Movie industry watchers like to talk about how the summer blockbuster season seems to start earlier every year. The same can be said about the holiday rush for video games. Used to be most of the big titles hit in October and November, but now September has been commandeered as a prime time to push games as well.
This year the annual blitz starts right after labour day weekend, with retailers scheduled to crowd shelves with a quartet of big-name games, including Techland and Deep Silver's zombie adventure Dead Island (you may remember its artsy, emotional trailer, which made waves this past spring), Relic and THQ's chainsword-happy action RPG Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine, a new chapter in Ubisoft's open-world action driving franchise dubbed Driver: San Francisco, and the third entry in the PlayStation 3-exclusive alternate history sci-fi shooter series Resistance, which will see players taking a violent, visceral road trip across an alien-occupied America.
Just a couple of days later turn-based strategy-loving PC gamers can will get their hands on Ubisoft and Black Hole Games' fantasy-themed Might & Magic: Heroes VI, while Nintendo 3DS owners will have a chance to take to space in stereoscopic style with Star Fox 64 3DS.
September marches on with a pair of Japanese role-playing games—Level 5's White Knight Chronicles II for PlayStation 3 and Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 Innocent Sin for PlayStation Portable—as well as a several compilations, including a roundup of the first three Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell titles re-mastered for HD screens, Sony Computer Entertainment Japan's seminal Ico and Shadow of the Colossus games bundled together for the PlayStation 3, and both God of War games for PSP repackaged for PlayStation 3 under the banner God of War Origins Collection.
But September's heaviest hitter will no doubt be Gears of War 3. Purportedly the final entry in Epic Games' beloved meaty-man, sci-fi shooter saga, it promises the longest campaign of the series, the broadest multiplayer, and a resolution to the franchise's sprawling narrative. Xbox 360 gamers can take it home on September 20th.
October will kick off with id Software's long awaited shooter Rage, which excited people when it was first announced a couple of years ago but has since cooled after a spate of reports questioning whether it will be much different—or any better—than popular apocalyptic shooter Borderlands. A reboot of Sony's popular Twisted Metal franchise will launch the same day, October 4th.
Turn10's Forza Motorsport 4, which arrives exclusively on Xbox 360 on October 11th, offers up hundreds of cars, scores of courses, and, for the first time in the franchise, support for Kinect control. If you don't own Microsoft's console or your racing tastes tend toward more European flavours, give Codemasters' F1 2011, which is also slated to hit stores around this time, a shot.
A trio of kids games— Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, the multiplayer-centric Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, and MediEval Moves: Deadmund's Quest (a PlayStation Move adventure that hopes to resurrect Sony's aging kid-friendly franchise)—will arrive the week of October 18th, along with Batman: Arkham City, Warner Bros. and Rocksteady's follow-up to what many people have called the best game based on a comic book ever made. But I'm sure the developers aren't feeling any pressure.
And then comes Battlefield 3 on October 25th. One of the biggest releases of the year, Electronic Arts and developer DICE have strategically positioned the release of this wildly realistic modern shooter just a couple of weeks before the 2011 entry in the First-Person-Military-Shooter-Franchise-that-Shall-Not-be-Named (well, at least not for another couple of paragraphs). Even with this head start and outrageously high expectations among core games I doubt it will triumph in overall sales, but look for it to dominate the charts for at least a couple of weeks and potentially take a little wind out of the sails of Activision's monster bang-bang.
Also on October 25th: Konami's Silent Hill Downpour and Atlus' King of Fighters XIII. Going up against EA's giant shooter seems ill-advised, but it's likely an example of the gaming world equivalent of counter-programming. These two Japanese publishers are offering survival horror and fast-action fighting alternatives for mature gamers who are all shooter-ed out.
PlayStation 3 gamers will hardly have time to recuperate before Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, sequel to the game voted best of 2009 by countless critics, hits shelves on November 1st. I've sat through a couple of sessions watching developers play through different segments from this classic Indiana Jones-style action adventure game, and it looks to have all of the charm, wit, and creative level design of its predecessors. It's at the top of my personal list of fall games I can't wait to play.
However, should you happen to prefer elves and orcs over modern-day adventurers, Warner Bros. and Snowblind's The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, a multiplayer action adventure game, will arrive in stores the same week. Kids, meanwhile, will be serviced by the second and final Lego Harry Potter game, Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7.
All eyes will then turn to Activision, which will launch Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 on November 8th. Will the staff exodus at developer Infinity Ward affect the game's quality? Will fans care that the studio's founders claim that the publisher has swindled them out of money, or that Activision believes the duo violated their contracts when they defected and began a new company under partnership with Electronic Arts? Maybe a few hundred thousand will. Maybe even a few million. But with 30 million avid fans, smart money says Modern Warfare 3 will be stupid big. Like its predecessors, expect it to come out on top in the 2011 charts.
THQ's rather vile-looking open-world action game Saints Row: The Third will arrive on November 8th, too, if anyone is paying attention. So will Konami's Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, which will see a trio of the popular series' older games—including last year's Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker for PSP—arrive on PlayStation 3 for the first time, and in high-definition.
Oddly, Bethesda Softworks has decided to release The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim—a vast open-world role-playing game following in the footsteps of its adored predecessor—just three days after Modern Warfare 3. These two games appeal to different audiences, but I suspect there's a healthy number of core gamers who belong to both, and Bethesda risks losing first week sales among those with limited time and modest budgets. Still, this one should have long legs.
The final week filled with multiple blockbusters will begin November 15th with the release of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition (a fun-looking remake of Master Chief's original adventure), Electronic Arts' high-stakes racer Need for Speed: The Run, Disney's Kinect DisneyLand Adventures, and Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Revelations, which promises to tie up a lot of loose ends in the franchise's Byzantine narrative while at the same time concluding the story of Rennaissance-era assassin Ezio Auditore.
Then, after all of its competitors are spent, NIntendo will walk in and steal the spotlight November 20th with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. This epic-looking action adventure game may be the only major Wii exclusive this fall, but smart money says it will be a doozy.
This, of course, is just a rough draft of what's to come. Scores of additional titles are on the docket, including sports games like NBA 2K12, Pro Evolution Soccer 2012, FIFA Soccer 12, and NHL 12, Kinect games including The Gunstringer, Dance Central 2, and Kinect Star Wars, and highly anticipated downloadables such as They Bleed Pixels, The Journey, and (at last) the full, finished version of Minecraft.
I haven't included others simply because release dates weren't set at the time of writing. Nintendo, for example, will likely bring several major 3DS games—including Super Mario Land 3DS, Kid Icarus: Uprising, and Mario Kart 3DS—to market between October and December.
And if that weren't enough, at the time of this writing there were plenty of other big-name games with rumoured 2011 launch windows, including Blizzard's Diablo III, Rockstar's Max Payne 3, Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIII-2, and Capcom's Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City.
To be frank, though, I'd be happy to see all of these pushed back to next year. As someone who has to play as many of these games as possible and then deliver my two cents on which are worth picking up, I tend to get a little overwhelmed this time of year. Still, I'm awfully excited about what's in store over the next few months.