The Hottest Games of Summer 2009

From Nintendo's Punch-Out to EA's third tango with The Sims, we line up our summer picks--and then we let you know how we really feel about them.

Summertime, and the Gaming Landscape Is Ginormous!

The summer months used to be lean on gaming entertainment. Not anymore. Punch-Out? The Sims 3? Fight Night Round 4? The Beatles: Rock Band? We're now seeing premium games hit all year round--and this summer is no exception.

PC World's experts--Game On blogger Matt Peckham (twitter: game_on) and Casual Friday columnist Darren Gladstone (twitter: gizmogladstone)--ruminate, dish, and occasionally disagree on some of the season's biggest titles. So plan your vacations accordingly – and slather on the sunblock.

Not that you'll need it.

(Did we miss anything? Should we have skipped something we included? Have any other suggestions? Please comment below.)

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Four Great Licensed-Franchise Games: Batman, Ghostbusters, Terminator, Wolverine

The Scoop: X-Men Origins: Wolverine, May 1; Terminator: Salvation, expected May 19; Ghostbusters, expected June 16; Batman: Arkham Asylum, expected "By the end of summer"

Darren: "Licensed-franchise games"--those three words dredge up memories of failure and cross-media marketing. And yet, this summer we have Batman: Arkham Asylum, Ghostbusters, Terminator: Salvation, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, all coming out to every platform known to man. And I'm really looking forward to a couple of 'em. Dan Ackroyd is so behind the Ghostbusters game that he has rallied most of the original cast to help with voice-acting duties. But it's more than just a sequel to the flicks--the few demos I've seen make me anxious to bust spectral noggins. Heck, I’ve been waiting for a good Ghostbusters video game since the Apple II days. As for Batman, that title has two things going for it: sweet graphics and an asylum's worth of loony, superpowered inmates. You're squaring off against classic comic villains--and, of course, a small army of goons who somehow wormed their way into Arkham Asylum. The idea of openly stalking Arkham's halls and the free flow combat are enough to wash away concerns that this might be a mindless button-mashing beat-'em-up. What say you, Matt?

Matt: It's pathetic how predictably rotten licensed games are. They still sell well? Might as well justify crack cocaine (or movies starring Miley Cyrus). Still, I'm with you on the Batman and Ghostbusters nods, Darren. I've already had my hands on Wolverine, and while the combo-driven fighting system is interesting (lunges rule), the levels feel like cattle pens linking dopey mob fights. Terminator: Salvation gets an anticipatory thumbs-down from me, too, after the debacle that was GRIN's Wanted: Weapons of Fate (hey, I'll always cheer a surprise comeback!). But as you say, Batman looks promising, and it has Paul Dini writing it, to boot. Will it really have "a dark and gritty setting reminiscent of Bioshock"? Doubtful (thanks for the nonsensical analogy anyway, Game Informer). Otherwise, there's no cooler milieu in the Batman universe than Arkham Asylum. As for Ghostbusters, I'm out of space, so ditto on what you said about the tech demos, except I'll see your Apple II and raise it by my one-year-earlier Commodore 64 version.

Punch-Out--Expected May 18

The Scoop:Punch-Out; Genre: Boxing; By: Next Level Games; From: Nintendo; For: Wii; Rating: Everyone 10+

Info: Nintendo's classic boxing brawler returns 15 years on with 3D visuals and two-handed motion controls.

Darren: Anybody who has rubbed two quarters together in an arcade or owned a Nintendo Entertainment System knows the glory that is Punch-Out, the classic boxing game. I've had a chance to go a few rounds with the latest version of the venerable champ, and you know what? It's still got the moves. The controls certainly are new, though: You can box your way out of fights with the Wii Nunchuck controller and the Wii Remote by punching at the screen. Or, if you want to kick it old-school (like me), you can flip the Wii Remote, holding it like the classic NES controller.

Speaking of the classic moves, when going up against Glass Joe, I remembered the dodge-counterpunch pattern drilled into me as a child. And it still worked. My only concern, from the few minutes I've played this game, is that I can't tell yet whether it's just the old game under a new coat of paint, with maybe a couple extra moves thrown in for good measure. It doesn’t feel like a sucker punch, though.

