Below, we look at the top games expected to arrive before the end of the year, listed in date order. Click on any platform icon next to a game title to go to the platform-specific page for that game.
Gears of War 3 Watch Trailers
2008's Gears of War 2 scored a 93, while the original Gears of War managed a 94. So it's safe to say that expectations are high for the concluding chapter in Epic Games' trilogy of third-person shooters pitting humanity's last remaining survivors against the evil Locust Horde (and new, even more powerful Lambent enemies) on the planet Sera. Picking up ten months after the previous installment, Gears of War 3 introduces a four-player co-op mode to the series, and also adds a "Beast" mode that allows you to play as the Locust and defeat those pesky humans once and for all.
- Resident Evil 4 HD is a high-definition remaster of the 2005 survival-horror classic, available via Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network.
A pair of the PlayStation 2's better games, ICO 90 and Shadow of the Colossus 91, come to the PS3 for the first time in this collection. While gameplay—which combines action, adventure, and puzzle elements—remains the same, both titles have been remastered in high definition, with support for 3D as well. Next year, Team Ico returns with The Last Guardian, an unofficial sequel which will share thematic and stylistic similarities with its two predecessors.
- FIFA Soccer 12 This annual update of EA's soccer title adds a new physics engine, tactical defending, an overhauled career mode, and more.
- X-Men: Destiny Activision's action-RPG set in the X-Men universe has players taking on the role of one of three rookie mutants who must work his way up the superhero ranks.
Dark Souls Watch Trailers
Be prepared to die, early and often. A spiritual successor (though not an official sequel) to the 2009 PS3 title Demon's Souls 89, the action-RPG Dark Souls is set in a terrifying open-world dungeon environment that aims to be bigger, deeper, and much more challenging than that of its predecessor. (Anyone who remembers how punishing the first game was might find that hard to believe, but reviewers who played early versions of the new game have confirmed its difficulty.) Don't expect any DLC, but that shouldn't be a problem for a game that promises at least 50 hours of gameplay out of the box.
Rage Watch Trailers
After an asteroid strikes earth in 2029, wiping out most of the population, the few remaining human inhabitants band together in what's left of the world for survival. With its blend of first-person shooter, racing, and RPG elements, and a post-apocalyptic, open world wasteland setting inhabited by mutants, Rage certainly recalls games like Borderlands and the Fallout series (as well as movies like Mad Max), though it comes from legendary Doom/Quake creators id Software, who have a few new tricks up their sleeves—and, more importantly, a new game engine. Plus, it appears to be Jesse Pinkman's favorite game (though don't expect to be able to play with a motion-controlled light gun like he does on Breaking Bad).
- NBA 2K12 will let you play the 2011-12 NBA season even if the lockout prevents it from happening in real life (though the labor dispute means that rookies are not included in this year's game). A new mode adds 15 all-time greats like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
- Spider-Man: Edge of Time Shattered Dimensions developers Beenox return with a new action-adventure that has players controlling both the Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099, who must unite across time to prevent the premature death of Peter Parker.
Forza Motorsport 4 Watch Trailers
The 360's top sim racing series returns with a follow-up to 2009's acclaimed Forza Motorsport 3 92. Players of that game will be able to import their profiles into the new version, which adds Kinect support, 16-player online racing, and a tie in with the BBC's Top Gear series (including commentary from the show's Jeremy Clarkson and the ability to race on the Top Gear test track). Choose from hundreds of impressively detailed automobiles, including new additions ranging from a 2011 Tesla Roadster to a Ford Mustang GT Coupe 1965.
- Just Dance 3 The previously Wii-only music game series seeks a broader audience with its latest version, which allows up to four players to dance together to songs from the past four decades.
Batman: Arkham City Watch Trailers
While great games based on movies are almost nonexistent, it is actually possible to create a terrific videogame using a comic book as the source. For an example, look no further than 2009's stellar action title Batman: Arkham Asylum 92. Can developer Rocksteady Studios strike gold again with the sequel Arkham City? It's certainly possible. Taking place a year later, the new game is reportedly five times the size of the original, with up to 40 hours of gameplay and plenty of new gadgets and capabilities to utilize. It also adds Catwoman as a playable character, with her own storyline interwoven with Batman's at various points throughout the game. While many characters from the Batman universe (like Joker and Riddler) return from the previous title, you can also expect to see newcomers like the Penguin, Two-Face, and Calendar Man, while Bane is back as friend, not foe.
- Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One is a four-player co-op adventure that marks the tenth title in the quirky and creative Ratchet & Clank series; you can play as Ratchet, Clank, Qwark, or the evil Dr. Nefarious.
Battlefield 3 Watch Trailers
Prepare for an all-out war this fall as the latest installment in EA's Battlefield series clashes with a new Modern Warfare title for modern combat game supremacy. With an October 25 release date, Battlefield 3 (a direct sequel to 2005's PC hit Battlefield 2 91) gets a two-week head start on its bigger rival, and also features a newer engine than MW3 (though it still has a lesser framerate), which creates moments of massive, beautiful destruction. The single-player campaign takes place near the Iraq-Iran border, while multiplayer maps include urban areas like Paris, New York, and Tehran, as well as more remote settings that allow more room for your vehicles. Speaking of multiplayer, the PC version of BF3 will support up to 64 simultaneous players. Thus, while we probably won't know the console winner of this battle-game battle until November, owners of tricked-out PCs are probably already leaning this way.
- Dance Central 2 The best launch title available for Microsoft's Kinect last year gets a quick sequel with 40 new songs (you can also import your favorites from the first game) and a pair of new simultaneous two-player modes that allow you to dance with or against a friend.
- Kirby's Return to Dream Land This traditional side-scrolling platformer was originally set to be a GameCube release back in 2005, though the delay allowed for such additions as a four-player co-op mode.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Watch Trailers
You want high expectations? Only one PS3 game in history (Grand Theft Auto IV) has a higher Metascore than 2009's Uncharted 2: Among Thieves 96, thanks in part to a rich storyline and cinema-worthy graphics that put most games and some movies (we're looking at you, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) to shame. In his latest adventure, treasure hunter Nathan Drake explores the Arabian desert in search of the mythical lost city Iram of the Pillars, with plot elements borrowed from the early archaeological explorations of T. E. Lawrence (whose later military exploits helped earned him greater fame as "Lawrence of Arabia"). Uncharted 3 adds 3D support, new stealth options, and a more refined multiplayer system, while coming close to maxing out the capacity of a single Blu-ray disc. If you don't already own a PS3, you may want one come November.
- The Lord of the Rings: War in the North Battle Sauron's forces as a human, elf, or dwarf in this violent RPG set in the Middle-earth of Peter Jackson's film trilogy, which offers both single- and multi-player modes.
- Sonic Generations Released in honor of the iconic hedgehog's 20th anniversary, Generations combines levels taken from Sonic titles throughout the past two decades, with a combination of side-scrolling and 2D/3D gameplay. A very different Nintendo 3DS version is also coming, though there is no firm release date.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Watch Trailers
What does Modern Warfare 3 have that Battlefield 3 doesn't? For starters, how about 20 million fans, or the number who purchased Modern Warfare 2. (And don't forget last year's Call of Duty title, Black Ops, which stands as the best-selling game of all time.) The single-player campaign (which, admittedly, is probably not the reason you're buying the game) focuses on Russia's continued invasion of the United States (including New York City), and new incursion into Western Europe. Meanwhile, MW3's sure-to-be-popular multiplayer modes will include a new "survival"-style co-op mode, while competitive multiplayer will feature revamped killstreaks and rankings. Even Wii owners can get in on the action this time. There is a catch, however. A legal dispute between publisher Activision and developer Infinity Ward resulted in the departure of many of the latter's key employees, resulting in two additional studios (Sledgehammer Games and Raven Software) being brought in to help finish the game in time for its November release; whether that adversely impacts the look and feel of MW3 remains to be seen.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Watch Trailer
This is one big game. The epic, highly-anticipated sequel to 2006's PC game of the year (Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion 94) moves the action ahead 200 years to the fictitious, dragon-infested Nordic land of Skyrim, which you must save from destruction. Bethesda's latest open-world fantasy-RPG will also feature an overhauled combat system (including, among other things, the ability to dual-wield weapons), a new leveling system, an incredibly detailed mythology, and improved graphics, among a host of new features. The developers have also promised over 200 hours of content, adding to most fans' suspicions that what we have here, at minimum, is the year's best RPG.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations Watch Trailers
The fourth main installment in the Assassin's Creed series of open-world but story-driven adventures is the last to be set during the Renaissance, and it will conclude the story of Ezio Auditore while also bringing back the other two protagonists (Altaïr and Desmond) from the prior chapters. Though AC's bread and butter has always been single player, in Revelations, online multiplayer takes a bigger role, and, as you level up, more of the backstory of the Templars and Assassins is revealed.
