Unless you were caught up in the console launch hysteria of November, there hasn’t been much of a reason to run out and pick up an Xbox One as soon as possible. Titanfall changes all that like a 20-ton giant robot falling out of the sky. The debut effort from Respawn Entertainment, which pits massive mechs against jetpack-equipped pilots, is easily the most thrilling multiplayer offering on the system yet. Those sticking with last-gen systems have a pair of excellently macabre offerings to entice them — the devastatingly difficult Dark Souls II and the latest in Telltale’s The Walking Dead Saga.
(PS4, $10, Everyone 10+)
The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena blister-giver follows up a well-executed splash last year on the PS3 with an upgraded PS4 port. While the 16-bit style visuals look the same as they did on the PS3, there are plenty of upgrades to entice players to re-up. Seven new characters, several customization skins, a new map and refined controls make the game a wholesale improvement.
The side-scrolling, platforming-heavy combat is accessible for MOBA freaks and newcomers alike. The servers are reliable and well-populated, offering a challenge at pretty much any hour. While a true sequel would have been an easier sell, this iteration — akin to Capcom’s incremental Street Fighter IV upgrades — should be enough to hook hardcore fans and draw in curious newcomers.
Dark Souls II
(360, PS3, $60, Mature)
Masochists looking for the most tear-inducing, controller-slamming challenge in a third-person brawler need look no further than this game. Building on the devilishly clever boss and dungeon design of predecessors Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls without much rocking the boat, Dark Souls II brutalizes you with malicious combat, an unforgiving checkpoint system and borderline unfair traps lurking around every dank, desperate corner.
If you’ve played either of the previous games in the series, you know what to expect: Scarce resources, grim environments and a cruel multiplayer component that allows other players to enter your game and screw with you are all there to drive you crazy and give you a feeling of conquering triumph once you’re able to get past ridiculous challenges. The game looks and plays so much like the last Dark Souls that it’s tempting to dub the game an expansion, but that would be a mistake. Even if you think you’ve seen it all, you’ll be taken by the macabre creativity and mind-messing cruelty that awaits you.
Dead Rising 3
(Xbox One, $60, Mature)
It took me a while to get to the consensus No. 1 Xbox One launch title, but I’m glad I found some time for its zombie-slaughtering madness. While the screen swarms with an improbable amount of brains-craving undead, you scrounge for weapons you find on the ground, aid fellow survivors and bludgeon your way through a ludicrous but entertaining tale. Stunning visuals and rapid, nonstop action make Dead Rising 3 one of the console’s showpieces.
Helping the game remain relevant after four months on the market are its downloadable add-ons. Four story expansions — three of which have come out already — are available for $10 each or $30 total with the online pass. Chaos Rising, the latest chapter, lets you play as a criminal biker sprung from prison by the zombie outbreak. You take on an array of vicious vehicles and tangle with grotesque bosses, letting you take a look at events from the main story in a new light.
(Xbox One, $60, Mature)
Taking the concept of cat and mouse and blowing it out to hyperpowered extremes, Titanfall is not only the most impressive Xbox One game I’ve played, but one of the most exhilarating multiplayer offerings I’ve seen in years. In comparison, stalwarts such as the latest Call of Duty or Battlefield entries seem dated and soft-pedaled. Once you’ve thrown down against massive robo-tanks amid massive explosions in the game’s intensely chaotic milieu, it’s tough to go back to life as a foot soldier scrounging for perks.
You start off each round as a speedy pilot equipped with a jetpack booster that lets you double jump and glide for a bit. Eventually you get the chance to call for a titan, a giant, slow-moving robot you step inside and use to crush anything in front of you. To even the playing field, pilots can switch to anti-titan weapons that hinder movement but give them the firepower to have a fighting chance at taking down a titan before it wades over to unleash its assault. I’ve only tasted the action on pre-release servers still finding their footing and can only imagine how much more brilliant the action will get when the full forces are unleashed and the masses run free in this incredible new playground. I hesitate to say Titanfall is a reason to buy an Xbox One, but it certainly is a game all Xbox One players must own.
The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 2 — A House Divided
(Xbox 360, PS3, $5, Mature)
Telltale Games’ take on the zombie apocalypse survival-based drama mixes point-and-click adventure tactics with quick-time-event action sequences, with segments parceled out as downloadable episodes.The 2012 debut season, which focused on the relationship on an anti-hero and his relationship with a little girl, Clementine, was generally regarded as the game of the year. This season. in which Clementine is older and coming into her own, is technically stronger but hasn’t been able to find as consistent an emotional core.
Still, season two is dynamite, with clever, intense dialogue, intriguing environments and fascinating characters. The writing pulls no punches, placing Clementine into a series of brutal, no-win scenarios, introducing likable characters who turn out to have harrowing dark sides. Branching stories give the seasons impressive amounts of replayability.