Most big games launched in time for the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend of chaos, but there are two more early gifts under the tree for gamers. A pair of expected blockbusters of the year come out this week in the form of Just Cause 3 on PS4 and Xbox One and the Wii U-exclusive Xenoblade Chronicles X. There is also a duo of last-gen remasters vying for your dollar, in the form of Beyond Two Souls and Deadpool. And handheld players aren’t left out, thanks to Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon on 3DS.
Publishers provided review copies.
Beyond: Two Souls
(PS4, $30, Mature)
Out-there developer Quantic Dream swung for the fences when it created this 2013 genre-bender, starring Ellen Page in a comprehensively motion captured performance as a psychologically tortured young woman who is accompanied and tormented by a ghostly best friend. You skip around through key moments of her life as she struggles through adolescence and young adulthood, using the poltergeist’s powers to get her out of jams, explore dark realms and exact revenge on enemies. The game looked amazing when it came out on the PS3 in 2013, and looks even better thanks to a full-scale overhaul of graphics and sound that brings it up to PS4 standards.
Beyond: Two Souls showed a lot of promise, but frustrated gamers due to its weirdness and frustrating controls. Originally designed as a game that used an app and the PlayStation Move controller, the remake dispenses with those add-ons and cuts to the story, which unfolds more steadily thanks to the option of playing through the game linearly rather than skipping through time periods like the original release. This is a version of the game made better due to user feedback and struggles with sales, and makes good on many of the shortcomings of the original. The cut-rate $30 download is an appropriate price for a two-year-old game, making it worth another look for those who were intrigued by the concept but frustrated with the original execution.
(Xbox One, PS4, $50, Mature)
Boasting some of the funniest writing ever found in a game, the 2013 take on Marvel’s fourth wall-breaking antihero was good for a weekend playthrough. Now it’s back in the form of a current-gen port that comes with a joke of its own in the form of the $50 asking price. With no new modes or graphical upgrades to speak of, this is the same game you can easily find for $10 or less in the bargain bins. Since the new version will doubtlessly show up there once again within a few months, there’s no good reason to spend near-full price on something that doesn’t make any effort to distinguish itself from the original.
It’s tough to bash a game that succeeds so well at what it it attempts. This is a shameless beat-em-up worth playing through to hear the barrage of and game industry and pop culture-parodying one-liners. The gameplay doesn’t live up to the level of excellence of the writing, though, meaning most of the best moments can be found on YouTube. That’s a problem with the game’s design. A few bonus missions exclusive to new-gen would have gone a long way toward justifying the rerelease.
Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon
(3DS, $40, Everyone)
Shoehorning the Pokemon concept into a roguelike role-playing game, Nintendo gives 3DS owners a lengthy, endlessly replayable adventure to chew on during the lean cold months. A game for true Pokemon geeks, Super Mystery Dungeon is set in a world populated with nearly 300 cutesy pocke monsters. You crawl through procedurally generated dungeons, collect loot and customize your character’s skillset, equipment and attacks.
Part of length comes from artificial constraints. You need to work for everything you get, with much of the game’s bounties locked up behind experience level gates. Expect to have to grind for hours until you make your way into the heart of the game. In that respect, the game feels a lot like a free-to-play mobile title that encourages you to buy gems to speed things up. Super Mystery Dungeon is nothing close to the quick-hit, instant gratification fare you mostly find on handhelds, and is more of a lifestyle choice. Make the game part of your routine and you will find it gets better as it goes. If you don’t have the patience for the slow burn, you’d best stay away.
Just Cause 3
(Xbox One, PS4, $60, Mature)
A Michael Bay movie in game form, the Just Cause franchise has made a name for itself as a breezy, consequence-free action bonanza that chains one blowout set piece after another. You play as Rico Rodriguez, a Che Guevara-with-a-grapple-gun rabble-rouser who frees an oppressed population from a dictator by unleashing destruction, taking out police and rallying rebels to your cause. From the start, you get the freedom to traverse the island at will, hitching rides on helicopters, swinging from bridges and burning down blocks with down domino effect-style C4 explosions and tumbling buildings.
While Just Cause 3 doesn’t do much to shake up the formula from the first two games, but adds enough new structures, weapons and enemy types to keep things fresh. In a way, it feels like the first two Just Cause games were just dry runs for this one — the best-looking, smoothest-controlling game of the bunch, and the one with the most stuff to mess around with. You can stick to the campaign and plow through the story, but it’s far more entertaining to treat the game as a sandbox and create chaos at your whim, sharing your exploits with friends, who get challenges to top your mayhem. Technically, the game is off to a rough start, with glitches and slow load times that can hopefully be ironed out with an update.
Xenoblade Chronicles X
(Wii U, $60, Teen)
Billed as the largest game of the year in terms of area to cover, this staggering creation is meant for the hardest of hardcore JRPG enthusiasts. The map covers 154 square miles, which is more than Fallout 4, Grand Theft Auto V and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim combined. Equally overwhelming is the cast of characters, sprawling dialogue trees and the number of weapons and items you can collect and upgrade. You play as a party sent to settle and colonize a foreign planet, working your way from scratch to a pilot of a hulking mech that can traverse miles within seconds.
Unlike its Wii predecessor, one of the best RPGs of last generation, the game tends to plod, proving that bigger isn’t always better. It takes hours to get your bearings, learn the game’s systems and get a handle on fast-travel options, and days to make any sense of the meandering, convoluted story. There’s also a sizable online portion, which lets you combine forces with three other players for Warcraft-style raids. For many gamers, other than software-starved Wii U owners, there is almost too much to grasp, and the game demands too much patience to put you through the learning curve before sinking its teeth into you. Xenoblade Chronicles X is a bold and often brilliant effort, but it’s also a buffet that can be more intimidating than satisfying.