How does Cliff Bleszinski’s development team plan to top the bullet-soaking meat shields, planet-chewing worms and Locust-stomping Brumaks they gave us in Gears of War 2? With horrific new enemies, like the Lambent Drudges that mutate three times before finally dying. With welcome new heroes, like a playable Anya and Cole Train that contribute to the game’s four-player co-op. With powerful new weaponry, like a mech exoskeleton; brutal new execution moves, like a flamethrower to the mouth; and extremely satisfying new moves, like kicking from cover, or the “bag ‘n tag,” which transforms corpses into corpse-sized grenades.
Not enough? The improvements to Gears of War 3 go much deeper than a list of simple additions. A best-selling writer was brought on to enhance the storytelling and sell the characters’ emotions. Multiplayer has been beefed up, especially with Beast Mode, which puts you in the scaly shoes of Locust creatures and is even more addictive than Horde Mode. Criticisms of the first sequel are also being addressed... less linear set-pieces this time around and more of the open battlefields that characterized the original. Gears of War 3 may not be the final game in the series, but it very well could be the last one we play on current consoles, and Bleszinski is determined to end the Xbox 360 trilogy on a breathlessly high note.
9 - The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
Unlike most other mega-franchises, we usually have to wait several years before the next proper Zelda rolls around. Sure we’ve had hourglasses and railroad tracks since Twilight Princess, but the reality is we haven’t had a console-sized adventure since late 2006. Cue Skyward Sword, Nintendo’s waggle-heavy entry that casts Link as a denizen of the floating world Skyloft. In his travels, Link discovers the Skyward Sword, as well as a whole other world that exists beneath his hovering home. And naturally it’s full of evil powers bent on… doing something bad, probably.
We weren’t fans of Princess’ extraneous waggle, but Skyward Sword is implementing Wii MotionPlus to make Link’s sword movements more realistic AND suitable for extended gameplay (so no more SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE to swing). Horizontal swipes will hurt some enemies, vertical hurts others, diagonal yet more still and so on, so we can at least expect some brand-new puzzle and combat ideas from a series that’s kinda treaded water since Ocarina/Majora. Oh, and the watercolors visual style looks really cool. The screens don’t do it justice.
8 - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3, 360, PC)
Nobody – not even GTA/Red Dead daddies Rockstar – does open world games better than publisher/developer Bethesda. The company’s Fallout and Elder Scrolls games continue to deliver larger and larger worlds with more and more freedom to do whatever you want to everyone and everything you encounter. For example, Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion and its expansions enabled you to handcraft your own magical weapons and spells, buy infamously useless armor for your horse, command a vampire underling, or simply steal every single fork in the entire kingdom and hide them in the now-empty house of a family you murdered because you chose to also be a serial killer … or not. So, yeah – Bethesda games are vast and vibrant. And now? Now they’re adding a dragon.
Skyrim will begin with the death of a king, which will trigger a civil war on the ground and send a shape-shifting god soaring into the skies as a dragon bent on torching the entire world. And naturally, as the last dragon hunter left alive, it’s your job to take him down. We know it’ll be epic. What we don’t know is whether or not there’ll be a fork left anywhere on the continent when the deed is done.
7 - Dead Space 2 (PS3, 360, PC)
In the more than two years since the original scared the crap out of us, we’ve built up lots of excitement for the sequel. But developer Visceral Games is changing up the formula while attempting to keep the amazingly scary atmosphere of Dead Space intact. Not only does the formerly silent hero Isaac speak quite often, he’s also a bit more of a fighter, but by no means has he become an uber-badass like Master Chief. He’s still in loads of danger from the necromorphs stalking the city of Sprawl, and if he isn’t careful dismembering them you’ll be treated to some pretty grisly death animations.
On top of what seems to be a pretty full campaign, Dead Space 2 also answers the complaints of some fans that felt the first game needed multiplayer. But from our time with it, the team deathmatch mode of humans vs necromorphs doesn’t feel like some afterthought, as it attempts to keep the same atmosphere of single-player while simultaneously having a leveling system that’s all the rage in MP these days. With the release fast approaching we’ll know soon if all these new ideas pay off.
6 - Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)
After the amazing thrill ride that was Uncharted 2, Nathan Drake has become synonymous with some of the best, prettiest, most balls-out fun shooting/platforming gameplay of this generation. He’s stolen the relic-hunting crown from Lara Croft, leaving her to repeatedly reinvent herself in an effort to keep up. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, then, that his next adventure is something to get excited about. If anything, you’re probably wondering why this isn’t higher up the list.
The flagship title in (what we’ve just now decided to call) Sony’s Year of Threes, Uncharted 3 will take Drake through a desert (and at least one burning chateau), as he and partner Sully hunt for the lost city of Iram of the Pillars – nicknamed “The Atlantis of the Sands” by T.E. Lawrence. What we’ve seen so far implies that, gameplay-wise, it’ll be more of the same – which is just fine by us, so long as its charm and attention to character are as strong as the previous game’s were. In any case, we’ll also have improved fighting and better enemy intelligence to look forward to, which should make the rest of the game, which should make the huge set-pieces, constant misadventure and cries of “no no NO NO NO!” at least a little more entertaining.
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