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The Top 7 Most unique multiplayer games of fall 2011

2. Gears of War 3

Due out: Sept. 20

For: 360

Whenever a new Gears comes out, it tends to send little shockwaves through the multiplayer gaming world. The first game helped standardize cover-shooting mechanics. The second gave us Horde mode, a ridiculously simple-yet-addictive cooperative multiplayer mode that’s already been aped numerous times by other high-profile shooters. Gears of War 3, meanwhile, brings two especially interesting additions to the table, the first being a new twist on Horde mode that enables players to lay down turrets and other “fortifications” to help them survive against waves of Locusts.

The real gem here, however, is Beast Mode, which lets players turn the tables and play as the Locusts themselves. Where Horde mode is survival-oriented – the goal is to see how long you can stay alive against increasingly unforgiving odds – Beast Mode challenges players to rush through, hurling the full disposable might of the Locust army against waves of puny humans as quickly as possible.

To this end, you’ll get to play not only as standard Locust grunts, but also as nearly every other species of the game’s gruesome subterranean dwellers, from the lowly Tickers and Wretches to Berserkers, Corpsers and a giant centipede. An early hands-on at last year’s E3 left us impressed, and we’re eager to see how the final mode pans out – and how it’ll no doubt be incorporated into other shooters down the line.

1. Journey

Due out: TBA sometime this year

For: PS3

Of all the games coming later this year, Journey’s approach to multiplayer is easily the most unconventional. Even calling it “multiplayer” at all doesn’t quite seem right. Otherwise a solitary game set in a beautiful but lonely desert, Journey might, at any point, suddenly cause another player to wander into your game. Or maybe you’re wandering into theirs. Whichever.

Should you randomly meet a stranger – and they will be a stranger, as the game won’t show their PSN ID or any other information about them – the way you react is up to you. Journey creator Jenova Chen describes the experience as like coming across a stranger while hiking. Maybe you don’t want someone else tagging along, in which case you’re free to continue on your way and ignore them. Or maybe you’ll want the company, in which case you and your new friend can use the game’s extremely limited forms of communication (mostly jumping and nonverbal “calls”) to explore together and solve the game’s puzzles.

It’ll be interesting, when Journey arrives on PSN sometime later this year, to see what effect totally optional, drop-in co-op has on the experience of playing the game. Will it be possible to communicate ideas you have about solving puzzles? Will it make for more interesting gameplay? Or will trying to coordinate with a silent partner turn into a cumbersome annoyance? In any case, it’s good to know that if things somehow turn sour, we can always just walk away.

Aug 29, 2011

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After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.