#41: Prince of Persia
Holiday 2008: PS3, Xbox 360, PC The mysterious figure slides down the embankment with rugged grace, strands of his turban trailing behind him, his sandals surfing the currents of sand that flow across the sun-baked rock. His path leads directly and unavoidably to a thousand-foot column of empty space, and the cliff on the opposite side seems miles out of reach. The rogue leaps out without hesitation, hangs in the air for a moment, and all seems lost-until a feminine form materializes in the air above him, her arm outstretched, to swing our hero to safety.
Unlike his predecessor, this new Prince holds no sway over the flow of time, but he's every bit as acrobatic. Running across multiple walls in sequence, clutching ledges, and scrambling up sheer surfaces has never looked better than in this new-generation reinvention of Prince of Persia. A shiny new "grip glove" comes in handy as well: as it grinds against rock or cuts into soft sandstone, you'll descend sheer surfaces with full directional control, dodging troublemakers on the way down. The acrobatics are comfortingly familiar in concept and control, but breathtaking in their showmanship.
The fresh start afforded Prince of Persia's corrupted regions is a fitting metaphor for the game as a whole. Where the existing trilogy emphasized rewinding time and the unwieldy consequences, this new adventure springs from the more powerful and transformative notion of rebirth. From what we've seen so far, it could be one hell of a fresh start.
#40: Project Origin
October 2008: PS3, Xbox 360, PC "Project Origin": a deranged experiment on a hapless child, cursed with psychic ability and imprisoned for it, forced to give birth to at least two of her own children over the course of a lifetime of shackled suffering. Monolith Studios' F.E.A.R. told the tale of one of those children and the search for his mother, Alma. Now, F.E.A.R.'s sequel will continue to unravel Alma's story, this time through the eyes of a Delta Force agent named Michael Becket.
Horrific as Project Origin's experimental namesake was, Monolith is looking to boost the blood, tighten the story, and further the fear-factor in its return to the cursed Armacham facility. The graphics have gotten a much-needed HD boost, and the combat features some sweet new weaponry and the return of F.E.A.R.'s much-celebrated slow-mo Focus mode. The already impressive enemy intelligence has also gotten a makeover, with enemy behaviors now completely unscripted and unpredictable. In other words, play the same section of the game twice and you'll get two different experiences.
Those experiences should be plenty scary, too, since Monolith is trying to work your senses during gameplay. Focus down your gun's iron sights and your vision will sharpen while your hearing dulls; blow away a target at close range and your visor will be splattered with blood, forcing you to listen for enemies while taking the time to wipe the gore away. F.E.A.R. wasn't perfect, but Monolith is sure trying to put out the perfect sequel.