Call of Duty: Black Ops
Ever wish the Cold War never ended? Now you can fight it all over again. By hour three of the game you'll have attempted a hit on Castro, infiltrated a Soviety launch site, and taken orders from JFK in a secret Pentagon situation room. There's not much real history here, but the action is intense, and if you get bored, you can always load up zombie mode and kill undead while playing as Richard Nixon.
Bioshock 2 isn't as much of a revelation as its deftly plotted predecessor, but it's still a solidly crafted shooter with clever philosophical undertones. As with the first game, what sets this apart from similar first-person frag fests is its underwater Art Deco world, which this time around has been overrun by socialist religious fanatics.
Mass Effect 2
The first Mass Effect was a weirdly compelling blend of fussy role-playing game and intergalactic soap opera, complete with a big cast of nicely drawn sci-fi archetypes. The giant-sized sequel -- the Xbox version comes on two discs -- is heavier on story and lighter on RPG mechanics, which have been significantly streamlined. So players will spend less time managing menus and more time guiding their characters through hours of complex dialogue trees. The end result is sometimes less a game than a maze-like exercise in narrative cut and paste; it's the video game version of a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
Far more than Mass Effect 2, Heavy Rain is not really a game. Instead, it's a crime story that the player moves forward by interacting with the digital environment. Its devotion to representing the mundane means it's not always as exciting as you might hope: Playing through missions that included such thrilling tasks as making dinner, playing with a kid at a park, and burping a baby, I half expected to come across a mission that consisted of nothing but housework. But the pace picks up eventually, and no matter what, it remains an intriguing and innovative exercise in interactive storytelling.
For reasons that still aren't clear to me, just about everyone, from the critics to the fanboys, seems to love the braindead hack-and-slash antics of the God of War series. But I after about four hours of the third entry's dumb-lunk cut scenes (they make the Masters of the Universe cartoons look positively Shakespearean) and arbitrarily limited perspective, I gave up. A far better entry in the same genre is Darksiders, which also dabbles in low-rent comic-bookish storytelling, but makes up for it with a series of clever, Legend of Zelda-like puzzles -- and has the common decency to let you look where ever the hell you want to look.
I've been playing Civilization since Civ 2, so as you can imagine, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Civ 5 to come out for Mac. I've played through a couple of times, and so far, it's okay -- but it's not as great as I was expecting. Part of this is simply the pains of playing a new game on a laptop, which tends to bog down -- you can't play a really huge map unless you've got a really fast computer. But part of it is the loss of elements that had come to define my game play, like the use of religion, technology trading, and the ability to stack military units.