We, as a nation, have apparently decided that we want most of our video games to come out at the same time every year. We, as a nation, should probably rethink that, because the time it takes to finish an average video game is something crazy like 40 hours. Even with the time off that comes around the holidays, taking on a few extra full-time-job’s worth of games is kind of bananas. Did we mention that this fall’s release calendar is what a “light” year looks like?
Fortunately, our own Natalie Abrams, Jonathon Dornbush, Darren Franich, Aaron Morales, and Joshua Rivera have opinions on how to best allocate those extracurricular hours. Game accordingly.
Disclaimer: This list isn’t comprehensive. It very obviously omits sports games (because we know jack shit about them) and indie games (because they’re made by commitmentphobes who don’t set release dates very far in advance). We’re very much looking forward to some of these games (hello, Ori and the Blind Forest), but this list is geared towards games with set release dates.
Combining beloved Disney franchises with some of Marvel’s most recognizable faces, Disney Infinity 2 adds heroes like Iron Man, Rocket Raccoon, and Spider-Man to the menagerie of actual figurines you can zap into its game worlds. (No, really—the game comes with action figures that determine which characters players control.) Beyond that, it allows players to create whatever they would like in the game’s imagination-driven Toy Box, from tower defense games, to a Disney-themed house, to a raceway that’s part Guardians of the Galaxy and part Toy Story.
PRO: I’ve already said plenty about why Infinity is so special. Yes, the single player campaign’s mission design is a bit generic, but the marquee feature, the Toy Box, is a delight. By allowing players to create game levels, cities, raceways, houses—almost anything they want—and express themselves by employing memorable Disney and Marvel franchises, the game sucks users in for hours at a time. Infinity encourages imagination, and the sheer number of possibilities should send any child—and more than a few Disney-obsessed adults—into a creative frenzy. —JD
CON: This adult enjoyed playing with the toys that come with game more than the repetitive, simplistic campaign itself. Seriously, the toys are awesome. —AM
In the tradition of many quality cable dramas, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter takes place in an idyllic town in the middle of nowhere that’s full of terrible occurrences. As a detective with supernatural abilities, you’ll communicate with the dead in order to uncover whatever disturbing, hidden secrets lie in Red Creek Valley.
WHY IT’S INTERESTING: Some of the best games don’t give you much to go on. Myst is the classic example here, a game that dropped you on an island with no explanation and left you to stumble across an intriguing mystery. There’s a bit more context to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, but development studio The Astronauts seem committed to mostly staying out of the way, letting players rely on their own observations to discover the game’s secrets. “Show, don’t tell,” is just as important in video games as it is in other media—and one of the greatest tricks in video game horror is giving you the freedom to creep yourself out. —JR
You know how the first trailer for The Hobbit got you all excited? Because The Lord of the Rings films were great, so surely Hobbit would be, too? And then the movie was divided into like, 18 parts, each a year apart and all of them middling. That’s kind of what it’s been like for LOTR video games, except the bit about there being 18 parts isn’t all that hyperbolic. The pitch for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is simple: what if a LOTR game wasn’t just good, but great?
PRO: There have been some good The Lord of the Rings games, but fans have been waiting for a great one, and Shadow of Mordor looks to be it. Combining the best of two major franchises—Assassin’s Creed and the Batman: Arkham games—Mordor adds in the promising Nemesis System. With it, your enemies are no longer simple sword fodder—they actually matter to main character Talion. Players can alter the balance of power by taking out ruling Uruks or bending them to his will, and the game’s randomized Uruk creator means you’ll never see the same Uruk twice. With the third-person action space dominated by sequels this year and next, it’s nice to see a new franchise try to stake its own claim in the genre. —JD
CON: The last boss battle is an anticlimactic string of quick-time events. Everything else? Pretty awesome. —AM