Tuesday’s release of "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed" will launch the fall video game season.
Through mid-November, publishers will be trotting out dozens of games. They’ll invite players to take the field, wage war and make music in a variety of ways. Everything looks so tempting — but you know that many of those titles will be collecting dust in bargain bins soon after Christmas.
Cutting through all of the hype and confusion can be difficult. So, following is a look at some of the games that made fingers twitch with anticipation during demos at July’s E3 Media & Business Summit.
Now, I need to drop in some warnings. First, developers always show their best levels during these demos and even a lame game can look cool for 10 or 15 minutes. Second, some of the release dates have changed since I started writing this story and I expect a few more will change — or disappear — before long, so don’t go forming any lines at your local exchange just yet.
• Star Wars: The Force Unleashed — Take on the role of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice and do the Sith’s dirty work in a story set between "Episode III" and "Episode IV" of the flicks. The LucasArts game looks great on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and was a lot of fun to play on the Wii. Due Tuesday on PS3, Wii and Xbox 360.
• Lego Batman — The Lego games have been thoroughly fun to play — and not just for kids. Good graphics, solid game play and humor are all hallmarks of the series. The formula continues to work for the Caped Crusader in this Warner Bros. game, which features cool gadgets, familiar villains and — for the first time — a story line that wasn’t dictated by preceding movies. Due Sept. 23 on PS3, Wii and Xbox 360.
• Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway — Fight through the Netherlands as a member of the 101st Airborne Division in September 1944. The squad-based commands and destructable cover work very nicely. However, this Ubisoft title has been brewing for quite a while and the graphics that looked so impressive at E3 two years ago look pretty standard now. Due Sept. 23 on PS3 and Xbox 360. Wii fans will get "Brothers in Arms: Double Time," a retelling of the first two "BiH" games, also on Sept. 23.
• Fracture — LucasArts creates a world where disasters have reshaped the landscape and man has decided to improve himself, either by genetic engineering or cybernetic enhancement. Cool bonus: The technology to reshape your landscape on the fly. Need cover or a bit of a boost to get atop a building? Boom! It’s there. This will definitely make for some wild online matches. Due Oct. 7 on PS3 and Xbox 360.
• Rock Band 2 — The first version was terrific, but the new edition from Harmonix, MTV Games and Electronic Arts will address a few hardware issues involving the drums and guitar and offer more, more, more music. Beat that, drummer boy. The game disc for Xbox 360 comes out today for those who already own the original "Rock Band," but the new peripherals — what everyone’s waiting for — are due Oct. 19 on Xbox 360. The game and peripherals are due Oct. 19 on PS3 and Nov. 18 on Wii.
• Wii Music — Nintendo’s music game doesn’t aim to compete directly with "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero." It’s a more informal and diverse affair. Instead of wielding fake guitars or pounding on plastic drums while matching notes that appear on screen, "Wii Music" players will use the standard Wii controllers and nunchucks as they pretend to play a huge variety of instruments. Players don’t even have to match the notes, so it offers plenty of free-form fun for all ages. Due Oct. 20 on Wii.
• Far Cry 2 — Skulk around as a special operative aiming to take down the guy who’s stirring up trouble among African warlords. Ubisoft delivers great graphics, a huge open-world environment and the ability to tackle the job the way you prefer. Due Oct. 21 on PS3 and Xbox 360.
• Guitar Hero: World Tour — Red Octane and Activision will go head-to-head with "Rock Band" by adding a drum kit and mic to their uber-popular guitar simulation. Yes, they’re playing catch-up but don’t be surprised if the hordes of "GH" shredders don’t propel "World Tour" beyond "Rock Band 2" in sales. Unfortunately, Activision didn’t participate in E3, so I didn’t get to test the new instruments. Due Oct. 26 on PS3, Wii and Xbox 360.
• Fallout 3 — Climb out of your shelter and decide whether you’ll be a hero or a thug. Set in a long-ago-nuked Washington, D.C., this role-playing game from Bethesda Softworks offers a wide-open world where you can determine your own course. Graphics are great — but be aware that it can get gruesome, even without the "bloody mess" option engaged. Due Oct. 28 on PS3 and Xbox 360.
• Tom Clancy’s EndWar — Take command of armor, infantry, artillery and helicopters in a war involving American, European and Russian forces in the near future. This strategy game from Ubisoft places you among your troops, not hovering overhead. It also gives you the option of commanding your forces using your voice, instead of a handheld controller. Due Nov. 4 on PS3 and Xbox 360.
• The Lord of the Rings: Conquest — This is a dream come true for fans of the old "Star Wars: Battlefront" games and Electronic Arts’ "Lord of the Rings" hack-and-slash titles. You get elves and rangers and orcs fighting for control points across various battlefields of Middle Earth. It doesn’t break much new ground but it is fun. Due Nov. 4 on PS3 and Xbox 360.
• Mirror’s Edge — You’re a messenger on the move in a game that looks like a parkour session on steroids. Keeping a step ahead of your foes requires fleet feet, gigantic jumps and a lot of ingenuity on this urban obstacle course from Electronic Arts. Due Nov. 11 on PS3 and Xbox 360.
• Call of Duty: World at War — This is one of the most anticipated games of the season if for no other reason than it marks the arrival of split-screen co-op in the "Call of Duty" universe. The game uses the phenomenal "Call of Duty 4" engine to re-create World War II battles from the Pacific and the final push into Berlin. It seems like a can’t-miss combination — but it’s also a site unseen since Activision didn’t participate in E3. Due Nov. 11 on PS3, Wii and Xbox 360.
•Star Wars: The Clone Wars — Lightsaber Duels — Players get to wield their own lightsabers in this LucasArts fighting game for the Wii. The bouts draw their inspiration from the recent animated flick and the upcoming TV show so they have a kid-friendly feel. The action looks impressive, even though exact slash-for-slash reproduction of a player’s movements is still in a galaxy far, far away. Due Nov. 11 on Wii.
• Rayman Raving Rabbids: TV Party — For the first time in video game history, you can control action with your butt. One of the minigames in this Ubisoft title can be played by sitting on the Wii balance board and shifting your weight to guide a wildebeast/toboggan down a snowy slope. Anyone who’s played the previous two "Raving Rabbids" titles knows this is only a small slice of comic mayhem available in this title. Due Nov. 11 on Wii.
• Skate It — Gamers will be able to pull off some sick tricks — or crash embarrassingly — by mimicking real skateboard moves on the Wii balance board. If that’s too much effort, they can sit on their sofas and move their remotes like miniature skateboards to control the action in this Electronic Arts title. Either method beats hitting buttons and wiggling knobs. Due Nov. 17 on Wii.
• Tomb Raider: Underworld — Lara Croft returns and this time she’s searching for Thor’s hammer. The last outing from Eidos was a winner and the game play and graphics look very good on the upcoming title, too. Due Nov. 18 on PS3, Wii and Xbox 360.