The 8 must-rent games of 2011

5. Red Faction: Armageddon

GR's Review

Don’t worry if you’ve never played a Red Faction game before; Armageddon may actually appeal most to players new to the series. The last installment, Red Faction: Guerrilla, was an open-world game, and fans were shocked that developer Voltion would return to a more linear structure. If you’re not packing such expectations, though, Armageddon’s creative weapons and over-powered vehicles sequences will likely be a pleasant surprise.

Why it shouldn’t be missed: The Red Faction games aren’t known so much for their continuity, as their stories tend to be spaced years or even decades apart; instead, the series has more of a unifying design concept: make the environments as destructible as possible. With Napalm Lasers and Singularity Cannons, Armageddon gives you the means to level the place, and introduces the Nanoforge, a tool for rebuilding whatever you bust up. Watching structures leap back to life feels like controlling time in a Prince of Persia game. It adds a new layer to the series’ trademark destructiveness, and gives Armageddon’s combat an interesting twist.

Reason it’s a rental: With its repetitive enemy design and traditional structure, you may not want to make Armageddon a permanent member of your videogame library. However, if you’re a fan of the series, you should check it out eventually, since THQ has said it will be the last Red Faction game. Sad, but with a name like Armageddon, one should expect the end of all things.

4. Rango

GR's Review

A good game based on a kid’s movie is a rare thing, but a quality adventure-platformer that captures the quirk of its source material? That’s unheard of! Rango is a rare beast indeed. The game may not have the movie’s voice cast (no Johnny Depp as the titular lizard), but it still captures the film’s bizarre visual flair.

Why it shouldn’t be missed: Did you see the movie? Do you like the Ratchet and Clank games? If you answered yes to either question, put Rango directly on your must-play list. Rango’s action and platforming borrows heavily from the R&C series, but its humor and aesthetic make it too unique to be called a knockoff. It’s visually varied to the extreme, and just like the movie, too out-there to be considered purely for children.

Reason it’s a rental: Clocking in at around four hours, you could call it quality over quantity, but there’s no getting around the fact that Rango is short. Younger players may get their money’s worth, but Rango’s length makes it a perfect rental.

3. Dead Island

GR's Review

We’re not sure what got more coverage, the trailer or the bugs, but Dead Island is an ambitious piece of survival horror with a brilliant concept: it’s an open-world zombie RPG. Combat with the undead is based around throwing or melee weapons, all from a first-person perspective. There’s a system for crafting improvised tools of destruction, RPG-style leveling, and perks that let you flesh out your own style of zombie ass-kicking. Best of all, there’s online co-op and an effective matchmaking system to help you band together with your fellow survivors.

Why it shouldn’t be missed: It’s no Skyrim, but Dead Island’s four-player co-op makes an excellent complement to the open world and first-person melee combat. If the Elder Scrolls’ high fantasy setting doesn’t do it for you, Dead Island’s grit and gore may be more your speed. For a truly unique experience, try the analog control mode, which lets you control the swing of your weapons with the analog stick.

Reason it’s a rental: Like so many vacation destinations, Dead Island is great to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Even after several patches, it still has a reputation as buggy and unreliable. Saved games go missing, as do hard-earned custom weapons, and the combat is skewed in favor of the melee-based characters. Plus, there’s no online pass, meaning renters are free to try the online co-op, Dead Island’s standout feature.

Alex Roth