As usual, the games industry makes its last stand before Black Friday throughout the entire month of November 2015, and this week may be the most frightful assault on our wallets of the year. Only a few games hit this week, but a couple of them are big ones—including, arguably, the biggest, both in terms of game content and player anticipation.
Casting a long shadow
Bethesda | PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC | RPG
Quietly in development basically since work wrapped on 2007's Fallout 3, this massive Bethesda RPG has all the things you'd expect from a Bethesda RPG: A massive scale, an open-ended story, tremendous player agency, and oh-so-much technical jank. As Kat discovered, though, the good more than outweighs the bad... and in the grand scheme of Bethesda open-world jank, Fallout 4 isn't really all that egregious. Fallout 4 also deserves kudos by basically beating every other project to the punch for what has somehow become the hot video game theme of the coming year: The question of artificial intelligence and the right-to-life for artificial life. 2016 is basically going to be the year video games became Blade Runner, and Fallout 4 does a bang-up job of being the topic's forward scouting party, as it were.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix | Xbox One, Xbox 360 | Action/Adventure
There's something a little weird about Rise of the Tomb Raider being a Microsoft exclusive until next fall. Maybe that's because Tomb Raider was tied to Sony during its prime... or maybe it's because the Microsoft connection means it's probably going to be the last major Xbox 360 "exclusive." In any case, the game is absolutely fantastic, though its greatness only really shines through if you avoid taking the critical-path approach and instead allow yourself to really soak in the open world spaces Crystal Dynamics has constructed. Rise of the Tomb Raider tells its story through generic AAA action scenes that do little to distinguish themselves from a dozen other similar games, but its slower-paced and unstructured areas work hand-in-hand with Metal Gear Solid V to demonstrate that, yes, there's still hope for massive sandbox action games to be something other than homogeneous map-marker chases. Expect our finished review by the end of the week, but I can say with confidence it'll be earning very high marks unless it somehow goes horribly off the rails in the final stretch (which, you know, does happen sometimes).
Living in the shadows
Rodea the Sky Soldier
Prope/NIS America | Wii U, 3DS | Action
Yuji Naka's long-suffering aerial action game has struggled for years to come to market—it was originally meant to be a Wii game, and in fact the Wii U retail release includes the unreleased Wii version as a bonus—and has the poor luck to arrive the same day as two absolute juggernauts. Then again, it's not like Nintendo's platforms are receiving any of the blockbuster attention of Fallout and Tomb Raider, so maybe this will garner lavish affection from Nintendo fans who want to get in on the money-spending action that owners of other platforms will be enjoying this week. As for what, precisely, Rodea is? Nothing less than the next iteration of the game design concept Naka's been kicking around for 25 years. Sonic the Hedgehog begat NiGHTS into Dream, and Rodea feels like an even bigger, grander, and more technically demanding take on NiGHTS. This one has "future cult classic" written all over it.
Nurijoy/PM Studios | Vita | Rhythm
Wow, a retail release for Vita? Knock me over with a feather. Superbeat feels awfully brave: It's an abstract music game without any plastic instruments to fiddle with, without anime waifs and waifus bopping about on-screen, without mainstream pop music licensed into its soundtrack. It's an old-school music game in the style of MTV Music Generator or Ubeat/Jukebeat. Honestly, this game has everything going against it, but early word is that it's a load of fun: A good, clean, classic rhythm game. Definitely worth a look, especially if you're more into clean angular graphic design than the grim, shooty manslaughter that characterizes most of this week's releases.
Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival
l Nintendo | Wii U | Board
Nintendo's been pretty good about getting review material into the hands of the press well in advance of a game's release... but here were are, four days from the premiere of Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival, and reviewers have bupkiss. That could mean Nintendo has very little confidence in this Animal Crossing-themed variant on Mario Party. But it could also mean that the core game site audience isn't really the group Nintendo's aiming for with this one. It'll presumably sell pretty well thanks to the fact that it ships with a bunch of new Amiibo bundled into the box, but will it be any fun? Who knows! But I am looking forward to making lots of Isabelle-themed Super Mario Maker stages.
Football Manager 2016
Sega/Sports Interactive | PC | Simulation
I think all of the big sports games for the year have shipped at this point, leaving Sega to bring up the caboose with a very different take on sports. Football Manager could charitably be called "incredibly ugly," but that's not really the point; its rudimentary graphics are ultimately an update of the long-running sports management simulation, which dates back at least 30 years, when games like this consisted basically of nothing but text. The idea is to manage a team through a season, not to play digital soccer. (Oh, right: It's called "Football Manager" even here in the States, but it's definitely the European version of football.) Give up your dream of being an armchair quarterback and be the armchair dude who stands on the sidelines in a suit instead. [Image Source]
Meanwhile, in Japan
Project X Zone 2
Monolith/Bandai Namco | 3DS | Strategy/RPG
And finally, this week's big Japanese release comes courtesy of Monolith Software and Bandai Namco: The second entry in the Project X Zone series, which smashes together pretty much every Bandai Namco, Sega, and Capcom property you can imagine. Obviously the licensed properties (e.g. the entire stable of Bandai Namco's Bandai side) are out, as is, bizarrely, Sonic the Hedgehog. But otherwise, this is a giant heaping portion of fanservice, featuring a ridiculous array of characters both beloved and obscure. Where else can you take a live-action character from Japanese Sega TV commercials into battle to fight against Resident Evil's Nemesis? The original Project X Zone was hopelessly shallow in terms of gameplay, but the sequel seems a bit more robust... and in any case, this isn't the kind of game you really play for the depth. It's really an excuse to see all kinds of ridiculous character crossovers play out for comedic effect—something the English-literate will be able to do when the localized version lands in February.