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Fall video games offer sequels and few surprises
By MITCH KRPATA  |  September 11, 2008

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LITTLEBIGPLANET: This Sony cutie could be the surprise hit of the season.

For the first time, the arrival of the blockbuster video-game season seems bittersweet. All summer, we were treated to innovative downloadable games for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, independent games the likes of which wouldn’t stand a chance against this fall’s heavy hitters. Gamers will just have to find a way to make do with the most highly polished, expertly produced products the industry has to offer. As always, the toughest task will be deciding which ones to pick up and which to pass by.

The big names kick off with THE FORCE UNLEASHED (September 16; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS). The storyline bridges George Lucas’s two Star Wars trilogies and is intended to be canonical. As Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, you’re charged with using all the Force powers at your disposal to wipe out the galaxy’s remaining Jedi. The developers have incorporated the best available third-party physics engines to make the most potent virtual representation of the Force yet. Every in-game object and character can be made to interact, with chaotic results. And as opposed to most cross-platform games, each console and handheld version of The Force Unleashed was tailored to its system’s strengths — lightsaber battles on Wii sound especially exciting. Star Wars games can be hit or miss; the Force is strong on this one.

With the second birthday of Sony’s PlayStation 3 upcoming, it’s already time for sequels to some of the system’s earliest titles. The original MotorStorm was a decent initial offering for what was intended to be a tentpole franchise, but it promised more than it delivered, even with substantial post-release downloadable content. MOTORSTORM: PACIFIC RIFT (October 7; PlayStation 3) has a chance to take the checkered flag with more features and an intriguing new tropical setting. Like the original, Pacific Rift pits several classes of vehicles, from bikes to monster trucks, across hazardous, multi-layered tracks. But with twice as many courses to choose from, and expanded on-line multi-player options, this sequel should leave the original in the mud.

Like the zombies that populate it, survival horror is a genre that just won’t die. And why should it as long as publishers keep putting their best efforts there? EA’s DEAD SPACE (October 14; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC) should be a suitably creepy Halloween offering. Set aboard an abandoned space station, it pits a lone engineer against a race of shape-shifting extraterrestrials. Shooting monsters is nice, but the most exciting gameplay possibilities derive from the game’s embrace of zero-gravity effects. Let’s hope the setting alone will keep Dead Space from being a Resident Evil 4 clone. If not, there’s reason to believe that the storyline could be good — comic-book demigod Warren Ellis helped with the script.

The fall slate is suspiciously devoid of original Wii titles, but the next best thing might be Sony’s LITTLEBIGPLANET (October 17; PlayStation 3). Here you take control of tiny, living dolls who must navigate real-world environments that seem much larger than life, using everyday objects to help them along the way. It’s cuter than you’d expect from the PlayStation 3, but with an emphasis on multi-player and user-created content, the smart money says this could be the surprise hit of the season. The give-away: marketing folks are already trying to position its adorable hero, Sackboy, as an unofficial PS3 mascot.

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