The Week in Games: July 15, 2008

Real news from the virtual world:

— RIDE THE LIGHTNING: Activision's "Guitar Hero World Tour" is one of this year's most eagerly anticipated games, but the company has big news for fans who can't wait for that: Metallica will be releasing its next album, "Death Magnetic," as a "Guitar Hero III" download on the same day that the CD arrives in stores.

"It's exciting, 27 years into your career, to be doing something first," said Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. "In five to 10 years it'll be a normal thing to release an album to 'Guitar Hero' the same day as the record."

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To make its big announcement, Activision eschewed a booth at the E3 Media & Business Summit in Los Angeles in favor of a reception at a former cathedral.

A big chunk of the video games community — namely, the companies that make them and the journalists who write about them — was in Los Angeles this week for the annual gathering where most of us got our first look at games for the holiday season.

Ulrich said he's definitely noticed an upswing in Metallica's popularity since its songs started appearing in games, particularly with one part of the target audience.

"Dad's a little cooler than he was yesterday," Ulrich said. "I now have a 7-year-old whose favorite band is Mountain, and a 9-year-old who's into Black Sabbath and Danzig" — all veterans of the "GH" series. "It's a great way for kids to be exposed to stuff that transcends generations."

— BOND FOR GLORY: Activision's impending merger with "World of Warcraft" publisher Blizzard means it's about to become even more of an industry powerhouse.

Besides "Guitar Hero," two of Activision's other big names, "Call of Duty" and "Spider-Man," will be returning this fall, and the company is reviving a couple of franchises that have been dormant for a few years: James Bond and "Wolfenstein."

"Quantum of Solace" is the first 007 game since Daniel Craig took over the role of Bond, and it features Craig's voice and image.

Activision vice president Robin Kaminsky promised the game will reflect "the new style of Bond, more lethal and cunning," and developer Treyarch ("Call of Duty 3") has given it a grittier look.

"Wolfenstein" is a revival of the classic World War II-horror mashup that we haven't seen since 2003. "Marvel Ultimate Alliance" studio Raven is handling this one, in which Allied agents fight Nazis with supernatural powers.

— TAKE A LETTER: Despite the success of recent blockbusters like "Grand Theft Auto IV" and "Metal Gear Solid 4," the hottest game in the market may be an independently produced Scrabble knockoff called "Scrabulous."

It's become the most popular application on the social networking site Facebook, and Hasbro, which holds the rights to Scrabble, isn't too happy about it.

But if you can't beat 'em ... make a better game. Electronic Arts has just released an official Scrabble game for Facebook, and it's a much prettier, more elegant version of the classic.

Hasbro isn't expecting all those "Scrabulous" addicts to jump right over to the legal version.

"We've made the best possible product we're capable of making," said EA/Hasbro general manager Chip Lange.

The hope is that Facebook users who like EA's Scrabble will convert other players.

"It's more of a viral curve than your typical day-one video-game release," Lange acknowledged.

— GREEN LIGHT SPECIAL: Still haven't splurged for a high-end video-game system? Well, savvy shopper, now may be the time.

Microsoft has just cut the cost of the Xbox 360 Pro (the one with the 20-gigabyte hard drive) by $50, from $350 to $300. A new model of the 360 Pro, with a 60 GB drive, has been introduced with the $350 price tag.

Microsoft is hoping the changes could help the 360 regain momentum against the surging PlayStation 3.

— ALL BETTER: The latest system software update for the PlayStation 3 didn't go so smoothly, turning some unsuspecting consoles into useless slabs.

Sony almost immediately withdrew the update and tracked down the problem, and the new firmware update 2.41 is up and running without any reported issues.

The company is asking users whose PS3s got whacked to contact them.

— NEW IN STORES: Who cares about quarterbacks and linebackers? EA Sports' "NCAA Football 09" (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable) lets you play as college mascots! ... Take to the links with Capcom's lighthearted "We Love Golf!" (Wii). ... Brash Entertainment blasts off with the "Space Chimps" movie tie-in (Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, DS). ... Wii and PS2 rockers can freshen up their set lists with Electronic Arts and MTV Games' "Rock Band Track Pack Vol. 1."