At a glance, “Horizon: Zero Dawn” bears a striking resemblance to any number of open-world action games on the market.
The influences are hard to miss, whether it’s the post-apocalyptic world reclaimed by nature (“Fallout”), the protagonist’s ability to see things in the world undetectable to the naked eye thanks to the aid of technology (Rocksteady’s “Batman” series), or how large sections of the game map are revealed by platforming to the top of a tall structure (“Far Cry”).
But look closer and you’ll find a game that, while familiar, succeeds in forging its own path. “Horizon: Zero Dawn” isn’t just another open-world game, it’s one of the best games of any genre I’ve had the pleasure of playing.
While other first-person shooters continue to push into the near-future and beyond, developer DICE has taken a step back with its “Battlefield” franchise. Back in time, that is.
Set during the first World War, “Battlefield 1” stands out from the crowd by offering a more grounded shooting experience that draws heavily from the source material with era-specific weapons, vehicles and settings. Indeed, playing “Battlefield 1” is an adrenaline-fueled history lesson that manages to pay reverence to the tens of thousands who fought and died during that brutal conflict while still providing an intense gaming experience.
This is especially true during the campaign, which plays out in a series of stand-alone missions centered around specific characters and their respective stories. Each of these bite-sized adventures also help serve as an introduction to the skills you’ll need to be successful in the game’s multiplayer modes. Whether you’re taking on the role of a hotshot fighter pilot, driving a tank through the German lines or facing insurmountable odds as a member of the Harlem Hellfighters, the single-player portion of “Battlefield 1” is both a learning tool and a painful reminder of the horrors of war.
While the campaign certainly deserves your attention, the real star here is the vast multiplayer suite.
Fall is in the air and new video games are dropping as quickly as leaves from the trees. Here’s a quick look at some recent releases:
“Forza Horizon 3” (Turn 10 Studios; Microsoft; Xbox One; $59.99) — The Horizon Festival has gone to the land down under and soars to its greatest heights.
I’ve been a big fan of the franchise since it debuted on the Xbox 360 in 2012 and can safely say that “Forza Horizon 3” is the best the series has to offer. Much of that has to do with the setting — Australia offers a little of everything in terms of driving environments, from scenic beaches to sprawling metropolitan areas to the vast openness of the outback. And with more than 300 vehicles to drive, ranging from sport trucks and off-road buggies to high-end sports cars and everything in between, there’s no shortage of options to scratch that high-octane itch.
Also for the first time, the player is in charge of the Horizon Festival, itself. You choose where to race, what to race, who to race against, the weather … even the radio stations. The increased level of customization extends to the cars in your garage, which can be tweaked in ways never before seen in “Forza Horizon” and makes the overall experience feel wholly unique.
From a gameplay standpoint, “Forza Horizon 3” continues the series’ tradition of providing a phenomenal driving engine that straddles the line between simulation and arcade. Whether you’re trekking through the jungle or drifting around tight corners in a city, the driving experience is unrivaled.
The same can also be said for the visuals. Everything is presented with an astounding level of detail, from the cars to the environments. Weather effects are gorgeous and the lighting is some of the best I’ve seen in any game, racing or otherwise.
Whether you want to scour the wilds of Australia in search of rare barn finds, grow your own Horizon Festival to be the biggest its ever been or join up with friends online and cruise til your heart’s content, “Forza Horizon 3” offers something for every racing fan. Score: 9.5/10.
“NBA 2K17” (Visual Concepts; 2K Games; PS4, Xbox One; $59.99) — Few sports games can match the consistency of 2K Sports’ “NBA 2K” series. Year in and year out, the development team at Visual Concepts delivers a basketball sim that is both accessible for new players while still rewarding experienced players with a deep, challenging experience.
There’s 15 laps to go at California’s Auto Club Speedway and I’m lined up on the outside of Row 2 in Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford. It’s been a long race and an even longer day, thanks to an early brush with the wall that forced me to the pits for repairs and left me a lap down. A timely caution allowed me to get back on the lead lap and I’ve spent the last 100 laps or so picking my way through traffic back toward the front of the field.
I was still sitting outside the Top 10 when this latest caution flag flew. Knowing it may be my last chance to put myself into contention for the win, I elected to forego fresh tires and took only a splash of fuel, hoping to gain ground on pit road. My strategy worked and the stage was set for an epic final run to the checkered flag.
When the green flag dropped, Kevin Harvick immediately shot to the lead and began to pull away, leaving myself, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson to battle for second place. And battle we did. Over the next six laps we put on a racing exhibition, trading positions and trading paint on every straightaway and in every turn. Then my decision to skip taking tires came back to bite me. As my tires went away, so did my grip on the track and my ability to hold my line. As I drifted higher and higher up the track, I had to back out of the throttle to avoid hitting the wall. That was all the opportunity my competitors needed and I could only watch as our three-way dance turned into duel between Logano and Johnson for second place. I ended up hanging on to finish 7th, a satisfying end to what could have been a disastrous race.
