The fight is so big this weekend some players have bundled in already. Most shops have jumped the gun on Pro-Evolution Soccer 3’s intended launch date ‘ if you haven’t found it by now, its only because you haven’t looked properly. De-merged from the ISS brand ‘ and don’t buy any of the sub-FIFA mediocrities that are currently belittling that name ‘ Japan’s Winning Eleven series has been Euro-converted into another reviewer-rattling barnstormer of pace and subtlety. Its one for those who know the sport though, and not only for the creative gameplay ‘ with many licences sewn up elsewhere, the league and player line-ups still are a little Spartan, and could lead to the under-informed making laughable mistakes in the pub. I’d imagine. Ahem.

Why is it out a day early? Sometimes one outlet needs the cash or makes a mistake ‘ word quickly spreads throughout what remains of the retailer’s cabal who the rush replace pre-order dummies with the real thing. It can happen while you watch.

Or perhaps it burst its gate because on Friday it will be competing with another PS2 big leaguer, Jak II. At least, it’s supposedly out this week, but suddenly the release schedules are in two minds ‘ we shall see. In any case, this is an infamously embittered reconstruction of the bouncy collect-em-up ‘ since the original received a sound thrashing at the hands of Grand Theft Auto, the franchise seems to have cynically adopted its rival’s character. But the reviews are cheerful enough, so maybe it’s a mistake to attach too much sentiment to the light-weight prettiness it has discarded ‘ no doubt there was a binder-full of market research supporting the first title’s aesthetic decisions as much as the sequel.

Also in the fray, and there’s a theme arising here, is the amoral, carjacking, mission-based driver Mafia. Two years ago the PC version coincided with rather than copied Grand Theft Auto III, but they have more than a little in common nonetheless. With no new GTA title this Christmas ‘ although Microsoft’s console is getting fresh conversions ‘ the road is clear for rivals to take on the city driver genre, and Mafia delivers. The prohibition era period design is splendid, the characterisation fun, and the adventure no more tram-lined than the eternally postponed Driver series.

Multi-format comic license Dredd vs Death may or may not be flawed ‘ arguments that the versions reviewed were un-debugged betas sound a little like pleas for clemency ‘ but it’s certainly uninspired. Omens were good when accomplished developer Rebellion bought the comic 2000AD along with all of its intellectual property ‘ at last a decent game treatment seemed assured, and early screenshots promised much. Sadly, development was swallowed by technical compromises and a linear storyline. If ever a title did need the GTA treatment, it’s this one, but instead what we’ve got is a grimy looking shooter, albeit with those classic icons throughout.

If you’re feeling alternative this weekend, horse management sim Gallop Racer is in a genre of one, in the UK at least. Developed with the blessing of, it’s reached the shelves before the reviewer’s desks and should be admired for the publisher’s cavalier attitude to the demographics of the PS2’s installed user base. And although Voodoo Vince is competent exploration fare, it has a refreshingly absurdist spin on the characters ‘ you’re a voodoo doll trying to return to your master in New Orleans. It’s reminiscent of the old eight-bit days, when a trivial business model indulged any old excuse for a plot.