The Video Games You've Been Waiting For
Welcome to the season of gaming vigorously. This fall, the time-honored tradition of lounging in your comfy chair, gamepad in hand, is in grave danger of extinction, with the onset of scads of shake-your-body games. Click on to check out our picks for 20 hot fall games, and notice that--just as happened in our summer roundup--PC gaming factors prominently in this season's roster, including several Windows exclusives.
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World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, Expected to Arrive Sometime This Year
The Scoop: World of Warcraft: Cataclysm by Blizzard, from Activision Blizzard, for Windows and OS X.
Cataclysm may just inspire me to return to the World of Warcraft fold, with two new races (Goblins and wolf-like Worgen), some 3000 new quests, additional raids and dungeons, a level cap uptick to 85, and a bold rethink of the entire game world geography.
Blizzard's latest WoW expansion qualifies as its most dramatic since the original game launched in 2004--and arguably its most enticing. Who wouldn't want a shot at giving Deathwing (the dragon defeated in Warcraft II, which returns to wreak havoc) its second comeuppance?
Dead Rising 2, September 28
The Scoop: Dead Rising 2 by Blue Castle and Capcom; from Capcom; for PS3, Xbox 360, and Windows.
The sequel Dead Rising 2 takes place five years after the original, this time in Fortune City, a Las Vegas lookalike that is rife with mobs of groaning corpses.
Grab whatever's not nailed down and it becomes a weapon, from footballs, chainsaws, and kayak paddles to snowball cannons, pitchfork guns, and honest-to-goodness swordfish--or build your own custom zombie-pulper by slapping anything at hand together.
Final Fantasy XIV, September 30
The Scoop: Final Fantasy XIV by Square Enix, from Square Enix, for Windows.
Goodbye, lighthearted online fantasy world of Vana'diel; hello, warring nation states of relatively technology-savvy Eorzea. And be forewarned that the setting is only the start of the revamping in Square Enix's spiritual sequel to Final Fantasy XI.
Where FFXI meted out experience points for completing objectives, the characters in Final Fantasy XIV take their cues toward advancement from the weapons and crafting tools they choose to carry around. That, and the game is reportedly solo-friendly, something the group-biased massively multiplayer genre needs badly.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, October 5
The Scoop: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow by MercurySteam and Kojima Productions, from Konami, for: PS3 and Xbox 360.
The first few 3D Castlevania games (released over a decade ago) were so wretched that their maker threw in the towel and returned the series to its 2D roots. Lords of Shadow marks the company's second attempt to reboot the franchise as a fully 3D platformer, taking useful cues from games like God of War (the retractable pyrokinetic chain whip) and Shadow of the Colossus (the massive screen-blotting boss battles).
Medal of Honor, October 12
The Scoop: Medal of Honor by Danger Close and DICE; from Electronic Arts; For PS3, Xbox 360, and Windows.
Bound to offend someone, EA's upcoming Medal of Honor series reboot lets gamers take up arms as allied or enemy forces. The allies in this case are U.S. Army Rangers. The theater is Afghanistan. And so the opposition, logically enough, is the Taliban.
Politicians are already crying foul, but if Medal of Honor's gameplay lives up to its promise--something that the controversial terrorist level in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 didn't--it will repudiate issue-of-the-moment critics.
Fallout New Vegas, October 19
The Scoop: Fallout New Vegas by Obsidian Entertainment; from Bethesda Softworks; for PS3, Xbox 360, and Windows.
A proper sequel to Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas qualifies as a stand-alone role-playing game, every bit as as expansive as its postapocalyptic predecessors. This game abandons Fallout 3's East Coast backdrop for the Mojave Desert, where Las Vegas lives on in mutant glory.
Lead designer Chris Avellone's work has been hit-or-miss between games like Neverwinter Nights 2 and Alpha Protocol, but he also famously designed Planescape: Torment, one of the best role-playing games yet made.
Fable III, October 26
The Scoop: Fable III by Lionhead, from Microsoft Game Studios, for Xbox 360 and Windows.
Fable II was British game luminary Peter Molyneux's magnum opus, so expectations are understandably stratospheric for Fable III. Sure, you're still basically playing to take the kingdom, but once you do, you've only reached the game's halfway mark.
Fable III then gives you the task of living up to your political promises...or not. The other big change: No more menus. Replacing them are interactive wardrobes and weapons rooms that you periodically teleport to--something that series wonks may or may not like.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, October 26
The Scoop: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II by LucasArts, Aspry, and Red Fly; from LucasArts; for PS3, Xbox 360, Windows, Wii, Nintendo DS, and iOS.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was a mediocre action game clothed in Star Wars' slick trappings. Star Wars fans loved it despite its shortcomings, so the sequel is sure to sell well. But brace for action clichés like dueling weapons (lightsabers), spaceship piloting (tie fighters), a few new special abilities (Force powers), and the usual end-level boss battles.
On the upside, LucasArts admits it botched the first game's targeting system and claims it's been fixed.
Rock Band 3, October 26
The Scoop: Rock Band 3 by Harmonix; from MTV Games; for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, and Nintendo DS.
With 83 synth-angled songs, vocal harmonization support, and a new "pro" mode designed to mimic playing real instruments (using special controllers, of course--no one's saying this genre isn't expensive), Rock Band 3 wants to be all things to all players (and maybe silence critics who snobbily claim that "it's not really playing music").
Goldeneye 007, November 2
The Scoop: Goldeneye 007 by Eurocom and n-Space, from Activision, for Wii and Nintendo DS.
Goldeneye 007 for N64 was hot in the late 1990s, but the genre has long since moved on, and attempts to recapture its glory with follow-ups like TimeSplitters and various Bond license sequels proved hollow. Goldeneye 007's solution? Remake the original and polish things up a bit.
