published Friday, January 6th, 2012

Gamers set to take on end-world scenarios in many spring releases

Gamers set to take on end-world scenarios in many spring releases, such as "Soul Calibur V" pictured here.
Gamers set to take on end-world scenarios in many spring releases, such as "Soul Calibur V" pictured here.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

VITAL STATISTICS

On Feb. 22, Sony will release the PlayStation Vita, the follow-up to its PlayStation Portable handheld system, which launched in 2005. The new system is equipped with dual analog sticks, front- and rear-facing cameras, a touch-sensitive 5-inch screen and touch-sensitive rear panel. Its quad-core processor is capable of outputting graphics startlingly close in quality to home consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Two variations will be available: a Wi-Fi-only model for $250 or a 3G-equipped version for $300. A special early release bundle also will be available on Feb. 15 that includes a 3G-equipped Vita, limited-edition case, a copy of "Little Deviants" and a 4-gigabyte memory card.

Launch titles include (age ratings are still pending):

* "Uncharted: Golden Abyss" ($50)

* "Little Deviants" ($30)

* "Resistance: Burning Skies" ($40)

* "Wipeout 2048" ($30)

* "ModNation Racers: Road Trip" ($30)

* "Reality Fighters" ($30)

* "Hotshots Gold World Invitational" ($30)

On Dec. 21, the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar will complete a great cycle, an event some believe heralds an end-of-the-world scenario. Gamers have spent decades staving off the apocalypse, however, and will have ample opportunity to hone those skills in many of the highly anticipated titles to be released in the early months of 2012.

"Soul Calibur V"

* Release date: Jan. 31.

* What's at stake: The sixth entry in the weapon-based fighting franchise features a mix of veterans, who have aged almost 20 years since the events of "Soul Calibur IV," and a younger generation of newcomers, all of whom continue their epic battle to wield (or destroy) the series' all-powerful titular blade.

* Why it's hot: The "Soul Calibur" series is known for guest appearances by characters from other games, and this time it's by Ezio Auditore from the "Assassin's Creed" series. Significant tweaks have also been made to the game's systems, including multilevel arenas, supermeter-enabled moves and guard impacts.

* Age rating: Teen.

* Price: $60, PS3/Xbox 360.

"Final Fantasy XIII-2"

* Release date: Jan. 31.

* What's at stake: "Final Fantasy XIII-2" picks up three years after the conclusion of 2010's "Final Fantasy XIII," with the planet's savior, Lightning, missing in another world, and her sister, Ferah, and newcomer Noel searching for her.

* Why it's hot: "Final Fantasy" titles typically feature isolated storylines with little or no connection to one another, but "XIII-2" is a direct continuation of a previous game, something that hasn't happened since 2003's "Final Fantasy X-2." This entry will introduce new quicktime battle events during combat, a return of random monster encounters, the ability to use monsters as party members and a time-travel mechanic that radically alters the appearance of some locations.

* Age rating: Pending.

* Price: $60, PS3/Xbox 360.

"Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning"

* Release date: Feb. 7.

* What's at stake: Players take on the role of the first warrior to ever be resurrected after death and freed from the confines of destiny. They will use fate as a weapon as they play a vital role in saving a world embroiled in a vicious war.

* Why it's hot: "Kingdom of Amalur" is being helmed by Ken Rolston, lead designer of "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion." The game takes place in a highly detailed open world with art designed by "Spawn" artist Todd McFarlane and follows a story penned by New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore, who has expanded the game's mythology out 10,000 years. The real-time combat system is fast-paced and responsive, similar to that of some fighting games.

* Age rating: Mature.

* Price: $60, PS3/Xbox 360/PC.

"Darkness II"

* Release date: Feb. 7.

* What's at stake: Picking up two years after the 2007 original, former mob hitman Jackie Estacado is now the head of the Franchetti crime family and has contained the demonic power of The Darkness only to be forced to release it after a botched assassination attempt leaves him on death's door.

* Why it's hot: Jackie can now use both weapons and darkness powers at the same time, an effect developers have labeled "quad wielding," including for gruesome finishing moves. The graphic style of the game has been altered to feature cel-shading that brings it closer in appearance to the Top Cow comic-book series the game is based on.

