gorgeous fantasy game in which players control flying, fire-breathing dragons. While not expected to drive sales of the PS3, “Lair” is an important addition to Sony’s stable of games until it rolls out more A-list titles for the holidays.
“The PlayStation 3 seems to have a lack of killer apps ... but games like ‘Lair’ are more like Sony saying we’re building a solid library,” Hsu said. ”You don’t want to be defined by just one game.”
In terms of overall sales, the PS3 is straggling behind the Xbox 360 and the surging Wii, but Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are all saving their best games for the end of the year, when the industry racks up half of its annual sales.
“Market share is not going to be decided this summer, it will happen this holiday season,” said Evan Wilson, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities. “It’s summertime, there are not a lot of hardware sales, and people are outside and not inside playing games.”