The long-brewing excitement over Sony's PlayStation 3, which reaches stores Friday in short supply, may generate some sour notes.

Here's the biggest, perhaps: The sense of anticipation is so out of hand that any ordinariness in games will make some people question all the "next-generation" chatter.

As part of the buildup, Sony gave some reviewers (including me) a "debug" machine -- basically, a not-quite finalized PS3. It allows critics to get a fair sense of what the retail version of certain games will be like.

What follows is a rundown of the close-to-finished games that I tested most extensively. After a retail version of the PS3 is loaned to the Mercury News, we'll re-examine the games in final versions. But the debug experience allows us to present some fairly assured buying tips for anyone able to secure a PS3 at launch.

Nothing in the games generated an overwhelming "wow." Nothing created the sense of a night-and-day jump in the evolution from the PS2 to the PS3. That's why those with inflated expectations will be disappointed.

But using more reasonable standards, these PS3 games made a powerful impression, suggesting a new era of game intensity, if not an instantly futuristic leap forward:

_ "Resistance: Fall of Man" (from Sony, available Friday). Developed by Insomniac Games ("Ratchet & Clank"), this is the pre-eminent launch title, but completely geared to hard-core gamers (and rated Mature). It's a shooter about an alternate World War II-era reality, featuring the story of a U.S. soldier who becomes a special figure in an epic fight against a life form called the Chimera.

The game's four-star quality is evident in many ways: Detailed graphics look great on even a standard-definition TV; superbly tuned challenges test your skills but don't overly frustrate, with lots of checkpoints for saving progress; the narrative is compelling; and the artificial intelligence strikes me as a genuine advance.

On the latter point: During combat, the enemy warrior-creatures take cover and stay in cover in a smarter way than I remember encountering in a shooter. They're also fast, darting away from fire when still exposed, and they sometimes come at you in a manner that seems tactically sophisticated. But what's most impressive is their patience when they've taken cover.

Insomniac's president, Ted Price, says the development team worked long and hard on cover behavior, experimenting with many variations in the patterns.

Other aspects of the PS3's computing power include the complexity of special effects. Price notes, for instance, that guns spitting out large quantities of bullets can strain a processing system's ability to illustrate all the physics and impact of such action. But "Resistance" pushes the envelope on exotic weapons with gutsy flair.

_ "Genji: Days of the Blade" (Sony, available Friday). Swordplay and more swordplay, with a mystical context and ornate visuals in a feudal world.

What's exceptional: Look for the amazing expressiveness in human faces, in cut scenes and animated action. What's stale: The artificial intelligence of sword-wielding enemies doesn't seem to have advanced beyond current-generation games.

Combine the facial personality of "Genji" with the AI of "Resistance" and you'd have an indisputable "wow" factor.

_ "Ridge Racer 7" (Namco Bandai, available Friday). It wasn't possible to test the online multiplayer service that might be the game's top lure.

The single-player races maximize the series' drift-racing fun, and the scenery is darn pretty. The developers say they've taken advantage of the PS3's processing to improve the fine movements of a car (during cornering, for instance) and the strategy of opponent cars. Neither was evident to me.

_ "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07" (Electronic Arts, available Friday). Some improvements stand out more than others, such as the ability to spin a shot by tilting Sony's wireless, motion-sensitive Sixaxis controller. Hit a high drive, for instance, and you can spin the ball by pressing the X button and angling the controller -- right, left, up (back) and down (forward).

EA is trumpeting a new level of realism in facial likenesses for Woods and other golfers. To me, the enhancements were subtle, not dramatic.

_ "Madden NFL 07" (Electronic Arts, available Friday). Extremely disappointing. Innovation specific to the PS3 seems slight, even odd.

You can move the controller up and down when you want your lead blocker to lay a good hit on someone, but it has a soft, loose feeling and doesn't add much to the "Madden" experience. Same thing for other motion options, such as substituting a controller movement for thumbstick push ("hit stick") that creates more jolting contact.

Worse, my eyes detect little graphics improvement. In fact, I was struck by how static some animations were and how ugly some of the facial modeling was.