By putting the adrenaline back into video game racing, "Burnout 3: Takedown" was the racing game of 2004. But three new releases in late November and early December may steal "Burnout 3's" lead.
"Need for Speed Underground 2" (GameCube/PC/PlayStation 2/Xbox) and "Burnout 3: Takedown" (PlayStation 2/Xbox). For many aficionados of the genre, the race for best game of 2004 is between these two titles. A homage to the underground car tuner culture, "Need for Speed" packages a new free-roaming urban environment, the requisite hip soundtrack and a wide selection of "tweakable" imports. For pure "attitude," "Need for Speed Underground 2" takes the prize. "Burnout 3: Takedown" celebrates, umm, crazy driving. Crashing never looked so good. Rated "E" for Everyone. $49.99 each.
"ATV Offroad Fury 3" (PlayStation 2). ATVs -- even digital versions -- scream dumb fun. Avoid the lame tutorial and jump in and race through dozens of dirt tracks and off-road trails. Perform tricks. Customize your ATV. Scare squirrels. Yee-Haw! The multiplayer option adds longevity. Rated "E" for Everyone. $49.99.
NOT YET RELEASED: "Gran Turismo 4" (PlayStation 2). The grand dame of console street racing comes out with its fourth edition in December. Rated "E" for Everyone. $49.99.
Retro fun for the grumpy gamer
For the old-timers who say that "they don't make 'em like they used to," check out these retreads:
"Atari Anthology" (PlayStation 2/Xbox). Nothing spells decadence like using state of the art hardware to play games your typical clock radio could play. But what a lineup of classics from the golden age of arcade gaming: "Asteroids;" "Battlezone;" "Centipede;" "Crystal Castles;" and more. Rated "E" for Everyone. $19.99.
Classic NES Series. (Game Boy Advance) For the GameBoy Advance comes a slew of titles that originally appeared on the Nintendo NES platform. Go ahead and squint at the blocky graphics of games like "The Legend of Zelda," "Metroid" and "Castlevania." Rated "E" for Everyone. $19.99 each.
"Midway Arcade Treasures 2" (PlayStation 2/Xbox): "Mortal Kombat II," "Spy Hunter II," "NARC," "Rambage World Tour" and 15 other arcade games from Midway will have grizzled veterans remembering late college nights and developing unhealthy urges for pizza and beer. Rated "M" for Mature. $19.99.
Fantasy and Role-playing
It's been proven. Your typical fan of fantasy and role-playing games believed in Santa Claus until the age of 17. Help him or her ease off the shock of the Santa surprise with one of these titles.
"X-Men Legends" (GameCube/PC/PlayStation 2/Xbox): Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Storm and 20-more lycra wearing mutants are playable in this team-based comic book adventure. While the top-down perspective takes some getting used to, the ability to control up to four heroes and battle Magneto is worth it. There’s a nice comic book feel to the graphics as well. Rated "T" for Teen. $49.99.
"City of Heroes" (PC). The online role-playing game that allows you to star as a super hero (or super villain) has been out for a year or so, but it continues to draw raves from fans of the genre. Why? Who doesn't want to be super? Actually creating your own hero/villain complete with origin, powers and costume is a would-be Stan Lee's dream come true. Rated "T" for Teen. $39.99 plus subscription.
NOT YET RELEASED. "Sid Meier's Pirates" (PC). Sid Meier, creator of such games as "Civilization" and "Railroad Tycoon" returns with an update to his original "Pirates." Rated "E" for Everyone. $45.00.