Matt: What do Guitar Hero and Punch-Out have in common? They're both essentially rhythm games, except the first sounds like Metallica or Aerosmith, while the second is more "Ugh! Gah! Argh!" Wrap your hands around the Wii Remote, and the preview version of this remake already feels right--which is saying something, given the Wii's reputation for dodgy motion controls. In Next Level Games' nostalgic touch-up of everyone's favorite pugilistic prancer, you have six inputs to work with. You can swing the Wii Remote for left or right punches, wave the Nunchuck for left or right dodges, lift up for blocks or high shots, or drop down to duck. (The game also offers a Balance Board option, but color me dubious.) Darren gets points for tipping his hat to the 1984 arcade version, but then loses a few for settling on the sideways control mechanic. Hey, boxing's a two-fisted affair, right? Play like you mean it!

inFamous--Expected May 26

The Scoop:inFamous; Genre: Third-person sandbox; By: Sucker Punch Productions; From: Sony Computer Entertainment; For: PlayStation 3; Rating: Teen

Info: You're a biker dude given plasma-based powers and a panic-stricken city to either save or torment.

Darren: We don’t need another hero…or do we? Forget all those franchises that make you strap on familiar Underoos in Metropolis or Gotham. Here's something I can get behind: You have a huge, deteriorating city to explore (think Snake Plissken's stomping grounds) and newfound powers to master. The thing is, this isn't some crusty Boy Scout scenario. As in Spider-Man Web of Shadows, you can tap your inner heel or live up to being a hero. You have to make all kinds of small moral decisions along the way: For instance, do you share supplies with citizens or hoard them for yourself? It's those choices--and how you improve your powers--that make this title interesting to me. Provided that the rest of inFamous plays as good as what I've seen so far, this superpowered PS3 exclusive has blockbuster potential written all over it.

Matt: Two words: Sly Cooper. If you missed that series of PlayStation 2 games, you can't call yourself a proper platform gamer. Now the same developer is having a go at the whole Grand Theft Superhero With a Moral Dilemma shtick. Pay attention, because this PS3 exclusive has the potential to be platform-defining. You can go pretty much anywhere and climb any ridiculously detailed building. You have upward of 70 electrical superpowers--including one that lets you vent plasma to slow your descent in free fall--to use against mutant bad guys who can teleport around or fiddle with light and shadow. Best of all, morality is in the eye of the beholder. Expect inFamous to be dark and darker, Teen rating or no. Don't let Darren fool you, by the way--he's a bona fide Boy Scout. There's no zapping passersby with sticky grenades or leaving the injured to wail and croak for that closet do-gooder.

The Sims 3--Expected June 2

The Scoop:The Sims 3; Genre: Social simulation; By: EA Redwood Shores; From: Electronic Arts; For: iPhone OS, OS X, Windows; Rating: Teen

Info: The Sims gets one version older, with more Sim types, expanded object customizability, and streamlined Sim behaviors.

Matt: I love the way Wikipedia calls The Sims 3 a "strategic life simulation." You know, as opposed to the nonstrategic kind. So far The Sims 3 looks mostly like "more" meets "of the same," shellacked with prettier visuals and iterative customizability. You're familiar with Microsoft's avatars and Nintendo's Miis, right? It's like that, times more hairstyles and eye colors and pot bellies and flabby biceps. It would be public suicide to bet against the most popular PC franchise ever, so I won't, but with game designer Will Wright off board, I'm a little leery about another sequel whose highlights include "ringing doorbells" to enter neighboring houses, creeping through graveyards, and going on dates at the bistro. Favorite feature in The Sims 3 to date? No SecuROM or online activation. Bravo for listening to all those Amazon Spore DRM grumblers, EA.

