Once a week I've provided a Stock Report to give you a sense of which games are streaming into the MTV News offices in New York and how companies are trying to grab our attention. The games arrive at my desk throughout the day, throughout the week, hand-delivered by our men in the mailroom. What I receive and am tallying below are the final store-ready copies of games. If I got it, your local gaming store probably got it this week too. I just don't think the game stores get the swag. That's fair. I don't get the giant cardboard stand-ups of Pikachu and Bayou Billy.
The Stock Report:
Number of games at MTV HQ: 302
Last three games to arrive: "Pokémon Diamond" (Nintendo DS); "Pokémon Pearl" (Nintendo DS); "Halo 2" (PC)
Last system to arrive: PS3
Last swag to arrive: A 10.5-ounce bag of Kraft Jet-Puffed marshmallows ("a fat free food") and a plastic marshmallow-shooting toy gun, a somewhat ill-timed pair of promotional items sent early this week to hype the upcoming Xbox 360 game "Monster Madness." This box of swag did not include the game.
Notes on the game we received this week:
"Halo 2" (PC)
» It happened sooner than expected. It is just week three of the new, expanded Multiplayer Stock Report, and only one new game sits in the mailbox of the MTV News offices. There's a drought going on.
» The season of big games is nearly over. Like pre-spring daffodils, the annual August arrival of "Madden" teases the beginning of big-game season. Septembers bring the first full crop of titles, followed by three months of major games for the holidays, then some slightly late big games that slip to January. A fallow patch plagues most Februarys followed by a commonly ripe March that sees big games released to help cap off many of the big companies' fiscal years (Nintendo and Sony for example). Then things slow down from April to July — hence the lack of new games in the office this week.
» But isn't "Halo 2" a 2004 game? On the Xbox it was. But it also goes in this week's Stock Report because only now is Microsoft releasing the game for computers that run the company's new Windows Vista operating system. This version's official release date is May 8.
» No small detail: The game comes with a map editor, a likely floodgate-opener for fan-made maps.
» Like many games sent to MTV News, "Halo 2" was packaged with a reviewer's guide. Some companies (hi, EA!) send a stack of stapled pages clearly marked for personal use only. Others don't attach that label. These review guides sometimes include walk-throughs of a game's opening levels, occasionally of the whole thing. They include tips, hints and bullet points that would just fit perfectly if pasted in a video game review. They also include notes, like a list of known bugs likely to be stamped out by the time the game ships. The new "Halo 2" guide doesn't include a walk-through. It does include five "Keys to Enjoying 'Halo 2' for Windows Vista. Among them is an explanation of how a single-player campaign works: "Generally speaking, an easier level will have less artificial intelligence (AI) and more difficult levels will have more AI." Yes, readers, we still live in a world where people being sent "Halo 2" for review might need to be told such things. Another key recommends that reviewers play a few online games over Xbox Live and do so without fear of embarrassment: "Don't be shy to speak up and ask for help or advice. Most people are more than happy to provide advice on game types and objectives."
» In case you've ever wondered why game reviews on multiple Web sites often include the same screen shots, it could have to do with statements like this, from the reviewer's guide: "Please DO NOT capture in-game screen shots. We will send screens to accompany your review."
» "Halo 2" may be big news in early May, but expect that month's bigger Master Chief madness to involve "Halo 3," which will start a three-week public beta test on May 16. The game's full Xbox 360 release will come later this year.