EA has maintained its unbroken streak at the top of the UK charts, as Need For Speed: Underground held on for its third straight week at number one despite a strong challenge from Rockstar's GTA Double Pack.
The Grand Theft Auto pack moved moved up from number seven to number two on the back of its recent Xbox release, while completing the national obsession with car racing, The Simpsons: Hit & Run occupied the number three position.
Unsurprisingly, there were no new entries in a chart dominated by post Christmas sale activity, and no fewer than nine budget titles found their way into the All Formats Top 40, headed up by Crash Bandicoot: Wrath Of Cortex, up to number 13, while the likes of Hitman 2 (number 19), Splinter Cell (number 23) Spyro: Enter The Dragonfly (number 30), Conflict Desert Storm (number 36), TimeSplitters 2 (number 38) and Rayman 3 (number 40) all proving to be very popular at a lower price point.
But many so-called full priced recent releases have been heavily discounted as well to get them moving out of warehouses, notably Prince Of Persia (number 11), XIII (number 17), and Soul Calibur II (number 22), while Manhunt has no doubt benefited from post Christmas sale prices, having shot up from number 29 to number 16 this week.
Significantly, Nintendo finds itself in the second week of the year already without a single exclusive title in the All Formats chart, with top ranked Cube title Mario Kart: Double Dash!! managing an apologetic number 32 on the Full Price listing. Once again, the GameCube Top 20 has a healthy proportion of exclusives among its titles (12), but scanning through the list reveals that the majority are budget titles, and that the only two publishers seemingly capable of selling full priced titles on the format are EA and Nintendo itself.
But the situation isn't much different on the Xbox, with Project Gotham Racing 2 (number 31) once again the only Xbox exclusive title in the main chart, and only one other exclusive Xbox title in its entire Top 20 (Top Spin - number 14) - food for thought for third party publishers looking to release Xbox exclusive titles, and Microsoft itself, given the number of titles it has released for the machine recently.
The PS2 has three exclusive titles in the Top 40, with EyeToy (number 14), Manhunt (number 16) and SmackDown (number 24) proving the most popular, illustrating how common the all format title is these days - and also showing how few exclusive killer apps were released on the Sony format this Christmas.
The PC chart isn't exactly the most exciting platform at the moment, with virus scares apparently higher on the agenda of new post-Christmas PC owners than new games -as demonstrated by Norton Internet Security at number one, outselling Eidos' Championship Manager 03/04, while Norton Antivirus moves up to number 6 among various Sims titles that dominate the Top 20. Of the handful of exclusives in the PC Top 20, the fading Call Of Duty drops to number seven, the discounted Empires Of The Modern World drops to number 11, The War Of The Rings is down to number 16, while the Neverwinter Nights: Underdark makes a belated entry into the chart at number 18, ahead of the deluxe edition of C&C Generals, at number 20.
The master of the all format strategy, EA, is - once again - the big winner of the week, claiming no fewer than six of the Top 10, headed up by Need For Speed, and supported by Return Of The King (number four), FIFA (number six), Bustin' Out (number seven), Rising Sun (number eight), and Tiger Woods (number nine). But its incredible strength in depth is amply illustrated by the fact that it has a further eight titles in the rest of the Top 40. Only Rockstar and Ubisoft come close to matching EA's tally, with four apiece.
Next week is unlikely to be much different from this week, with the market going into its traditional hibernation period. The GTA Double Pack could finally claim the number one position, but it looks like a long hard winter ahead for the majority of publishers desperately trying to compete with the continuing strength of EA's pre-Christmas line-up.