After a painful delay, the open-world hackfest Watch Dogs has finally emerged to bust blocks, blow minds and rock worlds. The multplayer-centric adventure hurls you into a near-future, interconnected Chicago, granting your vigilante character the power to control the world by hacking into the electronic grid, listening to phone calls and profiling potential criminals. Although the game is available on both current and past-gen machines, it’s being held up as an example of the potential of the PS4 and Xbox One. There’s also plenty happening on the download scene, with Sports Friends, Super Time Force and the latest episode of The Walking Dead vying for your attention.
(PS4, PS3, $15, Everyone 10+)
Solo gamers can skip this one, because it’s geared solely for old-timey couch competition. Four developers teamed up, each contributing a separate, chuckle-inducing lark meant to get the smack talk flowing between frenemies. BaraBariBall has you beat up your opponent while trying to drag a ball across a soaked field to dunk for points while avoiding drowning and concussions. Hokra is a supercharged combination of dodgeball and keepaway. Johann Sebastian Joust is a musical rhythm game that emphasizes screwing with other players’ timing, and the hilariously named Super Pole Riders is a silly simultaneously pole-vaulting concoction.
Charmingly blocky graphics and retro sound schemes give the games a 1980s arcade feel, and all parts of the compilation complement each other well as party diversions, as well as contests parents can play against kids. You don’t need to spring for a second controller to play Sportsfriends, because the control scheme can be tweaked to share one of them.
Super Time Force
(Xbox One, Xbox 360, $15, Teen)
The frenetic shooting of Contra meets the mind and time-warping aesthetic of Braid in this retro-inspired shooter/puzzle game. You toggle among three warriors with separate skill sets, manipulating time, cloning yourself and plotting out well-timed cheats that allow you to conquer seemingly impossibly situations. The writing is as clever as the level design, with quirky, egotistical characters exchanging 1980s action movie-style banter.
Like fellow indie gems Super Meat Boy and N+, many of Super Time Force‘s challenges are wince-inducingly frustrating, but quick resets minimize the frustration, allowing you to plug away rapidly, tweaking your tactics to push your way to gratifyingly impromptu successes. Super Time Force had me detesting it, laughing at it and adoring it, sometimes all within the span of minutes.
(Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, $60, Mature)
Some dismiss Ubisoft’s latest slice of open-world mayhem as a too-close copy of infamous, Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed series, but to me that’s its genius — taking core concepts from previous amazing games and elevating them to new levels with unique twists. The antihero is a superhacker who bends an online, oversharing Chicago to his whims, changing traffic lights, manipulating machinery, discovering peoples’ secrets and triggering blackouts and explosives as he protects his family and pursues his ambitions.
Although the core campaign is solid — cleverly written and passionately acted — I had the most fun veering off the preset path to take on side missions or mess around with the unsuspecting population. It was embarrassingly entertaining to try to listen in on a conversation, only to accidentally trigger an explosion of a transformer right behind your target. Multiplayer is a brilliant touch, allowing other players to invade your game, distracting you from your pursuits, challenging you to track them down and humiliate them. With undertones that pulse with social commentary about the perils of social networking and cyberterror vulnerabilities, Watch Dogs feels like an impressive first entry in a franchise that should thrive as much as those it imitates.
The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 3 — In Harm’s Way
(Xbox 360, PS3, $5, Mature)
The slow burn of The Walking Dead‘s sophomore outing continues to build as it crosses its halfway point, building on some of the slower exposition in past episodes in some excruciating and exhilarating payoffs. Bitter, lose-lose choices and painful branching paths explore the sinister side of its cruel, sadistic characters, making you feel dirty and guilty for their fates, because of the part you have played in setting them up.
Clementine, the heroine who has always been the heart of the series, continues to evolve, showing more depth and intrigue as she faces further trials, triumphs and heartbreaks. I appreciate the way the episode draws as far back as actions in the first season, as well as the 400 Days episode that bridged that season with this one. As with all episodes in the series, you’re selling yourself short if you skip what’s come before.