Under the Radar

5 Games to Play Before Summer

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By Travis McKnight

The first fiscal quarter of 2015 is drawing to a close, and that means video game publishers are ramping up their release schedule. It’s no secret that video games are expensive and time consuming, and the first quarter of the year is typically a bust. Most publishers save their best games for late Q2 and early Q3. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything worth playing this spring. Although everybody’s preferences are different, these five games are what I recommend diving into before summer releases swing into full force.

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Batman Arkham Knight (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are by far my favorite superhero video games. The stories are immersive and well-written, the combat is crisp and fleshed out, and the characters are exciting to interact with. Arkham Knight is shaping up to exceed expectations and surpass the previous two Rocksteady Batman titles.

The game takes place one year after the ending of 2011’s Arkham City, and Batman is at his physical peak. But the conclusion of Arkham City has left the caped-crusader yearning for existential answers, and although crime is at record lows in Gotham Batman feels as though he’s missing part of himself. His troubles only magnify when Scarecrow reappears, uses fear-gas bombs to evacuate all 6 million Gotham residents and unites all of Batman’s greatest foes to finally kill the Dark Knight.

The massive open-world of Gotham and Arkham is one of the reasons the Arkham series (sans Arkham Origins) is excellent. The new world is roughly five times the size of Arkham City’s open air prison, and developers say they’re focusing on making the environment more immersive, gritty and believable. Shops will line the streets, billboards plagued with graffiti cover rooftops and any straggling citizens are in for a brutal time. All of these factors promise to improve upon the experience of stalking and dispatching thugs and creeps who lurk on city streets. Plus, the infamous Batmobile is finally drivable, coming with an array of gadgets and abilities. It can fire missiles, perform jumps, speed boosts and be summoned to Batman’s location or meet him in a specific area. The gliding system is enhanced, and more of the environment can be integrated into combat to eradicate criminals.

The game is exclusive to new-generation consoles and PC, and earns a surprising mature rating. The improved hardware means an impressive increase in character engagement and environmental scenarios. Up to 50 enemies can be involved in a single battle, and they’ll be brutal. Enemies will use everything in their surroundings to defeat the Dark Knight, smashing anything within arm’s reach on our hero.

The developers said this will be the final Arkham game, and they want to deliver a true end with no compromises. That vision takes us to some dark places. If you’re a fan of the other installments, or like fantastic open-world systems with excellent combat and engaging characters, then Arkham Knight is a must-play.

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Bloodborne: (PlayStation 4)

Some games get undeserved hype (I’m looking at you, Order: 1886) and then there are titles like Bloodborne. Riding on the coattails of From Software’s devilish Souls series, which offer superior gameplay and devastating difficulty for modern action games, Bloodborne has a lot of hype to live up to, but I’m positive it will succeed. Bloodborne is one of the only reasons I even purchased a PS4. If you enjoy action games that offer gorgeous artwork, punishing but fair gameplay, and an immersive world then don’t pass this up.

Bloodborne has appeal on many fronts. It is aptly described as Dark Souls with shotguns. Its artwork and atmosphere are designed in a gritty, gruesome Victorian gothic tone that inspires dread around every turn. The producer, Hidetaka Miyazaki, wanted to create a game separate from the Souls universe, but capitalize on the combat style, storytelling methods and atmosphere the franchise championed.

From Software keeps a tight lid on a lot of the inner workings of their games, particularly the plot, but what’s known so far is the story takes place in the ravaged city of Yharnam, and draws inspiration from the novel, Dracula. Monsters and demons plague the city and feast upon any living creature. You take the role of a monster hunter, wielding a shotgun-esque hand cannon, and a melee weapon. Souls fans will likely find the combat to be equally unforgiving. Perhaps even more brutal, because Bloodborne does away with armor and shields. But one thing is certain; the game is going to offer an unforgettable adventure.

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Mario Party 10 (WiiU)

Most of Nintendo’s heavy hitting titles, such as The Legend of Zelda and Starfox, are coming this fall. That leaves its WiiU spring lineup a bit short. For what’s available before June, Mario Party 10 is the easy choice to play if you’re looking for a multiplayer fiasco.

