Xbox 360 owners, it’s ‘Halo’ time once again. As a smattering of other titles also ship this week, I’d toss them all aside if only EA could have gone the full measure for a videogame trilogy that deserves better.
Halo 4 (360)
Still working within the tech of the Xbox 360, the latest installment of the ‘Halo’ franchise represents a daunting task – that is, creating a ‘Halo’ game outside the confines of Bungie, the developer responsible for the creation and continuation of ‘Halo’ over the last ten years. In ‘Halo 4‘, 343 Studios (which was organized by Microsoft in order to make ‘Halo’ games after Bungie’s very public move towards independence) has tried to slay a two-headed dragon. The first head of the dragon involves retaining the specific feel in combat, presentation, story and scale of previous ‘Halo’ games. The second is to wrangle enough freshness out of the franchise to justify its continued existence.
By most accounts, ‘Halo 4′ nails each important element of the ‘Halo’ franchise. Also, by deviating from the series’ more spartan methods of storytelling, the game manages to bring a new level of interest to the story’s lore. At the same time, I’ve been told that ‘Halo 4′ is too imitative of previous titles. Each big set-piece in the single-player campaign just mimicks one of the previous games. Nevertheless, with a solid multiplayer mode that has been brought up to date with “perks” era games, ‘Halo 4′ will quickly saturate Xbox Live (at least until next week).
Mass Effect Trilogy (360, PC)
The ‘Mass Effect’ series is so good and so ripe with the effects of technology and business over the past five-plus years that I could drone on forever without even touching upon various important aspects of the series. Succinctly, I’ll say that if you have access to a 360, PS3 or a decent PC, the ‘Mass Effect Trilogy‘ is a cheap solution towards understanding one of high water marks in the history of videogames, as well as an audio-video must for the HD enthusiast.
The PS3 version, due in December, will mark the first time that the original ‘Mass Effect’ will grace Sony’s console, which is something that I thought would never happen. Unfortunately, EA has stopped way short of making this trilogy a definitive edition by including a baffling patchwork of DLC, thereby forcing the consumer the sift through outdated installs and DLC listings to determine how to proceed. (The process is similar to including an incomplete DVD special feature reprint in a Blu-ray package, rather than on the actual Blu-ray.) The one true new piece of this puzzle is the aforementioned port of the first ‘Mass Effect’ to the PS3, which will also be available as a standalone digital title.
LittleBigPlanet Karting (PS3)
Players who know the ‘LittleBigPlanet’ games are familiar with Sackboy and the cutesy, chaotic and creative world that he inhabits. Normally, it’s a world where players can craft their own levels just like cutting and pasting a child’s art project, then share their crazy levels with everyone else online. Meanwhile, the “kart” style racing genre, descended from the SNES ‘Super Mario Kart’, has long replaced most arcade-like racing games in my eyes. In a “kart” style game, the gameplay is all about screwing over other players. That means pushing them into obstacles, shooting them with items, and going from last to first (or vice-versa) on the last lap. ‘LittleBigPlanet Karting‘ seems like such a perfect match of these two concepts, I almost wonder why it took this long for it to happen. Just remember that the online multiplayer will ultimately dictate the value of this game.
NASCAR The Game: Inside Line (360, PS3, Wii)
As the popularity of NASCAR has waned, so has the popularity of its videogames. Once one of EA Sports’ pillars of dominance, what now remains for a console NASCAR experience is the Activision published ‘NASCAR The Game: Inside Line‘. This is the second NASCAR title from this developer/publisher combo and the only game in town for hardcore NASCAR fans. Personally, I think that the NASCAR challenges included in ‘Gran Turismo 5′ were exemplary and are more my kind of thing.
Harvest Moon: A New Beginning (3DS)
Once upon a time, ‘Harvest Moon’ was a gem of a series from Japan, wherein the lighthearted cultivation of the Earth could bring peace to the troubled heart and restless mind of the player. Fast forward to ‘Harvest Moon: A New Beginning‘, and it seems that the point of the game is to pick which cow to decorate in order to impress the bachelorette. While this week is the official release for North America, the game has been sporadically for sale in various stores over the past month, which means that it might already be in your home or car ready to infect someone that you care about.
Portal 2: In Motion (PS3)
It’s rare that I even mention PlayStation Move in these posts (see ‘LittleBigPlanet Karting’), but ‘Portal 2: In Motion’ may just be worth the effort of calibrating the Move. For years, we’ve heard that ‘Portal 2′ would get exclusive DLC built entirely around the Move, and at last it’s here. With an emphasis on puzzles over combat, ‘Portal 2: In Motion’ brings twenty new test chambers to players, with a combination of new motion-affected portal techniques and some re-imagined ones from the core game.
Pid (XBLA, PSN, PC)
‘Pid’ is a stylish platformer, which means that it’s almost by definition retro, or at least a throwback. Of significance beyond the zany little story or pleasant 3D art style is the way that the level design changes based on difficulty setting, which introduces more hazards on the harder difficulty, thus necessitating tougher traversal. ‘Pid’ came out last week on PC and XBLA, but releases this week on PSN.