If you like sequels, you'll love this fall's videogame lineup
Like Hollywood, the videogame industry seems to have a bad case of sequelitis as it heads into its blockbuster season. But, unlike most movie sequels, game sequels aren't necessarily a bad thing, and many of this fall's biggest titles look to improve on what came before.
Below, we look at the 28 top game titles scheduled for release before the end of the year, plus two major hardware additions. The platform exclusives are listed first; on the following page, you'll find a list of upcoming games that will be released for multiple platforms.
Xbox 360 exclusives
Halo Reach Watch trailer
A prequel to the original Halo, the latest installment in Bungie's ever-popular series features Halo's first space-based combat sequence. Most of the action in this first-person shooter, however, takes place on the planet Reach, where a squad of Spartans makes one final stand against the evil Covenant. Don't expect anything groundbreaking; gameplay is similar to previous versions, though the tone is a bit darker and more serious.
Fable III Watch trailer
Set 50 years after the events of Fable II, Peter Molyneux's latest action-RPG requires you to overthrow King Logan, the corrupt ruler of Albion who just happens to be your brother. But the game doesn't end there; the second half forces you to rule the continent and make a number of difficult decisions. Fable III boasts one of the best vocal casts (including Simon Pegg, John Cleese, and Ben Kingsley) of any videogame, while also featuring new and streamlined gameplay mechanics that eliminates the menu system common to the genre in an attempt to make the game more accessible. A PC version of the game is also expected in the near future, but has been delayed.
It's not a game, but it is a new way of playing them. Formerly known as Project Natal, Microsoft's latest add-on to the Xbox is a motion capture device (think extra-fancy webcam) that tracks your movements, gestures, and speech, allowing you (and up to five of your friends) to control the action on-screen without the use of a controller. Kinect will even recognize your face and automatically log you into Xbox Live. While the technology sounds promising, the real challenge will be to develop games that take advantage of Kinect's capabilities in compelling and original ways. That may come in time, but the small roster of titles available at Kinect's launch looks like a bunch of Wii wannabees, including Kinect Adventures!, which comes bundled with the $150 peripheral.
Will Dance Central start a dance dance revolution? By far the most promising launch title for the Kinect controller, Dance Central is the latest music-themed party game from Rock Band creator Harmonix. You'll need to clear out some space in your living room or videogame annex for a virtual dancefloor, where -- utilizing Kinect's motion capture technology -- you and your friends can master hundreds of dance moves set to music from the likes of M.I.A. and Lady Gaga. And don't worry: if your mad dance skills are similar to Elaine's in Seinfeld, there's a no-fail mode.
PlayStation 3 exclusives
Gran Turismo 5 Watch trailer
Sony's acclaimed racing series returns with its first major installment for the PS3. Five years in the making -- and with a production budget exceeding $60 million -- GT5 has fans hoping for not just another racing game, but the racing game. And there are a lot of encouraging signs, including a host of new features and a greatly improved physics engine. The new title will offer stunning reproductions of close to 1,000 different vehicles and 20 locations (playable in both day and night conditions, with weather a factor), and includes licenses for NASCAR, Indy Racing League, World Rally Championship, and Super GT for the first time. An online mode will be available, for up to 16 players at a time. Another first for the series: you can inflict realistic damage on the vehicles (both external and mechanical), and cars can even be overturned. (Not that you would try to do that intentionally, of course.)
LittleBigPlanet 2 Watch trailer
The E-rated 2008 puzzle-platformer game LittleBigPlanet 95 wowed critics with its inventive graphics and robust user-created content capabilities; hardcore gamers, however, found the title a bit too boring. The latter group may not be won over by this inevitable sequel, but fans of the game who were frustrated by the limitations of the original's create mode will be rewarded with a much stronger focus on that aspect of LBP. In fact, LBP2 can be seen as a true game design platform, with the ability to create not just platform levels, but RPGs, strategy games, racing games, puzzles, and more.
It's like a Wii controller, but with 100% more glowing orbs. (Either that, or it's the world's worst lightsaber.) Sony's belated answer to Nintendo is a motion-sensitive controller that allows PlayStation owners to affect the on-screen action by, well, moving. That glowing orb has a purpose, by the way; used in conjunction with the PlayStation Eye camera (which is required), it allows very precise tracking of your Move controller, hopefully making it a bit less wonky than Wiimotes can be. (A smaller, supplementary "navigation" controller functions much like the Wii's nunchuk add-on, but without a wired connection.) One major advantage the Move controllers definitely offer over those on the Wii: no batteries required. The controller comes bundled with Sony's less-than-impressive take on Wii Sports called Sports Champions; though a few dozen additional Move-enabled titles are due before year-end, it may be a while before there is anything to excite hardcore gamers.
Disney Epic Mickey
Disney's new platformer is part of an attempt by the entertainment giant to inject more personality into its iconic character. The Warren Spector-designed title finds a mischievous Mickey Mouse trapped in an alternate Disney universe known as the Cartoon Wasteland, inhabited by long-forgotten cartoon characters and attractions from Disney's past, including Walt Disney's very first creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Mickey must save his new friends from a mysterious villain by reshaping this world through the use of paint and paint thinner, a potentially innovative gameplay system that will allow multiple paths to victory.
