GamesBeat

Our picks for the best video games of the fall season

NOTE: Each week, I’m writing a column on videogames called The DeanBeat that’s available to newsletter subscribers a day before it appears on the VentureBeat website. This week, my column was co-written with Matthew Lynley.

The fall blockbuster video game season is under way and we thought it would be useful to update readers on our opinions about the best games of the fall. We previously wrote about our favorite games from the E3 trade show back in June and our most anticipated titles, but now we’re focused only on the games that are coming out for the fall and holiday seasons. One switch from then is that Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 is looking stronger as a title compared to Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. But we’ll have to watch these closely as you never can tell just how well each game is executed until you play it for real. At the end of the year, we’ll have our usual list on the best games of the year. In the meantime, we’ll be putting a lot of hours into the games below. Vote for your own favorite in the poll at the bottom.

1. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3
Developer: Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games
Publisher: Activision Blizzard
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release date: Nov. 8

Call of Duty games have become the entertainment event of the year. Each title is consistently generating more than $1 billion a year in sales, and this year should be no different. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 will be another intense combat game where you have to constantly shoot enemies until your hands tremble from overworking your controller (or mouse). This game always takes gamers on a trip around the globe to exotic places where you have to shoot everybody you meet. But now the war against madmen terrorists has spread to some of the world’s biggest cities: New York, London and Paris. The single-player campaign has you fighting underwater, in the middle of a Wall Street stock exchange, on speeding trains and in the air with dueling helicopter gunships. The formula for Call of Duty games is to deliver epic realism with combat scenes that are believable and intense, fast game play at 60 frames per second, over-the-top Hollywood-style action, and “easy to play, hard to master.” This year, you can control new Reaper drones, study your stats in the Call of Duty Elite social network, and fight hordes of enemies in the Spec Ops cooperative multiplayer mode.

The single-player stories in these games are sometimes a little weak, but the cinematic intros always do a good job of setting up combat scenes. We expect this game to become the most popular this fall not because of its single-player campaign, but the multiplayer combat that turns the game into a year-round avocation. The combination of cool weapons, fast game play, well-crafted multiplayer maps, and a reward-based leveling up system make the game more fun to play than just about any other multiplayer combat game. In the multibillion-dollar first-person shooter market, this game is the one to beat.

2. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release date: Nov. 1

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves walked away with tons of awards in 2009 because of its cinematic story, outstanding graphics, and well-executed combat scenes. It is an action adventure series that has plenty of humor and action scenes that are better than an Indiana Jones movie — sometimes. With Uncharted 3, we expect more of the same. The story will likely be very film-like again, with cinematic scenes lasting for minutes. As you can see in the screenshot, the hero Nathan Drake has to maneuver through a multi-story burning building with his friend Sully. You have to fight enemies as the building comes crashing down around you. You can’t really get more cinematic or graphically intense than that.

The game has an interesting new female villain, Katherine Marlowe, who will likely motivate gamers to move on to the next level over and over again. In addition, Sony has shown that the multiplayer combat is great.

This is likely to be more like a summer blockbuster-style movie than Call of Duty. But it will be a close call as to which game beats out the other for the best game of the year. Uncharted may have an edge because of its storytelling success in the past. But Call of Duty has the combination of fun single-player campaigns and outstanding multiplayer. That’s a tough combination to beat.

3. Battlefield 3
Developer: EA DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release date: Oct. 25

The latest multiplayer beta test of Battlefield 3 on the PC shows that the graphics are outstanding and the game play is ultra-realistic. In this game, you’ll be able to play in vehicles, in the air or on foot as you take on the modern armies and terrorists. If Modern Warfare 3 is going to be over-the-top fun, Battlefield 3 is going to deliver some gritty realism. The game won’t necessarily move as fast as Modern Warfare 3, but it will have destructible environments such as walls that you can shoot through and more accurate physics.

We haven’t seen much of the single-player game, where the quality will really be tested. But the trailers that EA has shown so far look like the combat scenes will be intense and filled with the shock of ambushes. The question is whether the game is going to be as fun as it is realistic. We’ve got high hopes, since EA has been steadily learning how to make games as competitive as Activision Blizzard in this all-important segment. Whether this game beats Call of Duty or not, analysts are predicting that it will sell in the millions.

4. Gears of War 3
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Xbox 360
Release date: Sep. 20

This game wraps up a saga that first began eight years ago with the original Gears of War. Gears of War has sold more than 16 million copies as a series so far, and it has been a potent exclusive for Microsoft in the console wars.

In this swan song, Epic Games hits us with an emotional story about brotherhood, survival and loss. The new installment introduces the game’s first female characters and it brings to a close the story about Marcus Fenix and his lost father that began in the original. The game play is intense and familiar, but now you can play in a four-person cooperative mode. The enemies are bigger and badder, and they include not only the underground-dwelling Locust Horde but also the new and nasty Lambent enemies. The familiar chainsaw bayonet is back and so are staples such as the Hammer of God satellite guns. It’s a fitting and emotional end to the series.

