We didn’t have to see L.A. Noire running to know we were interested in it. As fans of films like L.A. Confidential and Chinatown, the idea of a detective drama set in a meticulous recreation of late-‘40s Hollywood holds enormous appeal for us – especially when it’s being handled by the publisher of Grand Theft Auto. That it was going to temper its action with slow, methodical detective work only intrigued us more.
However, it wasn’t until we saw Noire in action that we got really excited for it. A big part of that is down to its eerily realistic, motion-captured faces – which, as it turns out, play an important part in the gameplay. As a detective, a big part of your job will involve watching suspects’ faces to judge whether they’re lying or hiding something, something that makes the game feel much more organic than your average hidden-object detective game. Throw in plenty of GTA-style shooting-and-driving gameplay (without the random havoc or sandbox approach), and L.A. Noire promises to be completely unlike anything we’ve played before. We’re a little skeptical that something this ambitious will actually hit by the promised spring release date, but that doesn’t make us any less eager for it.
4 - Portal 2 (PS3, 360, PC)
Back in 2007, Portal blue our minds so hard that our brains still mix up homonyms. Unfortunately, it also wrenched open an overstuffed cartoon closet which has yet to cease burying us under jokes about cake lies. Is it all too much? Has our anticipation for Portal 2 been tempered by oversaturation? Not at all!
If we know Valve like we think we do, we know that the moment Portal 2’s first scene fades in from black, we’ll feel just like we did in 2007. Well, not just like we did, because Portal 2 isn’t just a new layer of identical cake, it’s a brand-new cake. (Yeah, that’s right, a cake analogy – what?)
Portal 2 is a cheesecake, maybe. With chocolate swirls and raspberries. The cream cheese is its rich, substantial continuation of Portal’s story, which includes a cast of now-independent personality cores; the swirls are new puzzles and environmental toys (Pneumatic Diversity Vents!); and the raspberries are the added co-op mode, which looks decidedly scrumptious.
Valve’s baking smells good to us, but if you’re still experiencing Portal hype weariness, just consider the following: Hundreds of years later… in a decayed and overgrown Aperture Labs... GLaDOS is… STILL ALIVE!
It gives us chills. For reals.
3 - The Last Guardian (PS3)
If a collection of Team ICO’s prior games makes it to number 12, you’d better believe its years-in-the-making third project will be in our top three. Actually, it was our number one choice last year, back when we foolishly thought it would release in 2010. No, Team ICO takes its sweet ass time – four years elapsed between ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, and now we’re entering six for The Last Guardian.
But the wait will be worth it. Unquestionably. We have the utmost faith in this team, for its two prior games are borderline magical, and about as mystical and subtle as games can be. All we needed to see was the trailer, which showed a young boy running around ruins and caves with his giant man-eating eagle/cat/possum friend and we knew this was a must-have, day-one purchase. It looks to combine the platforming and puzzle-solving of ICO with the heartbreaking sadness and unstoppable tragedy of Colossus… and even if it’s something completely different, it will be amazing. Just you wait.
2 - Batman: Arkham City (PS3, 360, PC)
You’d better believe the sequel to our 2009 Game of the Year would end up near the top of this countdown... and only a handful of votes kept it from taking #1 outright. What keeps us counting down the days to Batman: Arkham City’s release with a feverish exhilaration worthy of comic book villain Calendar Man, however, is not merely the title or the opportunity to play a second helping of the first game. It’s the assertion from developer Rocksteady, in every interview we’ve read, that the original was a nice test run, but only a fraction of what they truly believe they can accomplish with the DC superhero and his universe. Yeah, our brains are staggering a bit, too.
Yet everything revealed so far has confirmed this claim. Batman explored a small island before? Now he’s gliding across a gigantic piece of Gotham City, surrounded by neon lights and towering skyscrapers. Combat included cool, slow-motion takedown moves? Now there are double and triple “executions” as well as simultaneous counters and the ability to use every one of Batman’s gadgets, including new toys like smoke bombs, during the fight. Joker in the first game? Joker, Two-Face, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, Hugo Strange and that’s just what we know in the second game. Fan service cameos from lesser characters? Have a whole secondary mission starring those villains. No multiplayer? Multiplayer!
As long as Rocksteady doesn’t add Robin, Arkham City looks to be another GOTY contender.
1 - Mass Effect 3 (PS3, 360, PC)
The first Mass Effect was awesome – it had a rich, fully-realized world, with a story and characters befitting an epic science fiction adventure. Its shooter/RPG hybrid combat suited a wide variety of play styles and was highly polished no matter what class you chose to play. But despite the original's exceptional achievement, Mass Effect 2 managed to improve on it in every way – it cut the tedious item inventory without sacrificing the other RPG aspects we love, and cut the terrible Mako driving without sacrificing its feeling of exploration. It had better characters, better writing, better combat, better weapons – better everything.
Currently, we only have one teaser to go on, and like any good teaser it leaves us with more questions than answers. Will it primarily take place on Earth? Will it take a cue from Cerberus and be more human-focused? The idea of leaving behind the diversity of the galaxy worries us, but we're also excited to see future Earth within the Mass Effect universe. At this point we don't even know if EA's recent comments about single-player games being "finished" will have any bearing on Mass Effect 3.
Despite all logic pointing toward BioWare creating another masterpiece, it's hard not to be anxious about Mass Effect's final chapter when we have so much invested in the series. Until we find out more, we can only hope that BioWare continues to improve the series at the same rate, although if that's the case, we're going to have to add an extra number to our ratings scale for Mass Effect 3.
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