The game adds many familiar elements from previous Mario Party titles, and has a new mode called Bowser Party where one person controls Bowser on the touch screen game pad and tries to defeat the other gamers in new, exclusive mini games. There isn’t too much to say about the Mario Party games. It’s a series of mini games designed for multiple people to play against each other or on teams.

The newest inclusion in the Mario Party universe is the amiibo figurines. Each playable figurine will be added to a party of three other amiibos and unlock unique aspects and play modes.

If you’ve played Mario Party before and you enjoy it, you’ll understand what you’re looking at. If you haven’t, then the game series is definitely worth your time.

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The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 3DS)

Although mobile gaming has expanded thanks to smartphones and tablets, the stop-and-go nature of life makes finding the time to complete a handheld game challenging. Most of my mobile gaming happens after starting a campfire during rock climbing trips, and lately my desired companion has been the 3DS remastered version of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.

The Zelda franchise is known for its excellence, and Majora’s Mask is the series’ quirkiest title, plus one of the most beloved. Originally released for the Nintendo 64 in 2000, the adventure follows Link while he explores a tense, bizarre expression of what it’s like to experience the end of the world, over and over.

Majora’s Mask is essentially Groundhog Day in Zelda form. Link only has 72 hours to tie up any loose ends he needs to complete before using the Song of Time to travel back to the beginning on his adventure. Once the 72 hours is up, a cataclysmic event occurs that destroys the world. The characters themselves are reset, interactions must be replayed, but you keep items and in-game knowledge from your previous play through. The goal is to get a little bit further every time cycle, but that isn’t always easy. An hour of in-game time passes by in about 45 seconds. You have to manage your time extremely well, which adds meticulous aspects to knowing the game and not getting lost. Not much beats the feeling of defeating a dungeon boss with only minutes left on the clock.

The 3DS platform improves the visual and auditory aesthetics, and manages the game’s quirky mask system well. Swapping among the 24 possible masks and obtaining their powers feels fluid and natural. It’s a slight improvement on the original N64 game. A few quality of life improvements are also available. You can now set in-game reminders about certain tasks, and have precise control when you try to skip over time. The game also has an in-game Bomber’s Notebook that serves as a diary to jot down information during your journey.

The remastered version of Majora’s Mask breathes new life into one of my favorite Zelda games. If you’re looking to hop down memory lane, or want to play one of the best action-adventure games made in the last 15 years then don’t pass this opportunity up.

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

PC gamers who enjoy action-RPGs are often in love with three series: Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect and The Witcher. Now console gamers will have a chance to explore this expansive universe for the first time. The Witcher franchise debuted in 2007, based off fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, and follows the legendary White Wolf, Geralt of Rivia. In the previous two games Geralt, a professional monster slayer, has been on quite the adventure. He returned from the dead, lost his memory, and helplessly witnessed his loved disappear. Afterward, he watched while a kingdom fell, shook being framed for regicide, and hunted a rogue member of the Witcher order.

Developer CD Projekt RED is concluding Geralt’s story in this trilogy finale.

The previews and interviews CD Projeckt RED have given point toward Wild Hunt taking plenty of inspiration from Sapkowski’s novels, which feature a greater emphasis on hunting troublesome monsters that plague the land. This change of pace opens up an improved form of the series’ free-flowing combat system, which looks like a mixture of Batman Arkham Asylum and Dark Souls, and it creates new tracking mechanics to accompany the improved focus on hunting.

These additions build on the compelling, non-linear story system that serves as one of the Witcher series’ best aspects. Decisions you make in these games matter. They shape how characters interact with you, what quest and dialogue options you get, and how the story unfolds. The first game let Geralt play his cards close to the chest, allowing for a degree of neutrality. The second adventure forced the protagonist into a much more black and white sequence, which thrust Geralt into politics he otherwise would have avoided. The Witcher 3 returns to the 2007 rendition of letting players be neutral, and shape their world as they see fit.

If you’re looking for a game that offers blistering combat, incredible story-telling potential and a vast world to explore, you’re not going to do much better than diving into the fur-lined boots of Geralt.

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