Given a recent price drop to $300, and a slimmer, cooler-running chassis, the beleaguered PlayStation 3 is making one last bid for relevance this fall. It will be helped by sequels to two of the best PS3 exclusives. First is UNCHARTED 2: AMONG THIEVES (PlayStation 3; October 13), which follows the continuing exploits of raffish adventurer Nathan Drake. Gamers flipped over the original's lifelike graphics and swashbuckling gameplay; Among Thieves promises more of the same, plus multi-player death match and co-op. Beta testers reported good things from the on-line play. The sequel also moves things in a darker direction, with a hardened and more cynical Drake racing against mercenaries to find the treasures of Marco Polo's lost fleet.
DARKER AND HARDER: PlayStation 3 makes one last bid for relevance with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
One PS3 sequel that won't be darker is RATCHET AND CLANK FUTURE: A CRACK IN TIME (PlayStation 3; October 27). It'll feature the same colorful action gameplay and groan-inducing puns of past games — not to mention the eye-popping high-definition graphics that have marked the franchise's current-gen incarnations. New to this installment is a time-manipulation mechanic that will allow Clank to create multiple copies of himself across different time spectra in order to solve puzzles. Think Braid, only with ass jokes in place of grad-school philosophizing. This series has been remarkably consistent since it debuted on the PlayStation 2 in 2002; A Crack in Time should maintain that level of quality.
Most RPGs operate in a science-fiction or high-fantasy milieu. The allure of ALPHA PROTOCOL (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows; October 27) is that it takes place in the relatively realistic world of international espionage. As a double-crossed agent named Michael Thorton, you'll embark on a globetrotting adventure, from Moscow to Taipei, cracking a fair number of skulls along the way. The real hook is the character-progression system: besides earning upgrades for Michael's abilities, you can also choose how he'll interact with people in the game world. He may be a man of action, or he may try to sweet-talk other characters. The choices you make will reverberate throughout.
You won't have any choice but to be a man of action when you play CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 2 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows; November 10). The Call of Duty numbering system is getting hard to follow at this point: Modern Warfare 2 is a direct sequel to 2007's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which, for my money, is the best pure first-person shooter of this console generation. That game's developer, Infinity Ward, is back on call for this installment, promising more heart-pounding, ear-splitting, controller-flinging action. The announced improvements seem mostly cosmetic — dual wielding, new perks for multi-player — but the pedigree is beyond reproach.
Speaking of pedigree: LEFT 4 DEAD 2 (Xbox 360, Windows; November 17) likewise has an impressive lineage. Its developer, Valve, has never made a bad game, and last year's Left 4 Dead was no exception. The company had, however, pledged to support that game with new downloadable content well after its release, and there was a half-hearted boycott attempt by some frustrated fanboys in response to the announcement of a full-priced follow-up. Poppycock. Left 4 Dead was a wholly satisfying package, and its sequel, which emphasizes melee combat and a more fully fleshed-out storyline set in the Deep South, ought to deliver more of the same.