This time last year, the release schedules had been quiet for months and there was the prospect of nothing worthwhile surfacing until the autumn. By the time September arrived, even a Star Wars prequel game seemed like reason to rejoice.
Then the deluge hit.
I still haven't worked my way through all the decent games which were released in the space of a fortnight at the end of October. Since then, though, there's been a steady stream of quality titles and it appears that the usual summer lull may only last weeks rather than months. This generation of consoles is now established, developers have got a handle on them and a whole load of projects are approaching fruition - suddenly there's room to pick and choose.
Make the most of it. Another eighteen months and publishers will be jumping on the motion-sensing bandwagon of Microsoft's Natal camera, Sony's magic wand and Nintendo's inevitable HD Wii. There will be nothing to play but tennis games. Consider starting through Fallout 3 again to help eek out this glut of interactive goodness until 2014. (Not to mention the fact that, with all this competition, prices are bound to tumble, and waiting a few months to pick up the latest releases will save a big bundle of cash.) In the meantime, here's a mixed bag of older offerings to keep you going:
Tomb Raider Underworld (12) - Xbox 360 - If you've never played Tomb Raider before, go play Anniversary now. If you've played a couple of Tomb Raiders before, however, you probably know what to expect.
Yep, that's right - more of the same.
The plot, which builds on both Legend and Anniversary, is less than gripping but most of the locations are suitably epic and the emphasis is firmly on exploration and not combat. It's still not quite as good as the first one but it's getting there. 4/5.
Prince of Persia (12+) - Xbox 360 - POP: Sands of Time is one of the stand-out games on PS2, featuring a superb blend of acrobatics and sword-fighting in an atmospheric Middle Eastern setting. Every POP game since has messed with the formula and broken it in a slightly different way.
This reboot of the series is presented as an open world to explore but it's more an interlaced selection of linear routes. Getting from A to B is normally a case of pointing the prince in the right direction and then watching him go as you press a sequence of buttons with the correct timing. Almost all need to think has been removed. The game feels like an enormous interactive cutscene.
On top of that, the fights are repetitive tests of endurance and the experience is padded out by forcing most areas to be done twice. It still looks great and has plenty of charm but feels like a shadow of what could have been. 3/5.
Uncharted (15) - PS3 - The first level of Uncharted wants to be Tomb Raider, complete with jumping, climbing and puzzle-solving. Slowly, however, the platforming decreases and the number of bad guys with guns ramps up. Before long, it's all about hiding behind cover and pointing a shotgun at anything which moves. By the end, it involves creeping around in the dark shooting zombie Nazis. (Really.)
Despite some lack-lustre level design, the result isn't bad. It's just unexpectedly much more Gears of War than Lara Croft. 3/5.
Farcry 2 (18) - Xbox 360 - This is an admirable attempt to do something new with the first-person shooter genre. You're a mercenary in a war-torn corner of Africa and your brief is simply to assassinate a particularly loathsome arms dealer. How to do it is up to you. You must win friends, earn cash and explore the landscape, taking work where you can find it. The freedom is both liberating and disorienting.
Sadly, the game ends up with neither focus nor breadth of gameplay. It remains almost entirely about shooting people - there's merely lots of driving round in a jeep in between. 3/5.
Fable 2 (15) - Xbox 360 - Fable was, to my mind, the most over-rated game on the original Xbox. Billed as an expansive RPG packed with moral choices, it turned out to be a hugely confined mess where changing outfit could turn you from very good to fairly evil. The story was clichéd, the load times were enormous, the combat was unbalanced and almost everything was broken. Having chickenpox at the time I played it may have coloured my feelings but it's hard to argue that it wasn't hugely flawed.
Thankfully, the sequel does a great job of fixing things. Combat and exploration have been greatly improved, allowing some leeway to ignore the stuff which is still lacking, like the gimmicky communication system, the tavern games and some of the side quests. If you like role-playing games, there's plenty to enjoy. 4/5.
LittleBIG Planet (7+) - PS3 - I really can't see what the fuss is about this one. It's a very short 2D platformer that's frequently frustrating. Sure it looks good and there are lots of user-made levels but who cares how many levels you can download when the basic game isn't that interesting? 2/5.
Ratchet & Clank: Future Tools of Destruction (7+) - PS3 - R&C 2 on PS2 was the best in the series. It was a great blend of platforming, shooting and racing. Unfortunately, that made it too similar to Jak 2 which came out at roughly the same time. Over the course of various sequels, Sony has made the Jak and Daxter games all about the racing while Ratchet & Clank has concentrated on shooting robots and aliens with increasingly more-outlandish weaponry.
R&C:FTOD feels like an HD remake of the last couple of PS2 games with added space pirates. Or maybe there were space pirates in the previous games. I can't remember. They've all blended together. It's still fun but I miss the variety of the earlier games. 4/5.
Right, now I'm off to hide in a bunker for a few months. I expect to emerge just after Christmas to find the world buried under copies of Wii Sports Resort, Modern Warfare 2 and a thousand DS pet simulators...