SHIFT 2 UNLEASHED: NEED FOR SPEED
Is any business more risk-averse than the video-game industry? In this business, there are two inarguable truths: if a game succeeds, it will spawn a sequel, and if it fails, it won't be due to a lack of shameless copying of an earlier bestseller. Perhaps it's no surprise then that the winter-release calendar is rife with familiar names, each with a 2 or a 3 appended, or that even the occasional attempts to establish new franchises all sound suspiciously familiar.
On the other hand, more than any other form of entertainment, games benefit from iteration and revision. A strong but flawed first effort can, with some polish, become a groundbreaking sequel — consider the quantum leap from the first Uncharted game to the second. As we look ahead to the games of the new year, it's worth keeping that in mind. Otherwise, you might get depressed.
Speaking of flawed first efforts, Sony's 2008 release LittleBigPlanet was a noble idea that, like most noble ideas, was torn to shreds as soon as ordinary people got their hands on it. The game's premise was to let gamers create and share their own side-scrolling levels. Most of the user-created levels weren't much fun to play, but they sure did contain a lot of virtual cocks and balls. With LITTLEBIGPLANET 2 (January 18; PlayStation 3), developer Media Molecule is even more ambitious. Instead of creating levels for just one game, LBP2 players will be given the tools to build entirely new games from scratch — and, considering the prurient sophomoric hijinks that ensued with the first edition, gamers are sure to give us lots of tools in return.
In Electronic Arts' DEAD SPACE 2 (January 25; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC), players will need to master several tools of destruction in order to survive. The first game was a solid survival horror adventure set aboard an abandoned spaceship. The sequel looks to continue the gory good times with an array of industrial-strength weapons, including an arc welder and a giant circular saw blade. Where the original was single-player only, Dead Space 2 will include a team-based multiplayer mode pitting humans against the gruesome necromorphs. If that sounds a lot like versus mode in Left 4 Dead, rest assured that it is no accident.
One wouldn't have thought that Test Drive Unlimited was a big enough hit to warrant a follow-up, but its massive, open-world approach to the racing genre received critical acclaim upon its release in 2006, so the real surprise might be that it's taken this long for Atari to come up with TEST DRIVE UNLIMITED 2 (February 8; Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC). As with the original, the game's race courses are painstakingly detailed recreations of real-world locations, specifically Hawaii and Ibiza. The sequel also retains RPG-like character progression, on-foot segments, and seamless drop-in, drop-out multiplayer.
Taking the phrase "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again" to heart, Sega is making their umpteenth attempt to appeal to hardcore gamers on the Wii with CONDUIT 2 (February 15). Sure, Sega's past attempts at M-rated Wii games have resulted in commercial flops such as House of the Dead: Overkill, MadWorld, and, oh yeah, The Conduit, but this time things will be different. After all, Conduit 2 boasts slick graphics, online and split-screen multiplayer, and a labyrinthine sci-fi storyline. You know, all the things that made the first game such a hit.