Darren: Honestly, Matt, I never really got The Sims. The original game had me cleaning up after dopey digital dolls all day. Go to the bathroom. Wash your hands. Cook. Eat. Sleep. This is fun? It was wrangling hyperactive hamsters. The second game added more personality and better graphics, but there I felt like I was directing a really needy, whiny kid. That said, I saw The Sims 3 in action early on, and this is probably the first game in the series I'd seriously consider playing. Why? This sequel introduces crazy ideas: quest-like objectives, an open world that grows older with your characters, and actual story progression--a real plotted course for you to follow if you want. Crazy, I know. As a gamer, I miss that kind of stuff the most.

Red Faction: Guerrilla--Expected June 2

The Scoop:Red Faction: Guerrilla; Genre: Third-person shooter; By: Volition; From: THQ; For: PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360; Rating: Mature

Info: You're an insurgent fighter battling the heavy-handed Earth Defense Force across a massive, fully destructible, open-world version of Mars.

Matt: This game is either the Che Guevara video game biopic that ships with a free beret, or another late-21st-century jaunt to Mars with militaristic anarcho-syndicalist tendencies. I fiddled with the European Xbox 360 demo last month, and I can't say it really grabbed me. Muscling sledgehammers and Godzilla-size robot suits around a bunch of off-world industrial parks isn't as catchy as it sounds. When you can rampage through anything, you will, and trundling as the crow flies (or the Hulk smashes) kind of defeats the point of tactical thinking. Pulling apart multistory structures sounds vaguely cathartic, and it sure is pretty, but if it's gonna have legs, Red Faction: Guerrilla needs to be more than just another elevated-wrecking-ball sim. Grand Theft Mars? Maybe, but you wouldn't know it from the mediocre demo.

Darren: Not saying that I disagree with you, Matt, but you're forgetting what the Red Faction franchise is all about: blowing things to hell. Where it fell apart back in the day, the "Geo Mod" tech gimmick was broken. Sure, you could drill through concrete, but heaven forbid you would try tossing a grenade at the wrong fence--nothing happened. It was conventional levels disguised with blocks to bust down, and places the designers didn't want you to go. The walls might as well have been made of papier-mache with someone occasionally saying, "There's nothing to see here, move along!" If this game removes all barriers, it could work, so long as a solid level design and (fingers crossed) a good game are hiding in there. Somewhere.

Prototype--Expected June 9

The Scoop:Prototype; Genre: Third-person sandbox; By: Radical Entertainment; From: Activision; For: PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360; Rating: Mature

Info: Roam the virus-swept streets of Manhattan as an enemy-eating, shapeshifting amnesiac, searching for answers about your origin and abilities.

Darren: If you put Prototype and inFamous side by side, you'd spot a lot in common--two ordinary guys zapped with superhuman powers running amok in a massive city-sprawl. The difference in Prototype is, instead of all that moral-dilemma nonsense, you're getting straight down to the business of kicking butt. (Okay, and there's also the fact that this game is available on more systems than just the PS3.) Morph your hands into gooey mutato-mallets, and you can wallop anything in a frenetic rampage as you switch up your powers. And in this open-world, Grand Theft Mutant, you can go through a story or just trounce the town. The more damage you do, the more the game throws at you. No surprise considering that the developer, Radical Entertainment, created Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Of course, if you're itching to hijack vehicles, you can do that as well. Hey, I did say that it felt like a "Grand Theft…" game, right?

Matt: Notice how we're both "Grand Theft-ing" everything in these slides? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Maybe, but so is being derivative, which can sometimes be the sincerest way to irritate gamers craving novelty. That said, I'm not sure I agree that the moral dilemma is off the table. After all, the protagonist in Prototype is a guy whose superpowers derive from devouring his enemies. Slurp down Joe Crook, and you'll gain his memories, special abilities, even the option to look like him. Superhero nom de guerre, Cannibal-Man? Nah. But the official site's spooky vibe and the game's Mature rating make me wonder if a "dark night of the soul" theme is a-brewin'. In any case, think sandbox parkour meets shape-shifting superdude, and you're not far off the mark.

