Here’s some October releases, as well as some games from the past couple of months that were overshadowed by BioShock/Team Fortress 2/Halo 3…
First up is Half Life 2: Episode Two, which released as part of The Orange Box with Team Fortress 2, Half-Life 2, Episode One, and our next game, Portal. Episode Two continues the Half-Life 2 storyline, and brings some graphical upgrades to the aging (but still sharp) Source engine. For fans of the Half-Life franchise, it’s a no-brainer. There’s not much to talk about without going into storyline specifics, which would just be a big heap o' spoilers. For console-only gamers, The Orange Box brings not only Episode Two, but the first appearance of Episode One and the first up-to-snuff appearance of Half-Life 2 proper to consoles - specifically the Xbox 360 and (next month) the PS3. If you don’t play PC games, or just missed these games the first time around, The Orange Box is the best $50-60 you’ll spend on entertainment this year.
The Half-Life 2 games are great, Team Fortress 2 is exceedingly great as described in the previous post, but the final piece of the Orange Box collection, Portal, is also brilliant. Portal is best described as a first-person puzzle game in which the player has a gun that creates, well, portals. As seen in the screenshot to the left, there’s a blue portal and an orange one. Go through one hole, and you come out the other. And since you have a gun that controls where these holes are, well, watch the video to get an idea as to the kind of things this allows you to do. The game is set in a cold, clinical testing environment, in which the player’s character is locked in and made an unwitting test subject. The player is spoken to by a female artificial voice, which alternates between lying, praising, and playing mind games with the player. The game does tie in to the Half-Life 2 universe through some story elements that you stumble upon. It’s not a shooter, but it would be best described as a puzzle game for shooter fans. It’s brief, and I don’t know that I’d pay a full $20 on Steam for it, but as part of the Orange Box collection, it adds a ton of value to a package that’s already more than worth the full price without it.
The PS3 is still a bit thin on quality games, particularly exclusives, but it picked up a pretty decent one with the release of Heavenly Sword. Though compared heavily to God of War before its release, Heavenly Sword doesn’t bear an exceedingly strong resemblance to that franchise. It lacks the intense and visceral combat of God of War, but instead has a good deal more variety, and a much stronger sense of presentation and narrative. Ironically, the plot itself isn’t all that interesting, but what is captivating is the brilliant character design. Regardless of one’s usual indifference to “sexy” video game characters, Nariko will set off at least a slight twinge in any red-blooded heterosexual male, especially ones who like redheads. If nothing else, Heavenly Sword stands as proof of how bogus (or, at least, overstated) the “uncanny valley” concept is. With games like Heavenly Sword, we have characters like Nariko who, if not yet indeterminable from real humans, are at least rapidly approaching the level of visual realism of a fashion model’s airbrushed image in a magazine. Anyway, visuals aside, the characters are extremely well voice-acted, and the cutscenes are among the most memorable in any game I’ve ever played.
Also coming out soon (or just now out):
Everyday Shooter (PS3) - Take the music-based synesthesia of Rez and apply it to a twin-stick shooter like Geometry Wars, and draw it all with vector-based graphics, and you’ve got Everyday Shooter. I’ve only played 15 minutes so far, but I have a feeling I will get hooked next time I play.
Ratchet & Clank Future (PS3) - The prolific action/adventure franchise makes its first appearance on the PS3, with a return to the more platform-based gameplay of earlier iterations. From all indications, it’s a great re-tweaking of the slightly tired franchise (if not a full-on reboot, maybe just a soft boot)
Beautiful Katamari (360) - It may just be more of the same, but my wife loves Katamari, so it makes the list.
But seriously, finish BioShock and go play more Team Fortress 2.