Madden NFL 15 is the lead blocker in a dynamite flurry of releases, which include a pair of last-gen remakes, released in bigger, badder and better-looking forms. Those would be the co-op friendly hack-and-loot-fest Diablo III, as well as the brutal Russian subway-set shooters Metro: Last Light and Metro 2033, packaged together as Metro Redux.
Those three games would be more than enough to keep anyone set until the holidays, but there are also a couple other compelling temptations out there — the party game Fibbage (from the You Don’t Know Jack team) and clash of the Nintendo handheld system titans: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney on 3DS.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls — Ultimate Evil Edition
(PS4, Xbox One, PS3, $60, Mature)
Many fans who waited for years for Diablo III were disappointed when the game finally launched in 2012 with glitches and balance issues, but consistent updates and DLC have since transformed it into undoubtedly the greatest triumph in the storied series. Now it hits current-gen consoles in top form, with its dynamite latest expansion, Reaper of Souls, in tow. What on the surace appears to be a mindless hack-and-slasher reveals tantalizing levels of customization, strategy and nuance. Character builds have nearly infinite possibilities, as you adjust your stats, armor and specializations at each level to suit your playstyle.
Multiplayer is deep, rich and highly populared, offering four-player co-op, both online and off, and with any combination of the two. Teaming with friends to take down bosses and score rare loot drops brings the feel of an MMO, with the accessibility of a pick-up-and-play arcade game. You can also gift items to friends and unlock the entire game to explore at your will in Adventure Mode. There is so much to do, see and replay in the game that it’s nearly overwhelming. Some may gripe, reasonably, about paying full price for a two-year-old game, but this is undoubtedly the best action RPG available on the current — or any,for that matter — console generation.
(Xbox One, PS4, PS3, $7, Teen)
The term “party game” doesn’t exactly inspire excitement, especially for former Wii owners who suffered the endless parade of crappy ones. But Fibbage, from the hilarious and skilled developer Jackbox Games, is a party unto itself. In the mold of Jacbox’s You Don’t Know Jack, the theme is offbeat, immature and funny trivia. Using the TV screen as the central hub, as many as eight players can join in on a laptop, tablet or phone. Delightfully smarmy host Cookie Masterson presents a question, and the players each make up a pretend answer, scoring points if they can trick any of their competitors into picking their fake choices.
The game is designed to turn friends into enemies, spark heated debates and inspire good-natured cheating. Masterson’s quips and the selection of questions are so voluminous that they don’t ever repeat, allowing you to play for hours without having to roll your eyes at recycled material most trivia games too often throw at you. Online remote play is possible, but players who aren’t sitting by you will be at a disadvantage, because they won’t be able to see or hear the qestions as Cookie delivers them. This is a game meant to gather people on the couch and get the elbows, knees and insults flying.
Madden NFL 15
(Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, $60, Everyone)
As the presence of Seahawks lockdown corner Richard Sherman on the cover attests, the emphasis on this year’s Madden is defense. The pass-rush, press coverage and — thankfully — the oft-neglected defensive line play receive themost attention in tweaks and adjustments. tuned to give you more control at the point of impact to tilt the balance your way. A camera option lets you play from defensive angles, focusing on a specific corner-on-receiver matchup, the secondary or the line. For once, you can play the entire game as a defensive end, wreaking havoc by using your moveset to jump the snap, disrupt the backfield, swat down passes or plug running gaps. You can make a similar impact at linebacker or member of the secondary, switching among the defenders between or during plays. Open-field tackling also gets more nuanced, with the option to bring up impact cones that let you line up hits to make the most effective takedowns or try to jar the ball loose.
Offense and special teams als get countless improvements. One of my favorites comes on field goal kicking attempts, when the wind moves your cursor to varying degrees, forcing you to line it up properly in seconds while under pressure. With the help of NFL Films, the presentation also gets one of the most significant boosts ever in the series, with gritty visuals and cinematography during highlights and halftime studio shows that manage to bring elegance to the often ugly game. The card-based, fantasy-style Madden Ultimate Team mode continues to impress, and online franchises and leagues build upon the groundwork laid by last year’s solid but hurried current-gen debut. Last year’s streamlined playcalling, now boosted by crowdsourced play suggestions, returns to keep games moving along at a brisk clip. All the game’s realism and mode choices, though, wouldn’t mean a thing if the game didn’t replicate the fun and thrills of the best football has to offer. Madden almost always nails that x-factor better than anything not called Tecmo Bowl, hence its popularity, and the latest edition continues that winning quality.
(PS4, $50, Mature)
Two angry, highly strategic shooters are reborn in ways that blow the previous iterations out of the water. The two apocalyptic Metro games, boasting a brutality and despair befitting its Eastern European origins, were beloved by many who tolerated irritating bugs and design flaws. Now just about all of the legacy problems — which never would have been there in the first place if the developer could tap the resources the western giants have at their disposal — have vanished into the series’ murky, musty air of Russia’s dilapidated subway system.
A wide range of difficulty levels range from the harsh, unorgiving modes the games’ enthusiasts will eat up, and there are also dumbed-down, Call of Duty-style options for those who don’t want to scrounge for every bullet or get shanked from behind hidden corridors by crafty, effective enemies. There’s not a ton of new content here, but some new storytelling moments and character additions smooth out some of the rough edges in the story. If you enjoy shooters that slap you in the face rather than coddle you, and if you’ve missed out on Metro: Last Light and Metro 2033, this is the way you want to experience them. Series veterans will pick up the package, if only as a way to pay tribute to the strange and strangely beautiful series.
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
(3DS, $30, Teen)
A crossover killer enough to make Tim Hardaway proud, two of the DS and 3DS’s enduring puzzle-adventure game icons team up for an adventure that blends the best of both worlds. Professor Layton’s brain-teasers are there, alternating with Phoenix Wright’s evidence collection and courtroom theatrics. The story brings the characters together in reasonable ways, which is saying something because both characters often deal with insane plots dealing with time travel, the supernatural and science fiction.
I’m more a fan of Layton than Phoenix, so I found myself rushing through the courtroom portions so I could get to my beloved puzzles. There’s plenty for devotees of both series to chew on here, in a lengthy and rich adventure that seems almost like two games in one. The parade of must-play 3DS titles, which had been raging the last year and a half, has slowed to a trickle, but here’s another one to add to your 3DS backlog.