Dead Space 2
EA; Xbox 360, PS3
2008's Dead Space was a breath of sickeningly fresh, freaky air, telling the sci-fi tale of everyman engineer Isaac Clarke as he uncovered a conspiracy involving delusional space cults, dementia-inducing alien artifacts, and a virus capable of turning corpses into fleshy nightmares of teeth and claws. Dead Space 2 revisits Isaac in an orbital colony known as The Sprawl after he awakens from a coma brought on by the events of the first game. Unfortunately for him (and everyone else), the nasty Necromorph virus he battled in the depths of space seems to have found its way to his new accommodations, unleashing unholy hell throughout the colony in the form of lunging ghouls with face-melting vomit and child-sized monstrosities who want nothing more than to jump on your chest and rip out your lungs… the hard way. New weapons such as the javelin gun join old favorites like the plasma cutter and flamethrower as you dismember your way through the increasingly isolated halls of The Sprawl, battling not only the undead but your own ever-growing psychosis as well. And while no one may be able to hear you scream in space, they will certainly be able to watch you get butchered, or do it themselves, as online multiplayer gets thrown into the mix this time around, allowing for four-on-four teams of engineers versus the nasty Necromorphs. Moody, frightening, and extremely gory, DS2 cements the series' spot in the upper echelons of sci-fi gaming glory.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
Blizzard Activision; PC, Mac
Shhh. You hear that? It's the sound of millions of people's precious time being happily poured down the toilet as they load up World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, the latest expansion in the most popular online RPG of all time. Expanding the game's lore by unleashing an ancient dragon whose very presence has altered the geography of the known world (hence the title), Cataclysm gives seasoned players and n00bz alike (if there is such a thing anymore) thousands of new things to do, acquire, fight over, and complain about, including two new character races, the fierce Worgen (werewolves) and the cunning Goblins (goblins). In addition to redesigned maps and new races, the expansion increases the level cap, adds over 3000 new quests, adds several new dungeons and raids while upping the ante on older ones, and now allows for air travel in previous no-fly zones. For those of you with five level 80 alts in addition to your epically geared main, I don't need to sell you here. For those who have no idea what I just said, then just know this–Cataclysm, and World of Warcraft in general, offer an absolutely immersive experience that's unlike anything else out there. Just make sure you have a lot of free time that you won't feel bad using to collect dozens of animal hides, magic shards, and swords that don't really exist.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
When you only have seconds to stop the murder of a beautiful young woman in a dark alley, your options may seem somewhat limited. They probably seem even more so when you yourself are already dead. But if anything, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective proves that even death cannot stand in the way of a little creative problem-solving as you guide the spirit of a delightful scamp named Sissel in order to discover how he wound up a stiff, and prevent the same from happening to others by rewinding time, possessing inanimate objects, and listening to the advice of a very wise desk lamp. Reminiscent of old point-and-click adventures of yore like Space Quest and Out of This World, Ghost Trick will likely have you tapping madly on your DS in an attempt to possess various objects like tires, industrial fans, and Christmas ornaments in order to save lives and unravel the truth about your own demise. Ultimately, Ghost Trick's addicting puzzles, stylish presentation, and jazzy soundtrack amount to one charming title worthy of this world or the next.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Namco; Xbox 360, PS3
Based loosely on the old Chinese fable "Journey to the West," Enslaved: Odyssey to the West follows the tale of a poor guy named Monkey. As if that weren't unfortunate enough, Monkey lives in a futuristic Earth fraught with giant robots hungry for man-flesh and a female partner that has forced him into helping her by placing a headband upon his skull that could kill him. Rough times! Written by the guy who wrote 28 Days Later, Alex Garland, along with Gollum himself, Andy Serkis, Enslaved features plenty of martial-arts combat, robot smashing, and the sort of tense situations that only partnership in which one person threatens the other with certain death can create.
Lost in Shadow
Being hung by the neck at the top of a castle is a pretty miserable way to spend your day. But when insult is added to injury by having your shadow lopped off and tossed off the top of said castle, then you know someone has got to pay. Lost in Shadow follows the story of one guy's silhouette as it scales the enemy stronghold in an attempt to reconnect with its dangling owner. The catch is, since you yourself are mere shade, only shade itself—or the manipulation thereof—will be of any use to you in your ascent to the pinnacle as you solve puzzles and battle other unfriendly shadows. Luckily, gravity won't be much of a hindrance since you weigh almost nothing, and a helpful little nymph has also got your back when it comes to those hard-to-reach spots. The ambient soundtrack is also of note here, adding unparalleled mood to what is an already enchanting world that is as reminiscent of classics Ico or Shadow of the Colossus as Wii owners will find.
Disney; Xbox 360, PS3, Wii
It's wild to think that the amount of programming and digital memory that went into the computer effects of the original Tron likely wouldn't support your little sister's Tumblr page of Justin Bieber GIFs today. But that's just science, man. It's also science that Tron's recent rebirth is fucking awesome, and with that awesomeness comes Tron: Evolution, the videogame prequel to the movie sequel (Tron: Legacy) to a film about videogames from 30 years ago (plain old Tron). Wrap your brain around that one, professor. Evolution has you playing as Anon (really?), a program created by Jeff Bridges specifically to investigate a growing conspiracy within Tron World. As you traverse the neon disco landscape, you must de-res the resistance using your light discs, light cycles, and the type of martial arts skills that only the Dude could bestow upon you, presumably also having to do with light. Online multiplayer and a soundtrack that includes some of Daft Punk's cuts from the latest film sweeten the deal for fans of the films, light, or awesomeness.
Story-wise, you already know the formula on this one: Virus + Humanity = Zombie Apocalypse. Fine. But what sets zombie-killing gem Dead Nation apart from the rest is its old-school, cheeky, arcade approach à la Smash TV. Co-op play! Explosions! Blood! It's all here! Alone or with a friend, you play as one of the survivors, naturally, using whatever heavy weaponry you can purchase out of a vending machine, of course, to—what else?—kick serious zombie ass! Fun! With literally hundreds of ghouls on-screen at once, you can aim your lazer scope almost anywhere and splatter some brains with the guarantee that there are plenty more where that came from. The real entertainment here comes when you are able to lure a horde of the hungry scamps with a nearby vehicle's car alarm—which they hate, apparently—and then blast away at the gas tank, creating a spectacular display of fire, crimson goo, and body parts. While zombies are getting played out on just about every medium, Dead Nation's top-down perspective, slick use of lighting, and deluge of walking dead make for a unique zombie adventure that any action fan won't be able to resist.
Let's talk about Sackboy! In LittleBigPlanet 2, you once again take control of the affable little burlap chap with one of the more unfortunate names in gaming to whose world is being sucked clean by a giant vacuum in the sky called the Negitivitron. While you must jump, grapple, and solve puzzles in order to progress and put an end to the kinda-cute destruction of your adorable world, LBP2 really shines in the game's creation mode. While you could create your own levels and games in the first game, this version offers a much wider selection of tools at your disposal. The ability to create shooters, racers, adventures, and puzzles that you can then upload for others to play also allows the freedom to construct enemies, obstacles, traps, or just plain nonsense in almost anyway you see fit. Want to place an army of little Sackbots in the path of a would-be protagonist? Go for it. Want to require motion controls in your multiplayer level? Mazel Tov. Speaking of motion controls, when it comes to multiplayer, Sony's Move controller enhances the experience to a surprising degree, requiring each player to master a different move set to help each other progress. With a charming solo game, an interesting multiplayer dynamic, and the ability to create an infinite amount of games within a game, LittleBigPlanet 2 will undoubtedly endear itself to even the most jaded gamer.