The Year in Video Games 

Game makers save their most exciting releases for the fall and winter seasons.

Assassin's Creed, For PC; Sony PS3;, Microsoft Xbox 360

The historical epic Assassin's Creed takes you to Jerusalem, Damascus, and Acre, in which your task is to assassinate the leaders on both sides of the Crusades. Look for fantastic 3-D jumping and climbing action, since these are the folks who brought us Prince of Persia. More interesting, Assassin's Creed is based heavily on artificial crowd intelligence. Climb a church or attack a guard, and non-player characters will point at you, panic, or go get soldiers. Act like everyone else, and people won't notice you. The producers of Assassin's Creed have boasted of the game's historical accuracy, especially when it comes to these ancient cities as they appeared nearly a thousand years ago. ESRB Rating: Mature

Halo 3, For Microsoft Xbox 360, Halo 3

is a no-brainer if you have an Xbox 360. Console shooting games simply don't come any better. First, the game's campaign missions are the best in the series, with diverse challenges from a jungle encroachment of a small base to an aerial assault of a fortress. Two players can play cooperatively — four if you're connected online — and the enemy artificial intelligence is more sophisticated than ever. Second, like Halo 2, Halo 3 offers some of the best versus multiplayer gaming you'll find. Up to sixteen people can play in gargantuan battles. This installment in the trilogy has an improved ranking system, helping to ensure that newbies don't have to keep getting "owned" by veterans. ESRB Rating: Mature

The Orange Box, For PC; Sony PS3; Microsoft Xbox 360

"The Orange Box" has proven to be a bit of a surprise. It's a box containing five games: three episodes of Half-Life 2 and two of its expansions: Portal and Team Fortress 2. While Half-Life 2 was originally the headliner, the surprise is how Portal and Team Fortress 2 have taken gamers by storm. Portal is an amazing single-player challenge in which you're armed with a gun that shoots portable holes. You can have two holes going at any given time, and each one leads to the other. With this as your only weapon, you have to escape a deadly lab filled with pools of acid and machine-gun turrets. The tricks you can perform in this game are exhilarating — flinging yourself hundreds of feet horizontally from your exit portal by jumping down a shaft vertically into your entry portal is tons of fun. Team Fortress 2, meanwhile, is a class-based multiplayer battle. The class you choose, from sniper to engineer to medic, entirely determines which weapons you possess, which makes the game very different each time. The pyro has a flamethrower, the spy can take on the appearance of an enemy player, and the engineer can construct deadly turrets. The deliberately nonrealistic art direction is heavily influenced by turn-of-the-20th-century illustrator J.C. Leyendecker, which surely sets this fun game apart from your typical shooter. ESRB Rating: Mature

Rock Band, For Sony PS3, Microsoft Xbox 360

Rock Band may be the most anticipated game of the year, and with good reason. Jamming with three of your friends can cross a lot of genre boundaries. In Rock Band, up to four people take controllers shaped like two guitars, a drum set, and a microphone, and play some great songs. As in Guitar Hero, colored lights travel down a track toward you, and you have to hit the correct drum pad or press the appropriate button as each light crosses a line. Except for the singer, that is — all the singer needs to do is sing, and so doesn't even need to like video games. Tracks include "Gimme Shelter," "Paranoid," "Should I Stay or Should I Go," and more than fifty others. Downloadable content will include the entire Who album Who's Next. The PS2 version of "Rock Band" is to come in December. Good luck with the drums on "Tom Sawyer," by the way. ESRB Rating: Teen

Super Mario Galaxy, For Nintendo Wii.

Super Mario Galaxy might be Mario's greatest adventure, especially after the lackluster Super Mario Sunshine. This time, Mario has to conquer a horde of little floating worlds, on all sides of which he runs around like an ant traversing a cue ball. It rather reminds us of The Little Prince. Expect lots of crazy enemies and puzzles, and also some unusual antics with the Wii's motion-sensing controller. ESRB Rating: Everyone

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