Plugged In

It’s hard to believe that we’ve already reached the midway point of 2018. The first half of the year has been filled with a number of high-profile releases, with the likes of “God of War” and “Detroit: Become Human” arriving on PlayStation 4, “State of Decay 2” landing on Xbox One and “Far Cry 5” dropping on multiple platforms.

As is usually the case, the frequency of Triple-A releases slows during the summer months, setting the stage for the end-of-year holiday rush, which this year features what could be the best collection of games we’ve seen in some time, with highly anticipated titles like “Red Dead Redemption 2,” Call of Duty: Black Ops 4″ and “Fallout 76” set to arrive before the calendar turns to 2019.

With a lull in the action, this seems like a good time to take a look back at some of the games I’ve been enjoying so far in 2018:

“God of War” (9.7/10)

Kratos returns with a new setting and with a new title — Dad — in this masterpiece from Sony’s Santa Monica Studio.

This first console entry in the series since 2013’s “God of War: Ascension” hit PlayStation 3, “God of War” introduces players to an older, battle-worn Kratos who has settled down with a wife and son in a world inspired by Norse mythology. When his violent past catches up to him, Kratos begins an epic journey with his young son, Atreus, by his side.

Exploring that father-son relationship is what drives the narrative in “God of War” and is the primary reason I found the game so unforgettable. As a father of two sons, and having lost my own dad late last year, some of the exchanges between Kratos and Atreus really hit home for me, some in rather uncomfortable ways. An early moment in which Kratos teaches Atreus to hunt stirred some especially powerful memories of my father.

“God of War” spends much more time developing and cultivating its story than previous entries in the series, but that doesn’t mean it is short on action. In fact, for all the changes made to the gameplay, it is the combat which retains most of the series’ core DNA. Kratos no longer has his iconic Blades of Chaos, but in their place is the Leviathan Axe, which Kratos can hurl at enemies and use to solve puzzles in addition to slicing through hordes of bad guys. Another staple of the “God of War” franchise, intense battles against giant bosses, also returns.

Visually “God of War” continues Sony’s recent trend of delivering games that push the limits of the console graphically. Everything from the facial animations to the detailed environments speaks to how much work went into crafting the experience. And the use of a single, uninterrupted camera shot to tell the story is a bold choice that most definitely pays off by keeping the player invested at all times.

Gamers have been waiting a long time for Kratos to return, and “God of War” was certainly worth the wait. This is a serious contender for Game of the Year.

“State of Decay 2” (7.3/10)

Undead Labs’ original survival game set during a zombie apocalypse, released in 2013 on Xbox 360, garnered quite a cult following, despite its fair share of bugs and nagging issues. For the sequel, Undead Labs has delivered one of the most sought-after features — four-player co-op — and the results were as enjoyable as I expected.

Joining up with friends to run around and lay waste to untold numbers of zombies was a blast, but a lack of variety in the overall structure left me wanting more. Whether playing solo or in a group, the fundamental tasks of scavenging for resources and upgrading your base became repetitive sooner than later. The same held true for the original “State of Decay,” so anyone expecting drastic changes to that formula will be disappointed. Besides co-op, the biggest addition to the series is a new enemy type, Plague zombies. These red-eyed monsters are more ferocious than the game’s typical undead creatures and can infect you with an (easily cured) disease if they hit you.

What apparently isn’t so easily cured is the plethora of bugs and glitches that continue to pop up, especially when playing with others. I encountered frame rate drops, lag, disappearing objectives and other general wonkiness on a regular basis. Some issues required me to restart the game, which is never a good thing. Many of those bugs occurred when playing solo, as well, but with less frequency.

Issues aside, “State of Decay 2” is a worthwhile game for fans of the original and those seeking a fun co-op experience.

“Far Cry 5” (8.6/10)

Ubisoft’s flagship open-world action series visits the United States for the first time in “Far Cry 5,” which takes place in fictional Hope County, Montana. Assuming the role of an unnamed sheriff’s deputy, you are tasked with ridding the county of a cult that has been terrorizing the local residents.

As someone raised on a steady diet of ’80s action films like “Lone Wolf McQuade” and “First Blood,” I was instantly drawn into the premise and setting. No good story is complete without a worthwhile villain, and “Far Cry 5” features a memorable one in Father Joseph Seed, leader of the cult and head of the Seed family. You’re introduced to Seed in dramatic fashion and he remains a thorn in your side, taunting you as you work to eliminate his lieutenants — the other Seed siblings, each of whom controls a section of Hope County — in order to draw him out for a final confrontation.

“Far Cry 5” changes up several of the series’ familiar gameplay systems, such as introducing a fog of war and eliminating the need to climb watchtowers in order to reveal the map. Planes and helicopters play a more important role, too, as the expansive map allows for true aerial exploration for the first time in the series. I generally preferred to keep my boots on the ground, however — largely because there’s so much to do and discover that I didn’t want to miss anything by flying over it — but taking to the skies made it much easier to cover long distances in a hurry.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the over-the-top gunplay and combat the series is synonymous with. Wild shootouts, spectacular set-piece moments and incredible dynamic encounters — often with the native wildlife — consistently produce highlight-worthy moments. The craziness only increases when you add a friend to the mix, which you can easily do since the entire story is playable in co-op mode. Even without a friend at your side, you’re rarely fighting alone with the new Gun for Hire feature that lets you select an NPC to tag along on your adventure.

Whether you’re clearing out cultist outposts, completing one of the wonderfully written side missions or simply fishing in the local river, “Far Cry 5” offers a seemingly limitless list of things to do; the only hard part is deciding what to do next. Recent titles have raised the bar for open-world action games, but “Far Cry 5” unquestionably deserves mention as one of the genre’s best.

“Detroit: Become Human” (8.1/10)

I’ve been a fan of developer David Cage and his Quantic Dream studio since first playing “Indigo Prophecy” on Xbox way back in 2005. “Heavy Rain,” the studio’s second release, in 2010, only cemented Cage’s place as one of the industry’s most unique storytellers and remains one of my most memorable gaming experiences.

Quantic Dream’s latest effort, “Detroit: Become Human,” didn’t quite leave the same impression but it’s a solid effort nonetheless. Exploring mankind’s fascination with technology, “Detroit: Become Human” is set in a future where androids exist to serve both the the needs — and whims — of their human counterparts. Similar ideas are being explored in HBO’s “Westworld” — another favorite of mine — and I loved being able to shape my experience through the decisions I made.

“Detroit: Become Human” focuses on three different characters, each with their own branching storylines that change based on player choice. My favorite was Kara, a housekeeper tasked with caring for a young girl and protecting her from an abusive father. All of the central characters are impeccably well-acted, but Kara, portrayed by Valorie Curry — whom I adored in Fox’s “The Following” — steals the show with a quiet yet powerful performance.

The overarching story is littered with all the twists and turns that Quantic’s games are known for, and the ability to influence the narrative based on your decisions encourages multiple playthroughs. The moment-to-moment gameplay mechanics haven’t changed much since the days of “Heavy Rain,” with action sequences dominated by timed button presses, motion controls and flicks of the analog sticks. But gameplay has always taken a backseat to story in Quantic Dream’s productions, and that remains the case here.

With excellent characters, a thought-provoking story and multiple endings, gamers looking for something a little different would do well to check out “Detroit: Become Human.”