Star Wars: The Old Republic
- Release Date: Spring 2011 - Developer: BioWare - Publisher: EA
Why it's a winner? A new hope for Star Wars fans
I'm in my character's starting zone; I'm running through a cave to kill things and find lost artifacts. This could be an early quest in any MMO—until combat starts. I'm not wielding rusty daggers; I'm not wearing rags. I'm a bona fide Jedi, and I've got space magic on my side. When I encounter a pack of droids-gone-rogue, I don't fret—I rip a chunk out of the earth and hurl it at them with the Force, then pelt them with waves of tiny rocks and shrapnel before cutting their faces off with my energy blade. Then, as I listen to the quest giver thank me for my magnificent droid-killing and artifact-looting, I think about how fantastic it is to listen to NPCs prattle about my awesomeness aloud, rather than being served obligatory slabs of text. Because of these voiceovers I'm absorbing more story, which is well-suited to BioWare's signature deep plots and characterizations.
The most recently revealed class, the Jedi Consular, is wish-fulfillment for every Star Wars fan's dream of being a Jedi. Using the Force to suspend one enemy in the air, thrash his four buddies, and follow it all up with a ground slam to create a Force shockwave that knocks everyone backwards makes you feel like the badass do-gooder that you are—and is endlessly rewarding to watch every time.
About five hours into my playthrough, I found myself slipping into my usual MMO groove, and even absent-mindedly tried to Alt-Tab into iTunes to start up my favorite music, like I often do when playing MMOs (only to be reminded that I was playing on a demo rig). It was a signal moment in the demo, that after hours of play, I sank deeper into the game without a trace of fatigue. It's the moment in which I understood that The Old Republic might finally deliver on a goal that's proved to be agonizingly elusive: delivering a satisfying Star Wars online universe into the hands of gamers. JA
- Release Date: Late Q1/Early Q2 - Developer: Crytek - Publisher: EA
Why it's a winner? One-man army
Nomad is pinned between an invading army of vicious extraterrestrials and a ruthless paramilitary organization that wants its stolen super-suit back, and he has no cab fare to get out of New York. Fortunately, the upgraded Nanosuit 2 evens the score considerably. Though it still has no pockets, it includes a sensory-enhancing tactical mode that can track enemy movements, and the ability to deploy multiple power modes—such as speed and strength—simultaneously in order to, say, disable multiple enemies mano-a-mano or make a flying leap from the top of one skyscraper to a balcony on another. In fact, just about every gameplay tweak I've seen requires you not just to act like a one-man army, but to think like one as well, with strategic options that extend well beyond what we're used to a single person being able to achieve in combat-focused games (like using a taxicab as a moving shield, a defensive weapon and a battering ram, in that order). Remember, with Crytek also turning its obsessive attention to detail towards vertical level design and enemy AI in Crysis 2, don't expect a mere shooting gallery—and don't forget to look up. LD
- Release Date: TBA - Developer: Andy Schatz/Pocketwatch Games - Publisher: TBD
Why it's a winner? The thrill of the co-op heist.
It's Ocean's Eleven on an arcade mach-ine. It's Hitman played from Pac-Man's perspective. Ever since Andy Schatz sent an early build of Monaco our way, we've been gathering 'round a PC for a weekly game of robbers-and-robbers. Monaco's colorful, abstracted design belies its challenge and payoff: pulling off the crime of the decade, again and again.
It'll be playable online, but one of the coups of the design is the shoulder-to-shoulder socializing that arises from the shared, top-down point-of-view you have of the upscale locales you're infiltrating. It encourages class-based teamwork; having your Hacker deploy a spy camera to monitor guard patrols in the lobby, then sneaking your Cleaner to chloroform a sentry while a Prowler uses adrenaline to sprint in and grab your objective: X-rated blackmail photos. EL