published Friday, August 10th, 2012

Stores ready for year’s hottest video games

New fall video game releases include Guild Wars 2.
New fall video game releases include Guild Wars 2.

While it may not feel like it outside, to video-game publishers the holiday buying season is fast approaching.

In the coming weeks, stores will begin carrying some of the year’s most-anticipated titles, including a handful of new intellectual properties mixed in with new releases in high-profile series such as “Halo,” “Assassin’s Creed” and “Call of Duty.”

‘DARKSIDERS 2’

Release date: Aug. 14.

Summary: Become Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and set out on an epic quest to redeem brother and fellow horseman, War, while simultaneously uncovering a plot that threatens all of creation.

Why it’s hot: When it was released in 2010, the combination of “Zelda”-style exploration and “God of War”-style combat made “Darksiders” a surprise hit. The sequel adds new layers of equipment and skill customization in a world several times larger than the original.

Age rating: M for mature.

Price: $60, PS3 and Xbox 360; $50 PC.

‘SLEEPING DOGS’

Release date: Aug. 14.

Summary: Take advantage of unfettered exploration of Hong Kong as Wei Shen, an undercover police officer, infiltrates the Triad, the city’s feared underground criminal organizations.

Why it’s hot: Although it lets players explore an open city like the “Grand Theft Auto” series, “Sleeping Dogs” emphasizes a deep hand-to-hand fighting system and offers a wealth of side missions, ranging from betting on cockfights and street racing to dating and singing karaoke.

Age rating: M for mature.

Price: $60, PS3 and Xbox 360; $50 PC.

‘GUILD WARS 2’

Release date: Aug. 28.

Summary: More than two centuries after the events of “Guild Wars,” players return to Tyria only to find that disasters have drastically changed the landscape and new powers and races have seized the reins of power.

Why it’s hot: Although more common now, when “Guild Wars” was released in 2005, it was one of the first free-to-play multiplayer titles to feature high production values. The sequel features player-versus-player battles on an epic scale and a new system that reflects the global ramifications of players’ actions.

Age rating: E for everyone.

Price: $60, PC.

‘TEKKEN TAG TOURNAMENT 2’

Release date: Sept. 11.

Summary: More than a decade after the release of the original “Tekken Tag Tournament,” the fighting game franchise once again pits players against one another in two-on-two tag-team matches.

Why it’s hot: The 1999 original was one of the series’ most-beloved, and largest, entries. Its sequel features much-improved graphics, new attack techniques, an even bigger roster of more than 50 fighters and a “fight lab” mode that charges players with completing a series of mission-style matches.

Age rating: T for teen.

Price: $60, PS3 and Xbox 360.

‘BORDERLANDS 2’

Release date: Sept. 18.

Summary: Five years after opening The Vault, players return to Pandora on a quest to overthrow a wealthy tyrant named Handsome Jack.

Why it’s hot: In 2009, the first-person shooter/role-playing game “Borderlands” wowed gamers with a combination of riotously fun cooperative gameplay and a seemingly endless supply of guns created through the game’s randomized item-generation system. The sequel adds even deeper skill customization, improved artificial intelligence, a more open world design and, yes, even more guns.

Age rating: M for mature.

Price: $60, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

‘DEAD OR ALIVE 5’

Release date: Sept. 25.

Summary: The fast-paced, 3-D fighting-game series returns after a six-year hiatus to once again let players battle it out in gorgeous, multilevel locales.

Why it’s hot: The “Dead or Alive” series offers a reactive fighting system that favors a paper/rock/scissors-style approach that is more accessible than other games while still offering surprising depth to advanced players. The latest entry features improved graphics that show characters perspiring and their clothing becoming damp as they battle in highly interactive environments.

Age rating: M for mature.

Price: $60, PS3 and Xbox 360.

‘RESIDENT EVIL 6’

Release date: Oct. 2.

Summary: A veteran police officer is forced to kill the U.S. president after he is infected with a deadly virus. Meanwhile, a mercenary flees the authorities in Eastern Europe, and a special-forces operative responds to a bioterrorism threat in China.

Why it’s hot: The latest “Resident Evil” survival horror game features several interwoven storylines that unite new characters and series mainstays, pitting them against faster, smarter zombies using a new control method that allows them to move and shoot simultaneously.

Age rating: M for mature.

Price: $60, PS3 and Xbox 360.

‘DISHONORED’

Release date: Oct. 9.

Summary: A bodyguard framed for the death of an empress becomes an assassin imbued with magical abilities he uses to hunt down his conspirators.

Why it’s hot: “Dishonored” is one of the year’s few anticipated titles not coming from an existing franchise. A shooter/role-playing game, it takes place in a steampunk setting — rare in any genre — and features multiple approaches to missions through creative use of the assassin’s powers. Includes a star voice-over cast, including Susan Sarandon, Carrie Fisher and Michael Madsen.

Age rating: Pending.

Price: $60, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

‘PLAYSTATION ALL-STARS BATTLE ROYALE’

Release date: Oct. 23.

Summary: Sony’s answer to Nintendo’s long-standing “Smash Bros.” fighting franchise brings together characters from many of PlayStation’s biggest exclusive franchises.

Why it’s hot: “Smash Bros.” has gone nearly uncontested in the realm of casual fighting games, and “All-Stars” offers its first serious competition. The roster includes characters from “Tekken,” “Uncharted,” “Devil May Cry,” “Twisted Metal,” “LittleBigPlanet,” “Metal Gear” and other games.