Overlord 2--Expected June 23

The Scoop:Overlord 2; Genre: Third-person action-strategy; By: Triumph Studios; From: Codemasters; For: PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360; Rating: Pending

Info: Lord of the Rings meets Mad Magazine in an action-strategy romp that lets you pillage bigger, badder, goofier kingdoms with hordes of evil minions.

Darren: Even though Overlord is all about being evil, this stuff is really hard to hate. First, for those who don't know the deal, you control the titular evil Overlord in this twisted take on every fantasy game you've ever played (Exhibit A: killing rabid unicorns). However, the real stars here are your minions. Think the dopey, chaotic Gremlins from those '80s movies, and multiply by 10. Get the picture? The Overlord sequel picks up right after the expansion to the original game, promising "smarter, deadlier (and funnier)" minions who will organize better in combat and find mounts in battle. The only thing that worries me is the potential dilution. Not only is the sequel hitting this June, but we're also getting a separate game for the Wii, Overlord Dark Legend, as well as for the Nintendo DS, Overlord Minions. Don't get me wrong, though--I'm going to try all three and hope that they play well together. I'm a huge fan of what Climax Studios (the developer) has done so far.

Matt: Like I said of the original, evil is as evil does in this clever, goofy action-strategy series with tongue (and teeth, and waggling tonsils) firmly in cheek. Remember Bullfrog's Dungeon Keeper? In that real-time strategy tunneler, you excavated a palatial underground lair and pitted gibbering gofers against doughty parties of gleaming do-rights. Ditch the dungeon management, make the protagonist mobile, and post the action mostly outdoors, and you have the Overlord series, where doing good is heinous and dispensing evil is divine. Overlord 2 doesn't break with that formula so much as grow it. Think more of everything. More enemy types (thieving gnomes, environmental-activist elves), more ability lists (your minions can ride mounts, commandeer war machines, and pilot warships), and more system versions. That's right: Even though they'll be separately plotted games, the series is finally reaching out with Wii and Nintendo DS iterations.

The Conduit--Expected June 23

The Scoop:The Conduit; Genre: First-person shooter; By: High Voltage Software; From: Sega; For: Wii; Rating: Teen

Info: Blast your way through a post-apocalyptic rendition of Washington, D.C., in the wake of an alien invasion.

Matt: Take Metroid Prime, add a glaze of you-can't-do-that-on-the-Wii graphical hype, and mix--out pops The Conduit. It's High Voltage Software's attempt to make a decent-looking Wii game. According to High Voltage, "Most of the games on the Wii look like crap." They're not wrong, but who cares if the Wii can output Xbox-quality visuals eight years late--what about the gameplay? This game looks like typical first-person fare, save for a little wrinkle called the "All-Seeing Eye," which lets you probe your surroundings for traps, enemies, and invisible doors. Does that sound like Metroid Prime's Scan Visor? Yep, and no one is really denying the homage (hey, you could do a whole lot worse). Otherwise, you're fighting a race of bugs called The Drudge (no relation to the Internet gossip mogul...I think), which is ostensibly brainier than your average brand of creepy-crawly sci-fi insects.

Darren: If all you have to sell me on a game is purty graphics for a first-person shooter (on the Wii), then I'm already out the door. I'm tired of people trying to cover up been-there, done-that gameplay with a fresh coat of graphical paint. Now if they can deliver a couple of innovations, I'm still in for the ride. The modern-day conspiracy-theory and alien-invasion plot could work. What about some innovative control use? Well, High Voltage scrapped the Wii MotionPlus support it boasted about last year. At least the developers are sticking to their guns with WiiSpeak, allowing for team trash-talk on a speakerphone while playing. This is one of those titles where I'm staying skeptical until the game is in my hands.

Fight Night Round 4--Expected June 30

The Scoop:Fight Night Round 4; Genre: Boxing; By: EA Sports; From: Electronic Arts; For: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360; Rating: Pending

Info: EA's latest, greatest boxing simulation, packs major punch--delivering more moves, career parameters, and boxing licensees.

