Best first quarter for video games EVER?

No matter your platform there’s something killer on the way (well, except maybe Wii), and we’ve rounded ‘em up just to celebrate the fact that, for once, it looks like the games industry held onto some of its big guns instead of blowing their load in Octovember. Well played, Games Industry – now keep it up!

January’s half over, and other than Skate2 filling the gap left from a no-show Tony Hawk, the first month of the year is predictably dry. In a matter of weeks though, get the hell ready, starting with:

Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection
360 | PS3 | February 10

Normally we would not reward such brazen re-shilling of old products. Sega in particular loves to trot the original Sonic games out on compilation discs every time the rent is due, but just this once we have to relent. Forty of the best games from Sega’s most popular console for $30 is a great deal, even if we’ve already bought a few on XBLA.

Above: So ‘90s it hurts

Not so much an amazing or killer game as it is as smart buy for fans who’ve been holding out on all these retro collections. Kid Chameleon, Beyond Oasis, all three Genesis Phantasy Stars and three excellent Shining games? Plus a crapload of other good stuff? Trust us, this is the only Sega compilation you’ll ever need and is wholly deserving of the “ultimate” descriptor. Here’s hoping they’re all emulated properly…

Street Fighter IV
360 | PS3 | February 17

One of the most anticipated sequels to the biggest fighting franchise in the world, SFIV could have been Capcom’s holiday tent pole game and, given the energized base and positive word of mouth, would have done brisk business. Instead Capcom’s held onto it and saved it for one of the quietest months of the year, ensuring the highest degree of attention when it arrives.

We’ve spent a lot of time perfecting combos and swooning over thelittle details, and our sister publications OXM and PlayStation: The Official Magazine, whose reviews are just about to appear, are on the exact same page as us – this is going to flat-out rock.

GTA IV: The Lost and Damned
360 | February 17

Promised to us last year, the first batch 360-exclusive GTA DLC is now landing the exact same day as the aforementioned Street Fighter IV, creating what has to be the first February gaming face-off in history. As usual all the major details are in Rockstar’s underground vault, under constant guard by towering golems protected by the most powerful spells known to man and wizard alike.

Even without, well, any information, we assume this can’t magically play like crap given how complete GTA IV turned out, so as long as the storyline is decent and the biker-drenched missions aren’t rehashed Niko errands, we’ll be happy.

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
PC | February 23

Like every other RTS fan on the planet, we’ve been looking forward to StarCraft II. But over the past 10 years, it’s been Relic Entertainment (not Blizzard) who’s been feeding our sci-fi RTS fix with the excellent Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War series.

Unlike StarCraft II, Dawn of War II looks ready to slay some of the genre’s most sacred cows. Base building, resource gathering, and legions of cannon fodder units you don’t care about will be all but absent in the exciting new single-player campaign. In their place: shorter missions, the active cover mechanics we loved in Company of Heroes, and an elite set of squads, and a loot system that gives the campaign a nice Diablo-ish feel.

Relic’s also upping the ante in their multiplayer matches by moving the focus away from the traditional 1 vs 1 matches to their 3 vs 3 co-op games. With specialized commander units and the option to focus on building up your commander, mass producing troops, or a combination of both, Dawn of War II’s multiplayer looks like it’s shaping up to become the RTS equivalent of Team Fortress 2.

With elements borrowed from dungeon crawlers like Diablo and co-op games that got it right like Team Fortress 2, Dawn of War II sounds like a recipe for success. RTS fans will likely be in for a real treat when the game launches this February.

The Sims 3
PC | February 20

Building a virtual life, complete with virtual family, friends, enemies, lovers, pets, neighbors, homes, workplaces and hangouts, can take some time. Since The Sims 3 promises to be more detailed and customizable than ever, we may need to set aside a few months. Choose from over 60 personality traits! Seamlessly explore the entire town with no loading! Adjust your avatar’s body, hairstyle and clothing to an infinite degree! Give your dog a one-of-a-kind birthmark!

Okay, we may have made that last one up, but nevertheless, we appreciate EA giving us the head start. When the 2009 holiday onslaught arrives, our little computer people will already be great-great-great-great-great grandparents and we’ll already be enjoying the game’s first, second or fifteenth inevitable expansion pack.

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix
360 | PC | DS

Anyone who came within 50 paces of 2007’s surprise hit Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords instantly fell under its hypnotic siren song. The soothing music and satisfying clacks of colored orbs colliding hooked us once on DS and PSP, then again on XBLA. Honestly we’re a little worried about our already scarce free time, as Galactrix strips away the tired high-fantasy setting for a gravity defying, laser blasting space opera we fear we won’t be able to resist.

As with the original Quest, the fun comes from the most basic premise – match colored things with like-colored things, only now there’s a point. Blue orbs (well, hexes now) charge your ship’s shields, red affect weapons, green are attributed to the ship’s computer and so on.

No, it’s not going to sell a billion copies or unseat Call of Duty 4 on Xbox Live, but the memories of Puzzle Quest’s silent conquering of DS play time are too powerful to ignore.

Killzone 2
PS3 | February 27

We can’t prove this, but some at GR suspect Sony intentionally pushed Resistance 2 out the door to die against the unstoppable might of Gears of War 2, and saved Killzone 2 for the less hostile month of February. This hunch is backed up by the inter-office buzz about Killzone (from GamesRadar and PlayStation: The Official Magazine), that after a few hours of play it’s already a superior single-player experience to Resistance.

Killzone 2 has been the PlayStation 3 game for nearly four years now. First shown at E3 2005, itstrailersparked controversy after controversy (Real time? Target renders? Coming out at all?) and eventually became an internet meme (how many avatars did you see?). Expectations are understandably high, but that same hunch we spoke of earlier tells us this is finally going to be the exclusive shooter PS3 has desperately needed for years.

Halo Wars
360 | February 28

While the title may be the single least inspired game name of all time, that boring-ass moniker makes it immediately desirable to the general gaming public. We’re sure we weren’t the only ones who saw this and thought “hm, there’s Microsoft’s big holiday game for next year.” Now that honor belongs toHalo 3: ODST, and Halo Wars is a major mover in the first months of 2009. We strangely haven’t heard much about it (save for its recent bump from March to February) though our pals at OXM said in their cover story that it definitely feels like Halo, which is comforting to hear.

CanHalo maniastrike in the chilly, windy weeks of March? Will super-mainstream Halo players happily lap up a slower-paced RTS just because it says “Halo” on the box? Big questions in need of answers, but for once we’ll get those answers in wintry isolation, as opposed to sandwiched among 15 other top-tier titles in the fall.

Brett Elston

A fomer Executive Editor at GamesRadar, Brett also contributed content to many other Future gaming publications including Nintendo Power, PC Gamer and Official Xbox Magazine. Brett has worked at Capcom in several senior roles, is an experienced podcaster, and now works as a Senior Manager of Content Communications at PlayStation SIE.