5. Assassin’s Creed Revelations
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: XBox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release date: Nov. 30

Assassin’s Creed Revelations tells the final story of Ezio Auditore, who has become the franchise’s centerpiece since he was introduced in Assassin’s Creed 2. It brings to an end a huge gamble made by Ubisoft: After the first Assassin’s Creed hit the stands with relatively lukewarm reception, the company decided to follow through with a sequel. That decision came at the beginning of a massive recession that forced gamers to consider their finances and placed some strains on game sales. But despite those woes, Assassin’s Creed 2 was a smash hit along with its follow-up Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

The latest Assassin’s Creed game features Ezio searching for some of the lost relics left behind by his ancestor, another assassin named Altair. He’s following the trail of a Templar, one of the main antagonists of the series, while trying to elude a number of Ottomans chasing him.

The game takes place in the early 1500s and will feature Constantinople as a major focus (Venice and Rome figured prominently in the past two Assassin’s Creed games.) The environment of the game looks very vibrant, with a lot of action, similar to the crazy environments players run through in the Uncharted series. Ezio also has a few new tricks up his sleeve, like stunning enemies with a smoke bomb and quickly taking them out with a crossbow.


6
. Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Wii
Release date: Nov. 20

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is Nintendo’s follow-up to its Wii launch title Twilight Princess. It takes place before The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. You take control of Link, a boy raised on the Skyloft islands, which are floating islands high above the clouds. Link discovers the Skyward Sword and eventually begins to unravel a mystery that will take him between his home up in the air and the mysterious “land beneath the clouds.”

Unlike Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword will use the Wii’s MotionPlus motion controller attachment and track the gamer’s movement entirely using an accelerometer instead of the Wii controller’s infrared sensor. Skyward Sword also features more vibrant, colorful visuals compared to the dim, darker look that showed up in Twilight Princess. It’s a gamble Nintendo has taken before with The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, which was another hit with gamers and critics, who initially slammed the brighter visuals but quickly warmed to them.

7. Batman Arkham City
Developer: Rocksteady Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release date: Oct. 18

Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of the best games of 2009 and it brought back the much-maligned superhero video game genre. It’s now considered one of the best — if not the best — superhero game on the market. Rocksteady looks to follow that success with a repeat performance in Arkham City.

Gotham City’s new mayor, Quincy Sharp, has bought out a large portion of Gotham City to serve as a home for criminals now that the prisons are overrun. The prisoners are brought into what’s dubbed “Arkham City” and are given free rein, as long as they do not attempt escape.

Batman is called into Arkham City when Two Face, one of the series’ most famous villains, plans to publicly execute Catwoman. As the Dark Knight, you can now fly over the city and stalk bad guys from above. As much of a free-flowing brawler Batman: Arkham Asylum was, the game prized stealth and investigative tactics. Batman can scan the area for clues and jump from higher areas to remain undetected. He can quickly incapacitate enemies by knocking them unconscious or hanging them from objects in the environment.

8. Rage
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release date: Oct. 4.

Rage took more than five years to get to the market, and now that it’s here, fans should find it worth the wait. While id Software is known for its corridor-focused shooting games, this title is a breakout achievement because it marries the expected great graphics with a variety of game play beyond shooting games. The game has elements of role-playing, adventure, racing and shooting. It borrows from the sci-fi and Western genres of storytelling, and it is very well executed in terms of game play and the intelligence of enemies.

The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where survivors of a giant meteor impact eke out a meager existence in a land full of ruins and wastelands. You have to be a pack-rat scavenger, since you have to collect parts to assemble cars, lock grinders, and bombs. As you tangle with the locals, you pick up some cool weapons like the “wingstick,” a boomerang-like device with razor blades that can sever an enemy’s head when you throw it.

The game play is diverse, ranging from racing to shooting. You have to square off against a number of different territorial clans and move from mission to mission. Add to that some beautiful graphics and you’ve got a formula for fun. If you get tired of shooting, you can head out into the Wastelands and blow up enemy buggys with homing rockets.

9. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release date: Nov. 11

Everybody needs a chance to slay a dragon once in a while. In Skyrim, you’ll get a chance to do that. It is a followup to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which came out in 2007. Players trot about the realm of Skyrim, a frozen land north of Tamriel (the home of Cyrodiil), the world of Oblivion, and Morrowind, the land featured in the third game in the series. It’s a first-person role-playing game that gives players control over swords, magic and other medieval-style weapons and armor as they try to uncover the mysteries of Skyrim.

Bethesda is known for going big. You could play Oblivion for hundreds of hours without ever actually finishing the game, and Skyrim looks to be even bigger than that. Each world is filled with hundreds of areas to explore and even more quests to complete. There are entire subcultures and extra stories to explore throughout the game that rival the length of modern games.

The Elder Scrolls series has always been about playing a game “your way,” and it looks like Skyrim is no exception to that. Skyrim looks like it will once again raise the bar for fantasy role-playing games set by Fallout 3 and Oblivion.

10. Cave Story
Developer: Nicalis
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: Nov. 8

Cave Story is one of a number of success stories for independent game developers. After cracking the scene as an 8-bit style Metroidvania-style platformer in 2004, Cave Story has experienced resurging popularity as a WiiWare downloadable title. This year the game will land as a high-definition remake on Nintendo’s 3DS handheld console alongside high-profile first-party titles like Star Fox 64 3D and Super Mario Kart 7.

Players take control of Quote, a gun-wielding robot stranded on an island in the sky trying to remember why he was there in the first place. You’ll have to explore every nook and cranny of the island to unlock all the most powerful weapons and find upgrades.

Cave Story’s success came from a near-flawless application of the explore-and-destroy formula pioneered in the Metroid and Castlevania games layered on top of an original story with some clever writing and art. We expect the 3DS version to continue that entertaining combination.


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