Darren:Fight Night Round 3's graphics kicked open the doors for what we could expect from a next-generation boxing game. Is the champ back in top form, three years later? Well, the animations zoom at 60 frames per second when you want to float like a butterfly--and the graphics still look good. Mike Tyson won't have any head-munching special moves, but at least he isn't looking like some greasy action figure. More than that, EA seems to be expecting some more punch-drunk players.

Used to be you were trying to read the signs to block high, low, left, and right. In the new game, you're blocking up or down--and eyeballing a blocking strength meter. Yeah, it sounds like the whole ebb and flow of boxing mechanics is being simplified, but I'm optimistic that it just means I'll have to switch up my strategy. (Translation: You can't use your patented "Not in the face!" blocking for the whole match, Matt.)

Matt: My brother couldn't shut up about Fight Night Round 3, and I can't say I blame him. To watch this series in action is almost like being ringside. That's in part because--with only two players to render--EA can pour all the processing oomph into tweaking crazy micro stuff like the viscosity of sweat as it beads on or trickles down contenders' corded necks and bulging chests. Fight Night Round 4 ups the boxer count and smoothes out the frame rate, but controversially nixes directional-pad combos in favor of analog thumb-stick twiddling, and I'm not sure I dig the idea of making blocking less realistic with an abstract meter. (Why not enhance the visual cues instead?) There's also more of a focus on your boxer's public image, meaning that how you fight significantly impacts your boxer's career. (Translation: No more ear-biting--within the game or out--Darren!)

Champions Online--Expected July 14

The Scoop:Champions Online; Genre: MMORPG; By: Cryptic Studios; From: Atari; For: Windows, Xbox 360; Rating: Pending

Info: A massively multiplayer online superhero role-playing game based on Hero Games' Champions license, tailored for cross-platform play on Windows or Xbox 360.

Darren: Only one other game has attempted to create a modern MMO that puts you into bunchy superhero spandex--and the guys behind Champions Online created that as well. As in City of Heroes, you'll be able to design your alter ego from the ground up. Think of Champions Online as taking the idea to the next level, improving on lessons learned the first time around. This is a more action-centric online role-playing game that is not only coming to the PC, but is fully playable on the Xbox 360 as well. That last sentence right there truly scares me. Add in the fact that the servers are prepped for cross-platform gaming, and all I can say is that I'm in store for a lot of trouble with my wife.

Matt: Anyone else confused and wondering why the guys who did two of the best superhero MMOs are doing another based on someone else's third-party license? Okay, I won't cry "work for hire" just yet, but I will confess to being a trifle concerned, especially with Cryptic working all-out on Star Trek Online and Champions being published by the financially troubled Atari. That said, Champions, the pen-and-paper game, is legendary in role-playing circles, and the cross-platform angle is definitely appealing. (The fact that we've waited this long to see a new console MMO post-Final Fantasy XI, frankly, is shameful). Will I sign on to play? Probably, though I may need hypnosis and/or therapy to pry myself away from Turbine's magnificent Lord of the Rings Online.

Madden NFL 10--Expected August 13; NCAA Football 10--Expected July 14

Matt: Kiss the 'two-zero' in the title bye-bye this year in favor of a simpler, trendier number. You'd think that's all EA changed if you missed Madden NFL 2009. That update pushed the series's already tasty visuals offstage and instead emphasized substantive features like an adaptive difficulty mode, exhaustive analytical tools, and tactically transformative procedural animations. Surprised? I was. This year's version may do the series one better with a swing toward even more hard-core football simulation, with the whole game tuned to run and animate at a slower, more realistic speed (and it'll have a new game-speed slider if you care to dispute the dev team's defaults). EA's NCAA Football 10 stands to benefit from similar improvements, including a slick-sounding procedural awareness system that'll see players track the ball with their eyes, head, and shoulders, and change up attitudes dynamically, from shifty-eyed nervous glances to petrifying glares.

