In the annals of videogame history, this is the year before theyear before the year. In 2005, you will be having your rods andcones incapacitated by the output of your PlayStation 3 and Xbox 2.In 2004, you will be having your neurons fried by the final wave ofgroundbreaking titles designed for your soon-to-be-obsolete 128-bitmachines. This year, you'll be turning your crank. Okay, sothe situation isn't really that dire. It's true thatseveral of the games we so eagerly hoped would get us through thedoldrums of 2003 have been postponed until at least the next SummerOlympics. But that's no reason to put down your controllerand step into the cold, uncaring daylight. If you're lookingto do battle with aliens, vampires, Nazis, or alien vampire Nazis,you'll still be able to -- in some of the most excitingtitles ever burned onto a disc. Introducing the 30 hottest newgames of 2003, ranked according to the only methodology thatmatters: how excited we are to get our hands on 'em.
30 MTV's CELEBRITY DEATHMATCH
(Gotham Games -- GC, PC, PS2, Xbox) Wondering whatever became of Carrot Top or Anna Nicole Smith -- or Celebrity Deathmatch,for that matter? They're back in this claymation-style fighting game inwhich 25 pop-culture icons (including Marilyn Manson and the 'N Syncboys) slap one another with far more than restraining orders. We canhardly wait for the E! True Hollywood Story game.
29 MARIO KART: DOUBLE DASH!!
(Nintendo -- GC) The portly plumber indulges his appetite...for vehicular homicide! Pair up signature Nintendo characters(including Donkey Kong and a guy made of mushrooms) and race themaround psychedelic surroundings. As many as eight online players canblast one another with colorful power-ups (and off-color language)while reducing the company's beloved
28 DEAD MAN'S HAND
(Atari -- Xbox) While you wait another four to five months (at least) for Halo 2,try channeling your frustration into this Xbox-exclusive shooter.Donning the boots of angry gunslinger El Tejon, you'll prowl the WildWest in pursuit of the gang that left you for buzzard bait. Dead Man's Hand truly soars in online multiplayer mode, where you play capture the flag with Bowie knives, Gatling guns, and cannons. Yee-haw!
27 STARSKY & HUTCH
(Gotham Games -- PC, PS2, Xbox) Because the rights to Columbowere apparently too expensive, the bell-bottomed detective duo comes toconsoles in this driving/shooting hybrid. Fight crime in the era ofdisco, with plenty of help from your shmoove sidekick Huggy Bear and anifty two-person interface (one player operates the wheel, the otherpulls the trigger). But first, feather your hair, honky.
26 AMERICAN IDOL
(Codemasters -- PC, PS2) You're spared the sight of ClayAiken in this home version of the popular TV series, but judges SimonCowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson are all over it. Mercifully,there's no singing involved -- you work your way up the ranks bytapping buttons in time to the music. Rest assured that if you suck,Cowell will still let you know it.
25 GRADIUS V
(Konami -- PS2) Another blaster from the past is broughtback to blow your freakin' mind. Pilot the Vic Viper spacecraft againstalien armadas, blah, blah, blah. What's really important here is Gradius'super-tight gameplay, ridiculous graphics, and arsenal of futuristicweapons. Lasers! Volcanoes! Eyeballs the size of planets!
24 BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
(Vivendi Universal -- PS2, Xbox) Though you probably weren't alive to appreciate this '70s Star Wars wannabe, Galacticahas aged better than you have in this 21st-century makeover. The evilCylons are now gleaming and sinister, and outer-space explosions looklike they cost more than $2 to create. Bonus: Original Battle stars Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch return from the ether to help you vanquish villainy.
23 WWE SMACKDOWN! HERE COMES THE PAIN
(THQ -- PS2) Lie, cheat, steal, and occasionally wrestleyour way to victory through scripted story lines and rigged matches,including the brutal Elimination Chamber and ever-popular Bra &Panty match. Choose your grappler from a roster of more than 50superstars, including Tourette's-afflicted glamour-puss Goldust,jacked-up Eminem wannabe John Cena, and old-school un-PC legend theIron Sheik.
22 VIEWTIFUL JOE
(Capcom -- GC) Punkish film buff Joe gets himself suckedinto the movies and is forced to fight baddies to the death, warpingtime and pulling out wicked combos in cel-shaded style. As the barelyintelligible title implies, this one's a direct translation of an Asianhit -- it's gorgeous to look at but leaves you wondering: Do theJapanese experience reality differently than we do?
