The Most Promising Games of Fall 2009

Zombies, cars, and thieves--the crop of games coming this autumn has it all. Here's our guide to the titles we're most looking forward to.

So Many Games, So Little Time

It's a perfect storm for gamers. Sony's PlayStation 3 recently shed $100, along with its jumbo exterior, and sales have already rebounded. Microsoft countered with a $100 drop of its own. Nintendo is counting on brand momentum to carry it through the season, and Windows wonks have Intel's new Core i7 and i5 processors to consider.

Now all we need is new games--and they're on the way. Here's a look at the Lamborghini and Bugatti racers of Gran Turismo PSP, the shuffle-the-scenario option of Halo 3: ODST, and the host of new multiplayer features in Modern Warfare 2, plus many other exciting developments that are coming this fall.

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Halo 3: ODST--ETA: September 22

For: Xbox 360

Finally, a Bungie Studios shooter without ol' tall, chrome, and incognito as the protagonist. ODST stands for "Orbital Drop Shock Trooper," and that's what you'll play as in this Halo 3 prequel.

You'll trade jibes with the likes of Firefly's Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, and Alan Tudyk while scouring the ruins of New Mombasa (an African city ravaged in Halo 2) for intel on your missing squad mates. You'll sniff out items they've left behind (such as weapons) and experience their stories through flashbacks.

Also, while the gunplay and AI battles won't deviate from the experience in prior Halos, you will have the option to shuffle the campaign missions instead of slogging through the story, A to Z.

Price: $60

Dead Space: Extraction--ETA: September 28

For: Wii

This game is the prequel to Dead Space, the most unexpectedly riveting horror shooter in years. (I think it's even better than Capcom's Resident Evil 5.)

Dead Space: Extraction, from Visceral Games, is an exclusive gift to Wii owners. You play as another unfortunate space colonist fending off slobbering hordes of Necromorphs--violent aliens that assimilate human body parts (think "Tinker Toys: Picasso Edition"). As you'd expect, the game makes ample use of the Wii Remote for aiming at aliens, scuffling with them, and slashing them to bits.

The one potential downer? It's a first-person "rail shooter," meaning your movement is limited while the game drags you along a predetermined route.

Price: $50

Gran Turismo PSP--ETA: October 1

For: PSP

The PSP already has loads of racing games, but nothing quite like developer Polyphony Digital's plans for Gran Turismo PSP. Subscribing to the notion that "more is definitely more," this game follows its console counterpart's lead in packing some 800 cars (including exotic-brand firsts such as Lamborghini and Bugatti), 4500 paint variations, over 30 race tracks, and 60-plus layouts spread across famous world circuits, city courses, and dirt roads.

Sure, it has no damage model, so you'll pinball off walls and other vehicles--but then again, destruction was never the point of a series that prioritizes physics-fueled raceway tactics executed at cheek-flapping speeds.

Price: $40

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising--ETA: October 6

For: PS3, Windows, Xbox 360

Operation Flashpoint could well be the game that Crytek's Crysis wasn't in terms of promise versus delivery.

Codemasters' Operation Flashpoint promises ballistically authentic weapons (more than 70 in all), naturalistic physics, a giant island modeled after the real thing with breathtaking 35-kilometer draw distances, and enemy artificial intelligence capable of acting overconfidently as well as overcautiously.

No wonder the design team is hyping the game by saying stuff like " will give people a small appreciation for what our troops have to face in real combat."

Price: $60 ($50 for Windows version)

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves--ETA: October 13

For: PS3

If you haven't played Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and you own a PS3, get thee to a retailer, and then buckle up for the console's best action-adventure to date--better than Lara Croft when she rocked, or Indiana Jones in any of his last three films.

In developer Naughty Dog's sequel, you play once more as the modern swashbuckler Nathan Drake, leaping, dodging, swimming, and shooting your way through verdant jungles and snow-shrouded vistas, but this time you also slink around targets, scale towering vertical surfaces, and tip things over to use as cover.

The object of your acrobatic travails? Marco Polo's lost fleet, a wish-fulfilling jewel, and the mythical Himalayan valley of Shangri-La.

Price: $60

Brutal Legend--ETA: October 13

For: PS3, Xbox 360

The words "Brutal Legend" may not ring any bells for you, but I'll bet the words "Full Throttle" do. The common denominator: game designer Tim Schafer.

Recognize him? Keep an eye on this game. Don't know who he is? Keep an eye on this game. And check out this premise: A head-banging roadie (that's you) voiced by actor Jack Black warps to a fantasy world inspired by the glam-goth artwork lavished on too many 1980s heavy-metal album covers. (If you saw the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Black showed up dressed in Brutal Legend gear.)

Once there, you'll do battle wielding a gigantic twin-blade axe and a magic-spitting Flying V guitar, rubbing elbows with characters voiced by Tim Curry, Lita Ford, Rob Halford, and Ozzy Osbourne. Spinal Tap meets "Lord of the Rings"? Promises, promises from Double Fine Productions.

Price: $60

Borderlands--ETA October 20

For: PS3, Windows, Xbox 360

Whether it actually "challenges all the conventions of modern shooters" or simply disguises them better than most, Gearbox Software's Borderlands is angling to upend your expectations. If Diablo and Mad Max were to have a baby, it would probably look like this game.

Imagine random levels, random creatures, random creature tactics, and a massive arsenal of recombining weaponry, from revolvers that fire shotgun shells to rifles that spit rockets. Everything is tuned for speed, with online cooperative play that'll let up to four players drop in or out of missions and scour a post-apocalyptic alien planet for a legendary tech trove.

