Every kid (and adult) with an Xbox 360 is going crazy this year for the Kinect. The peripheral allows players to control games with their bodies rather than being restrained by any handheld controller. The initial experience is thrilling. Drive a car by holding your hands in the steering-wheel position, jump through obstacle courses, box, dance, etc., while the Johnny 5-looking camera that is the Kinect watches your every move and takes your picture. Unfortunately, the software Microsoft has released for use with the device does not utilize its full potential. Microsoft has hinted that eventually staple games from the rich 360 library will be compatible with the device, a prospect that is truly exciting: playing Call of Duty by pretending to shoot an imaginary gun, running, jumping and climbing in Castlevania and so on. But so far none of these complex games work with the Kinect. The current slate of releases is similar to the Wii’s simplistic, child-oriented games. This does Microsoft no favors, as the system has earned a reputation as the choice for hardcore gamers. Even though the device may appear on a number of gift lists you get this year, I would recommend holding off on a purchase until there is a worthy slate of games.
Playstation 3 owners have the similar Playstation Move to satisfy their motion-controlled gaming urge, but the technology is awkward and not nearly as hands-free as the Kinect. Again, the software released for the Move is fairly bland. Both the Kinect and the Move could easily end up as expensive paperweights in your house unless both companies design a better slate of releases.
A number of compelling releases for hardcore gamers came out this fall. On the top of my list is Bethesda’s Fallout New Vegas, available for PS3, X360 and PC. The game takes place in the post-apocalyptic world of 2008’s Fallout 3, but changes locales from the wastelands of Washington, D.C., to Las Vegas. The game’s cultural satire and brilliantly designed Vegas strip, complete with surrounding locales such as the Hoover Dam, and the radio stations rife with tunes like Marty Irons’ “Big Iron” and Jay Kyser’s “Jingle Jangle Jingle,” are worth the price of admission. But buyer beware: The game was rushed to market and has a number of critical glitches that can make playing the game’s main story impossible. There are still more than 50 hours of game play with plenty to explore and complete, even with the glitch, and a patch is supposedly on the way. But the game has been on the market over a month and devotees such as myself are still waiting.
Shooter fans can get their frag fix with the brilliant and epic Halo Reach and Call of Duty Black Ops. Both games are basically for fans of online play only; their single-player campaigns are short and don’t have much replay value.
Perhaps the most overlooked but most fun release of the year is Dead Rising 2. Imagine Las Vegas overrun with zombies, and you must take advantage of all of the resources in the casinos, shops and restaurants to take on the zombie horde while providing your daughter with medicine to stave off her zombie infection and saving as many survivors as possible. Now combine all of that with awkward, off-the-wall Japanese humor, and you get one of the most creative games released this year. Put a drill together with a bucket to create a drill-hat that destroys zombie brains, add a car battery to a rake to zap zombies into submission. The replay value here is great because there is a plethora of game-changing decisions to make and weapon combinations to explore.
Old-school gamers will be glad to hear that Castlevania made its triumphant return to the X360 and PS3 this year in the form of Castlevania: Lord of Shadows. The game is derivative of God of War, Uncharted and Ninja Gaiden, but in a sense, Castlevania defined hack-and-slash gameplay in the ’80s, and it’s fitting that it has returned to reclaim its throne. Sure, the story is wacky—having Patrick Stewart give you advice throughout the game is a little unsettling—and there are a few missteps in level design, but there is so much to explore in the game that it takes two DVDs to contain the entire vampire-slaying escapade. This one should keep you and the kids entertained for days.