Designer Eurocom has a spotty track record, but Nintendo is probably babysitting, and the game does star Daniel Craig and Judi Dench reprising their roles as Bond and M.
DC Universe Online, November 2
The Scoop: DC Universe Online by Sony Online Entertainment, from Sony Online Entertainment, for PS3 and Windows.
What sets DC Universe Online apart from its online role-playing peers? Not much in terms of gameplay, but it does have Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Joker, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and many of the other iconic heros and villains in the DC stable.
Sony is pushing the game's combat-centric physics engine, which gets the environment involved (for a change) and lets you convert everyday objects (including your enemies) into weapons.
Gran Turismo 5, November 2
The Scoop: Gran Turismo 5 by Polyphony Digital, from Sony Computer Entertainment, for PS3.
"It's finally here." These three words almost work in lieu of a review. We've waited since Gran Turismo 5 was first announced in 2006 for features like stereoscopic 3D support, more than 1000 cars on the digital lot, a sophisticated damage model, 70 tracks in 20 locations, 16-player online races, and a course creator. Does anyone doubt that Gran Turismo 5 will own race-gaming when it debuts?
Kinect (Project Natal) for Xbox 360, November 4
The Scoop: Kinect for Xbox 360 by Microsoft Game Studios, from Microsoft Game Studios, for Xbox 360.
Microsoft's Kinect (formerly known as Project Natal) makes you the controller, which means that it's easier to dive into and its relatively inexpensive if you're after party play. The flip side is that Kinect's camera lacks precision compared to Sony's Move or Nintendo's Wii. This limits the system's appeal to more-casual players.
Of course Nintendo's Wii caught on like wildfire despite critical naysaying, and Kinect is even easier to use, making the entry-level bundle more compelling since it share's the Wii's $200 price point.
Call of Duty: Black Ops, November 9
The Scoop: Call of Duty: Black Ops by Treyarch and n-Space; from Activision; for PS3, Xbox 360, Windows, Wii, and Nintendo DS.
Call of Duty Black Ops raises the series' profile by lowering it. Instead of playing a guy with insane firepower ripping through flak-filled scenarios and dispatching thousands of enemy combatants, you play various special operatives conducting secret missions behind enemy lines. You'll probably still slaughter thousands as you roll through such hotspots as the Ural Mountains, Laos, Cuba, and Vietnam, but at least you'll get to use unconventional weaponry to do it.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, November 16
The Scoop: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood by Ubisoft Montreal; from Ubisoft; for PS3, Xbox 360, and Windows.
Instead of Assassin's Creed III, Ubisoft is offering a teaser between sequels. This time the action picks up where its stealth game Assassin's Creed II left off--in sprawling Renaissance Rome.
Since you're already a master assassin there, you pick up side duties, such as deploying novice assassins, learning to use new inventions, and generally rebuilding the Templar-ruined city. The most promising update is the game's new multiplayer mode, where you may cat-and-mouse other assassins for points.
LittleBigPlanet 2, November 16
The Scoop: LittleBigPlanet 2 by Media Molecule, from Sony Computer Entertainment, for PS3.
Fifty new levels, bounce pads, deployable AI minions, and all sorts of goofy new gadgets round out Sackboy's second set of physics-based adventures. Your goal this time is to save Craftworld from "the evil Negativitron" by wielding grappling hooks, power gloves, and giant fluffy bird-things.
While the original involved a few too many half-baked levels, despite channeling some admittedly brilliant design tools, the sequel looks like a proper platform adventure, and the do-it-yourself options have been dramatically expanded.
Epic Mickey, November 30
The Scoop: Epic Mickey by Junction Point Studios, from Disney Interactive, for Wii.
Possibly the coolest-looking game of the year, Epic Mickey hands you a bunch of magic painting tools, and then lets you build or destroy its surreal environments to suit your taste.
Don't confuse the game with Kingdom Hearts, the Final Fantasy/Disney hybrid series, because this one is retro-Disney all the way. You'll even navigate side-scrolling black-and-white levels based on Disney classic cartoons like "Steamboat Willie" and "Clock Cleaners."
The Lord of the Rings Online, Now Available
The Scoop: The Lord of the Rings Online by Turbine, from Turbine, for Windows.
The world's most sophisticated online fantasy role-playing game just became 100 percent free to play. You can do this through the original launch content, but (and this is the "but" that the game's maker is banking on), if you like what you see, you'll want more.
That may include Moria, Mirkwood, Lorien, and eventually Middle-earth's ominous southerly ports of call--all accessible through the clever new in-game content store.
PlayStation Move, Already Available
The Scoop: PlayStation Move by Sony Computer Entertainment, from Sony Computer Entertainment, for PS3.
The game industry's preliminary salvo in this year's motion-control-themed doubleheader offers the most precise tracking available, bar none, but it banks on a range of pricey peripherals. You can play with one bulb-tipped wand ($50), but using two works better.
You'll need the separate Eye camera ($40), and probably the navigation controller ($30) if you're what Sony calls a "core" gamer.
Sure, the Move is basically Sony channeling the Wii (with dramatic improvements), but then what company wouldn't want to do that?
Sid Meier's Civilization V, Already Available
The Scoop: Sid Meier's Civilization V by Firaxis Games, from 2K Games, for Windows.
Sid Meier's fifth shot at reinventing his turn-based touchstone game originally made our Summer 2010 games list, but it slipped a few weeks to straddle the seasonal line.
With an overhauled combat engine, more flexible diplomatic choices, and radically different hexagon tiles designed to simplify movement and enable you to visualize distances between points better, Civilization V deserves two mentions.