It's only January, but "Mass Effect 2" -- released Tuesday -- has already made a case for being the video game of the year. The makers and fans of anticipated upcoming heavyweights such as "BioShock 2" and "God of War 3" will quibble with that take, but "Mass Effect 2" ($60 for Xbox 360 [also PC, $50]; rated Mature) surely merits serious consideration. The hours will melt away as gamers re-up with a resurrected Cmdr. Shepard and his (or her -- your choice) crew to explore the galaxy and confront a new threat to humankind, the Collectors. Shepard must face some tough choices along the way and, as in the first game, those decisions will affect character interaction and the plot. Rookies can start the franchise cold with "Mass Effect 2" without missing a beat, but veterans can import their saved progress from the first game, with the choices from that version affecting the story evolution of the new title. Other new features include better conversations, more intense shootouts and more meaningful side missions. You can survey unexplored planets to unearth secrets, as well as to find resources that can help upgrade weapons, armor and the ship. You'll also recruit a varied mix of aliens and humans to aid in your quest to ferret out the Collectors. As with other action RPGs, you'll find much to explore, many people to meet and dozens of missions to complete. That's not what makes "Mass Effect 2" special. The fact that you'll care so deeply about the outcomes of those efforts and the characters they affect is what sets the game apart. If this masterpiece is how we're starting 2010, it's going to be a good year for video games.
The Michael Jackson concert film "This Is It" (Sony, $29-$40) has been billed as a rare glimpse into the creative psyche that defined pop music's shape and trajectory. But this isn't a concert film. It's a rehearsal film -- and one that will leave Jackson's most zealous fans waiting for goose bumps that never arrive. Filmed at the Staples Center in Los Angeles between March and June, the film, now out on DVD and Blu-ray, captures the King of Pop prepping for a 50-night run at London's O2 Arena. But after the singer's death June 25, the extensive rehearsal footage -- intended for Jackson's personal archive -- was quickly cobbled into a feature-length documentary. For a man who so desperately wanted to show us perfection -- or at least project the illusion of it -- Jackson would never, ever want us to see this film.
Also out Tuesday: "The Boys Are Back," "Bright Star," "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell," "Little Ashes," "MI-5" (Vol. 7), "Paris, Texas," "Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy," "Saw VI," "Southland" (Season 1), "Surrogates," "The Waltons Movie Collection," "Whip It," "WWII in HD."
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