Hot Games of the Week Reviewed, November 10th

Hot Games of the Week Reviewed

This is the week that gamers have had marked on their calendars for months. Call of Duty Black Ops III might have monopolized your weekend, delivering its brand of near-future thrills and kills in both the single-player campaign and e-sports friendly multiplayer mayhem. Also out today is Fallout 4, the stunning current-gen debut of the open-world, post-apocalyptic RPG saga that dominated the Xbox 360 and PS3 days. Not to be forgotten amid the fray is Rise of the Tomb Raider, which continues Lara Croft’s reinvention as a Nathan Drake/Indiana Jones-caliber adventurer. As if all that wasn’t enough to juggle, there’s also a Need for Speed reboot and a localization of a Japanese 3DS craze in Yo-Kai Watch to vie for your time and money.

Publishers provided review copies.

Black Ops 3

Call of Duty Black Ops III

(Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, $60, Mature)

Set in 2065, when super soldiers augmented with bionic upgrades double-jump and wall-run through chaotic battlefields governed by government and corporate interests at odds, Black Ops III makes bold shifts to reinvent the franchise in refreshing ways while remaining true to its feel. The usual cheesy, emotionally manipulative writing is still there, as are the fist-pumping setpieces that make you feel as though you’re a character in an action flick. The array of new abilities, which the campaign introduces piecemeal and you unlock in online multiplayer while leveling up, challenge your creativity by forcing you out of your comfort zone and making you devise new strategies for each map.

Call of Duty games are never shy about piling on modes, and this is probably the most massive day one collection yet. You can take on the campaign in four-player co-op, and there are zombie modes in both story and multiplayer forms. Customization levels are deeper than before, allowing you to trick out your weaponry with logos and other signage, and define your class with an array of augmentations that span the traditional medic/assault/sniper/tank classifications. As always, the community surrounding is already thriving at a fever pitch, providing boundless action for players at all skill levels. Some will long for the slower-paced, historical settings from past Call of Duty games, but the freedom and excitement offered by the current games — hitting a high point here — feels like a thorough upgrade. The coming months will tell if the momentum continues with the release of new game modes and map packs.

Fallout 4

Fallout 4

(Xbox One, PS4, $60, Mature)

Bethesda took its time to reinvent the Fallout franchise for new systems, but the gestation period paid off in staggering ways. The result is a massive open-world RPG saga that matches the flavor of the “wow” factor of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas and adds plenty of sensible additions to make the experience more smooth and accessible. As with the other Fallout games, the post-apocalyptic setting and satirical trappings stay the same while the protagonist and characters are reinvented. As usual, you emerge from a vault that sheltered you as the world was annihilated by nuclear devastation, then patch together resources and allies to take on monsters in the form of mutants and megalomaniacs.

Tighter live-action combat — which makes it so you don’t need to rely on the slowed- down VATS tactical system as often — has been sharpened, and the ability to sprint makes cross-map voyages and backtracking-heavy fetch quests more tolerable. Visuals and gameplay have been upgraded in some cases, and reinvented in wholesale ways in others. Maybe the biggest improvements come in the form of writing. The dialogue trees, audio logs and range of story-altering negotiations let you twist the story to adapt it to your will and imagination at a deeper level than before. Xbox One owners get a bonus in the form of an Xbox 360 download of Fallout 3, which will be accessible on the new console once a system update drops Thursday and adds backward compatibility.

Need for Speed

Need for Speed

(Xbox One, PS4, $60, Teen)

A sputtering start on current-gen consoles with Need for Speed Rivals in 2013, EA took a step back and tried to reinvent the franchise, adopting tropes from the Fast and Furious franchise and reshaping the visuals and storytelling to capture the essence of street-racing culture. The year off in the usually annual series did the franchise some favors — this is the best-looking and most different-feeling Need for Speed franchise that’s come down the pike in years — but it’s also sloppy enough to make it seem like there’s a need for another reboot. You play a newcomer to a racing crew looking to take over the city, taking down rivals, collecting pink slips and buying up new and upgraded rides to continue your quest.

Laughable characters, predictable plot twists and same-seeming courses make the racing seem stale at times. The look pops just as much as in the recent Forza games and Project CARS, but the lack of gameplay modes and customization slows things down. No matter how well you are killing it during a race, you can expect computer opponents to magically appear in your rear-view mirror. You also need to get used to a third-person, behind-the-car view, because there is no option to shift to the behind-the-wheel perspective. The reliance on automatic transmission is also lame, with the lack of a virtual stick shift robbing the racing of skill, particularly in sprint events. There are likely too many shortcomings to fix with a simple update, so it’s probably time to go back to the garage and revamp the series once again.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider

(Xbox One, $60, Mature)

As breathtaking as the 2013 series reboot was, it lacked some of what brought the series its dizzying success in the 1990s. The story found Lara Croft at the beginning of her career as an international badass, finding her as a vulnerable girl in her early 20s, marooned on an island and struggling to survive. There was too little tomb raiding and adventurous bombast to make it seem like a true Tomb Raider game, but that changes in the sequel. Now Lara is more sure of herself and starting to develop an Indiana Jones/Nathan Drake-style bravado. And there are also plenty booby trap and puzzle-filled tombs for her to plunder, rob and search out for glistening mystical loot.

The setting this time around is a lost city in Siberia that could hold the secret for eternal life. Lara and a colleague head into the snow-plagued wild to take on the elements, secretive enemies and other creepy, mysterious dangers. Impressively, the game captures all that while still keeping a hold on the realism and storytelling success of Tomb Raider. The result is the best of the both worlds, with Lara emerging as a relevant hero with an excellent plot that stacks up well against the Uncharted games. Gone is the tacked-on multiplayer that fizzled, allowing developers to focus their full energy on the single-player campaign. The case is addition by subtraction, giving the Xbox One another knockout exclusive to pair with Halo 5. Sony devotees will miss out for now, but can take heart from reports that confirmed the game will eventually come to the PS4.


Yo-Kai Watch

(3DS, $40, Everyone 10+)

Nintendo gets knocked for going back to the well too often rather than making an effort to create new heroes and worlds, so it’s refreshing to see a new series debut under the banner of the Big N. That said, the series is a lot like another one of Nintendo’s big hitters. The Japanese bestseller, about a kid who collects monster-spirits to do battle with others, takes its cue from Pokemon, but eschews the cutesy names and character designs to forge into darker places.

The game is a collect-a-thon with strong storytelling elements that echo another of Nintendo’s Japan-centric RPG series, Homebound. If you’re familiar with Pokemon, you’ll slide right into the routine of hunting for obscure beings to summon, defeating rivals and recruiting baddies to your side. Although Yo-Kai watch isn’t as deep or full-featured as Pokemon, there are still dozens of hours of gameplay here. It remains to be seen if Yo-Kai Watch can capture the imagination of young and older gamers alike to catch on to a Pokemon-like frenzy

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