“StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty”

Twelve years was a long time to wait for a sequel to “StarCraft,” but after the first few minutes of “StarCraft II,” it’s clear the series aged very well. Blizzard Entertainment has managed to develop some of the most impressive video games ever made, and there is no question that “Wings of Liberty” falls in rank with the rest of its releases.

The gameplay is extremely complex and the graphics are absolutely gorgeous — beautiful sprawling landscapes and a nuanced design of each unit and building make staring at the game as much fun as playing it. And as impressive as its looks are, the revamped gameplay is really what makes “Starcraft II” so much fun. Rather than clinging to the dynamics of the original, Blizzard expanded and altered the three races, fleshing out distinct idiosyncrasies for each.

The world of real-time strategy now has another sharp and carefully crafted title to add to its ranks. It will keep competitive gamers happy for a long time, and in all likelihood, it will be the bar for all subsequent games of its kind. It would be quite a feat for another to surpass it.

-TEDDY PAPES

“Mass Effect 2”

BioWare broke all the boundaries of the original “Mass Effect” with this sequel. It expanded on everything it did right and trimmed down baggy and unnecessary features. The character classes were thoroughly fleshed out without sacrificing streamlined action. Though the game had enough depth that it could have easily made a satisfying and slow-paced RPG or an exciting action game, it is a nearly perfect amalgamation of the two.

In true BioWare fashion, the story was one of the most compelling of any game to date, and it shows that well written scripts are not reserved for Hollywood. And while these benefits are rendered close to inexhaustible by the huge quantity of content in the game, the ability to continue a character from the original “Mass Effect” is the most remarkable feature, not only for the series, but for video gaming as a whole. With it, the worlds in each installment are connected throughout the series and allows the games to grow with the player.

By completely raising the expectations and capabilities of an open-ended RPG, “Mass Effect 2” can only make us wonder what “Mass Effect 3″ has in store.

-TEDDY PAPES

“Red Dead Redemption”

“Red Dead Redemption” captures everything a Wild West game should be. The Western setting truly feels like a frontier — the landscape is vast and beautiful, and wild animals can be seen roaming the land constantly. Outlaw John Marston’s story as he makes up for the evils of his past is extremely well done. Marston runs into a range of flawed characters that end up helping (and sometimes betraying) him, and, in typical form for developer Rockstar, the dialogue and voice acting for every character is excellent. The music stands out even more — a riveting and era-appropriate score that sounds like no other game. As far as gameplay goes, “Red Dead Redemption” impressively manages to make old guns feel satisfying – the gunplay is fluid and exciting. There’s a tremendous amount of variety in the missions, from robbing trains in Mexico to shooting grizzly bears in wooded territories.

It’s the little things that make “Red Dead Redemption” great. Running into a man being chased by wolves on the prairie or the realistic way the horses are animated really bring the game to life. It’s just an enjoyable world to be in — the Wild West depicted perfectly.

-SHIN HIEFTJE

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