An Embarrassment of Game Riches, Including a Clutch of Windows-Based Titles
Each summer the list of potential video game greats gets a little longer, but this year the cup runneth over. StarCraft? Metroid? Halo? It's like someone mixed up Christmas with summer.
You'll find those blockbuster franchises and more in the following 20 picks.
And for all you PC wonks, who says PC gaming isn't thriving? We count no less than 10 Windows-based titles here, including two PC exclusives like All Points Bulletin. Welcome back, PC gaming in 2010!
Crackdown 2, Expected June 6
The Scoop: Crackdown 2; by: Ruffian Games; from: Microsoft; for: Xbox 360.
Superhuman policemen in Grand Theft Auto-style free-roam a city--that's Crackdown's modus operandi, and this third-person action-focused sequel's sticking to it.
The New Stuff: Additional super powers, lots more character tinkering, and an online cooperative play mode that supports up to four players simultaneously.
All Points Bulletin, Expected June 29
The Scoop: All Points Bulletin; by: Realtime Worlds; from: EA Games; for: PC.
What if your hand-eye skills determined how your character progressed in an online multiplayer game instead of grinding for hours to level up abstract abilities?
Enter All Points Bulletin, which lets you do just that by pitting "enforcers" against "criminals." It sounds a little like a Grand Theft Auto game distilled to the crime-committing and chase sequences. Perhaps that's because it's by the guy who designed the original Grand Theft Auto.
LEGO Harry Potter, Expected June 29
The Scoop: LEGO Harry Potter; by: Traveller's Tales; from: EA Games, Warner Bros.; for: PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP, Nintendo DS.
LEGO meets Harry Potter in the latest reskinning of this kid-angled "collect-and-explore" action series.
Expect the same familiar build-your-own-boss-monster LEGO antics as in other LEGO-based games, with spells, potion-crafting, broomstick-riding, and some 140 playable Potter-verse characters rounding things out.
Singularity, Expected June 29
The Scoop: Singularity; by: Raven Software; from: Activision; for: PC, PS3, Xbox 360.
A mysterious island. Weird radiation. Time travel. A crash landing. Sound like another Lost-based video game? Nope, it's just a first-person shooter about a Russian experiment that goes bonkers in the 1950s. If the premise sounds trite, the gameplay shouldn't be, since it's designed by the guys who made the respectable occult shooter Wolfenstein.
Dragon Quest IX, Expected July 11
The Scoop: Dragon Quest IX; by: Level-5; from: Nintendo; for: Nintendo DS.
Dragon Quest IX blew the lid off Nintendo DS software sales when it launched in Japan in July 2009, and fans of this venerated role-playing series have been clamoring for an English translation ever since.
Look for a sophisticated character creation engine, happily grueling turn-based combat, and a four-player wireless cooperative mode when this pocket-sized fantasy epic ships in July.
NCAA Football 11, Expected July 13
The Scoop: NCAA Football 11; by: EA Tiburon, EA Canada; from: EA Sports; for: PS2, PS3, Xbox 360.
EA's perennial game of college football gets the latest heap of improvements, including a more realistic "momentum-based" movement engine, dual-stick action controls, and Madden NFL 10's enhanced group tackling engine.
Visual flourishes this time include on-field referees, team helmet numbers, and spiffed-up towels, hand warmers, sleeves, and knee braces. What's missing? Nothing we can think of.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Expected July 27
The Scoop: StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty; by: Blizzard; from: Blizzard; for: PC.
It's another PC exclusive, and this one's the 800-pound gorilla--a sequel to a military-themed sci-fi real-time strategy game so popular in some countries that professional players square off in televised tournaments.
StarCraft II doesn't want to reinvent the medium, but with this game's multiplayer-focused design team and promise to deliver "the ultimate competitive real-time strategy" experience, StarCraft II will settle for owning it.
Madden NFL 11, Expected August 10
The Scoop: Madden NFL 11; by: EA Tiburon; from: EA Sports; for: iPhone, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360.
Last year Madden got more complex. This year, it gets simpler.
EA's adding a new "GameFlow" system that lets you bark out plays intuitively without tapping through the playbook--so intuitively, in fact, that the publisher claims this lets you complete games in half the time (we can hope).
Otherwise, expect the usual upticks in graphical fidelity, animation smoothness, color commentary, and other miscellany in EA's annual quest to oblige finicky American football fans.
Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, Expected August 24
The Scoop: Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days; by: IO Interactive; from: Eidos Interactive; for: PC, Xbox 360, PS3.
The original Kane & Lynch was a mediocre third-person shooter and a minor scandal, but Kane & Lynch 2 hopes to beat the odds by letting you play as Lynch, Kane's "self-medicated psychopath" partner in brutality who's reportedly found peace in some cliched eastern locale.
Yeah, we know how that's bound to turn out, but we'll just have to see whether the game's claim to "never before seen" documentary-inspired visuals, along with new cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes, allow this sequel to step out of the original's shadow.
Mafia II, Expected August 24
The Scoop: Mafia II; by: 2K Czech; from: 2K Games; for: PC, PS3, Xbox 360.
Everyone wants to be Grand Theft Auto, and Mafia II is no exception, with its sandbox-style approach to midtwentieth century mobs.
Imagine San Francisco jammed in with New York City, and you've got a feel for Empire Bay, 10 square miles of urban sprawl carved up by violent crime families.
