The hottest games coming to the Xbox 360 in 2009

The biggest games you'll want to keep an eye on.

Alpha Protocol

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When Jason Bourne came along, he showed that the world of espionage isn't all about sipping martinis, sleeping with tons of women, and Judo-chopping your enemies, which rules out three of James Bond's favorite hobbies. But Sega seems to think there can be a link between the two and has cooked up their own secret agent in Michael Thorton, who is refined enough to attend dinner parties yet brutal enough to take down entire crime syndicates.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Alpha Protocol is that it's billed as a role-playing game. One might expect this since Obsidian is the developer and they've been responsible for such hits as Knights of the Old Republic II and Neverwinter Nights II. The obvious twist in Alpha Protocol is that it's pretty much the first of its kind as a modern day, espionage RPG. Players will take Thorton from a novice spy to one capable of outsmarting his former CIA employers and uncovering the truth behind why he's being hunted.

Even though this is an RPG, there will still be plenty of action involved. Players can make Thorton beat on his enemies with close combat moves or they can also blow them away with guns and other cool gadgets. But they'll want to be careful as different actions will affect the ending of the game. If you're sick of your dialogue-heavy RPGs always set in space, this game will be well worth the wait.

BackBreaker

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We've all seen sophisticated physics engines shred simulated vehicles like tin foil, but imagine applying that same processing power to two charging gorillas on the gridiron. Instead of running those meatheads into each other and watching one of a handful of canned and repetitive tackle animations, Backbreaker's Euphoria engine conjures up dynamic collisions that are both realistic and bone-jarring.

The players populating this football upstart won't be modeled on real NFL superstars (due to EA's continued exclusivity) but every one will house a complex collection of simulated flesh, bone, and protection. The result? Just as you're unlikely to see the exact same circumstances unfold in any two televised games, so does Backbreaker promise to make every down a unique experience. Better yet, the same physics system could just as easily showcase epic wrecks of contorted limbs that even the game's designers couldn't have foreseen.

Few details are available about the rest of the game's components, but we do know the developers hope to immerse fans in the tense atmosphere of on-the-field decision-making, from the quarterback's desperate search for a receiver to a tackler's quest to put him on the ground by any means necessary. Besides, even if Backbreaker proves too ambitious for its own good, the added competition should help to improve everyone's game.

Borderlands

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Borderlands turns you loose on the hostile backwater planet of Pandora to find your fortune and the location of a mysterious alien "Vault." Gameplay mixes first-person shooting with the leveling and skill development of an RPG, but developing and customizing three character classes is just the beginning.

Much has been made of Borderlands's claim that it contains more than half a million different weapons, but more impressive than sheer quantity is the inventive variety of this arsenal. Rather than simply spawn firearms with better stats and new skins, the loot system fabricates wild and wonderful new weapons from a diverse library of component parts and modifications. Whether you fire huge explosive shells, sticky goo, or some oddity of your own creation is up to you.

Even the environment itself is constantly changing. A procedural system that changes around the location of enemy encampments, strategically valuable buildings, and ambush points promises that even regions you've visited in previous expeditions will offer fresh challenges, whether you're hoofing it alone or tearing up the terrain in a customizable vehicle with three friends.

Borderlands makes some pretty big promises, but Gearbox's track record and early glimpses of the frenzied action give us the high hopes to match.

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