The modern videogame industry is just that: the aggregation of production and distribution focused on a central, profitable product. Each week of the 52 in a given year hosts at least one new game release, a perpetual influx so massive in volume and, well, industriousness that it's mind-numbingly tedious to sort through the year's calendar to decide what to spend money on at your favorite retailers. So, that's why we take care of the work for you in this wonderfully conjectural article.
Here are the games that have made us all atwitter and will be releasing while Oregon's weather changes from frigid to fiery.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
February 15th -- 360/PS3
Wanna take you for a ride. Ten years after Marvel vs. Capcom 2, the high-water mark for batshit crazy 2D fighting games, Capcom's crossover fighting game series is back and looks to be even crazier. Pitting your favorite Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, Mega Man and assorted Capcom characters versus some of the most famous comic book heroes and villains Marvel has to offer, the Vs series has long featured 2D tag-team fighting writ crazy. With a focus on gameplay that's faster and less technical than the main-line Street Fighter II/IV games, making MvC3 at once more approachable, wilder, and completely different to other games on the market.
Besides, if you don't want to partner up Ryu, Amaterasu (the main character from Okami) and freaking Deadpool (who purposefully breaks the fourth wall in the game), I really don't know what else to say. Fast, frantic fun awaits. -- Doug Bonham
Beyond Good & Evil HD
March 2nd -- PSN/XBLA
Michael Ancel's cult classic is being given a second chance at life. After a relatively unsuccessful debut on last-generation consoles, Beyond Good and Evil is being upscaled for high-definition consoles and will be released for a meager $10.
For the uninitiated, Beyond Good and Evil is a clever action-adventure game that's vaguely reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It also throws some fun new ideas into the mix, including vehicles, stealth sequences and a fun, engaging photography element. The story is surreal, with strange creatures populating a beautiful and bizarre world. I look back on few games with the fondness that I associate with BG&E; if you missed it before, make sure you take a look this time around. -- Nick Cummings
Dragon Age II
March 8th -- 360/PS3/Windows
BioWare has proved time and again that its sequels aren't pixel-for-pixel reproductions of the first game with a better tech engine bandaged on top; instead BioWare has the wherewithal to improve upon the smallest and largest nuances that make a franchise resonate with gamers everywhere. Dragon Age is back, and it promises to make you "think like a general and fight like a Spartan."
In Dragon Age 2, the Grey Warden has been retired. Hawke's story will be written as you play the role. But who is Hawke anyway? She (or he) is a lone hero whose journey is recapitulated over the course of a decade from the diegetic stories of her closest travelling companions. It's a clever plot device that needs to be utilized more, and the idea that Hawke may change in appearance (are crow's feet too much?) during her journey makes it easier to be connected to the character you control. The irony is that the Grey Warden was developed to be you, the classic silent hero, a portraiture of your mistakes and successes. In Dragon Age 2 Hawke will develop as a personality through your vicarious choices.
Graphics and controls aside (the console versions look improved and PC will once again offer a classic, premiere experience), importing the string of choices made by the end of Dragon Age: Origins could become the greatest bulletpoint of this sequel. Mass Effect pulled it off, but there are no guarantees. After all, how many of Origins' choices can truly affect Dragon Age 2 when the last hero has been replaced, the plot spans 10 years and the developers are promising an uncomplicated mythology for newcomers who never swung a sword as the Warden? -- Aaron Thayer
Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 12: The Masters
March 29th -- 360/PS3/Wii
You know what? I like golf. Getting good at the sport in real life requires an almost zen-like ability to master your swing and the creativity to deal with different situations during a round, and while the sport is often referred to as "a good walk spoiled," 18 holes on a late spring afternoon is a great time to spend with your buddies.
Thankfully, EA Sports makes a pretty mean golf game. 18 holes fly by when you don't have to walk them, perfecting your swing on a controller is pretty easy, and the in-game golf shop always allows you to play white-man dress-up — all of which really appeals to me as a sports gamer. This year, the new gimmick/feature is the inclusion of Augusta National Golf Club and the famed Masters tournament. Yes, this is the one that gives you the green jacket if you win, but it is also quite possibly the most famous golf course in the United States, almost impossible to play at in real life, and linked intrinsically with golf history. Golf fans are going wild, but it means that gamers get the chance to participate in a tradition unlike any other. -- Doug Bonham
Shift 2 Unleashed
March 29th -- 360/OS-X/PS3/Windows
I think it's been well established by now that I'm the car guy here. That said, I'm not the biggest Need for Speed fan in the world. I grew up with the first Need for Speed (presented by Road & Track magazine!), NFS2 and the original Hot Pursuit, but as things became more mass produced, I faded away and turned more to Gran Turismo and other, more simulation-heavy racers.
