There was no contest between last year’s two big music games: Rock Band stomped all over Guitar Hero III. And though ROCK BAND 2 (September 16 for the Xbox 360; October 19 for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, and Nintendo Wii) will no doubt melt your face all over again, the more intriguing option this year is GUITAR HERO WORLD TOUR (October 26; PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii). The new version finally adds the support of drums and vocals, with a sweet-looking five-piece virtual drumkit. But this is no mere case of playing catch-up. World Tour includes a create-a-song feature, the next logical step for music games — and one that’s missing from Rock Band 2.
A long-dormant franchise makes a welcome return with FALLOUT 3 (October 28; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC). The first two Fallout games are revered among RPG fans; the third installment, from the same people who brought you the massive Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, promises to elevate the series from cult favorite to superstardom. The game is set in the United States after a nuclear holocaust, as a lone survivor ventures forth from his fallout shelter. How convincing is the post-apocalyptic setting? It’s reported that al-Qaeda terrorists used concept art for the game to demonstrate their dark dream for America on an on-line message board. And you thought graphics weren’t everything!
One of the fall’s biggest console battles comes the first week of November, when Sony and Microsoft drop sequels to two of the best-selling titles on their respective platforms. In RESISTANCE 2 (November 4; PlayStation 3), Sergeant Nathan Hale continues the fight against the alien Chimera, who have turned their attention from Europe to the United States. More exciting than single-player mode is the prospect of participating in eight-player cooperative play, or in massive 60-player battles. Developer Insomniac Games wrought great things from the PlayStation 3 with its first effort; its greater familiarity with the hardware could mean something special from Resistance 2.
Likewise, the guiding philosophy of GEARS OF WAR 2 (November 7; Xbox 360), according to lead developer Cliff Bleszinski, is “bigger, better, and more bad-ass.” Lofty promises, given that the first game was about as bad-ass it gets, with a gritty combat experience against a relentless, terrifying foe — not to mention a chainsaw bayonet. The sequel looks to add more-expansive outdoor environments, as well as boss battles on an even larger scale. A new cooperative multi-player mode called “Horde” eschews the storyline and allows five friends to go up against increasingly difficult waves of enemies.
But if you want a shooter that focuses only on multi-player, your best bet may be LEFT 4 DEAD (November 18; Xbox 360, PC). The numeral in the title isn’t just for branding purposes — you play as one of a four-person squad of survivors trying to fend off a zombie outbreak. Each level is designed not just to emphasize teamwork but to demand it. In the hands of another developer, Left 4 Dead might not seem noteworthy, but this is a production of Valve, the folks who brought us Half-Life, Team Fortress 2, and Portal. In other words, it’s the closest thing to a sure bet you’ll find.