With all apologies to Señor Spielbergo, it’s ‘Call of Duty’ that shakes the barley these days. Even someone hiding out in cave on Mars with their fingers plugging their ears is probably aware by now of the franchise and its popularity. But much like a summer blockbuster, there’s plenty of alternative fare available in this week’s slate of new videogames.
The careful observer may note that there aren’t any Wii U games on this page. Even though several Wii U titles will hit store shelves prior to launch, I’ve elected not to discuss them here. Stay tuned.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (360, PS3, PC)
Once in a great while, a game franchise that no one has ever heard of produces a sequel that no one was even remotely expecting. Back on Earth, however, the latest installment of ‘Call of Duty’ arrives amidst the usual over-the-top marketing blitz. This being Treyarch’s year, ‘Call of Duty : Black Ops II‘ is the sequel to the ‘Fight Club’/1960s jaunty love affair that was the first ‘Black Ops’. For this game, ‘CoD’ rather wisely gives the past a rest in favor of the days of future past, and I don’t mean the “This could happen next week, last week or once every other year” setting of the ‘Modern Warfare’ series.
Producing ‘Call of Duty’ involves no small degree of burning off and refining play spaces, endless visual detail retreatments, and fine-tuning with an axe, a blow torch and a heavy shift+delete key. And yet, all the reworking and cut labor reveals a final product that is constantly imitated but never quite equaled.
Lego Lord of the Rings (360, PS3, Wii, PC)
Having drawn no small amount of ire for suggesting that the console versions of ‘Lego Lord of the Rings‘ were going to be available prior to November 13th, I think that I’ll take this opportunity to say how much I enjoyed seeing the trailer for ‘The Hobbit’ that was in theaters this past weekend. Not because I think that the movie will be great or anything. (The book is not ‘LotR’, and attempting to make it so for the sake of padding the story into something on par with that epic seems ridiculous.) Still, the trailer with its many set pieces and characters from those films elicits a fond remembrance of the original theatrical trilogy.
One brief thing on the game; The Lego series works well for a number of reasons. Nevertheless, players who ignore the co-operative nature of the games and play solo can expect to quickly become bored, disappointed and otherwise disaffected with the series.
Assassin’s Creed: Ezio Trilogy (PS3)
The Creed is deep and raises as many questions as it seeks to dispel. In the case of ‘Assassin’s Creed: Ezio Trilogy‘, questions abound. Why, just after the release ‘Assassin’s Creed III’, would a collection of games including ‘Assassin’s Creed II’, ‘Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood’, and ‘Assassin’s Creed: Revelations’ make sense as a bundle? The collection falls short by including neither the first nor third title. Then there’s the choice of platform. Why bundle Ezio’s three games together for the PS3 without something similar for the 360 or PC? Nevertheless, for the PS3 owner who specifically wants just the middle last three years of the series, this bundle is perfect.
Wonderbook: Book of Spells (PS3)
The ‘Wonderbook: Book of Spells‘ is a both a great idea and a great technical demonstration of the capabilities of the PS Eye and PS Move. It also makes me pine for the days when I poured hours into playing ‘The Eye of Judgement’ online, an experience that wouldn’t have been as special without the PS Eye.
Unfortunately, along the way between concept and realization, the ‘Harry Potter’-based game became the laughing stock of E3 with an overlong demo that only served to demonstrate how easy it is for the PS Eye to be affected by adverse lighting conditions. That, and it reminded folks of how Sony has been unable to really make the PS Move a must-have, or even a kind-of have. The cross-section of society that loves the world of ‘Harry Potter’ and has the access and willingness to use the PS Move will surely love the ‘Wonderbook’. That is, if the complete lack of marketing accidentally manages to inform them of its existence.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star (3DS)
While I think that the heyday of ‘Mario RPG’ and the best of the ‘Paper Mario’ franchise has passed, ‘Paper Mario: Sticker Star‘ is a must-buy for anyone with a 3DS and even a slight interest in the RPG version of Mario. The big mechanic in ‘Sticker Star’ is the collection of stickers that are used to access various hidden areas, not unlike ‘LittleBigPlanet’. This is not a favorite game mechanic of mine, since it requires more trial and error than “I got it” moments. Nevertheless, the cast of Mario characters, especially the enemies, matched with some clever design and art choices, should make players smile relentlessly.
Rift: Storm Legion (PC)
The expansion to one of the most popular current MMOs is finally here. ‘Rift: Storm Legion‘ promises to not only triple the size of the world, raise the level cap, add new dimensions and souls (and of course mounts and pets), but also capes. Trion scored big when it launched ‘Rift’, and the fans are decidedly loyal. On the other hand, ‘Guild Wars 2’ has cut into the player base, so it will be interesting to see if this expansion can lure players back.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified (PSVita)
Those who might wish for something that provides a strong link between the original ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops’ and its new sequel should be pleased to find ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified‘ for the Vita. Beyond that is the promise of 4-vs-4 portable multiplayer, a feature that the Vita seems perfect to finally realize. While it’s unlikely that this game had a full cycle of development focused on the Vita, we can at least hope that the multiplayer joy that came from the original ‘Call of Duty’ is somehow mimicked here.
The Sims 3 Seasons (PC)
If I were a betting man, I’d bet that ‘The Sims 3 Seasons‘ expansion is a bigger deal than a dozen Katy Perry content packs. It was funny back in ‘The Sims 2’ when all of a sudden putting the pool table and extra furniture in the backyard was no longer a good idea, not to mention forcing the game’s already tricky camera perspective to deal with greenhouse cutaways and transparency. ‘Seasons’ should probably have been part of the game from the beginning, but then the game would cost more. Besides, ‘The Sims’ is sort like the Titanic – we must be asked if we’re ready to go back to it. Who doesn’t relish the idea of freezing a Sim out in a hedge maze, forever unrequited in its desire to fulfill the intentions of the Overlook Hotel?