July is the time for snooty summer reading lists (not ours) and cocktail party chatter about reading them. The time when certain magazines and certain readers just lord their oh-so-fulfilling summer over your shiftless vacation.
This hasn't happened to you? Lucky. Tell you what. We're going to put together our summer list, the games that you must have played - great, good, underwhelming - just so you can be leading the cultural conversationalist in our corner of the arts.
Better yet, we' pairing these with specific comments you can offer to sound smart amongst your less enlightened gaming friends, not that any of you are hanging out at the club with popped collars and tennis sweaters. But you can pretend, right?
Ghostbusters: The Video Game:
Certainly this summer's multiplayer staples remain titles like Left 4 Dead, anything in the Call of Duty series, and standbys such as Crysis or Team Fortress 2. Ghostbusters' multiplayer makes it a worthy colleague of these, at least for the summer, offering nonstop ghost-wrangling, trapping and blasting across five mission varieties on nine maps. The longer campaigns, provided you battle them out with players who know what they're doing, offer fulfilling cooperative play opportunities and the chance to make some good friends for the summer.
Comment to make you sound smart: "Of course the dialogue was spectacular - did you see who was writing it? But you can't just string together one-liners and make a story."
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger
Hype is hot for this hand-drawn 2D fighter, touted by some as the latest meaningful innovation in the fighting genre. It may pose a real challenge to players less experienced in the genre, but it definitely will be talked about as the summer wears on. Plus, few game types are as meant for summer as a good old fashioned fighter which, no matter where it's played, calls to mind evenings spent firing quarters down an arcade cabinet, inhaling the aromas of waffle cones and french fries, and trash-talking between slurps of an Icee.
Comment to make you sound smart: "I had difficulty following the story and some of the weird characters, until I just switched it to the Japanese voiceovers and nodded along."
inFamous and/or Prototype
This season's action standardbearers are both about real guys given super powers, and the mayhem and moral ambiguity that follows. Except in this case, both inFamous and Prototype are well-regarded enough to require your attention. Xbox 360 owners have no choice except Prototype, as inFamous is a PS3 exclusive. The games deliver plenty of memorable moments and the feeling of being suffused with unbelievable power.
Comment to make you sound smart: "I worry that game development is catching on to the fad mentality of the Hollywood studio system. Two blockbusters built on the same premise? Didn't we see that when everyone discovered Tommy Lee Jones in a SWAT vest barking orders was the road to cash?"
The right combination of nostalgia, action, and fun among friends makes Punch-Out!! a summer party favorite that will bring even the most casual game observers into the room to see said fun. It has a two-player mode that won't set anyone's hair on fire, as Punch-Out!!'s calling always has been the zany opposing boxers and their outlandish characteristics. But then, thinking back to grade school, how many of us played Punch-Out!! for an hour, handed over the controller, and watched a friend do the same?
Comment to make you sound smart: "It really is amazing how fighting Great Tiger brings back a muscle memory spanning two decades."
1 vs. 100:
We're hearing actual skill-based prizes are on the way for Xbox Live's avatar-based game show; even if you don't make it to the Mob, or, better yet, the hot seat as The One, there are few casual experiences better than forming an Xbox Live party, venturing into 1 vs. 100 live play, blurting out all the answers, riffing on the questions or the host and complaining about how awful players in the Mob must be.
Comment to make you sound smart: "Of course I'll never make the Mob. They never ask any questions about fertility gods of Bermuda's pre-Colombian natives."
Rock Band: Unplugged
Though you won't be playing it among friends, Unplugged pays a great tribute to Harmonix' pre-Rock Band games Amplitude and Frequency. The base soundtrack gives you a great variety of music and the means to play with it, rather than just listening to whatever's on your mp3 player while waiting in an airport.
Comment to make you sound smart:Selling Rock Band without a peripheral isn't impossible. Selling it without DLC is.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Granted, those old enough to play M-rated games might not be the ones stuck in the back seat for a long drive to the mountains or the beach. But a successful getaway to a beach house often depends on the creative use of time spent doing nothing. GTA's entry into the DS market offers long stretches of gameplay that are more thought-provoking than standard puzzles or other timekillers.
Comment to make you sound smart: Only five percent who have played this game have completed it; that reminds me a lot of my percentile on the college boards ...
Plants vs. Zombies:
We're including this, for PC and Mac, as a mobile pick because, hey, it can be played on that laptop too. And these days, who goes out of town without theirs? Plants vs. Zombies is full of audiovisual delight and addicting gameplay. Nothing stops you from grabbing it for your desktop, either.
Comment to make you sound smart: "You know what's next, right? Plants vs. Zombie Pirates."
Rent for the Weekend:
UFC Undisputed or Fight Night Round 4:
Undisputed is probably the better game, but if MMA isn't your cup of tea, Fight Night does as good a job as a leading sports title to give you and your friends a good rumble. The control schematic might throw some expecting an experience like Round 3's, pushing this a little outside of the must-play range. But as a rental among friends, it is definitely worth a look, proving that bashing one another to a cauliflower-eared pulp isn't antisocial, it's actually damn good fun.
Comment to make you sound smart: Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas provide a fine commentary, but it's not like Norman Mailer and George Plimpton at the Rumble in the Jungle.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen:
Appropriate as the tie-in for a summer popcorn flick, it gets a nod as a summer pick for its multiplayer features, which are much stronger than a singleplayer mode hampered by chore-like mission structure and a weak story.
Comment to make your sound smart: Oh, no, I didn't buy this, GameFly accidentally sent it to me. Really.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood:
Ubisoft's western sequel is a darkhorse among the summer's leading titles; we're including it as a rental because a fake gunfight among friends is a staple of summer playtime going back to the days when we pointed stick-finger guns at each other, and Juarez beefed up its multiplayer from what the original offered in 2007. Or, get it for the single-player and blast your way through the story campaign; either way, it'll fill up a weekend but good.
Comment to make you sound smart: I keep wondering when we'll see the definitive Wild West MMO, until I realize that everyone back then was basically detestable and functionally illiterate.