Donkey Kong Country Returns
A new development studio (Retro) takes over Nintendo's venerable franchise for this new 3-D Wii side-scroller starring a pair of Kongs, Donkey and Diddy, who must track down their stolen bananas. Donkey Kong Country Returns promises to be evocative of the platformer's past installments (which last appeared in 1996) while adding new elements like a cooperative multiplayer mode.
Kirby: Epic Yarn
Yet another Nintendo franchise gets the Wii re-boot treatment. Originally planned for the GameCube, the cutesy Epic Yarn is a 2-D side-scroller that features a unique graphic design based on animated yarn and textiles -- reminiscent of something out of a Michel Gondry video -- that wowed observers at this year's E3 conference. Kirby himself comes equipped with a piece of string that he can use as a lasso or whip, while also maintaining the ability to transform himself into other objects at various times during the game. A second player can join in as well, playing as Prince Fluff.
Already a hit in Japan, Nintendo's latest casual party game is similar to a Mario Party title, but with Miis replacing Mario characters. Structured like a board game, Wii Party includes over 70 minigames playable by up to four people at once, with both competitive and cooperative challenges. A "house party" mode requires players to perform tasks in the real world, such as finding Wii remotes hidden by a fellow player.
Civilization V Watch trailer
The early word on this latest iteration of Sid Meier's turn-based strategy classic is that it's very similar to previous versions of Civilization, but with far superior graphics. That screenshot to the right is your first indication that some things have indeed changed since Civ 4, however; yes, those are hexagonal tiles, a first for the series. There are also tweaks throughout the game, from the way you manage relations with neighboring cities to the introduction of the ability to purchase new territory. Your combat strategy will need some updating as well, since cities can now defend themselves without the need for units stationed there, and multiple combat units can no longer occupy the same tile. And the good news for modders is that user-created maps can easily be shared directly within the game, and you can even import maps from Civ 4.
Final Fantasy XIV Online Watch trailer
(Collector's Edition Sep. 22, Regular Edition Sep. 30)
The second MMORPG in the Final Fantasy series (after the popular Final Fantasy XI, to which the new game is not a direct sequel), FF14 promises stunning graphics -- if your computer can handle them. Don't expect anything too out of the ordinary as far as gameplay goes, though the new title -- which takes place in the realm of Eorzea -- eliminates the traditional leveling system in favor of an equipment-oriented approach. Purchasers of the $75 Collector's Edition get eight days of early access, among other extras; a PS3 version of the game may arrive next spring.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Watch trailer
(tba late 2010)
Everything old is new again in Blizzard's third expansion to its ever-popular MMO. After a catastrophic event caused by the return of the evil Deathwing, old zones that veteran players have already visited will become dramatically reconfigured, providing a strong incentive to re-explore old ground. The game will also offer 3,000 new quests, a higher level cap (up from 80 to 85), and a new pair of playable races (the green-skinned Goblins and the beastlike Worgens). Anyone shelling out $80 for the boxed retail version will also receive a 176-page book, a soundtrack CD, a making-of DVD, and other extras.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta
The developer behind the PlayStation Portable's all-time best-reviewed game -- God of War: Chains of Olympus 91 -- returns with a new title in the same franchise. Ready at Dawn's Ghost of Sparta aims to max out the PSP's capabilities with longer gameplay and more on-screen enemies than the previous installment, coupled with terrific visuals. The action takes place after God of War concludes, with players taking on the role of the Spartan warrior Kratos. You'll learn about the legendary lost city of Atlantis while battling new foes like King Midas.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
The sixth game (and first for the PSP) in the Disney/Square Enix action-RPG series is actually a prequel to the first installment, set a decade before the events of Kingdom Hearts. You can play through Birth by Sleep three distinct times -- once each as Terra, Aqua, and Ventus, characters briefly introduced in KH2 -- and, as in other Kingdom Hearts titles, you'll encounter various Disney characters along the way, in settings taken from Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and more.
Nintendo DS exclusives
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light Watch trailer
An RPG spinoff of the Final Fantasy series, 4 Heroes centers on a 14-year-old boy -- and his three companions, since up to four players can join in at once -- who are charged with rescuing an abducted princess. The game's "crown system" allows players to change classes by changing their hats, while the turn-based battles will be familiar to fans of the earliest FF releases.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem!
The fourth installment of Nintendo's Mario vs. Donkey Kong series is set in the "Super Mini-Mario World" amusement park, where Mario and his miniature friends must save Pauline, who has been abducted by Donkey Kong. The action-puzzle game will feature a level creation mode, allowing players to design their own level maps and share them with other players.
The sequel to last year's highly original Scribblenauts again requires players to solve a series of short challenges by writing down words and watching them come to life via a whimsical on-screen animation. While Super Scribblenauts has a superior control system to the original, it's the other major change that has fans excited: not only do your nouns come to life, but you can now modify them with adjectives, taking the game's creative potential to the next level.