Plugged In


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 afh3 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.

nba2k17That trend continues with “NBA 2K17,” which gives players an absurd amount of control on the court with its improved right-stick dribbling moves. Pulling off crossovers, spin moves and behind-the-back dribbles has never been easier, but the real joy is in how these moves can be chained together to create space for a jump shot or to blow by a defender and get to the rim.

For the first time in the series, “2K17” delivers a true feeling of physicality as players bang into each other in the post and fight for possession on the perimeter. Even interactions between players and the ball seem more physics-driven as you’ll see tipped rebounds and deflected passes where otherwise there would have been clean control.

Despite all the improvements to gameplay, I still see legacy issues like questionable late-game AI and passes that seem to float in the air and lead to easy interceptions, but thankfully those have been toned down from previous iterations.

The presentation remains unparalleled and the addition of multiple commentary teams takes things to a whole new level. Visually, player models have been improved and now highlight the differences in body styles, making the already ultra-realistic players look even more like their real-life counterparts.

All the popular game modes return — MyCareer features a character played by “Creed” star Michael B. Jordan — but I was most excited to see all the improvements made to MyGM mode. From league expansion to rules changes, MyGM puts practically everything you can imagine in the palm of your hand and presents it all in such a way as to not seem overwhelming. It’s the best franchise mode in sports gaming, period.

The bar was set high for “NBA 2K17,” but it far surpassed my lofty expectations. Score: 9.4/10.

“Madden NFL 17” (EA Tiburon; EA Sports; PS4, Xbox One; $59.99) — It’s another significant leap forward for EA Sports’ flagship franchise. A renewed emphasis on the run game, combined with recent improvements to the passing game, make playing offense a blast. The defensive side of the ball received plenty of love, too, with smarter line play and zone coverages.

madden 17For all the gameplay improvements, the most welcome additions come in the way of presentation. A new commentary team delivers timely insight thanks to a steady stream of content updates and your performance during games is tracked with a constant barrage of graphics displaying your stats, giving each game a feel that rivals an actual TV broadcast.

Franchise mode, which is where I spend most of my time with the game, has been streamlined to make it easier to complete individual games and entire seasons. Play the Moments mode allows you to participate in only key situations like third downs or the two-minute drill, which drastically cuts down on the time it takes to finish a game. Likewise, key moments in your franchise such as re-signing free agents, scouting college talent or making trades are highlighted in order to speed up the process.

Whether you’re leading a franchise to the Super Bowl, building a team of your favorite players in Ultimate Team or drafting a dream team in Draft Champions, “Madden NFL 17” delivers the goods. Score: 8.7/10.

“BioShock: The Collection” (Irrational Games; 2K Games; PS4, Xbox One; $59.99) —  There’s been no shortage of remakes and remasters hitting current-gen consoles lately, but if there’s one series that deserves to be experienced again it’s the “BioShock” trilogy.

bioshocktc“BioShock: The Collection” compiles all three games in the series — “BioShock,” “BioShock 2” and “BioShock Infinite” — in one shiny new package, complete with all the single-player downloadable content for each title. All games have been given a graphical upgrade, with the improved textures and lighting being immediately noticeable.

There isn’t much to speak of in terms of fresh content, though players can discover hidden film reels to unlock a commentary video from Irrational Games creative director Ken Levine. The multiplayer functionality that arrived in “BioShock 2” has also been removed.

For fans who’ve never explored the underwater utopia of Rapture or set sail on the floating city of Columbia, this is the perfect opportunity to experience “BioShock” for the first time. For longtime fans of the series, there’s never been a better way to relive one of gaming’s great adventures. Score: 8.5/10.

“Deus Ex: Mankind Divided” (Eidos Montreal; Square Enix; PS4, Xbox One; $59.99) — The series that helped launch the stealth-RPG genre has returned to stake its claim as best in class.

In “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided,” players again assume the role of Adam Jensen, the technologically enhanced protagonist who debuted in 2011’s “Deus Ex: Human Revolution.” This time, Jensen spends his time exploring every nook and cranny of an incredibly detailed futuristic version of Prague that serves as the perfect playground for his new assortment of powerful augmentations.

dxmdIndeed, the best parts of “Mankind Divided” occur when Jensen can use his full compliment of abilities to sneak past threats and complete objectives. It’s in these moments where the game’s exceptional level design shines through, allowing for multiple paths and solutions to each encounter you find. There’s nothing quite like the feeling that comes from spending an hour meticulously dodging guards, hacking past locked doors and avoiding detection only to reach your destination and find you missed the shortcut that could have brought you to the same location in a fraction of the time. The missions are equally as well thought-out, with many offering multiple solutions and requiring the completion of smaller objectives before you can move onto the real meat of the task.

For those who prefer to take a more action-oriented approach, “Mankind Divided” works great as a third-person shooter thanks to a revamped cover system. You can also easily modify weapons on the fly, allowing for the changing of ammo types and the addition of attachments like silencers and scopes so you can customize your arsenal to fit any situation.

With its open-ended approach to stealth and some tremendous level design, “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided” is not only a standout in its genre but one of the year’s best games. Score: 9.6/10.

“Batman: The Telltale Series, Episode 2” (Telltale Games; Warner Bros. Interactive; PS4, Xbox One; $29.99 series, $4.99 episode) — The second episode of “Batman: The Telltale Series” continues to challenge my preconceived notions about Bruce Wayne, his crime-fighting alter-ego and the world they inhabit.

batmanep2While shorter than the premier episode, “Children of Arkham” trims the fat and keeps the story driving forward at a a breakneck pace. There is less emphasis on combat and detective work, which serves to keep Bruce, Harvey Dent, Selina Kyle, Oswald Cobblepot and the rest of the major players in the spotlight in every scene.

Though these characters and their stories are intimately familiar to Batman fans, they continue to be presented here in ways that challenge the status quo. While that may rub some fans the wrong way, I welcome the fresh approach as Telltale Games remains committed to making these characters their own.

The conclusion of this episode hints at even bigger things to come as the series hits its stride, making the wait for “Episode 3” even more difficult. Score: 9.0/10.