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MĂ©lange of masterpieces

With 2009 falling behind, we look back with fondness at the decade that brought us Halo, Grand Theft Auto and the Guitar Hero/Rockband franchises.

With 2009 falling behind, we look back with fondness at the decade that brought us Halo, Grand Theft Auto and the Guitar Hero/Rockband franchises. But having seen some of the games that will be appearing in early 2010, gamers also look ahead with high hopes.

First up is Dante’s Inferno, hitting store shelves in February. Having recently read Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, dripping with frightening imagery and karmic retribution, a video game seems like a perfect fit. Having played the demo, it looks like the essential components from the poem are there: Virgil’s wise guidance, a love-conquers-all quest, and visuals that scream redemption. Though there is more grisly action compared to its literary compatriot, you can also choose whether to punish or redeem your enemies. I worry that, as the game progresses, less and less of the game will stay true to Dante’s masterpiece that has captured readers’ souls since the fourteenth century.

As with Inferno, the God of War games combine a noble quest with mythological undertones. However there is nothing divine or comedic about this game’s protagonist, Kratos, a savage vanquisher whose visceral brutality, cinematic finishing moves and uncompromising quest for vengeance made the first two God of War games blood-soaked, button-combo-mashing benchmarks to which other action games were — and still are — compared. With the release of God of War 3 in March, PS3 gamers everywhere are itching over the chance to take control of Kratos and his Blades of Athena, doling out vicious vengeance for the first time in HD.

Moving from mythology to sci-fi, Mass Effect, from Edmonton-based developer Bioware, was a cinematic experience unlike anything seen before or since. I still cite it as my most beloved Xbox game as it made a player feel like they were part of an entire galaxy. Mass Effect 2, hitting store shelves late January, promises to be bigger and faster. But will it fall victim to the curse that plagues many sequels, that of losing the heart of the original in its quest to appeal to a broader audience? It's definitely a concern for this gamer, but we’ll know soon enough.

Where Mass Effect defined video games as a visual experience, Bioshock defined them as an art form. The at-first sleeper hit of 2007 soon became such a sensation that it arrived for the PC and PS3 the following year. The original’s foreboding mood, rich artistic style and morality-laden story will certainly be a part of Bioshock 2. Trailers reveal that with plot twists and new abilities added to the game play, plus being able to suit up as a Big Daddy, this sequel will be a must-play when it makes its cross-platform appearance in February.

Now I know I generally stick to console titles, but 2010 will be a monumental year for the casual PC gamer in me. This year will be thrilling beyond words with the releases of Starcraft 2 and, hopefully, Diablo 3. In the meantime, the plethora of killer games coming out in the next few months will certainly keep me one happy pappy.

Rounding out early 2010 is Xbox 360’s own big daddy of stealth shooters. Yes, it’s none other than Sam Fischer, Xbox's answer to PlayStations' Solid Snake in the virtual world of stealth espionage. Those of us who remember his first steps back in 2002, proud as we were, know that he has also flown us higher into intrigue than previously thought possible. Now, with the February release of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction, many a gamer-turned-Fischer-fan will once again don the trademark night-vision to see what Sam has to offer this new decade. A number of new features will be added which, combined with the multiplayer and co-op modes, will allow the greatest tactical element ever seen in the franchise’s history.

When he’s not teaching junior high, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.