Age rating: Pending.

Price: $60, PS3; $40 PS Vita.

‘ASSASSIN’S CREED III’

Release date: Oct. 30.

Summary: Connor Kenway, a half-American Indian, half-English Colonial assassin, encounters well-known historical figures on his quest to undermine Templars on both sides of the Revolutionary War.

Why it’s hot: The last three “Assassin’s Creed” titles focused on the same protagonist, but “III” introduces a fresh face and a new setting covering Boston, New York and a vast frontier wilderness. The graphics and animation engines have been vastly improved, and combat now includes realistic naval battles and a two-weapon fighting style.

Age rating: Pending.

Price: $60, PS3 and Xbox 360; $50 PC.

‘HALO 4’

Release date: Nov. 6.

Summary: Four years after the events of “Halo 3,” Master Chief crash-lands on Requiem, an alien world controlled by the Forerunners, the civilization responsible for building the mysterious Halo rings.

Why it’s hot: The title is the first “Halo” game not being developed by franchise originators Bungie. It marks the start of the Reclaimer Saga trilogy. New offerings include additional multiplayer match types and Spartan Ops, an episodic storyline featuring weekly mission updates available online for solo or cooperative play.

Age rating: Pending.

Price: $60, Xbox 360.

‘CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS II’

Release date: Nov. 13.

Summary: Set in the near future, “Black Ops II” is a direct sequel to the 2010 original and features two storylines, one set during the Cold War and another during a fictional terrorist attack that attempts to pit the U.S. against China by turning America’s drone armies against it.

Why it’s hot: Any “Call of Duty” game is bound to be a blockbuster, and “Black Ops II” features a setting never before seen in the franchise with advanced, near-future technologies. The game also features the series’ first branching storyline.

Age rating: Pending.

Price: $60, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

‘FAR CRY 3’

Release date: Dec. 4.

Summary: A tourist finds himself trapped on a tropical paradise ruled by a crazed warlord fighting against the native islanders. Through his struggles to survive, the protagonist becomes both more efficient at combat and progressively unhinged mentally.

Why it’s hot: The series has long been associated with sandbox-style shooting gameplay in wide-open worlds. The third entry features a memorable cast of unbalanced characters, wide range of environment types and a full, four-player cooperative campaign.

Age rating: Pending.

Price: $60, PS3 and Xbox 360; $50 PC.

MOBILE MUST-HAVES

NINTENDO DS/3DS

• “New Super Mario Bros. 2” ($40, E for everyone, Aug. 19) — Mario returns to the 3DS in a 2.5-D side-scrolling platformer featuring a new mode challenging players to grab 1 million coins.

• “Pokemon Black/White 2” ($35, E for everyone, Oct. 7) — The collection role-playing series’ first numbered sequel has players revisiting Unova two years after the events of the 2010 original on a quest to capturing hundreds of new and old Pokemon species.

• “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Mirror of Fate” ($40, rating pending, Nov. 16) — Set 25 years after 2010’s “Lords of Shadow,” the game sets players, as children of the original game’s protagonist, on a quest to defeat the newly crowned king of vampires.

PLAYSTATION VITA

• “LittleBigPlanet PS Vita” ($40, rating pending, Sept. 25) — Sony’s platforming series debuts on the Vita, allowing players to use the system’s touchscreens as they explore a twisted carnival world or make new ones using content creation tools.

• “Street Fighter x Tekken” ($40, T for teen, Oct. 23) — After debuting on consoles earlier this year, this crossover fighting game featuring characters from two flagship series makes the jump to portable with an expanded roster and cross-platform play with the PS3.

• “Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation” ($40, rating pending, Oct. 30) — A companion game to the open-world action series’ third entry, this gorgeous Vita exclusive follows the franchise’s first female protagonist as she embarks on missions in Revolutionary War-era New Orleans.

NEXT-GEN NINTENDO

Sony and Microsoft have yet to unveil their plans for the next-generation Xbox and PlayStation consoles, but Nintendo will lead the next generation arms race with the release of the Wii U sometime this year.

Nintendo’s current console, the Nintendo Wii, has been considered technologically inferior to its competitors since its 2006 release. The Wii U will output content at 1080p and feature a multicore processor and graphics card that reports indicate roughly equals, or slightly exceeds, the power of current-gen consoles the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

The console’s most distinguishing feature is its controller, the Wii U GamePad. The device is equipped with dual analog sticks, a Nintendo first, and a 6.2-inch touchscreen that can function as a second game screen as well as displaying secondary information in most revealed titles.

Nintendo has yet to announce an official release date for the system, but recent leaks of promotional materials (box art, store placards) for Amazon.com and video-game retailer Gamestop place the potential date in November.

Gamestop lists the following Wii U titles as having a launch or near-launch release:

• “Aliens: Colonial Marines”

• “Assassin’s Creed III”

• “Ben 10 Omniverse”

• “Darksiders II”

• “FIFA 13”

• “Just Dance 4”

• “Lego City: Undercover”

• “Madden NFL 13”

• “Marvel Avengers Battle For Earth”

• “Mass Effect 3”

• “New Super Mario Bros. U”

• “Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge”

• “Nintendo Land”

• “Pikmin 3”

• “Rayman Legends”

• “Rise of the Guardians”

• “Scribblenauts Unlimited”

• “SiNG”

• “Sports Connection”

• “Tank! Tank! Tank!”

• “Tekken Tag Tournament 2”

• “ZombiU”

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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