Fallout 3, Gears of War 2 and Resistance 2 each deliver action that rivals big screen blockbusters. USA TODAY takes a closer look at each:
Fallout 3 (out now, $50 for Windows PCs, $60 for Microsoft Xbox 360 and the Sony PlayStation 3; $70-$80 for a special lunchbox edition with bobblehead, art book and bonus DVD).
•Special effects. Early in the game you emerge from Vault 101 in search of your father (voiced by actor Liam Neeson) and look out over the Capital Wasteland à la Will Smith's character surveying post-apocalyptic Manhattan in I Am Legend. And you can set off in any direction you like. "It's this retro-future world, but you have these neoclassical monuments that are destroyed," says Bethesda Softworks executive producer Todd Howard. "It just creates a really evocative image. People look at it and say, 'I wonder what I could do in that.' It's big and epic in its nature."
Not too far along in the story, you are confronted with the major decision of detonating a nuclear device. "You can do it or not do it," says GamePro magazine's George Jones. "For the beginning of the game, that is pretty impressive stakes. It feels like (Cormac McCarthy's novel) The Road with its bleak, nihilistic world view. That makes it real."
•Extra features. The Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS) on your character's Pip-Boy Model 3000 wrist device lets you stop time, target enemies, fire and then sit back and watch in slow "bullet-time" detail as your shots hit home.
•Critics say. Rating on Metacritic.com, 93 (out of 100) for PC and Xbox 360 versions; 90 for PS3. "I think the story is phenomenal," Jones says. "What Fallout 3 does is something that very few games are capable of doing. The world is like Grand Theft Auto. It is open, and you can be good or bad. You can be a total villain that walks around killing people or a savior."
•Big-screen potential. Nothing to announce yet, but "suffice it to say there's been plenty of interest in the full range of things," says Bethesda Softworks' Pete Hines.
Resistance 2 (out today, for PS3, $60; $80 for special collector's edition with action figure, art book, and bonus DVD that includes a digital comic book and videos.)
•Special effects. At the outset, your chopper is shot down in a scene out of Black Hawk Down, and hero Hale must evade a giant enemy. "We get the players into the action much more quickly with some spectacle right from the start," says Insomniac Games' Ted Price. "That sets up the game as an experience that will provide these kind of spectacles. … When players turn the corner, they don't know what to expect."
Later in the game, "it has the biggest boss bad-villain battle I have ever seen," Jones says.
•Extra features. The game has an eight-player online co-operative mode with its own story line that parallels the single-player game. Including the online multiplayer-squad version of the game —with a capacity of 40 to 60 players —Resistance 2 has more than 420 hours of gameplay.
•Critics say. Rating on Metacritic.com, 90. "Sony has found a new action hero with Nathan Hale," Jones says.
•Big-screen potential. A movie is being discussed. In the meantime, get a peek at the upcoming Resistance novel and Wildstorm comic book on the DVD that comes with the special edition of the game.
Gears of War 2 (out Friday, for Xbox 360, $60; $70 for limited edition with art book and bonus DVD).
•Special effects. After an opening that invokes the camera work of the Lord of the Rings films plus some standard warm-up battles, Gears drops heroes Marcus & Co. into an over-the-top shoot-'em-up chase scene involving giant rolling personnel carriers. Oh, and you must fight off Godzilla-sized "Brumak" monsters and mortar rounds, too.
Survive that, and players enter a pitch-black Alien-esque hunt for a wave of tickers, chittering armadillo-sized living land mines. "We set out to make it feel like you are manipulating and playing a triple-A summer Hollywood blockbuster experience," says Cliff Bleszinski. "You feel as if you are in the middle of this sci-fi war."
•Extra features. The two-player co-operative version of the game goes beyond the single-player story line. And a five-player "Horde" mode, says Bleszinski, is "almost like a modern throwback to the classic arcade days with Robotron. … There's wave after wave of Locust coming after you that get increasingly difficult, and you and your four buddies basically put your back up against each other and see how far you can survive. It's very addictive."
•Critics say. Rating on Metacritic.com, 96. "Graphically and visually this is one of the most amazing games you are going to see," says Electronic Gaming Monthly's Greg Ford. "You can just tell it has insane production values."
•Big-screen potential. A film is already in the pipeline; Wanted co-writer Chris Morgan is working on a screenplay, with Len Wiseman (Live Free or Die Hard) set to direct. A new paperback, Gears of War: Aspho Fields, was released last week. "It's extremely exciting right now to see creatively how something can be made initially as a video game and then can transcend that," Bleszinski says.