Here’s a look at the games I’ve been playing since the last time I did one of these, ranked in approximate descending order of how much time I spent with each game.
“Halo: Reach” (rated M, $60, $80 or $150, depending on edition, for Xbox 360) [review]: I spent about 14 hours playing “Halo: Reach” in late August, and have played it off and on since the game released.
“Mafia II” (rated M, $60 for Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, $50 for PC) [review]: 2K Czech’s tale of organized crime had me fooled. It sure looked like an open-world game in the previews I play, and it had an enormous marketing campaign that you usually only see for the likes of a “Grand Theft Auto” game. (There are still “Mafia II” ads on the bus stops in my neighborhood in San Francisco.) Ultimately, though, “Mafia II” was a let-down. The last handful of missions were great, but they weren’t enough to save the game from its pedestrian beginning and tedious middle chapters. It’s worth a look for fans of mob fiction, but I sunk in a dozen hours or so, got 800-some Gamerscore for beating it on “hard” and probably won’t be spending much time with it down the road.
“Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies” (rated T, $35 for DS): This handheld role-playing game, along with “Valkyria Chronicles II” (below) was my go-to game of choice on a recent trip to visit family and friends in Wisconsin and Minnesota. “DQIX,” in particular, translated well to plane travel, and so far I’m digging the story about an angel-like celestial being who’s forced to walk among mortals and figure out how to get home after a cataclysmic event hits the heavens.
“Guilty Party” (rated E, $40 on Wii): This hybrid of the boardgame Clue and minigame compilations like “Mario Party” is gonna be the next game I review. I played it for a couple of hours with a coworker, her daughter and my wife, and I really dig the family-friendly gameplay. It’s not nearly as much fun for a 30-something guy to play by himself, as I’ve been doing so that I could experience more of the game before writing my review, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do, and I’d definitely give the game a look if I gamed more with tween-aged kids.
“Red Dead Redemption” (rated M, $60 for Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3): I played a lot of Rockstar’s open-world western before my late-August vacation, but now that fall’s in full swing, I’m not sure when I’ll get back to it. It’s too bad. I was starting to feel like I found a groove in Mexico.
“Borderlands” (rated M, $30 for Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, $20 for PC): A couple of friends and I have been making our way through the tedious “Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot” arena battles. The longer battles require you to battle through 100 waves of enemies, a feat that takes between three and four hours. There are no mid-mission checkpoints, either. We’ve got one more map (out of three) to go, and after that, I’m never playing “Mad Moxxi” again. Looking forward to doing “The Secret Armory of General Knoxx” and this week’s “Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution,” though.
“Dead Rising 2: Case Zero” (rated M, $5 download for Xbox 360) [review]: I absolutely loved this $5 teaser for “Dead Rising 2,” which releases this week. The idea of having a paid teaser for an upcoming video game that doesn’t duplicate any content from the main game is brilliant, and more publishers need to give it a try.
“Limbo” (rated T, $15 download for Xbox 360): I made this the lead item in my summer downloadable games roundup for good reason. This hybrid of puzzle-solving and platform-jumping game has style and atmosphere in spades, and it’s one of those fun games that makes you feel a bit smarter when you manage to get past its puzzles, or find a hidden area.
“Valkyria Chronicles II” (rated T, $40 on PSP): It’s really too bad I don’t get a chance to do much handheld gaming. Both “VCII” and the aforementioned “Dragon Quest IX” were incredible when I played them during my vacation. “Valkyria Chronicles” is a strategy role-playing game that has you deploying a group of soldiers to a battlefield, maneuvering them around and trying to get the drop on your enemy. Combat is stat-based. In between missions, you can level up your troops and equipment with points you earned in the battles. If you don’t have a PSP but do have a PS3, I recommend you check out the first game. Sega recently announced we’ll be getting a “Valkyria Chronicles III.” Like the second one, it’ll be a handheld title.
“Sid Meier’s Civilization V” (rated E10+, $50 on PC): I’ve probably logged more hours playing the “Civilization” games, in which you take a lone, primitive settler and build a mighty civilization that stands the test of time, than any other gaming franchise. So I was stoked to get my hands on a copy of the latest iteration this week. I’m a bit concerned about my long-term prospects for enjoyment, after seeing Tom Chick savage the game’s combat artificial intelligence in his review for 1Up. If the AI really is as dumb as Chick says it is, it’ll be a heartbreaking flaw for a game that earns its stripes for its single-player portion. I haven’t gotten comfortable enough with all the changes to weigh in on the AI one way or another, but I haven’t been kicked around, either.
“Snoopy Flying Ace” (rated E10+, $10 download for Xbox 360): This downloadable game reminded me a lot of playing “Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge” on the old Xbox. I had fun with it, but the fact that I don’t know anyone else who has this means I played it a bunch, then forgot it.
“Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker” (rated T, $40 for PlayStation Portable): Another handheld title I played on my vacation. Man, this game sure looks great for a handheld game, and I respect what the development team is trying to do with this game, but it just didn’t hit a sweet spot for me the way “Valkyria Chronicles II” did. I’d have liked it a lot more if the PSP had a second analog nub to control “Peace Walker’s” camera. Using the face buttons to look around felt like a great innovation, in that it got around a fundamental design flaw of the PSP, but the flaw shouldn’t be there in the first place.
“DJ Hero” (rated T, $70 for bundle that includes turntable controller and game for Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3) and “DJ Hero 2” (rated T, $60, due out Oct. 19 for Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3): I passed on “DJ Hero” back when it first came out because Activision was asking $150 for a turntable controller plus game. Now that the game and turntable sells for around $70, it’s worth a look from people who passed the game up for similar reasons. I had a chance to check out “DJ Hero 2” at a media event last week and spent enough time with the first game to familiarize myself with the controls beforehand. I really dig it. With the sequel, Activision isn’t reinventing the turntable, but they’ve really beefed up the game’s co-op and party modes beyond the sparse offerings on the first game. I’ll preview “DJ Hero 2” in the next couple of days.
“Medal of Honor” (rated M, due out Oct. 12, $60 on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3): On the way home from the “DJ Hero 2” shindig, I stopped off at another event EA was having so journalists could get a look at “Medal of Honor.” I played two missions from the single-player campaign and sampled the multiplayer a bit more. I’ll have a few impressions of that soon, too.
“DeathSpank” (rated T, $15 download for Xbox 360 or PS3): I sampled this parody of click-and-slash dungeon crawlers like “Diablo II” for my downloadable games round-up. I thought it was a lot of fun, though it’d be nice to see it marked down to $10 at some point.
“Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse” (rated E10+ to teen, prices vary on PS3 or PC): I got a bit of a yearning for some episodic gaming after playing “Alan Wake’s” excellent “The Signal” chapter [review], but Telltale’s flagship franchise, while fun, didn’t quite scratch the same itch. Maybe it’s because I didn’t get my first PC until 1998, but PC-style adventure games only hit a sweet spot for me once in a great while. Some day, I’ll return to this or “Tales of Monkey Island.”