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Mass Effect 2
2010 wastes no time filling my video game calendar with Mass Effect 2 arriving before there's even a chance to turn the page from January. The original game clicked with me on a number of levels but none more than the feeling of immersion in the world, characters, and events. I got involved enough that I've actually read both Mass Effect novels. They might not be Hugo Award material but the compliment they provide to playing the games illustrates the depth of construction in the Mass Effect universe.
This investment in the world leaves me particularly expectant of the ability to carry over my progress from the first game and have it directly influence the course of Mass Effect 2. But if it succeeds I'm not even sure I'll know it's at work. As my unique telling of Mass Effect 2 unfolds, everything should occur naturally. To further complicate matters I can see great conversations about the differences in how things played out but I wonder whether I want to even know. And that's not necessarily for the sake of playing through differently but simply to preserve the integrity of "my" version of the fiction.
Along with inspiring such heady thoughts, my visit to Bioware to play the game a couple months ago convinced me they've refined every functional part of the game as well. I hated having to put down the controller and leave. In a couple of weeks I won't have to.
Heavy Rain / Alan Wake
Battle plans for both the PS3 and 360 in their ongoing duel over HD video game supremacy show some willingness to take risks in 2010. Two exclusive titles lead the charge: Heavy Rain on PS3 and Alan Wake on 360. They fall well outside the usual shooters and space marines that have defined the battle lines. Their reception will be a strong indication of where the video game audience stands in this new decade.
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Heavy Rain continues the interactive cinema design developer Quantic Dream used in Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit in Europe). From the first video footage I saw on the floor at E3 the year the PS3 debuted I knew that from a technical standpoint at least this platform could achieve game director David Cage's vision. The real question is whether that will be enough.
Much of the "action" in Heavy Rain involves pressing the right button in time with on-screen cues. These "quick-time events" as they've come to be known frequently come under fire as being a poor substitute for actually controlling a character. Heavy Rain advances the system with more detailed interactions that better replicate the actions but it still reduces to the same mechanic.
Gage also hopes to duplicate the character connection a film develops by spending time early in the game simply living their lives. I'm not sure how many gamers have the patience for that. I know I do, though, and am optimistic that the story of four lives intertwined around a serial killer will make believers of video game skeptics.
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Alan Wake probably faces something of an easier road, at least if commercial success is the destination. On the surface it's a more conventional action adventure and evokes easily identifiable pop culture icons. Lead character Alan Wake immediately brings to mind Stephen King and the thriller set in the forested mountains of the Northwest oozes David Lynch's Twin Peaks.
Those are some big footsteps to follow in but what I've seen of Alan Wake shows promise that it can pull it off. It's all in the atmosphere. The story of Alan Wake as an author who seems to be living out the pages of his unwritten next thriller perfectly fits the bill. The action feeds off that paranormal vibe with all sorts of potential light and dark dynamics as he fends off mysterious foes in the shadows. Where other video games used zombies and other scary monsters to freak me out I expect Alan Wake to provide a little more cerebral thrill while still being fun just to play.
Gears of War 3 (Unannounced Bonus Pick)
No, it's not announced. I'm just going to put this out there: Gears of War released in November 2006; Gears of War 2 released in November 2008 after being announced at GDC earlier that year. During the two years between the first and second Epic made a number of improvements and additions to the game. As the experts with their own engine it will be exciting to see what they can pull off this time around. And don't forget it's also a showcase for the engine when they market it to other developers. 2010 is already shaping up to be a big year for video games, imagine it capped off for Microsoft with both Halo and Gears.