Enjoy the retro feel of Colt 1911s, Thompson M1928s, and MP40s; plus, M3 Grease Guns in a setting that tributes gritty gangster flicks? Keep your eyes on this one.
Dead Rising 2, Expected August 31
The Scoop: Dead Rising 2; by: Blue Castle Games; from: Capcom; for: PC, Xbox 360, PS3.
Forget Resident Evil 5 and Left 4 Dead 2. The titleholder for "best zombie bashing, mowing, detonating, and decapitating" game remains Capcom's Dead Rising. Dead Rising 2 takes place five years later in Fortune City, a Las Vegas clone ideally overrun by drooling maniacs and concert-floor-thick crowds of groaning psychos.
Best of all? The old "anything-you-see's-a-weapon" mechanic is back, which hopefully means slot machines, roulette wheels, craps tables, money paddles, buffet carts, pink flamingos, and life-sized cardboard cutouts of Wayne Netwon.
Metroid Other M, Expected August 31
Outer space? Whirling asteroids? Massive explosions? A full-body-armored female protagonist? Say hello to Metroid Other M, a hybrid 2D/3D platformer played in both third- and first-person by the Ninja Gaiden guys.
Metroid Gaiden? Maybe not, but Nintendo calls it "a Metroid game unlike any experienced before," and says it'll take us deeper into Samus's (the protagonist's) story than we've ever been.
Valkyria Chronicles II, Expected August 31
The Scoop: Valkyria Chronicles II; by: Sega; from: Sega; for: PSP.
No one expected this critically acclaimed tactical role-playing series to go portable-only after its PS3 debut, but the PSP sequel is shaping up to be every bit as compulsively playable as its predecessor.
If you're into class-based soldiers dueling on complex 3D battlefields, Valkyria Chronicles may be the apotheosis of tactical skirmishing, and if you're already a PSP owner, it's a no-brainer.
L.A. Noire, Expected September 1
The Scoop: L.A. Noire; by: Team Bondi; from: Rockstar Games; for: PS3, Xbox 360.
Imagine the city of angels circa 1940, perfectly replicated, then stylized to look like something starring Bogart and Bacall.
Meet L.A. Noire, an action-mystery game that weds the sandbox free-roam stylings of a Grand Theft Auto game with the chalkline-littered murder-mystery sleuthing of a TV serial.
Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest, Expected September 1
The Scoop: Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest; by: Headstrong Games, TT Fusion; from: Warner Bros.; for: Nintendo DS, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii.
When Warner Bros. snatched the Lord of the Rings games license from Electronic Arts a few years ago, everyone expected big things.
It's anyone guess what WB's first game, Aragorn's Quest, bodes, but it's a third-person action-adventure about Aragorn's adventures staged as levels that crib from all three books in Tolkien's trilogy. The game was due last year, but wound up delayed until later in 2010 so the designers could add PS3 and PlayStation Move support.
Sid Meier's Civilization V, Expected September 1
The Scoop: Sid Meier's Civilization V; by: Firaxis Games; from: 2K Games; for: PC.
Civilization may be the most important turn-based PC strategy game in the medium's history, but it's also a pretty spot-on history simulator.
The series' fifth turn at bat incorporates a new combat engine, more sophisticated diplomacy, and expansions all around to tried and true features.
The most startling change? Hexagon tiles that streamline movement and simplify visualization, since the center of one hex is equidistant from the center of any adjacent other.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, Expected September 7
The Scoop: Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep; by: Square Enix; from: Square Enix; for: PSP.
Though Birth By Sleep is actually a prequel, expect new features galore, including a battle system that lets you prestack command abilities and execute them in real time along with new multiplayer modes and graphics generated by the gorgeous Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII engine.
Look for region-specific perks, from Crown Stickers (whatever those are), an extra boss, and "additional multiplayer options."
Brink, Expected September 7
The Scoop: Brink; by: Splash Damage; from: Bethesda Softworks; for: PC, PS3, Xbox 360.
It's hard to say what precisely sets Brink apart from other first-person shooters, but the design team clearly wants you thinking parkour, the physical discipline of bodily navigating complex, primarily urban environments.
Taking up arms as a member of a warring faction--either "resistance" or "security"--you'll have to battle through a post-apocalyptic Waterworld-style floating city using the game's blissfully simple one-button "SMART" movement system. SMART how? Look toward your destination, tap a button, and your character automatically leaps, dives, or clambers to get there.
Halo: Reach, Expected September 14
The Scoop: Halo: Reach; by: Bungie; from: Microsoft; for: Xbox 360.
Halo: Reach may be Bungie's swan song, and they're hoping to go out on a high note with this first-person-shooter prequel to the Xbox-original Halo: Combat Evolved.
Whether it "pushes the boundaries for what's possible in video games," per Microsoft, or just politely nudges them, it's bound to sell gazillions. The multiplayer beta alone, which just wrapped, managed to lure a record-breaking 2.7 million players.
Two Worlds II, Expected September 14
The Scoop: Two Worlds II; by: Reality Pump; from: SouthPeak Interactive; for: PC, Mac, PS3, Xbox 360.
Sure, the original sucked, but early signs indicate Reality Pump got its act together for Two Worlds II so it'll look and play less like a (badly) warped reflection of Bethesda's Oblivion. Expect big changes from this free-roam role-playing sequel, including overhauled attacking and parrying, item tinkering, and magic-casting mechanics.