Video game companies always release their marquee titles just as the holiday shopping frenzy starts humming.
It's nothing personal, just business: analysts say December alone accounts for more than 50 percent of the industry's annual revenue.
As usual, big-name sequels are attracting the most attention. And this year, many of the remakes are better than the originals.
Standouts in that department include a pipewrench-wielding scientist's continuing war with head crab aliens and a chance for mild-mannered gamers to reprise as car-hijacking ruffians.
The rise of the sequels began in August with "Doom 3." With its blend of horror and science fiction, you'll either be scared out of your seat or bored out of your mind as you spend hours destroying unrelenting demonic swarms in this $50 personal computer game.
"The Sims 2" debuted soon after, letting you control virtual human pets from birth until death on the PC. The series recently got another facelift with "The Urbz: Sims in the City," giving your Simoleans a taste of urban life on the GameCube, PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox.
Fans' zeal for inner-city chaos was satiated last month with the $50 PS2 gang saga "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" giving players an entire state to pilfer and explore.
Last week, we had the continuing tales of super soldier Master Chief in "Halo 2," a $50 Xbox exclusive which posted record first-day sales.
Next up on the list of high profile games is the first person shooter "Half-Life 2." This upcoming PC game promises innovative graphics, a physics system that mimics the real world and a plot involving tough-guy (wrench-wielding) scientist Gordon Freeman and his continuing struggle against alien insurgents from another dimension.
The massively multiplayer online games market gets a bit more crowded with "EverQuest II" by Sony Online Entertainment, and Blizzard Entertainment's coming "World of WarCraft."
The $50 sequel to the original "EverQuest" has revamped graphics and even more dungeons and dragons to explore with other fantasy players.
"World of WarCraft," also $50, is Blizzard's first foray into the massively multiplayer genre and includes many of the same characters and environs from the company's very successful real-time strategy games.
There seem to be more sci-fi games then there are stars in the universe, but for GameCube owners one obvious choice is the $50 "Metroid Prime 2: Echoes." This time, cyber heroine Samus Aran has to fight her way through a planet split into worlds of light and dark.
A $30 expansion pack to the online game "Star Wars Galaxies" finally lets players venture into space and pilot X-Wing fighters. But "Jump to Lightspeed" seems like an odd name - I thought it was hyperspace that Han Solo and crew were always jumping to.
Those already pining for the theatrical release of "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" will probably find some relief in the $50 Xbox role-playing game "Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords," which takes players to a time even longer ago than what's presented in the films.
Sports junkies have more choices than ever, with just about every athletic endeavor represented.
On the football field, it's a tossup between "Madden NFL 2005" and "ESPN NFL 2K5." ESPN's lower $20 price is a big advantage. Racing fans may zip through "Gran Turismo 4," which touts hundreds of customizable cars, but forfeits the online play many had been anticipating.
And the "tuner" crowd of automotive upgraders will want to take a spin with "Need for Speed Underground 2," where players can burn rubber along more than 125 miles of road.
If you'd rather spend the holidays without snow, Konami is poised to release "Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater" for the PS2 for $50. Set during the Cold War, you'll guide action hero Snake with his usual bag of stealthy tricks through a dense jungle.
It's not all software, with the $150 Nintendo DS handheld trying to show consumers that two screens are better than one. We'll have to wait until next year to see how it stacks up to rival Sony Corp.'s upcoming PlayStation Portable.
Yearning for the simpler days of video games, when joysticks were limited to a single button? Atari's Flashback console combines "Breakout," "Asteroids" and 18 other games from the old 2600 and 7800 machines into a sleek $40 box.
If you've watched "Decisive Battles" on The History Channel, you may want to consider "Rome: Total War." The PC game uses the very same detailed graphics to portray stunning re-enactments of massive Roman battles.
"Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War" brings a popular fantasy board game from Europe to the computer screen in a fun real-time strategy game.
It's not all gore, war, Madden, dragons and car theft:
For kids, Hollywood has a series of movie spinoff games including "Shark Tale," "Shrek 2," "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Movie" and "The Incredibles."
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