Darren: No matter what we say or do, people will go out and buy either or both of these by the truckload. That's the sad truth. Thankfully, as you've noted, neither series sits still. Oh, and don't forget that, with two athletes on this year's Madden cover, it's two times the curse! (I keeed, I keeed.) Some people will be psyched to see that the Wildcat formation used and abused by the Miami Dolphins gets implemented, but I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with the Wii version of the game, which is a little less concerned with realistic facial features. Word has it that the Nintendo-fied take gets a Team Fortress 2-esque, cartoony face-lift and some not-quite-the-usual gameplay. Let me explain the latter: Minigames, called "Spotlight Moments," will pop up midgame, and they'll have you swatting with the Wii Remote to knock a receiver's hand off the ball or to make a last-minute Hail Mary pass for the win.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and Dissidia Final Fantasy--Both Expected August 31

The Scoop:Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days; Genre: Action RPG; By: h.a.n.d.; From: Square Enix; For: Nintendo DS; Rating: Pending

Dissidia Final Fantasy; Genre: Fighting; By: Square Enix; From: Square Enix; For: PlayStation Portable; Rating: Pending

Info: Fantasy versus fantasy!

Matt: Since we're doomed to wail and gnash our teeth and pine after Final Fantasy XIII until sometime in 2010, Square Enix fanboys (guilty as charged) will have to settle for a couple of handheld diversions instead. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days--yes, that's the title, and yes, it's ridiculously pronounced "three-five-eight days over two"--takes place between the original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. What's better than Final Fantasy meets Disney? Nothing (well, except maybe Final Fantasy meets The Muppets), and the game ships with cooperative multiplayer capability, to boot. As for Dissidia Final Fantasy, the only thing cooler than Cloud Strife and Sephiroth smacking each other around arena-style would be a Square Enix fighting game on a set-top console. That said, it's hard to argue with the publisher emphasizing exclusives for an install base (the PSP's) approaching 50 million units--as many as the Xbox 360's and the PS3's worldwide combined--so I won't.

Darren: You're the Squaresoft superfan, Matt, so I'll take a bit of a back seat on this one. I've always had a love-hate relationship with the FF games. Fantastic music and cinematography (yeah, I said it, "cinematography") are surrounded by some unnecessarily repetitive gameplay at times. And if I want to skip ahead, I get penalized for not grabbing item X, locked in an eternal losing battle with some ludicrous monstersaurus. But there's good news on the Final Fantasy XIII front, buddy--that is, if you can stomach buying Final Fantasy Advent Children Complete on Blu-ray. Among its special features is a "preview" of FF XIII. In Japan, that meant a demo of the game--don't know if it means the same in the United States. So, you're basically paying for a preview of the next game, and suffering through a free HD movie that comes with it.

Halo 3: ODST--Expected September 1

The Scoop:Halo 3: ODST; Genre: First-person shooter; By: Bungie; From: Microsoft Game Studios; For: Xbox 360; Rating: Pending

Info: This is a first-person Halo game without Master Chief, but with an emphasis on darker, grittier gameplay in Halo 2's African city, New Mombasa.

Matt: I liked this "Where's Master Chief?" stand-alone Halo 3 expansion better when it was subtitled "Recon." ODST? Stands for "Orbital Drop Shock Trooper," as opposed to "Oh Darn, Someone Tripped." That said, Master Chief is an iconic Clint Eastwood in an astronaut suit, so I can't say I'll miss him in Bungie's parallel narrative exploring events during Halo 2's timeframe in New Mombasa, Kenya. What's different? Well, remember all the good guys who died on cue as you tromped through the prior installments' firefights? You're one of those poor fools this time, a lowly UNSC soldier with squat in the supersoldier department. Master Chief was a tank--you're a matchstick with a gun. Bungie cautions not to expect a serious tactical or stealth-based shift, which is really too bad, since the alternative sounds disturbingly like Diet Halo.

Darren: Here's where you could be missing the point, Matt. This doesn't sound like Diet Halo, it's more like Halo of Duty. Remember how the Call of Duty games are more about the average guy just trying to survive, as opposed to Johnny Heroman? Going back through semifamiliar terrain but with a whole different skill set means a potentially different vibe. Besides, you're not just some rookie hoofing through some open world. You're also supposedly playing through flashbacks of squad mates, as well (in a more linear campaign). If anything, I see the potential here for a good mix of play styles if done right. What I'm not as sure about so far is the multiplayer game: I mean, they technically don't have to do much to it. It has a huge following and a giant pile of multiplayer maps already. Are they going to add more on that end? Or will Bungie just bundle all the different paid expansion packs?

