There is no way to sugar-coat it: This year appears to have the weakest line-up of big-budget titles in the last several years — the official video game business begins in September.
However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In recent years, many game publishers have been far too enamoured with the idea that a big game can succeed only if it’s released just before the holiday season. The problem has been that so many major games were being released within weeks of one another that excellent games sometimes went unnoticed.
Now, publishers are getting wiser, realizing that a top game can generate word-of-mouth buzz and sustainable sales over months, if not years. That makes the holiday season a bit less important, which is why publishers have been content to let a raft of major titles originally slated for late 2009 slip into 2010. It is also going to be difficult for any game this holiday season to compete in popularity with the commercial monster known as The Beatles: Rock Band. Meanwhile, the scheduled line-up for next year, beginning January, is stellar; 2010 may well go down as the best year ever in gaming.
Dozens of top-notch games are scheduled for release this fall, with titles aimed at children, adults and players of all skill levels. They range from casual diversions to ultra-immersion virtual realities that can easily occupy hundreds, if not thousands, of hours. Here are 10 must-have games:
1. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
Perhaps the most cerebral game on this list, the new Professor Layton is the sequel to one of last year’s sleeper hits, Professor Layton and The Curious Village. At their core, the Professor Layton games are simply a collection of dozens of brain-teasers, riddles and puzzles. But their charm stems from their woodblock-style art direction and quirky storytelling.
Released in August by Nintendo for the Nintendo DS hand-held console.
World of Warcraft has been dominant in online role-playing for so many years that it is difficult to imagine another game stealing a significant number of Warcraft players.
Certainly, contenders have come and, mostly, gone. Aion has the best chance yet; its fantasy environments look far better than Warcraft’s and the gameplay is solid.
To be released on 22 September by NCsoft for Microsoft Windows.
3. Brutal Legend
The Beatles are nice, but sometimes you want to rock to something a bit harder. Brutal Legend is the story of a heavy-metal roadie (voiced by Jack Black), who winds up in a hair-band fantasy land.
Unlike Rock Band or Guitar Hero, this is not actually a music game, but an action-adventure romp with a hard-rock theme (including at least 100 heavy-metal songs in the soundtrack).
4. Dead Space: Extraction
This prequel to last year’s gory, bile-inducing survival-horror hit Dead Space is coming only to Nintendo’s usually family-oriented Wii console. That is a bold, impressive choice for Electronic Arts, the game’s publisher; Wii needs more games for adults and Extraction is quite welcome.
To be released on 29 September.
5. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Without question, the most anticipated title this fall for core gamers, Modern Warfare 2 is expected to succeed its predecessor as the most sophisticated and intense, yet accessible digital rendition of today’s battlefields.
Of course, it’s still a game. But Modern Warfare 2, set largely in Central Asia, is meant to get players as close to the action as possible without their actually strapping on a flak jacket.
To be released on 10 November by Activision for PS3, Windows and 360.
6. New Super Mario Bros Wii
Few games require less introduction than Super Mario Bros. This version, however, will be the first to allow multiple players at the same time. This alone should make the game worth buying. After all, how can you own a Wii and ignore Mario?
To be released sometime between October and the year-end by Nintendo for Wii.
7. Dragon Age: Origins
There aren’t many old-school single-player fantasy role-playing games around any more. Anyone who hankers for the days of Ultima, Bard’s Tale, Might and Magic or Baldur’s Gate will almost certainly play Dragon Age, which is being developed by the role-playing royalty at BioWare.
Get ready to hack, slash and throw magical fireballs.
To be released by Electronic Arts on 3 November for Windows and 360 and later that month for PS3.
It can be hard to trust a game that goes through a major redesign midway through its development, as Borderlands did. But I’m a sucker for any post-apocalyptic combat simulation that gives me millions of possible gun configurations to play with.
To be released on 20 October by 2K Games for Sony’s Playstation 3, Windows and Microsoft’s Xbox 360.
9. DJ Hero
With all the attention being paid to The Beatles: Rock Band, DJ Hero is set to hit store shelves under the radar. But it won’t stay there for long. There are millions of music fans who prefer hip hop to classic guitar rock. Activision has brought in big-time talent such as Eminem, Jay-Z and DJ AM, who died last month, to consult about the game, which features a mock turn table controller.
To be released on 27 October for PlayStation 2, PS3, Wii and 360.
10. Assassin's Creed II
The first Assassin’s Creed set the player as a killer in West Asia during the Crusades. The sequel is set in Renaissance Italy. Cities, including Venice and Florence, will be at the disposal of players to explore and exploit, hiding and sneaking before striking from the shadows.
To be released on 17 November by Ubisoft for PS3, Windows and 360.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
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QuietComfort by Bose
Bose has a new model, the QuietComfort 15 ($300). There’s plenty of transparency in the frequency spectrum, perhaps because of the engineering; microphones are placed both inside and outside the ear cup to sense the noise, and the Bose TriPort structure helps the bottom notes. But it’s the effectiveness of blotting out ambient noise—the jet engine roar, rumble of the subway train, rattle of taxis—that recommends these expensive headphones. It’s a noise-cancellation device that so brilliantly creates such a sonic vacuum that after a while, it’s eerie—but nice. ©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Saving your laptop from theft
A company in Spain has created a bag that might deter thefts of laptops. When it’s wrapped up in the pouch, the computer looks like the front page of a newspaper. And who’s going to steal a newspaper? The creators, at the company called Mitemite Unnecessary Objects Lab in Barcelona, call their bags “urban camouflage”. The colourful bags are made of a plastic fabric and have a detachable metal chain for toting. They’re designed for the MacBook Pro notebooks, but will accommodate any number of brands. The size is about 15x11 inches—and a bag costs about €60. ©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Lighter than the MacBook Air
Tremendous battery life, ultra-thin, stylish design and price under $1,300—what else do you need from a laptop? The Vaio Series X from Sony is lighter than the Apple MacBook Air at less than 2 pounds—1.5, the company says—and runs for 12 hours on the supplied battery pack. Its starting price in the US in late October may be $1,300. There is no word yet on the processor, but it’s likely to be an Intel Atom. The X series—which comes bronze-coloured or black—will run Windows 7. The screen is 11.1 inches and ports are minimal: two USB ports, a headphone jack and a video-out (VGA) port.©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
If you use Google for Web searching and have noticed that the text now appears a tad larger than usual, you’re not seeing things. The search giant recently supersized its search box to make finding that latest viral video easier. Both the search box and the accompanying text and search suggestions located below the box have received this treatment. Needless to say, for those of us who glare at monitors for the majority of the day (not to mention those of us getting up there in age), the additional pixels are a welcome addition.©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES