The spring season of video games usually starts busy, then slows. But last year's spring produced Kotaku's 2010 Game of The Year and a few GOTY contenders are on the calendar to be released between now and June. Plus there's this one game that some people have been impatiently awaiting for 15 years. Come get some of our spring video game preview.
Crysis 2 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360, March 22)
What It Is: The streamlined sequel to the PC-centric original Crysis. Games in this series are graphically-intensive first-person shooters that encourage creative play or at least the brain power to assess whether the next batch of bad guys should be dispatched with stealth, super-strength, gunfire, a car pushed onto their heads or some combination of all that. Crysis 2 brings that more open style of shooter gameplay to a near-future New York City that's under attack. Plus there is online multiplayer.
Should You Play It: If you were not yet satiated by the flow of top-tier shooters that started with Halo Reach in September and has continued through Medal of Honor, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Killzone 3 and Bulletstorm, then read the reviews or play the demo for this one. Development studio Crytek is well-regarded.
Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS, 3DS, PC March 22)
What It Is: It turns out that two Lego Star Wars games didn't fully plumb the series. This new one mostly covers events of the first two seasons of the Clone Wars cartoon, which spun out of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. There are major notable additions to the two-player co-op kid-friendly Lego Star Wars formula: the introduction of large-scale outer-space battles and the even more intriguing implementation of grand land battles full of tanks, walkers and troops. Those land battles play more like a real-time strategy game.
Should You Play It: While Lego games have generally been fun but simple comedic collect-a-thons set across various landscapes of pop fiction, there are signs that the new level design styles for this installment could make The Clone Wars feel fresh. The early levels we've played were impressive, grander in scale than what we've seen in the series before.
(Note: this game was originally supposed to come out in February.)
Nintendo 3DS (March 27)
What It Is: Nintendo's newest portable gaming machine and the first new dedicated gaming platform from a big company since the release of the PlayStation 3 and Wii half a decade ago. It is a more powerful two-screened handheld gaming system with built-in cameras, motion sensors, SD card support and, most prominently, an upper screen that can display graphics in 3D without the need for the user to wear 3D glasses.
Should You Get It: The machine's launch price of $250, plus at least $40 for games, keep the 3DS from being an impulse buy . We've run an initial round of mostly positive impressions of the American version of the hardware, but yet to find a launch game about which we're feeling as good. That launch line-up is highlighted by the Nintendo-made trio of Nintendogs + Cats, Pilotwings Resort and Steel Diver along with Capcom's Super Street Fighter IV 3D, EA's latest Madden and Sims 3 games, Ridge Racer, and several others, including a wild card, a top-down, strategy-style Ghost Recon Shadow which we've not yet seen.
Also coming out in late March...
Despite what the winter taught us, people are actually making games for the big new motion controllers released last year. PlayStation Move Heroes is the first big PlayStation 3 game for the system's Wii-like Move wand released since the fall. It compiles a bunch of motion-based challenges into an adventure starring the lead characters in Sony's Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper and Jak & Daxter games.
For fans of golf there's Tiger Woods PGA 12: The Masters (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, 3/29) on almost any gaming platform in existence; for fans of Lara Croft, there's the PS3-only Tomb Raider Trilogy (PS3, 3/22) collecting the three most recent Tomb Raider games (but not last summer's very different Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light); for fans of driving fast, there's Shift 2 Unleashed (PC, PS3, Xbox 360, 3/29), the first new Need For Speed game in four… months.
The 3rd Birthday (PSP, 3/29) is a shootier sequel of sorts to survival horror Parasite Eve and one of the few major PSP releases we can tell you about for the entire season.
Some moderate forms of torture are allowed in The Sims Medieval (PC, 3/22), which lets players steer knights, maids and other olde folks through quests in an effort to expand and improve a castle. The game is still about indirect action and master-planning, more Sims than Fable. It's no action game. But it does have leeches and chivalrous romance, though probably not in the same quest.
One of the few downloadable games for which we've got a firm release date is Sword & Sworcery (iPad, 3/24), though we can probably apply better descriptions to it, including: feverishly-anticipated action-adventure iPad game with enchanting pixelated graphics. There's also Hothead's Swarm (Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, March 22), which is sort of like Super Mario Bros., if Mario wasn't a man but a crowd.
Portal 2 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac, April 19)
What It Is: The not-entirely-objective Gabe Newell recently told a class of high school students that he believe his company's Portal 2 is their best game. Why? Because it is their most "confident" creation. It is a sequel to 2007's Portal, a first-person shooter that was really a gently-paced puzzle game and marvelously-written black comedy about a malevolent computer program who passively-aggressively tormented your test subject self through a series of locked-room challenges. Portal's core feature is your gun, which doesn't shoot bullets. Instead, it can shoot two portals on most flat surfaces. Enter one portal and you exit the other, a great way to fall out of the ceiling by stepping through the floor. Portal 2 offers both anther polished single-player adventure set apparently far into the future beyond Portal 1 but also a separate two-player co-op adventure that puts two portal guns in play.
Should You Play It: Of course. It's the safest bet of the season.
Mortal Kombat (Xbox 360, PS3, April 19)
What It Is: This is a revival of one of the most popular fight game series of all time, the MK team's shot at having a Street Fighter IV-style rejuvenation. They hope to do that with a Mortal Kombat that is more brutal than recent editions. It draws from the first three games, features ~25 characters, a 300 mission Challenge Tower mode and tons of gore. PS3 owners get God of War's Kratos on their roster.
Should You Play It: It's Mortal Kombat fan service, so, if that's your thing, yeah.
Darkspore (PC, April 26)
What It Is: For those still waiting for Diablo III, this will be one of the more elaborate alternatives, a sci-fi take on the loot-heavy action-role-playing game format popularized by Blizzard. Darkspore springs from the very different Spore, a game about the evolution of life whose wonderfully malleable creature creator is the inspiration for the configurable "living weapons" whom you will control in this game.
Should You Play It: If you don't, you either don't care about this genre, are satiated by Torchlight or accept no Diablo substitutes. The game was recently bumped back from a March release, so you should probably hold off to see if a one-month delay helped it improve. Wait for the reviews.
Also coming out in April...
SOCOM 4 (PS3, 4/19) scares SOCOM purists by de-emphasizing voice-commands, supporting (though not requiring) PlayStation Move motion control and enabling regenerative health. Don't fret, say the series' long-time creators, Zipper Interactive. The game still emphasizes careful control of a squad of elite troops, still rewards teamwork in its multiplayer and even offers a way to turn off some of the new Call-of-Duty-friendly tweaks for fans who want their SOCOM multiplayer to be as SOCOM as possible.
Just about the only Wii exclusive we can find to recommend this spring (so sad!), first-person shooter The Conduit 2 (Wii, 4/19) does more of the campaign, online-multiplayer, split-screen and graphics-pushing that the first Conduit was all about. And it seems that, this time, we'll get a more complete understanding about why former U.S. president John Adams was such a bad guy that he's the villain of this series (and resembles a triceratops).
The frequently-delayed Patapon 3 (PSP, 4/12) should finally be out, continuing to polish the excellent and odd series of games that has you tapping rhythmically to march an army of little black scribbles across the PSP screen into monster-killing combat. The new game has eight-person online multiplayer.
The downloadable version of the strategy game Clash of Heroes: Might and Magic (Xbox 360, PS3, April) will be available some time in April. It was well-received on the Nintendo DS and is from the makers of Sword & Sworcery. Another downloadable game, Outland (PS3, Xbox 360), a side-scrolling game of running, jumping and shooting that features color-coded bullet-dodging, a la Ikaruga, has a fuzzier release date of late-April/early-May.
There was this thing called Kinect released back in November. It was all the rage. You could wave your hands in front of it and control video games, without touching a controller. As often happens after a burst of launch games, it's been quiet. The silence breaks with Carnival Games: Monkey See, Monkey Do, good news if you believe that the most successful non-Nintendo series of mini-games on the Wii can get it right on Kinect.
The most unexpected expansion of the year, Magicka Vietnam (PC, April?) is also slated for a release in the March/April part of this year.
Duke Nukem Forever (PC, PS3, Xbox 360, 5/3)
What It Is: It's a first-person shooter that briefly lets you control the main character's urination, a game that includes a "Capture the Babe" multiplayer mode that, in the words of one of the game's lead creators "lets you "give the girl a love smack on the booty." More significantly, the intentionally-inappropriate adventure of world-saving tough guy Duke Nukem is a project that was more than a decade in the making. Most people who heard of this game have at one point assumed Duke Nukem Forever was canceled or simply hopeless. Here it is, finally on the verge of release.
Should You Play It: You should at least take a glance, to satisfy any curiosity about whether all these years and work have produced a game great or a trainwreck.
L.A. Noire (PS3, Xbox 360, 5/17)
What It Is: Next to Duke Nukem Forever, the several-years-in-the-making L.A. Noire is a quick-turnaround project. The ambitious detective game is the product of Team Bondi (whose top man led the creation of The Getaway) and Rockstar Games (Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, we could go on...). This one makes Rockstar's superb Red Dead look like a safe bet: it's a methodically-paced saga set in 1940s Los Angeles that follows one detective's investigations of increasingly grisly crimes. The game has the acreage of a GTA as well as some of that series' driving and shooting, but its main attractions are the opportunities to investigate crime scenes, chase leads and interrogate suspects. Thanks to some special graphics tech, players can rely not just on logic but on their ability to interpret realistic facial expressions.
Should You Play It: Rockstar has earned the benefit of the doubt, though those expecting the mayhem of a GTA should study up on the game more and see if they have the patience for this more deliberate adventure.
Brink (PS3, Xbox 360, 5/17)
What It Is: Set in the near future aboard a floating city, this is a team-oriented first-person shooter that not only expects players to assume specific roles but incorporates a system that might allow those of us who haven't mastered Team Fortress 2 to enjoy the thrills of class-based team play. Throughout the game's adventure, which can be played solo or co-op, a dynamic orders system automatically doles out the most useful tasks for a player to pursue, the tasks that will help the team. Follow the orders to escort, attack, hack a specific terminal, heal, and so on, and everything should click.
Should You Play It: This is yet another May game that is coming out later than originally planned, and while we've enjoyed an unfinished version of it as recently as last summer, this game is as interesting in concept as its final level of quality is uncertain.
Also coming out in May...
If the Wii can have Grasshopper Manufacture's zany otaku-satire No More Heroes, then, four years later, the PlayStation 3 can have an enhanced port in the form of No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise (PS3, early May).
The makers of Red Faction: Armageddon (PC, PS3, Xbox 360, May 31) will attempt to convince gamers that an excellent open-world game built on the premise of being able to wreck any man-made object on colonized Mars can be improved by setting its sequel underground.
If you like to drive fast in cars, Dirt 3 (Xbox 360, PS3, 5/24) will be out soon, but only those who know what gymkhana is can truly appreciate it. Perhaps you prefer other vehicles? MX vs ATV: Alive (Xbox 360, PS3, 5/10) is both a racing game and an experiment by its publisher THQ, that is trying to release a high-end game at a "low" price ($40, cheap!) and then offer lots and lots of paid downloadable content to expand it.
People who were upset that Gears of War didn't include swords and magic should give Hunted: The Demon's Forge (PC, PS3, Xbox 360, 5/31) a look, while people who were upset that there wasn't enough Witcher in the world, should check out The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (PC, 5/17), which sports revamped graphics tech and a non-linear narrative promising hours of quality adventuring.
In the category of games you can thank movies for, we've got Thor: God of Thunder (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii DS, 3DS, 5/3) and Lego: Pirates of the Caribbean (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, 3DS). The former is from Sega and Red Fly Studios, though Sega's Iron Man games inspired little confidence the company can do super-heroes well. The latter is from TT Games, whose Lego games have been steadily and happily improving, pleasing lots of gamers along the way.
Also in May: Virtua Tennis 4 (PS3, Xbox 360, May 10), Dungeon Siege III (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, 5/3) and another pair of shooters, the creepy co-op F.E.A.R.3 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, 5/24) and the more-realistic-than-Call-of-Duty Operation Flashpoint: Red River (Xbox 360, PS3, 5/24)
Infamous 2 (PS3, June 7)
What It Is: Sucker Punch's sequel to its surprisingly-slick yet gritty, electric-powered super-hero adventure. The new game moves the action to a city resembling New Orleans, still empowering the player to zip through a vast open-world, using a marvelous array of electric powers, free-running over buildings and testing how nice or nasty to be throughout. The new game adds support for user-made levels (constructed of in-game assets) and will give all players access to none, all or simply the best of those levels, depending on preference.
Should You Play It: From the Sly Cooper games to the first Infamous, Sucker Punch has arguably never made a bad game and has come repeatedly close to making a Game of the Year. Your expectations should be high and non-PS3 owners will probably be jealous.
Child of Eden (Xbox 360, PS3, June 14)
What It Is: The unofficial sequel to the beloved Rez, from the same creator, Q Entertainment's Tetsuya Mizuguchi. As with the previous game, this is a musically-charged shooter that plays like a flythrough of a rave that is somehow being held in a fishtank. Unlike Rez, the new game can be controlled by the motions of your body, via the Xbox 360 Kinect — or through a standard Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 controller.
Should You Play It: Early impressions have been strong, and it's a safe bet no one else is making anything quite like this, so, yes.
Alice: Madness Returns (Xbox 360, PS3, PC June 14)
What It Is: A follow-up to 2000's Alice from American McGee, the sequel is yet another twisted trip into the world of Wonderland. Gameplay we've seen looks a little dated — platform-jumping, basic melee combat. But the art direction of Alice's new world has been astounding.
Should You Play It: Hard to say this far out, but you definitely should look at it and admire its demented beauty.
Also coming out in early June...
In the category of games you can thank movies for, we've got Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, 6/1) about which we know as much as you see here and a Transformers: Dark Of the Moon game made by the studio responsible for last year's superb non-movie Transformers game, War For Cybertron. Let's hope they weren't rushed to meet a movie release deadline.
Finally, what happens when you combine the talents of Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4, God Hand, Vanquish) with those of Suda 51 (Killer 7, No More Heroes) and support them with American giant EA? Shadows of the Damned (PS3, Xbox 360 June 7) happens.
(Asterisk! There are often excellent games released for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, WiiWare, DSiWare, Android, iPhone, iPad and Steam downloads, but most do not have their release dates revealed far in advance. Assume there will be wonderful downlodable games released for all of those platforms throughout the spring. We will let you know about them.)
Game box images and most release dates via GameStop.