Our most anticipated games of early 2010

Editor's note: While discussing topics for the most recent podcast, Nick and Aaron took some time to talk in detail about which games they felt might be worth paying attention to as their release dates draw near. Thanks to the bizarre magic of Google Wave, our collaboration ended up turning into a full-fledged article. We hope this list serves as a helpful guide and gives you some ideas of what to look forward to. The heroes from just a few of the major releases coming in the next few months: Sam Fisher (Splinter Cell: Conviction), Lightning (Final Fantasy XIII) and Shepard (Mass Effect 2).

After building this list from a shorter one we borrowed unceremoniously from Kotaku, we weighed the evidence presented to us so far and drew up our own shortlists of essential titles, as well as a handful of potentially great purchases.

You'll find our own lists, along with our justifications, after the break. And if we ignored a great game or missed one completely, please let us know. Thanks!

Nick's Picks:

Mass Effect 2 on Xbox 360: This one's a no-brainer; I loved the first game (like most people here) and replayed it multiple times. And while Dragon Age was excellent on PC, the original Mass Effect felt better tuned to me on a console. I can't wait to see how the story evolves.

Final Fantasy XIII on PlayStation 3: It's a great thing that Final Fantasy is available on multiple platforms, but there's no doubt that I'm going with the PS3 version. Not that I have anything against the 360's RPG prowess -- after all, Lost Odyssey proved the machine does a perfectly acceptable job of handling JRPGs -- but the PlayStation controller is so familiar to me in a lengthy, story-driven game that it'll hopefully help fuel the fond memories I have of the series when I pick up the newest iteration. And also, I'll admit I'm looking forward to playing a game without disc-swapping.

...and some possible additions:

Army of Two: The 40th Day on Xbox 360: Call me a fool or a hopeless bromantic, but I've always felt that Army of Two was a great game that suffered from its marketing image and brain-dead protagonists. Underneath all that was a pretty smart and thoroughly enjoyable co-operative game with some clever new ideas and intelligent things to say about the state of warfare in a world where private military companies command lucrative contracts, expensive hardware and operate just shy of any established moral compass. The sequel seems largely on-track to add credence and weight to the philosophy of the first game; let's hope they deliver. I've been starved for a great co-op shooter since Gears of War 2 amounted to such a disappointing sequel.

Bioshock 2 on Xbox 360 or PS3: I'm still struggling to understand why a sequel to Bioshock is worth making (potential for profit aside). I felt the original was one of the best games I'd ever played thanks to an incredibly distinctive setting and poignant commentary on the role of players in games. I'd be happy to fall under Rapture's spell once again, but I want to be absolutely certain that this return visit is being given the same top-notch attention to detail and purpose that the first game was hailed for.

Splinter Cell: Conviction on Xbox 360: What an inconsistent series Splinter Cell has been. From its excellent debut on the original Xbox to a shoddy sequel, followed by an absolutely astounding third entry with Chaos Theory, Splinter Cell has seen its ups and downs. The only iteration released on this console generation, Double Agent, was unfortunately another step back for the series. With Ubisoft Montreal back at the reins (and several years to be refined to perfection) I'm hopeful that this latest entry in Sam Fisher's story could be the greatest yet. Clever art design, refined combat and interesting mission structure all seem to be the game's best assets. Here's hoping the game shapes up in time for its February release.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on PC (or maybe Xbox 360): If any modern multiplatform game series sticks in my mind as a PC franchise, it's Battlefield. Sure, the games have been inconsistent in quality on PC, but I'll never forget the sheer scope and brilliance of Battlefield 2, with its robust squad system, addictive unlockables and massive online battles. No other Battlefield game has come close to capturing the sheer scale of BF2, but Bad Company sure came close in terms of bringing the Battlefield multiplayer formula to consoles. Bad Company 2 looks to be a return to what made BF2 on PC such a riot; unfortunately, the PlayStation 3 beta hasn't offered much to judge the game with.

Aaron's Picks:

Mass Effect 2 on Xbox 360: BioWare becomes a more impressive developer with each game it releases. Mass Effect was a fantastically original RPG, and proved our northern neighbors can craft an epic story without the involvement of an established franchise (Dungeons & Dragons/ Star Wars). I expect the second Mass Effect will mend the first's technical issues, as well as offer a logical replacement for the old combat system. I think it's safe to say that after playing the original game to completion six times (and starting my seventh run through this week), I will absolutely buy whatever BioWare packs on the disc. But please, more Garrus!

Mafia II on PC (unconfirmed release date): I said in our last "Games of" feature that the original Mafia exceeded in creating a realistic open world before Grand Theft Auto could. While times have changed and the charms of a classic mobster world have worn a bit thin, 2K Czech is still a talented studio that won't compromise its vision. Based on trailers and previews, Mafia II is going to be told exactly how the developers want it to be, from the tiniest plot thread to the biggest twist. I'm looking forward to a gripping story filled with murder, intrigue, politicking and every mobster archetype imaginable.

Splinter Cell: Conviction on Xbox 360: Splinter Cell is my favorite stealth action series. Forget Metal Gear. I've found the less-insane stylings of Sam Fisher and Third Echelon to be a lot more tolerable than plodding through "Who Betrayed Snake This Time: The Squeakquel." That said, Splinter Cell: Double Agent was awfully boring, poorly paced and extremely frustrating. Conviction is finally coming out, and the new hand-to-hand combat system's intensity raised these thick eyebrows more than once during my first glimpse of the game in motion. The text-on-the-wall objectives are stylish and reminiscent of J.J. Abrams' work, but I hope the effect isn't done ad nauseam. Splinter Cell is, to me, an Xbox franchise. I made the mistake of buying Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory on the PC, and both just never felt the same without a controller in my hands. So I look forward to revisiting an old standby franchise on my Xbox this February.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on an undetermined platform: If I think Splinter Cell is an Xbox franchise, then DICE's Battlefield series is the PC counterpart. And while I do believe my aforementioned statement, I truly had a great time with Battlefield: Bad Company on the Xbox 360. So I'm rather perplexed as to which version of its sequel I should buy. Without knowing all of the details right now, I can't decide. If the PC version has even a few more features than its console counterpart, I'm placing my bets on the PC. It seems, from forum buzz and scant media previews, Bad Company 2 is extracting the essence of 2005's Battlefield 2 more and more, which I hope is true. DICE needs to release Battlefield 3 soon, but BC2 might suffice for the time being.

Final Fantasy XIII on Xbox 360: I really don't have anything to say here. I only have an Xbox, and I'm the guy who buys every numbered, non-MMO Final Fantasy console title (aside from FFX-2). I'm obligated to get it, and I'm neither thrilled nor disappointed. It's like renewing your driver's license: you'll do it, without thinking, out of necessity. It doesn't matter if you're unenthusiastic about it, you'll still spend money on what's technically the same exact license you've always had, but this time it has a fancy new color scheme. And anime hair.