At this point, I think it's universally understood that the summer is the annual back catalog period for gamers. Big publishers like Activision and Microsoft are saving their best franchises for the ever-jam packed holiday release window of late September through mid November. Gears of War 3, Batman: Arkham City and Modern Warfare 3 are just three of the biggest titles that will be made available to the masses this fall, with many more in tow. But, for now, that's neither here nor there.
As I said in the open, summer is a time to catch up on games that may have passed you by the first time around as well as revisit old favorites that haven't seen the inside of a console in a while; that's what I'm here to discuss today.
So, as you may or may not have heard, there's this little trilogy called Mass Effect that's coming to a close next March. For those unfamiliar with the series, Mass Effect is an action/adventure game set in space. Humanity has recently become a space-faring species and, subsequently, have discovered that they're not the only kid on the space-block. This leads to inevitable racial and territorial tensions between the various other species and provides the backdrop for the first two games, in which Commander Shepard (you) goes from badass soldier to interstellar super spy, and attempts to stop an omnipotent sentient-robot race from destroying the galaxy; you know, that old song and dance. Anyway, one of Mass Effect's biggest selling points - other than giant angry space robots - has been the ability to carry your choices (and their consequences) from one game to another. So, for example, if you decide to let one of your squad members die in Mass Effect 1, they stay dead in Mass Effect 2 or 3.
In anticipation for Mass Effect 3, I decided to play through part deux again. Believe it or not, that game is still awesome, though some of it's problems, like stiff combat movement and some awkward animations, are a tad more evident after seeing some early ME3 footage. The characters are just as memorable, though I made a concerted effort to give some of the characters in the latter half of the game, particularly Legion and Samara, more time in the spotlight. One part of the game that I found considerably more pronounced since my first go around was the audio. I bought a nice 2.1 speaker set since then and now feel stupid for ever playing anything without them, but with Mass Effect, in particular, it was night and day. On your ship, The Normandy, there's this hollow atmospheric presence in the background, like you can hear the nothingness of space surrounding you. I definitely can't wait for the epic conclusion to this excellent trilogy, currently set for release on March 6, 2012.
I've also been playing a bit of the Sims 3. Now, I know there are people somewhere out there that play this game like a straight-up life simulator, but I can't go through that game without it devolving into, 'find new ways to make my sim's life a living hell.' By now, I'm sure everybody knows about the golden oldies of the franchise, like having a sim go into a swimming pool and then removing the ladder so they can never get out, or putting a sim in an empty room and deleting the door. But, as the saying goes, "variety is the spice of life." Or in this case, death. I'm not a sadist, or anything, but I think EA Games secretly wants you to inflict all manner of horrors upon those gibberish-speaking guinea pigs. Just look at them, with their doe eyes and unbridled lust for life; their ghosts turn different colors depending on how they die, for crying out loud. If that doesn't say, "Tinker with the television and see how long it takes to electrify your sim," I don't know what does. It is a sandbox game, after all.
As you PC gamers out there are more-than-likely aware of, the annual Steam Summer sale recently came to a conclusion. For those not privy, Steam is a marketplace for buying and playing computer games, and their annual summer sale is a period of about two weeks where a large portion of their games are available for anywhere from 15 to 80 percent off. I'm not a huge PC gamer, but I decided to pick up Battlefield: Bad Company 2 in anticipation of Battlefield 3 - which comes out October 25 - as well as Assassin's Creed 2, which was an enjoyable, albeit lengthy, adventure through renaissance-period Italy.
Bad Company 2 is decent enough, like a summer movie where you just want to see stuff blow up and don't really care why (I'm looking at you Michael Bay). The single player was completely forgettable, serving as more of a tutorial to the ways of the Frostbite engine's destructible environments and bullet gravity. The multiplayer is definitely where it's at, with a sizable community and a 'by the numbers' persistent career element. Though, to be honest, the most fun I had was running through a hail of bullets as a medic, and bringing teammates back to life with the magical cordless defibrillator paddles they give you.
So that's been my summer swoon so far. I haven't had a chance to pick up Catherine, a Japanese puzzle game by Atlus Games, but the demo seems interesting enough and that studio has a good track record. There's also Suda 51's, Shadows of the Damned, a third-person shooter that already has a cult following. Anyway, I hope your summer has been less hectic than mine - taking over a newspaper will do that.