Just when it seemed as though game publishers had blown their loads with their biggest releases, there is still a little ammo left in the chamber. First we catch up with Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, the tactical, multiplayer-focused shooter that brings back the Ghost Recon-style flavor that’s been missing this generation.
On the other side of the spectrum is the freewheeling, nonsensical action of Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair. And providing a compelling reason to go back to one of the best games of the year is Hearts of Stone, the expansion to The Witcher 3: Wild Run.
Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair
(PS4, $50, Teen)
Earth Defense Force games are some of the great, terrible guilty pleasures, and they always seem to pop up as unexpectedly as the armies of giant insects that prowl through the games. Like the demented vision of Starship Troopers come to life, the brainless shoot-em-ups arm you with an array of rifles, rocket launchers and tanks while pitting you against supersized ants, spiders, hornets, robot and dragons. You and your simple-minded brothers in arms shout chants and bark inane chatter to each other as you blow your enemies to bloody bits. There’s hardly any strategy involved, and at the default difficulty level, you’ve got what seems like unlimited ammo and are at barely any risk of death, no matter how many times you get picked up and chewed on by a giant enemy, only to shoot your way out at point-blank range and plummet 50 feet to the ground.
Despite the thin concept, the game is an absolute blast in the way of an old quarter-chomping arcade game. It’s even better in offline co-op, if you can coax a friend who is just as easily amused as you to join the fray. It’s definitely not a proposal to make to highbrow gaming snobs among your buddie.s There are tons of technical glitches and a lot of shoddy design to overlook. The action chugs when the screen, as it often does, fills with action, the design is uninspired and the levels are repetitive. To enjoy the game, you just need to wince and eye-roll through the silly parts and appreciate the furious, nonstop action. If you’re in the mood for a smaller-scale adventure in the same vein and are one of the few people on earth who haven’t gotten rid of your PlaySation Vita, you can take on Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders From Planet Space, which goes for $30.
Tom Clancy’s Rianbow Six Siege
(Xbox One, PS4, $60, Mature)
The real war on terror is decided less by air strikes and frontal assaults than surgical, clandestine raids in the dark of night. Rainbow Six Siege captures that Zero Dark Thirty level of intensity, placing you on a team of elite forces who maneuver their way into seemingly impenetrable forces deep behind enemy lines. Gameplay is not just about sneaking and lining up headshots. You use drones to sniff out enemy positions, fortify strongholds — and create decoys — by barricading walls, and lure enemies into traps, taking out opposing forces one by one in coordinated attacks. Fitting to the title, Siege is all about infiltrating compounds and defending bases from enemy breaches. A close to a game of chesss as a first-person shooter can get, Siege taxes your mind and nerves every bit as much as it does your reflexes.
Those yearning for a single-player experience should look elsewhere. There is no story campaign, and no reliable practice mode you can stock with bots to hone your skills. This is a game built for tight-knit clans who get together to practice, forge coherent strategies and communicate constantly matches. Succeeding requires the type of professional, no-B.S. precision that inexperienced players tend to ruin for those who take it seriously. Thanks to the design, there’s little chance of tourists showing up in ranked matches, since those don’t open up until you reach level 20. On the minus side, that drastically shrinks the pool of possible players, making it tougher to find frequent matches than in the likes of Halo 5: Guardians, Star Wars Battelfront or Call of Duty: Black Ops III. But Siege is also the standout among that group in terms of craftsmanship, tension and combat tuning. The shooter for the serious gamer, Rainbow Six Siege is one for those tired of one-size-fits-all fare. As a nice bonus, the Xbox One version comes packed in with codes to download the two Rainbow Six Vegas games.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt — Hearts of Stone
(Xbox One, PS4, $10, Mature)
A beefy expansion to one of the largest and most exciting RPGs of the year, Hearts of Stone tacks on abput a dozen hours of gameplay to the mainline game. Meant for players who have long since conquered the main story, Hearts of Stone opens the village of Oxenfurt and the rolling wilderness of No Man’s Land. Working on behalf of the mysterious puppetmaster, the Man of Glass, you find yourself double-crossed and plunged into a dark, murky series of mysteries that test the skills and strength of the character you’ve spent dozens of hours sharpening up.
Just as in the main game, your choices in dialogue and what forces you place your loyalty behind affect the way the story turns, as well as which allies will back you up or oppose you as the plot advances. As you’d expect there are also new romantic possibilities and plenty of brutal twists, all with the stunning visuals, voice acting and animation that Polish developer and publisher CD Projekt has been delivering since the first Witcher blew minds on PC back in 2007. With a second expansion promised, it’s heartening to know that there’s still plenty of life to what many critics are naming the game of the year.