Is your GameQ ready for an onslaught of holiday hits? This month marks the official start of the busiest two months of the year on the gaming calendar. Almost every week brings with it a gigantic new release (or two), culminating in the release of Nintendo's new Wii U on November 18. Below are my picks for seven of the biggest titles that you'll be hearing and reading about in the weeks to come. You'll want to add these to your GameQ early so you're ready for day one of release.
Master Chief returns for an all-new Halo, the first that doesn't come from Bungie. 343 Industries has been working on Halo 4 for more than three years, and when it arrives on November 6th - Election Day - fans will see Master Chief venture onto a new planet, Requiem, to face off against a new group of foes, the Prometheans. I played a few levels and walked away impressed with the team's focus on cinematic storytelling, which really ups the emotional impact between firefights. My favorite aspect of Halo 4 is the new Spartan Ops Mode, an episodic, story-driven, co-op experience that evolves every week. Developers have long talked about episodic gaming, but Halo 4 is the first mainstream release to commit to new story content every week - which will be free of charge.
Master Chief meets new foes on the planet Requiem in Halo 4.
A new hero and a new setting, America, for Assassin's Creed III.
Of course, you know a new Call of Duty is coming this November, but what you may not realize is how much is packed into Black Ops II. Developer Treyarch is pushing the Call of Duty franchise in a series of bold new directions, not the least of which is setting parts of this game in the future, circa 2025, with a strong narrative co-written by Batman writer David Goyer. Of course, multiplayer will be a huge focus again, with killstreaks replaced by scorestreaks to better even out gameplay. Even the trademark Zombie Mode is back and better than ever with its own robust campaign. Call of Duty is sometimes criticized for a lack of innovation, but this year's game is laser-focused on surprising critics as well as pleasing the core fanbase that has made COD the biggest game of the year for many holiday seasons.
I've written about Assassin's Creed III before, but this week, I just returned from Boston where I was able to go hands-on with a near-final version for a few hours. The verdict? I can't wait to play more. This ambitious new game is set in colonial America as a young hero, Connor, becomes an assassin and meets with legends such as Ben Franklin and George Washington. Ubisoft has revamped the combat system to make it more fluid, added naval combat (yes, that's right, ship-based warfare), and even added some interesting sequences set during other parts of Connor's life, such as one section on the "Homestead" where you play as a young teenager. What Ubisoft hasn't shown are the modern-day sections of the game starring Desmond. Ubisoft admits large portions of the game take place in modern times, but we will have to buy or rent the game to find out what's in store for Connor's modern-day brother.
Bethesda is known for betting on innovative new projects. Dishonored is certainly one of those. It's not a sequel (most games on this list are), and it comes from a relatively unknown developer named Arkane. The concept is sort of a mix between BioShock and Thief. Here, you play Corvo, a supernatural assassin who uses powers like teleportation and possession to move through levels and kill targets. This mission-based game includes stealth and action moments. But, there are randomized elements so replayability is encouraged. Dishonored is a fresh and bold new world with fantastic art direction and gameplay that is completely different than the competition.
New Super Mario Bros U
Yes, there is another New Super Mario Bros. game coming this year to launch the Wii U. That's hardly a surprise, but what may impress you is just how beautiful the graphics look in full high-definition. I was recently at a Wii U preview event in NYC, and I couldn't help but be dazzled by the rich, saturated colors and animation now that Mario is in HD. This new game is the type of side-scroller you'd expect, with gold coins and a few new suits that change up Mario's powers, including the flying squirrel suit and a mini-mushroom that lets you run up walls.
EA's Need for Speed franchise has had a tough couple of years, including last year's Need for Speed: The Run which disappointed fans and critics. This year, however, the team behind Burnout at Criterion is hard at work on a brand new NFS dubbed Most Wanted. While cop chases are part of the experience, Criterion has focused mostly on multiplayer racing where you aim to become the "most wanted" of all your friends by constantly pulling off tricks and winning events that are setup on "playlists" inside the massive open world city of Fairhaven. If you like arcade racing games more than hard-core simulations, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is the game to get.
Remember the incredible "Michael" commercial from PlayStation last year that featured a bar filled with famous characters like Solid Snake and Kratos? This year, that commercial comes to life with PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, Sony's answer to Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. Here, famous PlayStation heroes like Kratos and Sweet Tooth battle against other characters like Big Daddy from BioShock and Raiden from Metal Gear. My favorite aspect is the battle arena, which can morph during gameplay between different game worlds. For instance, you can be playing inside of the Hydra battle from God of War only to have the black and white Patapons invade your screen. All-Stars is a party game for the whole family and, given Sony's light release schedule this holiday season, it is definitely the key title to pick up for the PlayStation 3.