That said, the recent split within the Need for Speed franchise has me really interested. The new, Criterion-developed Hot Pursuit provided the Burnout-style thrills, while the Shift side promises to provide more of a circuit-racing feel. From comments I've read in previews and seen at the Need for Speed-tied car culture web site Speedhunters, it sounds like Shift 2 is going to focus as much car customization as Forza 3, but focus more on racing and drifting. Plus, Shift 2 is going to build on the visceral driver's-eye view technology that debuted in the first game and made you feel how violent and physical racing a car can be. If I can pull a drift AE86 Toyota out of the garage and follow it up with an FIA GT1-spec GT-R, I'm going to be a happy boy. -- Doug Bonham
April 18th -- 360/PS3/Windows
Portal seemingly came out of nowhere and cruised right by the industry's creative blind spot to change the way gamers both casual and core thought of videogames as a whole. It was a cultural darling and a satisfying concept that in two short hours championed the highest levels of charm and wit that more titles so desperately needed. I see most modern games in a pre and post-Portal time frame; before Portal there was stagnation and repetition, and after it there emerged an example to rally around as a piece of interactive software without peer in humor, pace, innovation and earnestness. Portal wasn't even my favorite game, but what it represented was a shift in perception about the capabilities of the talented artists and programmers working on games today when they were allowed to think , well, with portals.
The sequel won't define the industry in the same manner as its predecessor, but that's acceptable. Portal 2 only needs to be a better version of Portal 1 to justify itself. With the groundwork laid in the first title, Valve could complicate the puzzles a bit, add a Portal Gun 2.0 and call it a day. Instead, Portal 2 is introducing cooperative gameplay, cross-platform Steam support on the PlayStation 3, a six-hour long campaign, another charming script full of mentally deficient automatons and a bevy of mind-bending puzzles that I have a hard time comprehending even after watching them unfold in video previews.
The first Portal was rewarding because it was refreshing. Its sequel will be rewarding because its developers refuse to settle for anything less than profound. -- Aaron Thayer
Duke Nukem Forever
May 3rd -- 360/PS3/Windows
Always bet on Duke.
You know, I don't really care how great this game is. If it boots up successfully and lets me kill a bunch of ugly aliens while spouting off crude one-liners left and right, I will be completely satisfied. Maybe younger or older gamers won't understand my affinity for Duke, but if you were ten years old when Duke Nukem 3D burst onto the scene, it would have opened your eyes with all its boot-stomping, nipple-tasseled debauchery. I owe Duke for depriving me of a bit of my childhood innocence -- and for starring in a pretty great, and classic, first-person shooter. -- Nick Cummings
May 17th -- 360/PS3
Ever since I first visited Los Angeles last November, I haven't been able to get it out of my head. It's true that I complained ceaselessly about the smog, the traffic, the heat, the sprawl, and everything else in between, but in spite of all that I'm finding myself wanting to go back. L.A. is a contradictory and fascinating place.
Rockstar's latest, L.A. Noire, puts you in the shoes of a detective investigating a series of crimes in 1940s Los Angeles. Some seriously stunning motion capture and voice acting are on display in early trailers for the game, highlighting a very strong sense of place that I think is invaluable in immersive games. Details are still relatively few, but the combination of intense action and investigation sequences that require some serious critical thinking sounds very promising. The most obvious comparison in my mind is Heavy Rain, and it'll be interesting to see how the two compare. -- Nick Cummings
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
TBA (originally spring) -- 360/PS3/Windows
My mission is to infiltrate a fortified, 30-story building. What do I do? How can I survive this? Do I shoot my way through, or do I sneak in? Honestly, I have no idea. Thankfully I can fall back on my cloaking device and that martial art implant training. And that computer interface hack I installed earlier will prove useful. Either way, people will die as I find myself slipping further away from my former humanity to become a better and faster machine for the company -- for my employer.
Adam Jensen is an ex-SWAT and heavily augmented human in a futuristic Detroit (sounds like Robocop now that I think about it). In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, he confronts both himself and saboteurs in a quest to find out who took his life away from him. It's a well-told tale, intentionally vague and filled with smoke and mirrors to string the player along. But what Human Revolution has going for it is the Blade Runner atmosphere and a dissertation of sorts on the potential course of human evolution through cybernetics, a fantastic philsosphical debate that, as long as the gameplay isn't sluggish or cumbersome, could result in intense moral choices and wonderfully strenuous dialogue trees.
However, Human Revolution has faced multiple delays. The most recent one has sent it into a "TBA" fiscal 2011 classification, and that doesn't bode well for either Square-Enix or Eidos. This franchise has clout. Selling gamers on the Deus Ex name is both a feat and a folly: The belief that the original game is among the greatest ever published is readily apparent, yet the eight years that have passed since Deus Ex: Invisible War have seen tremendous change, which implies an uphill battle for this sepia-toned sci-fi think piece. -- Aaron Thayer