The Week in Games: July 8, 2008

Real news from the virtual world:

— BEST OF 2008 (SO FAR): E3, the video-game industry's big trade show, is next week, and you'll be hearing a lot about all the new software coming between now and Christmas.

But there's a bit of a lull until Aug. 12, when "Madden NFL 09" unofficially marks the beginning of the fall game season.

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July is a good time to catch up on some of the games you may have missed. Here are the best of the year so far:

1. "Grand Theft Auto IV" (Rockstar, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3): The latest episode of "GTA" has its flaws, particularly in the storytelling department. But living a life of crime has never been more fun, thanks to much tighter gameplay and an exquisitely detailed vision of a decaying metropolis.

2. "Lost Odyssey" (Microsoft, for the Xbox 360): The epic tale of immortal mercenary Kaim is a delight for fans of classic role-playing games.

3. "The World Ends With You" (Square Enix, for the Nintendo DS): This adventure set in modern Tokyo is the most innovative RPG in years.

4. "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots" (Konami, for the PS3): It may be more of a movie than a game, but it's a dazzling finale for one of gaming's most fascinating sagas.

5. "Professor Layton and the Curious Village" (Nintendo, for the DS): Charming characters wrestle with clever puzzles in this beautifully written and illustrated gem.

And the worst? So many terrible games have been rushed out for Nintendo's Wii that it's hard to pick on just one.

I'll go with Konami's "Target: Terror," which combines repetitive gameplay, hideous graphics and laughable acting in a package that's so bad it's almost ... well, no, it's just awful.

— ENCORE: In May, Activision announced its strategy to maintain its lead in the rhythm game competition: "Guitar Hero World Tour," which adds a microphone, drums and a virtual recording studio to the best-selling franchise.

But no one is expecting MTV Games' "Rock Band" to fade out.

When "Rock Band 2" arrives this fall, you'll be able to choose from an assortment of new (fake) instruments. You'll also be able to form bands and play tunes with your friends online; in the original, you could only play the co-op career mode online.

Alex Rigopulos, co-founder and CEO of developer Harmonix, told The Associated Press: "With the original 'Rock Band,' the focus was on innovation. With 'Rock Band 2,' the focus is on perfection of the experience."

Next week, you'll be able to download 12 classic songs from The Who for "Rock Band."

Harmonix had been trying to reproduce the entire "Who's Next" album, but Rigopolus said some of the master tapes couldn't be located.

Meanwhile, virtual rockers around the world are hoping, perhaps in vain, for tunes from two other classic British bands.

According to The Financial Times of London, representatives of The Beatles have had discussions with both Activision and MTV Games. Led Zeppelin, however, remains elusive.

Peter Mensch, a partner at the firm that manages Zep guitarist Jimmy Page, told The Wall Street Journal that the band is unlikely to grant either company the necessary access to its master tapes.

— NO TROPHY FOR YOU: The latest update to the PlayStation 3's operating system was supposed to let you do two things: win "trophies" for gameplay and access the system control panel (the "Cross Media Bar," or XMB) from within a game.

Shortly after Sony made Firmware 2.40 available, however, online user forums lit up with reports of PS3s that had been turned into bricks. And then Sony yanked the update offline.

"We've received a limited number of calls from consumers experiencing an issue with installing the system software update on their PS3," Patrick Seybold, Sony's corporate communications director, wrote on the company's blog.

He said Sony won't put the firmware back up until it isolates the problem.

— NEW IN STORES: "Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution" (2K, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo DS) brings the popular PC strategy series to consoles. ... Warm up for the Olympics with Sega's "Beijing 2008" (360, PS3). ... Wii goodies this week include Square Enix's "Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon" and Majesco's "Wonder World Amusement Park," while 2K returns to the midway with the DS version of "Carnival Games."