It is in moments like this that “NASCAR Heat Evolution” shines, delivering all the thrills and excitement I could hope for from a NASCAR game. The give-and-take with the AI is amazing and watching as other cars search for the fastest line is a sight to behold, especially after suffering through competing against opponents that were seemingly on rails in last gen’s NASCAR titles. Each race feels organic and fresh, a tribute not only to the AI but to how accurately the individual tracks have been recreated. Indeed, the action on the track is exactly the kind of experience I’ve been waiting for since the glory days of “NASCAR Heat” on the PlayStation 2, a mix of sim and arcade racing that is challenging without becoming frustrating but above all, unbelievably fun.
In what may well be the greatest surprise gaming announcement of all time, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment today announced the “LEGO Harry Potter Collection” for PlayStation 4.
Combining the two previously released LEGO Harry Potter games — “LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4″ and ‘LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7” — the new game features enhanced graphics and visual effects, along with two DLC packs which offer additional characters and spells.
The original LEGO Harry Potter games were fantastic and I can’t wait to experience them again with my kids, who have recently discovered the wizarding wonders of the Potterverse.
The “LEGO Harry Potter Collection” will retail for $49.99 and apparate into stores Oct. 18.
After five years in development, Hello Games has finally released its ambitious space exploration game, “No Man’s Sky.” And after more than three weeks of discovering new planets, mining resources and continuing my push toward the center of the galaxy, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the experience.
“No Man’s Sky” started out strong, largely delivering on its promise of truly open-ended gameplay. After awakening on an undiscovered planet with a busted spaceship, I began the slow process of gathering resources to craft upgrades for my ship and suit, which was providing me protection from the planet’s moderately high levels of radiation. I spent hours scouring the planet, exploring abandoned buildings, locating and identifying the native flora and fauna, and meeting some odd-looking aliens who seemed friendly enough even though I understood little of their language.
Eventually my need to discover every secret this planet held locked away behind those green question marks on my map took over and those hours turned into days. I continued collecting minerals and selling excess resources to increase my bankroll. I located a greatly improved version of my multi-tool, the handy device that is used both for mining and self defense from the AI sentinels that patrol the galaxy and take umbrage with the excessive removal of resources.
After spending nearly a week on my starting planet and having discovered 100 percent of the plants and animals that dwell there, I decided to make my first leap into outer space. The feeling of exhilaration that accompanied that first launch into the unknown was unforgettable, and I immediately set off in search of my next world to explore. I pointed my ship toward the nearest planet in the system, engaged my hyper-drive and touched down on my second planet in a matter of minutes.
I wasn’t altogether sure what to expect on this new planet — would there be a new alien race to meet or some grand new mystery to uncover? The answer, sadly, was no. From one planet the next I moved, and each time the process repeated itself. I would explore, tag some new creatures, collect more resources and continue to the next world. The magic I felt during those first few moments simply disappeared after so many hours and days of doing the same things over and over again.
What didn’t disappear, however, is the peaceful, zen-like feeling I got from simply taking my time and soaking up every inch of these strangely beautiful vistas. It is that feeling which keeps me coming back and continuing my interstellar journey. I know that I can boot up “No Man’s Sky” and chill out, whether for a few minutes or a few hours. It’s like my own virtual vacation.
There’s no doubt that “No Man’s Sky” has the potential to be a truly remarkable game. As Hello Games has promised to support the title with new content and updates, and with a solid foundation already in place, it’s easy to see what “No Man’s Sky” could one day become. But in its current state, “No Man’s Sky” shoots for the stars but ultimately comes up short.
“No Man’s Sky” Developer: Hello Games Publisher: Hello Games Available for: PlayStation 4, PC ($59.99) Rating: T for teen Score: 7.0/10
Gamers are no strangers to donning the cape and cowl and defending Gotham from all manner of villains as the iconic Batman, thanks in large part to Rocksteady Studio’s classic “Arkham” trilogy. But what happens when the costume comes off and Bruce Wayne is left to fend for himself?
That’s the side of the superhero mythos being explored in “Batman: The Telltale Series.”
It’s taken a while, but indie developer Playdead has finally delivered a follow-up to its 2010 smash “Limbo.” And after playing through their latest effort, “Inside,” I can safely say it was worth the wait.
Yes, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was just the shot in the arm that the “Star Wars” film franchise needed after the much-maligned prequel trilogy. And in a similar fashion, “LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is exactly the kind of effort developer Traveller’s Tales needed to deliver in order to get its family-friendly video game series back on track after a string of so-so offerings.
As such, “LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is easily the most enjoyable LEGO-branded game since “LEGO Marvel Super Heroes” way back in 2013.
While it may not be the new “Batman” game from developer Rocksteady I was hoping for, the announcement of a remastered collection of the first two installments in the acclaimed Arkham trilogy is nonetheless a welcome one.
“Batman: Return to Arkham” bundles the Game of the Year editions of “Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham City” along with all of the DLC released for each game. The titles are being remastered by Virtuos using Unreal Engine 4, which allows for improved graphics like character models, environments, lighting and effects.
“Batman: Return to Arkham” launches July 26 for $49.99 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.