21 JAK II
(Sony -- PS2) A once-cutesy platform game turns downright sinister in this sequel to 2001's hit Jak and Daxter.Our hero, Jak, has been subjected to all sorts of scientificexperiments since the last episode, and his revenge on his captorsain't gonna be pretty. But at least his weasel-like sidekick, Daxter,is still voiced by Max Casella (a.k.a. Doogie Howser's Vinnie Delpino). Bloody good fun.
20 SOCOM II: U.S. NAVY SEALS
(Sony -- PS2) Now boasting more abbreviations than any othergame in its class, this sequel to last year's militaristic hitcontinues the exploits of the members of the elite Special OperationsCommand as they kick butt in mission-based action and onlinemultiplayer campaigns, where up to 16 SEALs can gleefully frag oneanother. Fun for the whole family -- even if your family's as big asthe Waltons.
(Ubi Soft -- GC, PC, PS2, Xbox) Back and to the left. Back and to the left. Like Kevin Costner in JFK,your job in this first-person shooter is to figure out who killed ourpresident -- only in this conspiracy-riddled game, with cel-shadedvisuals straight out of a graphic novel, it just might have been you.David Duchovny voices your weapons-savvy amnesiac, so we're pretty surethe truth is out there.
18 KARAOKE REVOLUTION
(Konami -- PS2) From the people who taught a generation to get down with Dance Dance Revolution:While you're singing into a headset, the game actually rates howaccurately you're warbling Mr. Mister's "Broken Wings" or Huey Lewis'"The Power of Love," eliminating all potential for public embarrassmentand making this one of three activities in life that's more fun to doalone than with other people.
17 BEYOND GOOD & EVIL
(Ubi Soft -- PC, GC, PS2, Xbox) What this imaginative adventure has to do with Friedrich Nietzsche's treatise on morality we're not sure. But even the ubermenschwould appreciate this tale of a futuristic reporter and her porkyassistant, who solve puzzles and snap photos while struggling to save aplanet in the midst of an alien invasion. More action than all fourvolumes of Thus Spake Zarathustra.
(Electronic Arts -- GC, PS2, Xbox) Like a young Bret EastonEllis, you'll hit the powder hard in this snowboarding simulation.Airdogs, grommets, and huckers can test out their gear (and lingo) on amountain environment teeming with hidden collectibles and trippy,psychedelic backdrops (not counting whatever you see when youaccidentally slam into an errant evergreen).
15 JAMES BOND 007: EVERYTHING OR NOTHING
(Electronic Arts -- GC, PS2, Xbox) This original James Bondadventure is intent on providing the "everything" promised in itstitle, with a character modeled on current 007 Pierce Brosnan, anall-new Bond girl played by American Pie's Shannon Elizabeth,and a theme song from R&B chanteuse Mya. Plus, ?if you ask nicely,maybe George Lazenby will come over to your house and play it with you.
14 METAL GEAR SOLID: THE TWIN SNAKES
(Konami -- GC) Screw P. Diddy -- Konami is reinventing the remix with a GameCube-enhanced version of the original Metal Gear Solid.Much-improved graphics and sound -- plus hero Solid Snake's ability tohang from ledges -- have been added to the classic stealth adventurethat's sure to keep purists happy and series creator Hideo Kojimadistracted from finishing the long-long-long-awaited Metal Gear Solid 3.
13 CALL OF DUTY
(Activision -- PC) Hearkening back to the golden age of war, when the U.S. was always the good guy and we always won, Call of Dutyis an ambitious first-person shooter with 24 WWII-themed missions. Earnyour stripes first as an American paratrooper, then as a BritishSpecial Forces operative, then as a Russian tank commander, and finallyas the star of your own Spielberg movie.
12 TRUE CRIME: STREETS OF L.A.
(Activision -- GC, PS2, Xbox) If you thought Vice City was atough town, take a ride through Los Angeles, whose freeways and bywaysare re-created in this driving/fighting action epic featuring a rogueex-cop dispensing justice to the Russian and Chinese mobs. The voicesof Gary Oldman and Christopher Walken, plus beats from Ice Cube andSnoop Dogg, provide further layers of simulated Grit(tm).