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising--Expected September 1

The Scoop:Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising; Genre: Tactical shooter; By: Codemasters; From: Codemasters; For: PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360; Rating: Pending

Info: Explore over 100 square miles of real-world terrain in a hyperrealistic shooter that pits China, Russia, and the United States against one another.

Matt: Finally. Codemasters promised this "sequel" half a decade ago, then dropped the ball. The original game turned heads for its tactical hijinks and plausible near-future narrative. A speedy follow-up could have been equally good. Since then, we've seen even smarter alternatives like America's Army, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Brothers in Arms, Rainbow Six Vegas, and Red Orchestra. Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising needs to be spectacular if it's going to distance itself from that bunch. So far, so good, with promised features like full environmental damage, an unscripted self-sufficient enemy and squad-based AI, and over 100 square miles of geographically accurate terrain modeled after a volcanic Alaskan island (and the option to explore any of it at leisure). Promises promises, of course. Crysis made similar claims and, great as it was, it fell short of the mark on too many of them.

Darren: Not to get all "back in my day…," but people seem to forget that the original Operation Flashpoint was a huge, ambitious game that outdid Battlefield 1942 a year earlier. That fictitious 1985 showdown between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was fantastic, and, for its day, it offered huge maps to explore, vehicles to drive, weapons galore, great graphics...any of this sounding familiar? Now, what I've seen of the sequel makes me want to get my war on: Fine attention to detail is all well and good, but apparently the level editor is supposed to be pretty snazzy. I want to create my own continents and stage some ferocious firefights. How about a 32-players-versus-the-CPU scenario? Or a 32-player free-for-all where everyone controls their own squad? The only fear I have: Operation Flashpoint was a seriously demanding game, causing my olde-tyme game rig to stutter. Hopefully, history won't repeat itself.

The Beatles: Rock Band--Expected September 9

The Scoop:The Beatles: Rock Band; Genre: Music; By: Harmonix, Pi Studios; From: MTV Games, EA; For: PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360; Rating: Teen

Info: The band-in-a-box rhythm series meets the music of The Fab Four.

Darren: The big question I always find myself asking with rhythm games is: Will the controls work, and does the music, in fact, rock? Take Guitar Hero on the Nintendo DS--it's a hot mess. It had horrible audio compression, and the controls drove me through the carpal tunnel. But Harmonix has what it takes to make music gaming work. After all, these guys perfected the music game genre back in the PlayStation 2 days with Frequency and Amplitude. The Beatles take on Rock Band is a bit of a mystery right now. Obviously, you can play as the four famous Liverpudlians and, of course, shell out extra cash for Beatle-themed plastic drums and replica guitars (bowl haircuts not included). Me? I'd be happy if it was only the White Album. Until we hear more about the set list, though, I'll have to settle on a YouTube clip that sneak-previews the game (watch the screen behind Sir Paul McCartney during the 2009 Coachella concert).

Matt: You'd have to be stupid (or lacking a pulse) not to be thrilled that someone has finally picked up (some of? all of?) The Beatles' catalogue for online play (sorry about that, Steve Jobs). To partially answer Darren's "big question," yes, the music's going to rock. It's The Beatles--what didn't? That said, I'm just as leery about the shameless peripheral bilking. As long as we can use our existing Rock Band plastic axes and rubber beat pads, sign me up. But if I'm forced to pay so much as a penny for George's "psychedelic" Strat or John's "peace acoustic" Gibson, Ringo's "rooftop" Ludwig drums or Paul's '61 Hofner Violin bass, I'm grabbing a picket sign and heading straight for MTV HQ. As for the music, like I said, it's The Beatles. You love it, yeah, yeah, yeah...

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