The 2015 gaming year has finally started to get moving, thanks to two major releases that were originally meant for last year but were pushed back due to delays. One is Evolve, the multiplayer-focused shooter in which one guy plays as a humongous beast that the others take on as puny humans. There’s also The Order: 1886, a steampunk shooter about a secret society of extraordinary gentlemen who protect the unsuspecting populace in covert missions. On the download tip, new DLC for Far Cry 4 and the PS4 bullet hell opus Super Stardust Ultra are out to compete with the big boys for your attention and cash.
(Xbox One, PS4, $60, Mature)
Asymetric multiplayer is the buzz term in this innovative multiplayer shooter, which has a squadron of four brave and stupid operatives take on a towering monster controlled by another player. The David vs. Goliath feel echoes last year’s Titanfall, but there’s an entirely different feel here. Your strategy varies greatly depending on what role you take on. It’s no surprise that it’s the most fun to play as the beast (a rotation among ungodly creations dubbed Wraith, Kraken and, appropriately, Goliath), who is assaulted from all sides as he gobbles up monsters to morph into increasingly larger, uglier and deadlier menaces. It’s thrilling to stalk and destroy your helpless, futile prey. Thrilling animations and lavish maps filled with hazards and hiding spots make for relentless tension.
On the other side, there’s also a tremendous thrill to working with others in order to conquer an all-but-invincible beast. The problem with the game is the same problem with humanity. Random pairings heaped upon you by matchmaking tend to group you with uncommunicative idiots, making it too easy for whoever is lucky enough to play as the monster to pick your team apart. The best way to play the game is to band together with four friends, making it impossible for a moron to come in and screw things up. Evolve, which goes all in on an excellent concept that tends to fall apart in gameplay, is better in theory than in practice. Despite the frustrations brought on by other players, there’s still enough here to make the game one of the best multiplayer offerings on current-gen systems.
Far Cry 4 Overrun DLC
(Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, $5, Mature)
Available for $5 alone or as part of the $30 season pass, the multiplayer-only DLC doles out a badly needed expansion to one of the game’s weaker facets. which was low on modes and creativity. A new PvP mode called Overrun pits two factions against each other, bent on taking over zones with manpower to rack up points until the opposition drives them out. A welcome, more strategic, tweak to the standard team deathmatch, the mode will probably become the go-to game for those looking for more to do after finishing the campaign.
Four new maps, all optimized for Overrun, further sweeten the deal, and there’s also a new vehicle — a dune buggy — for players to fight over. Once in control of that bad boy, you can run over enemies or strafe them in speedy drive-bys. Definitely worth the $5 for those who are bored with the standard multiplayer options but hooked on the feel and stalk-and-kill aesthetics of the main game, Overrun makes the season pass further sweetens the deal for season pass owners.
The Order: 1886
(PS4, $60, Mature)
Set in an alternate, steampunkified version of Victorian-era London, The Order; 1886 taps into the time-machine appeal of games such as Assassin’s Creed and Dishonored. Your squad is made up of well-coiffed, dapper gentlemen who aren’t afraid to bust heads, strangle bad guys or bust caps in their werewolf enemies. Prim, proper dialogue that would fit in well with a Sherlock Holmes novel or Merchant Ivory movie mixes surprisingly well with absurd outbursts of violence and white-knuckle chase sequences that are as hardcore as those of modern action flicks. Like the Uncharted games and Tomb Raider reboot, gameplay is a mixture between stop-and-pop shooting and quick-time-event aided close-quarters combat.
The story, which plays out like a well-written miniseries, maintains its momentum with rich characters and well-tuned dialogue. That doesn’t help a the odd design choice of sometimes unskippable cutscenes you have to sit through if you keep on screwing up particularly difficult missions. The shooting, which requires tedious reloading befitting the technology of the era, sometimes makes you long for the rapidfire instant gratification of modern games, but has a certain charm and gameplay wrinkle that makes you rethink the way you attack a floor full of enemies. While sometimes as tedious as it is engrossing, The Order: 1886 is overall a gem that leaves you wanting more and makes you hope it’s the start of a fascinating new franchise.
Super Stardust Ultra
(PS4, $13, Everyone)
The long-awaited and welcome follow-up to Super Stardust space shooters on PS3 and PSP finally gives genre players who are tired of Resogun another challenge to relish. In the style of Geometry Wars, you flu around a 2D plane around a rotating, 3D-world, blasting your way through a constant barrage of enemies. You pick up power-ups and stat boosts along the way, trying to survive wave after wave of assaults as you rack up scores that will help you climb the leaderboards.
The mechanics of the series that date back several years remain intact, with tight, responsive controls and engaging, predictable-but-deadly enemies. The visuals won’t dazzle you, but that’s not the point here. It’s easy to lose yourself in the moment, slipping into the zone as you let your rapid twitch reflexes take over, flying around and shooting your way to survival. PS4 owners have an addictive new timekiller on their hands.