11 FINAL FANTASY X-2
(Square Enix U.S.A. -- PS2) This continuation of the Final Fantasy X story line features a scantily clad female cast searching for the ultimate spring-break bash! Oh, wait -- that's our final fantasy. FFX-2finds heroine Yuna in search of her true love, Tidus, while saving theworld along the way. More of the fine RPG-ery you've come to expect.
10 DRAGON BALL Z: BUDOKAI 2
(Atari -- PS2) More cel-shaded mayhem pits 29 of the Dragon Ball Zanime characters against an evil fighter with the intimidating name ofBuu. If playing a spiky-coiffed martial artist in a dress doesn't do itfor you, try playing God, by fusing two characters together to form anall-new combatant with even more preposterous powers and hairstyles.
9 PROJECT GOTHAM RACING 2
(Microsoft -- Xbox) One of the Xbox's best launch titlesgets a fuel injection. Stylish maneuvers are still gratingly rewardedwith "kudos" points, but the game gets kudos of its own for its onlinecapability, the full-throttle speed camera, and a trunkload of newcourses, including Edinburgh, Florence, and Washington, D.C. Wave hi tothe vice president, if you can find him!
8 STAR WARS ROGUE SQUADRON III: REBEL STRIKE
(LucasArts -- GC) It's been approximately 3.7 milliseconds since the last Star Wars game was released, but this one was worth the wait. Rebel Strikelets you combat the Empire in all new ways: Battle the monstrous AT-ATson foot, take to the back of your tauntaun, or pilot a speeder bikethrough the forests of Endor and make the Ewoks eat your dust.
7 PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME
(Ubi Soft -- GC, PC, PS2, Xbox) Dust off your genie pants asyou leap, swing, and swashbuckle your way through this radicallyreworked update of the old Apple IIe keyboard buster. The Sands grantyou power to manipulate the clock to your liking. Fall in a pit ofspikes? Rewind time and try again. Too many sand creatures? Speedyourself up and run like the wind.
6 FINAL FANTASY XI
(Square Enix U.S.A. -- PC, PS2) For the first time ever, PCand PlayStation 2 owners can mingle -- and mangle -- together in amassive online realm. The latest entry in the long-runningrole-?playing franchise lets you create characters and battle monstersin a fantasy world that's open 24/7. Colossal time commitment (andmonthly subscription fee) required, catheter optional.
5 CASTLEVANIA: LAMENT OF INNOCENCE
(Konami -- PS2) Like Count Dracula himself, you just can't keep the 17-year-old Castlevania franchise down. From the same team that developed the PS1 classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Lament of Innocencetraces the roots of the heroic Belmont clan's holy war against thevampire and his bloodthirsty minions, finally bringing the series'whips and chains into the respectable world of 3-D.
4 THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING
(Electronic Arts -- GC, PC, PS2, Xbox) Can't hold out one more month for the last Lord of the Ringsmovie? Satisfy your hobbit jones with this brawler based on theupcoming blockbuster. Inhabit one of nine characters (including abadass-looking Gandalf) as you fight from Minas Tirith to the BlackGate and have the film experience absolutely ruined for you.
3 HALF-LIFE 2
(Vivendi Universal -- PC) It ain't easy being bespectaclednerd Gordon Freeman, the scientist who accidentally unleashed alienmayhem in the seminal 1998 shooter Half-Life and tried -- invain -- to save Earth. Oops, he's done it again in theyears-in-development sequel, which boasts even ookier creatures andmore photorealistic graphics ("photorealistic" being a speculative termwhen dealing with space aliens).
(Rockstar Games -- PS2) The Grand Theft Auto geniusessneak themselves into the action-stealth genre with this twisted,darkly humorous, and utterly violent story about a convicted death-rowinmate who becomes the moving target in a wealthy madman's goon hunt.In the game you have the option of hiding, fighting, or fleeing, but inreality, the only choice is to mess your pants -- it's that scary.
1 TONY HAWK'S UNDERGROUND
(Activision -- GC, PS2, Xbox) The great-granddaddy ofskateboarding sims -- not to mention skateboarders -- finds a way toreinvent the wheel yet again. Create your own skater and customize himwith unique tricks and a scan of your face; then set him loose in anincreasingly challenging series of street and skate-park scenarios.Repeat until famous and swimming in a pile of videogame endorsementmoney.