Go ahead and set aside your usual first-person shooters, platformers and sports sims. This is a good week to try out something unusual. Whether it’s a throwback to a board game you might have played as a kid (Boggle), a deliberate, exploration-based narrative (Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture) or a chaotic real-time strategy game set in a toy box (Toy Soldiers: War Chest), you’re in for something out of the ordinary.
(Xbox One, PS4, $10, Everyone)
Classic board games on consoles are experiencing a renaissance. Following up on a solid Scrabble adaptation, Hasbro and Ubisoft crank out another solid translation of Boggle. Supplied with a grid of letter-printed dice, you earn points by connecting adjoining letters. The real-time score tallying cancels out the most tedious part of the board game, which involves keeping track of your points and comparing lists with you and your competitors. In real life, Boggle is a chore, but in video game form, you can knock out game after game in minutes.
Like Scrabble, Boggle is connected to the Hasbro Game Channel, which tracks stats, doles out scores for mini-missions and catalogs your progress across all the platforms. There’s not a lot to the game design, but its streamlined nature and addictive way of taxing your brain ramps up the intensity for hypercompetitive types. It’s an ideal game to play online with a pal over voice chat, catching up on each other’s lives while racking up scores. While you can find similar asynchronous games for cheap or free on mobile devices, those can’t touch the excitement of live-action Boggle on consoles.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
(PS4, $20, Mature)
The fact that it’s hardly a game at all doesn’t keep Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture from being one of the most fascinating experiences you’ll have with a controller in hand. You roam around a town that’s been decimated by an unknown catastrophe, scraping together clues about what happened by listening to ghostly apparitions and finding recordings and notes left behind. The story unfolds with a slow, quiet efficiency that’s as chilling as it is understated. You piece together sad life stories unwittingly snuffed out without notice, adding up into a larger statement about what it means to live and die in a cold, indifferent world.
Developed by the Chinese Room, who made the similarly haunting 2012 PC title Dear Esther, the focus is on pushing the narrative forward with an unseen hand, using sporadic writing, haunting visuals and ambient noise to tease and taunt you as you press on. It’s another entry in the snarkily named “walking simulator” genre, which has gestated on PC for years and is now making a move to relevance on the PS4 with the release of this one and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. This sort of thing isn’t everyone’s speed, but for those willing to move at a slower pace, it’s exciting to see the evolution of the early days of a new type of storytelling.
Toy Soldiers: War Chest
(Xbox One, PS4, $30, Teen)
Real-time strategy had seemingly been left behind on last-gen consoles, but gets a welcome jump start thanks to Toy Soldiers: War Chest, the strongest sequel yet in one of the more creative takes on the genre. Something like a combat-focused take on the Toy Story concept of toys that come alive when kids are way, the game makes a boy’s bedroom the setting for mass destruction.
Rounding up tanks, weaponry and action figures, you deploy your forces and fend off the enemy, giving yourself time and resources to upgrade and manage your army. You can also take an active role with any unit, taking control of individual regimens to turn the tide in your favor. Moving away from generic toys used in past games, this entry includes G.I. Joe, He-Man and, oddly, Assassin’s Creed figures that come to life as heroes and bosses. Thrilling as a single-player experience or in online battles, the game is a loud, proud war cry RTS isn’t ready to fade.