* Age rating: Pending.

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

"Twisted Metal"

* Release date: Feb. 14.

* What's at stake: A rogues gallery of combatants fights in a vehicular tournament to the death for the prize of having a wish granted by the event's twisted sponsor, Calypso.

* Why it's hot: This reboot of the Sony exclusive dark-toned vehicular combat series is the franchise's first console entry since "Twisted Metal: Black" was released in 2001. The debut on this generation of consoles will feature more than a dozen weapon-laden vehicles and 16-player online/four-player split-screen multiplayer combat across more than a dozen battlegrounds.

* Age rating: Teen.

* Price: $60, PS3.

"Syndicate"

* Release date: Feb. 21.

* What's at stake: In 2069, the world is controlled by massive, all-powerful mega-corporations known as syndicates with little to no government oversight. Intercorporation wars for supremacy are fought by bio-engineered and enhanced agents.

* Why it's hot: This is a reboot of a 1993 cult classic of the same name, although its first-person shooter gameplay is a stark departure from the original's third-person tactical style. As Miles Kilo, a prototype agent, players have access to abilities that allow them to "breach" the digital world around them, including the minds of some enemies. The game also features a four-player cooperative campaign based on the original title.

* Age rating: Mature.

* Price: $60, PS3/Xbox 360/PC.

"SSX"

* Release date: Feb. 28.

* What's at stake: It's just you versus the mountain in this over-the-top snowboarding title that offers players a chance to freely roam across exaggerated representations of nine real-world ranges, from the Himalayas and Patagonia to Antarctica.

* Why it's hot: Unlike previous entries "SSX" titles, the series' debut on this generation of consoles offers unrestrained freedom to explore mountains modeled based on satellite data from NASA. A new physics engine offers refinement of the series' outlandish trick system, including the ability to perform tricks off almost anything in the environment during avalanches, whiteouts and more.

* Age rating: Everyone.

* Price: $60, PS3/Xbox 360.

"Mass Effect 3"

* Release date: March 6.

* What's at stake: Everything. The third and final entry in Bioware's epic sci-fi action role-playing series brings the fight to Earth as the Reapers begin a planetwide invasion while series' protagonist Commander Shepard stands trial for his, or her, actions during "Mass Effect 2."

* Why it's hot: Bioware's series has been one of the defining franchises of this generation of consoles and has been lauded by gamers and critics alike. The third entry is the first to be released simultaneously on Xbox 360 and PS3 and features improvements to melee combat, increased customization options and cooperative gameplay, a series first.

* Age rating: Mature.

* Price: $60, PS3/Xbox 360; PC version available March 6 for $60.

"Street Fighter x Tekken"

* Release date: March 6.

* What's at stake: The appearance of a mysterious object code named Pandora that reacts to conflicts draws together characters from "Street Fighter" and "Tekken," two of gaming's most-lauded fighting franchises.

* Why it's hot: Capcom has a long history of creating titles such as "Marvel vs. Capcom" and "Capcom vs. SNK" featuring crossovers between its own franchises and those of other developers. The roster features more than 30 fighters, including Cole MacGrath, a guest from Sucker Punch's "inFamous" series. Gameplay will allow tag matches that open up new options for comboing between characters.

* Age rating: Pending.

* Price: $60, PS3/Xbox 360 [scheduled to be ported to PlayStation Vita at a future date].

"Max Payne 3"

* Release date: March 6.

* What's at stake: Set eight years after the events of "Max Payne 2," emotionally tortured, former New York detective Max Payne leaves New York to pursue work in private security in crime-riddled Sao Paulo, Brazil. There, he begins a fight to protect his client's family, who come under attack by gangs.

* Why it's hot: Unlike previous entries in this noir action series, "Max Payne 3" is being written by Dan Houser, the scribe of Rockstar's "Grand Theft Auto" and "Red Dead Redemption" titles. The graphics and physics have been given a dramatic overhaul, which should offer a next-generation take on the franchise's signature "bullet time" slow-motion gunplay. This entry will also be the first to offer multiplayer.

* Age rating: Pending.

* Price: $60, PS3/Xbox 360.

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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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