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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.

Continue reading…

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nhe review

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.

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Review: ‘No Man’s Sky’

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no man's sky

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

Unboxing the March Loot Crate

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Today we’re taking a look at our first-ever Loot Crate!

For the unfamiliar, Loot Crate is a monthly subscription service that delivers a box full of exclusive themed goodies to your door. T-shirts, action figures, comics and collectibles are just a few of the things that have been known to pop up in previous Loot Crates.

A look at the contents of the March 2016 Loot Crate.

Our box, the March 2016 “Versus” edition, contained a 4.5-inch vinyl Alien vs. Predator figure, a sweet reversible Daredevil/Punisher beanie, a Batman vs. Superman wallet, a Spock vs. Spock T-shirt and a cool Harley Quinn comic. We also got an exclusive Alien vs. Predator Loot Pin.

As my first experience with Loot Crate, I have to say I’m impressed. Everything included in the box was high-quality and I especially liked the Daredevil/Punisher beanie, though I’m pretty sure I’ll be sharing that with my kids. Speaking of which, be sure to check out the video above to see Nick and Logan unboxing the Loot Crate and giving their take on its contents.

For more information on Loot Crate, visit their website at www.lootcrate.com.

Bethesda releases ‘Fallout 4’ DLC details

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Bethesda Game Studios delivered a gift to “Fallout 4” fans today with the FINAL_AUTOMATRONfirst look at the initial downloadable content planned for the epic role-playing game.

The first piece of DLC, “Automatron,” is set for release in March for $9.99. Here’s a description, courtesy of Bethesda:

The mysterious Mechanist has unleashed a horde of evil robots into the Commonwealth, including the devious Robobrain. Hunt them down and harvest their parts to build and mod your own custom robot companions. Choose from hundreds of mods; mixing limbs, armor, abilities, and weapons like the all-new lightning chain gun. Even customize their paint schemes and choose their voices!

 

 

FINAL_WASTELANDIn April, the “Wasteland Workshop” arrives for $4.99.

With the Wasteland Workshop, design and set cages to capture live creatures – from raiders to Deathclaws! Tame them or have them face off in battle, even against your fellow settlers. The Wasteland Workshop also includes a suite of new design options for your settlements like nixie tube lighting, letter kits, taxidermy and more!

 

 

 

The final piece of DLC announced also happens to be the largest. “Far Harbor” is scheduled to be released in May and will retail for $24.99.FINAL_FARHARBOR

A new case from Valentine’s Detective Agency leads you on a search for a young woman and a secret colony of synths. Travel off the coast of Maine to the mysterious island of Far Harbor, where higher levels of radiation have created a more feral world. Navigate through the growing conflict between the synths, the Children of Atom, and the local townspeople. Will you work towards bringing peace to Far Harbor, and at what cost? Far Harbor features the largest landmass for an add-on that we’ve ever created, filled with new faction quests, settlements, lethal creatures and dungeons. Become more powerful with new, higher-level armor and weapons. The choices are all yours.

In addition to announcing the first wave of DLC, Bethesda also announced a price increase for the “Fallout 4” season pass. Beginning March 1, the season pass will cost $49.99 — $20 more than the current pricepoint.  Those who have already purchased the season pass will still receive all of the announced DLC, as well as any future content, at no additional cost.

Fans looking to get an early look at the DLC can head over to Bethesda.net and sign up to join the beta testing program. Those accepted into the beta program will receive a code to download the new content and will not need to purchase the add-on.

To read the full release, which includes information about planned updates and mods, click here.

‘The Walking Dead: Michonne’ extended preview

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Telltale Games has released an extended preview of the first episode of its upcoming miniseries, “The Walking Dead: Michonne.”

The video above showcases the first six minutes of “In Too Deep,” the first of three episodes which is set to be released Feb. 23 on most home consoles and PC. The series will retail for $15.

‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ Super Bowl trailer

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This is shaping up to be quite a year for super hero movies — and those who love them (like myself). The latest trailer from Super Bowl Sunday is for Bryan Singer’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” which arrives in theaters May 27.

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Another excellent new trailer has arrived on Super Bowl Sunday, this one for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows.” The movie is set to be released June 3.

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Check out the new trailer for Marvel’s upcoming blockbuster, which debuted tonight during the Super Bowl. “Captain America: Civil War” arrives in theaters May 6.

Time to hit the reset button

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Who says you can’t go home again?

After nearly five years, the Plugged In blog has returned. And I have to say, it feels great to be back. Technically, though, it never really went away as I’ve continued to review video games on the Gazette-Mail website.

But after several years of posting my content there, I felt the time was right to resurrect the blog.
I missed the freedom and flexibility the blog offered, especially with regard to video. So expect to see more game clips, trailers and other surprises moving forward.

The blog format also allows me to post more than reviews, which was something I couldn’t really do through the main website. Now I have somewhere to post all the news items, thought-provoking commentary and random cool stuff that pops up all the time.

I’m also expanding my coverage beyond simply video games. Consider the Plugged In blog as your one-stop shop for all things geek — if I think it’s cool, I’m going to talk about it here. And I hope you’ll talk about it, too.

There will be more to come later this week, but for now I have to finish knocking down the cobwebs and sweeping away the dust. After all, it’s been a long time since I’ve been here.

But it’s good to be home.