Saints Row: The Third Watch Trailers
Is the third time the charm for this completely over-the-top, sandbox-style gang warfare franchise? The first two titles in the series received good-but-not-great Metascores of 81, but The Third looks to shed its GTA-wannabe status once and for all by taking the action to a new level of extreme political incorrectness and all-around insanity, appealing to the sadist inside every gamer. Few other games reward you for intentionally getting run over by a semi truck; fewer still allow you to attack your enemies with octopi, a sex toy, or a Manapult (which is pretty much what you think it is). It's not subtle, but calling in an air strike against a target rarely is.
- Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Celebrate the 10th anniversary of Halo by buying it all over again; new online co-op, a "best-of" map bundle, and improved graphics provide added incentives to do so.
- Jurassic Park: The Game is an episodic downloadable title from adventure masters Telltale Games, who recently had some success adapting another classic movie (Back to the Future).
- Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games finds your favorite Sega and Nintendo characters competing in minigames as well as official Olympic events, including, for the first time, soccer and canoeing; expect a 3DS version early next year.
- Need For Speed: The Run asks players to elude the cops while competing in a Cannonball Run-style illegal cross-country road race from San Francisco to New York.
- Nov. 13 Super Mario 3D Land is one of the rare major 3DS titles that isn't a port of an existing game; this new platformer blends 2D and 3D gameplay elements and comes from the development team responsible for the acclaimed Super Mario Galaxy titles.
- Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is an update of February's Fate of Two Worlds that adds a dozen new playable fighters, including Ghost Rider and Phoenix Wright (who presumably does more than threaten legal action against his opponents).
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Watch Trailers
It's likely to be the last good game for the Wii. With a new console (Wii U) due in 2012, Nintendo has slowed development for its current generation system, meaning that this prequel to 1998's Ocarina of Time is likely the last major title we'll see. The previous Wii Zelda title, Twilight Princess 95, was a hit; Skyward Sword, which makes use of the MotionPlus controller for much more precise swordfighting, should be one as well. And all early versions will include a free copy of The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony Concert CD containing music from throughout the series.
The wild cards
The following games do not have confirmed release dates, but could surface in the last few months of 2011.
Diablo III Watch Trailer
Currently in a closed friends and family beta, Diablo III is getting closer to an official release; whether that happens before the year is up is still likely but not yet confirmed. Blizzard's bloody, dark fantasy hack-and-slash RPG comes over a decade after the initial release of Diablo II 88, and, like that game, will emphasize multiplayer via the Battle.net service, though with greater player vs. player capabilities. Character classes this time include Monk, Barbarian, Wizard, Demon Hunter, and Witch Doctor, the previous game's skill point system has been ditched, and a new "Inferno" setting offers a challenge for even maxed-out elite players. You can also expect an online auction house where you can sell anything you find in the game for real world money.
Star Wars: The Old Republic Watch Trailers
Jedi or Sith? That's your call to make in this upcoming story-driven MMORPG—set an even longer time ago in the Star Wars universe—which is very tentatively scheduled for a release in late 2011. Sure, we know better than to let our expectations get out of hand for a Star Wars game. Still, with BioWare (Mass Effect, Dragon Age) as developer, a personal spaceship for every player, plenty of opportunities for space and ground combat (in co-op teams, or player vs. player) between the dueling Republic and Empire factions, and dozens of planets from Tatooine to Alderaan, the force could be strong with this one.
What do you think?
Which games are you looking forward to this fall? Let us know in the comments section below. You can also predict which game will receive the best reviews: