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Components: The month's wrap-up of the best in gaming

Metroid: Other M
(Nintendo; Wii)

With a near 25-year history, to say that the Metroid series (alongside its space-pirate-hunting protagonist, Samus Aran) has a loyal following would be an understatement. While never quite achieving Mario-levels of mainstream super-stardom, Metroid has always delivered the goods in terms of engaging action, brain-wracking exploration, and sci-fi ambiance, repeatedly earning it legions of fans the world over with each new title. Which is exactly why there was some cause for concern when news broke that Team Ninja, the developer behind the totally unrelated hack-and-slash gorefest that is the Ninja Gaiden series, would be helming Metroid: Other M, the latest game in the Metroid canon. While the initial worry was certainly understandable, Other M neither needs nor deserves your fanboy stink-eye. In fact, it succeeds in not only expanding on just about everything that has ever made Metroid great while adding a substantial and somehow fitting dose of the kind of visceral, intuitive combat that Team Ninja is famous for. Story-wise, we also get to delve deeper into the history of Samus and even get to hear her speak (a first!) along with a cast of other characters who serve as more than just uninteresting phaser-fodder this time around. While many may be confused or turned off by this seemingly abrupt change of pace, the same people were also worried about the Metroid Prime series, which turned out brilliantly. The truth is that the series needed to innovate and evolve, and Other M not only delivers an engrossing new gaming experience, it most importantly delivers one worthy of its lineage.

Kane & Lynch: Dog Days
(Eidos; PS3, X360)

On the eve of a big score, Kane & Lynch: Dog Days sees you playing the part of Lynch, a crazypants ex-con doing a little freelance wetwork for a powerful Shanghai crime syndicate, who once again teams up with Kane, a fellow murderous convict who just also happens to be the only other person you can trust. However, when things don't go quite according to plan, the game quickly becomes rife with car chases, close-quarter shoot-outs and pants-wettingly tense situations that are only compounded by the tawdry neon glow of Shanghai's tightly packed streets. While the original's third-person action focused on Kane, whose military training made for a more buttoned-up combat experience, Lynch's anything-goes style leads to a few more improvisations in gameplay, such as using enemies as human shield and shooting at gas cans to give large groups of baddies an unwanted tan. Dog Days also includes a multiplayer online co-op and an excellent new arcade mode that gives you four minutes to steal four million dollars along with a team of seven AI companions, all of whom will try to kill you if you don't pull your weight in the heist. There is no "I" in "cold-blooded." With a distinct visual style that often dips into a shaky-cam, YouTube feel à la Cloverfield and two of the nastiest anti-heroes you could ever hope to never cross paths with in real-life, Dog Days should satiate just about anyone's inner sociopath quite nicely.

Crackdown 2
(Microsoft, X360)

Allowing you to basically play as Superman without the tacky outfit and annoying sense of decency, Crackdown 2 puts you in the role of a morally ambiguous lawman who also happens to be imbued with freaky genetic super-abilities. Crackdown 2's open-world, do-anything style of play easily draws comparisons to Grand Theft Auto, and rightly so, as its original developer also made GTA. However, while GTA keeps it somewhat realistic, Crackdown 2's cyberpunk bent allows for a much wilder ride as you are eventually able to jump hundreds of yards in a single leap while hoisting a truck on your shoulders, which itself can be launched into a crowd of rabble-rousing mutants bent on ruling your futuristic burg of Pacific City. And if your truck missile happens to miss its target, your sniper rifle, machine gun, or grenade launcher are sure to produce the desired results. Tons of weapons, vehicles, mini-games, and online co-operative play make Crackdown 2 a must-have for any action fan.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
(Eidos; PS3, X360)

With a severe departure from the usual Tomb Raider formula, the buxom adventuress' latest download-only title, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, may have just saved the series' spotty legacy. With both a crisp visual style and gameplay reminiscent of PC favorite Diablo (or, for those old-schoolers out there, Guantlet), Guardian of Light places Lara in the catacombs of a South American temple while she hunts for a legendary artifact known as the Mirror of Smoke, which is protected by local badass Totec, the titular Guardian of Light. However, after Lara and poor Totec both get hornswoggled by another villainous treasure hunter, you are forced to team up and hunt him down. Relying heavily on co-op gameplay, both Lara and Totec have unique abilities that each other relies on to solve puzzles, take out enemies, and progress.

Transformers: War for Cybertron
(Activision; PS3, X360)

Remember that one awesome Transformers game a while back? No? That's okay, because neither does anyone else, what with it not existing and all. Most Transformers titles up until now have been half-assed attempts to cash in on whatever after-school cartoon or Michael Bay shitstorm that was being perpetrated on our better judgment that year. But the all-new Transformers: War for Cybertron aims to erase any memories of past mediocrity with a game that is both a love letter to fans and perhaps one of this year's best action-adventure titles. Taking place before the big guys hit Earth, War traces the origins of Optimus Prime's and Megatron's respective rises to power and allows you to take control of numerous favorites, from Autobots Ironhide and Jetfire to Decepticons Starscream and Soundwave, as you battle it out in both single and multiplayer for control of the Transformers' homeworld of Cybertron.

Blacklight: Tango Down
(Ignition; PS3, X360)

While there is no dearth of first-person military shooters out there, Blacklight: Tango Down aims to prove that an explosive, fully realized experience can be delivered without a bloated budget and equally distended price tag. The latest in a tidal wave of downloadable gems, Blacklight: Tango Down plops you in the near future as a covert military operative with all manner of gadgets, like a visor that can see through walls, and infinitely customizable weapons, like shotguns with sniper scopes, as you battle your not-so-altruistic counterparts, The Order. With a soundtrack reminiscent of some of Aphex Twin's best, twitchiest work rounding out the "pros" column, Blacklight is an affordable, fun alternative to the oft-daunting Call of Duties of the world.

Mafia II
(2K; PS3, X360)

Hearkening back to the heyday of the goodfella, Mafia II takes aim at the heart of La Cosa Nostra and delivers a gangster epic head and shoulders above much of what Hollywood has been able to churn out over the last 40 years. As Vito, a down-and-out thug, you and your lifelong pal, Joe, begin a quest to ascend the ranks of organized crime in a tale that sprawls from the post-war 1940s to the baby boom of the 1950s, with everything from the advent of rock 'n' roll to the introduction of Playboy magazine being fully represented in the fictional metropolis of Empire Bay. And yes, any Playboy you come across can be… perused. With a violent, Coppola-worthy story, innovative mission structures, and a sprawling, visually seductive world at your fingertips, it's no wonder that Mafia II is a friend of ours.

Dead Rising 2
(Capcom; PS3, X360)

A little bit Running Man and a lot bit Dawn of the Dead, Dead Rising 2 is set a couple years after the original's zombie apocalypse has taken hold of the country. As former motocross champion Chuck Greene, you are lured to the Vegas-esque Fortune City in hopes of not only striking it rich on the zombie-massacre game show called Terror is Reality, but also finding your daughter, who also may be lumbering around this ersatz Sin City as one of the infected. With zombie hordes ranging from the dozens to the thousands on screen at any given time, it's a good thing that just about anything you can find laying around the casinos, restaurants, and shopping centers of the city can be used as a weapon—with varying degrees of effectiveness, of course. Ranging from useless poker chips and erotic massagers to flame-spewing Super Soakers and chainsaws strapped to a dirt bike, the amount of items that are both lethal and hilarious are expansive to say the least. Mixing horror, gore, and humor, Dead Rising 2 is one of the year's must-play games.

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