Along the way, you'll sign up for quests and upgrade character skills. All that's missing? Tina Turner and the Thunderdome.

Price: $60 ($50 for Windows version)

Alpha Protocol--ETA: October 27

For: PS3, Windows, Xbox 360

Alpha Protocol--a third-person, modern-day action RPG about a rogue CIA agent--doesn't really leap out at you on paper, but it's a product of Obsidian Entertainment, the folks responsible for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II and Neverwinter Nights 2.

I'm famously on record for pillorying the latter, but Alpha Protocol's lead designer is Chris "Planescape: Torment" Avellone, the brains behind one of the best role-playing games ever made.

If that's not enough to light your fire, try this: Sega's Alpha Protocol is the world's first modern-day espionage-oriented role-playing game.

Price: $60 ($50 for Windows version)

Forza Motorsport 3--ETA: October 27

For: Xbox 360

They ought to call this genre "Beautiful Cars." Forza Motorsport 3 is after top honors in the category with detail modeling that has supposedly increased tenfold from the last go-round. The series, from Turn 10 Studios, is also more than happy to venture where the Gran Turismo games won't: Forza Motorsport 3 promises the most advanced damage modeling yet seen in a racer game.

Factor in the 400 customizable cars from 50 manufacturers that you can hurtle around 100 tracks, the 200 personalized racing events, the vehicle rollovers, and the long-overdue in-car driving view, too.

Gran Turismo 5 looks incredible, to be sure, but if you're after ultimate physical automotive fidelity, Forza Motorsport 3 will probably get the trophy.

Price: $60

Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time--ETA: October 27

For: PS3

If you've been following the Ratchet & Clank Future series from Insomniac Games, this installment wraps up plot points initiated in the earlier Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction.

Not that the plot about kidnapped robots and interstellar archvillains really matters, since this action-adventure series has always been about clever puzzles and even smarter team-based acrobatics.

This time around, you'll be fiddling with time itself to solve all sorts of head-scratchers. Of all the games that stand in the shadow of Nintendo's Super Mario 64, the Ratchet & Clank series takes top honors. Frankly, I'd rather play these than any of Nintendo's recent Mario titles.

Price: $60

Dragon Age: Origins--ETA: November 3

For: PS3, Windows, Xbox 360

Before everyone swoons over Mass Effect 2 early next year, folks will want to check out Dragon Age: Origins this November. This game marks developer Bioware's return to fantasy form, eight years after sewing up the Baldur's Gate series. This title isn't D&D (probably a perk at this point); instead it showcases Bioware's own "dark heroic fantasy" universe.

What's different? Moral complexity, ostensibly. The design team claims inspiration from fantasy novelist George R.R. Martin. Personally, I'd have preferred Steven Erikson. Even so...a game that forces you to weigh murder, genocide, betrayal, and the possession or sacrifice of children without a simplistic good/bad slider to steer by? Sign me up.

Price: $60 ($50 for Windows version)

Modern Warfare 2--ETA: November 10

For: PS3, Windows, Xbox 360

If I had to choose between Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare and competitor Retro Studios' Metroid Prime, I'd go with Metroid Prime. But Activision's more-realistic-than-usual (but not very realistic) modern-era first-person shooter would still be up there.

The first Modern Warfare certainly sold like gangbusters, perhaps proving that we're finally burned out on games themed to World War II.

Modern Warfare 2 brings more of the same but tacks on dual-wield weapons, snowmobile races, Russian vistas, tons of new multiplayer features, and the option to superheroically take on over 50 enemies at once.

Silly or no, I predict that the sun won't go down before this game goes platinum. One warning: Don't fall for the "Prestige Edition," which is priced over the moon at $150. I mean, an included pair of night-vision goggles? For real, Activision?

Price: $60

Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines--ETA: November 10

For: PSP

Assassin's Creed on a handheld that actually plays like the free-roaming action-stealth original? What's not to like?

Bloodlines steps in just before Assassin's Creed 2 (see the last slide), chronologically speaking. Bloodlines allows players to pad, perch, and prowl around the Greek island of Cyprus as Altair, the enigmatic protagonist from the original game.

The backstory for this series from Ubisoft Montreal has more twists than a contortionist (or the Cliff's Notes version of a Thomas Pynchon novel), which means you'll probably have to play Bloodlines if you want the skinny on the link between the last game's mysterious protagonist and the upcoming sequel's. (That, or wait for the Wikipedia summary.)

Price: $40

Left 4 Dead 2--ETA: November 17

For: Windows, Xbox 360

Heads exploding, bodies ripping open, swarms of bloody revenants scrambling over fences--just another day in the office for developer Valve.

This sequel to last November's first-person multiplayer zombie-masher adds five new supersized campaigns and tweaks the rules just enough to justify its existence--that is, if you're not one of the radicalized few who think that Valve is releasing this game too soon, or that the company owes players features that fall well outside the original's parameters.

Entitlement complex? People can grouse, but you'll want to judge this sequel on its own merits.

Price: $60 ($50 for Windows version)

Assassin's Creed 2--ETA: November 17

For: PS3, Windows, Xbox 360

The Assassin's Creed series, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, exits the Middle Ages and time-warps to Venice during the Renaissance, continuing the saga of Desmond Miles and his wildly talented, ne'er-do-well ancestors.

As before, you'll play an assassin capable of bounding along wooden beams and scrambling up walls like a spider. You'll also befriend historical celebs like Leonardo da Vinci and take the celebrated inventor's famous bat-winged ornithopter for a spin.

The most frightening new feature? Enemies can now track you right to your hidey-holes.

Price: $60 ($50 for Windows version)

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