Yes it's that time again folks. The terminally unemployed are stuffed into Santa costumes and given a bell and a box for charity, housing estates around the country are transported into the upper echelons of bad taste (usually featuring light-up reindeer on the roof and plastic light up elves on the lawn) and I can delight in the comic wonder of Jim Carrey in The Grinch. Yes, it's Christmas time. It's around this time that journalists everywhere just can't be arsed to think of anything original so they look back bleary-eyed at the past year.
Don't look at me for original ideas – it was a statement not a criticism. Get ready for my rundown of the highs and lows of 2002 – you know you want to.
The year 2002 was definitely the clash of the titans. For the first time ever we saw a three-horse race that was actually worth betting on.
At the beginning of the year, PS2 was flying solo and making a steady ascent. Developers were getting to grips with the system and the line-up of software reflected their newfound confidence.
February came along and Metal Gear fever had hit biblical proportions. Snake rocked into town and Kojima showed us just what the PS2 was capable of"no whining involved.
Meanwhile, the incredible bulk of the gaming world, all green and angry (well green), planted its substantial footprint under the telly. Mr Gates brought us the Xbox and with that came the glory that is Halo. It was Halo this, Halo that, aren't Bungie great and let's play more Halo – and that was just me and my mates!
Although the Xbox got off to a slow start, it did have Halo and DOA3 to give it some appeal – ooh and did I mention that it had Halo. They jury was out and PS2 was soaring.
With no pomp, no circumstance and maybe just a mini fanfare came Nintendo's Gamecube. It wasn't until I played Pikmin that I took any notice of this little machine. As always with Nintendo, it was dogged by an absence of killer apps, but anticipation kept it in the running. That and a very loyal fanbase.
Back at the ranch, Sony had a massive head start and the must have titles were coming thick and fast.
Devil May Cry restored my faith in videogames. It was my salvation at a time when I despaired, yearning for a game that wasn't a sequel, hackneyed or just lame. Here was a game that was engaging and enjoyable. I played it all day and was rewarded by rapid progress through the game, as well as the most satisfying boss battles. Note I said "satisfying," not "frustrating."
Reeling with delight from Devil May Cry, my epiphany was fuelled further by the arrival of Rez.
Rez was like an homage to games past. It's like they knew that everyone was pining for the bygone era of gaming. Rez came and it was like, oh my God, this is the game I've been waiting to play all my life. It satisfied every gaming molecule a gamer has.
The pared down wire frame graphics created flashbacks to the 80s and the dance music that needed the player to create it just served to draw you in, unblinking. It was addictive, intuitive and just begged to be played for hours and hours"in fact, I think I'll dig it out later and play.
At this point, Sony could do no wrong and PS2 ruled. So what did they go and do? They went one better. They went to eleven. They brought us Ico.
There will never be another Ico. It's the most emotionally engaging, heart breaking gaming experience ever. It needs no sequel, even though you want one and it's the only game I could play through twice in as many weeks. If the world played Ico there would be no wars because we'd be too busy chasing white doves in our best efforts to be Yorda – aaahh.
Then Vice City hit the streets running and became the biggest selling game of all time, blowing MGS2's record out of the water. This truly was a fantastic year and it's not over yet.
From the highest of high points, lets talk about the low points of the year. Well there was ECTS of course, which managed to excel at being the dullest collection of stands in the world ever! It was like some sort of sad indoor market with no produce and no thronging masses bartering for their hearts desire. And no Sony party"boo!
Shadow of Zorro by Cryo was possibly one of the funniest low points of 2002. PS2 could pull a dud out of the bag after all. This was a lesson in how to take a great idea (swash buckling heroism complete with cape and roses for wooing senioritas) and completely cock it up. The only redeeming feature of this game was the physics on Zorro's cape (fantastic) and the fact that all the guards sounded like the remedial class's day out (fantastic for all the wrong reasons).
In the build up to Christmas things look pretty rosy from a consumer point of view. All three consoles are available at rock bottom prices and they all have games that every gamer should own. Splinter Cell is lined up for playing over the Christmas holiday season and even after that I've got DOA Beach Volleyball shenanigans to look forward to. Yep, it's been a good year alright and from where I'm sitting let the console war rage on because it's extremely good for business.
So have a merry Christmas folks and I look forward to spending 2003 with you all.