STARCRAFT II: WINGS OF LIBERTY
Publisher: Activision Blizzard
After a 12-year wait, the epically popular Starcraft franchise returned in July to massive critical and public acclaim. Selling 1.5 million copies in its first two days of release, the title has taken the throne as the fastest-selling strategy title ever made.
Starcraft II is your classic real time strategy jaunt, though polished and balanced to create an incredibly slick, fast-paced experience. Online, it's already become one of the most popular competitive gaming battlefields, with thousands of players hooked before the official launch, thanks to the open beta version.
Players take control of either the human Terran faction, the insectoid Zerg, or the mystic Protoss, and wage war with a large array of sci-fi themed vehicles and troops. As well as the online gameplay – facilitated by Blizzard’s updated BattleNet platform – the single player game offers a continuation of the events featured in the first game. Seen from the Terran perspective, future add-ons are expected to continue the story from the other two races.
The game is the best performing PC title of 2010, and will most likely go down as one of the legends of the gaming industry.
NAPOLEON: TOTAL WAR
Napoleon is an add-on to Empire: Total War – Creative Assembly’s latest strategy bonanza which began with Shogun: Total War in 2000. In this outing, players are put into the shoes of France's most studied military leader, as he rampages across Europe starting wars with anything that has a flag.
The gameplay is split into turn-based empire building and real time battles. In the campaign map, armies are moved about the board, research is conducted for new weapons, and diplomacy with other nations can be initiated.
The real attraction of the title though is the huge scaled real time combat missions, which represent some of the best looking moments in strategy gaming. Lines of musket men being smashed in half by cavalry charges has never looked so good – and online the carnage can be played on a massive scale with eight players commanding their own armies.
Napoleon is still flying high in the PC gaming charts, and is currently one of the foremost standard bearers for what the PC gaming platform can do above all others.
Publisher: 2K Games
The granddaddy of the strategy genre, few have been able to hold a flame to Civilization’s various incarnations since MicroProse’s original went on sale in 1991. The series has never even tried to delve into more modern real time gameplays, sticking stringently to the turn-based formula that has made it one of the best loved gaming series ever.
The scope of the game is about as wide as it gets – players start off commanding a settler unit around the year 4000BC, and are tasked with founding a city and then a civilisation that eventually dominates the world.
The latest, Civilization 5 will be released at the end of the month. Rather than re-writing the gameplay that has worked so well for so long, the latest will represent more of an evolution – gaming tweaks designed to perfect what is already there, as well as more significant graphical updates.
In this area in particular, Civilization 5 looks great, and has all the signs of being just as much the high-brow romp that previous games have proved to be.
THE SIMS 3
Probably the game most commonly associated with taking what is essentially an RPG – one of the most hardcore and geeky genres – into a massive mainstream audience, The Sims has a legacy presence on the gaming charts other franchises can only dream of.
Players take over an avatar and control it as it goes about its daily business. That daily business varies hugely, and is compounded with the wealth of add-on packs EA's development team churns out quite regularly. Players can try their hand at fire-fighting, cat burgling and much more.
The entire series has been a massive boon to EA's PC division, and updates with the latest content, such as open world interaction, personaliseable sim-builder, and ‘create a world’ editing tools – all of which have helped it stay fresh. A casual gaming success story.
BATTLEFIELD: BAD COMPANY 2
For those who feel constricted by what can sometimes seem like linear shooters, the Battlefield games attempt to offer players more freedom when attempting to blow up everything in sight.
Hailed for its stunning desert, tundra and jungle terrains, Bad Company 2’s biggest USP remains this level of freedom of interpretation to missions. Players can circumnavigate or destroy terrain, buildings and other environmental objects so as to accomplish the mission in a different way with each play.
The game’s copious access to various gun-strapped vehicles has also helped it stand out from the crowd in the shooter stakes.
One of the jewels in EA's hardcore gaming crown, this remains one of the best-selling titles since its launch in March this year, and will most likely wear that crown for some time to come.
WORLD OF WARCRAFT
Publisher: Activision Blizzard
If The Sims brought RPG genre to the masses by toning down the gaming stereotypes, World of Warcraft did the direct opposite, sticking vehemently to its classic roots of goblins, orks and magic men with beards.
The game is explosively successful, practically created the MMORPG genre, and redefined how the industry thinks about multiplayer gaming. The fundamental gameplay is quite basic on the surface. Players take on one of many Tolkien-esque character classes – wizards, elves, minatours, or simply scary looking blokes in heavy armour – and embark on a series of quests, either solo or with others online, in order to level up their character.
The application of this simple formula has proved immensely popular – and there probably hasn’t been a game in history that has sold so well so many years after its initial release (way back in 2004) – though regular updates have kept it fresh for fans.
FOOTBALL MANAGER 2010/2011
SRP: £19.99 (2010), £39.99 (2011)
This game’s addictive nature has been blamed for more broken relationships and productivity dives than even the Civilization series.
Quite simply, this is the culmination of the pub discussion where football fans lay out exactly what they would do were they in charge of their team. Its initial appeal to football fans is obvious, but it’s the level of detail, realism and updatable player and team data that has earned it such loyalty.
The current 2010 version will soon be usurped by the 2011 successor, which promises advances in contract negotiations, a re-vamped training system, improved interaction, a news subscription service, and something called 'dynamic league reputation'.
This is surely one of the stable franchises of PC gaming, taking into account its Championship Manager heritage, which will most likely continue for many years to come yet.
AVANQUEST CLICK AND PLAY CASUAL RANGE
Distributors: CentreSoft, Gem, Ideal Software, Interactive Ideas
As well as triple A titles, those thinking about stocking games may consider cheaper budget range titles, which represent something more of an impulse purchase.
Avanquest’s value for money click and play casual range includes a number of puzzle based-titles. Help Find The Crown Jewels sends players around the world to search for various hidden gems, driven by a number of mini-games. Hidden Mysteries – The White House and Hidden Mysteries – Buckingham Palace have a slight educational twist embedded within many of the mini-games.
These types of games tend to offer more longevity than the typical big-budget, full priced games, and can be an easier and often cheaper way of experimenting with video game sales.