If a video game player you love appears to have gone missing recently, it’s not hard to figure out what happened.
They’re probably playing “Grand Theft Auto V” ($60-$150 in various editions for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Rated M for Mature), the latest opus from Rockstar Games. The gigantic crime simulation of the city of Los Angeles (“Los Santos” in the game) earned a record-shattering $800 million in its first day of release. Weeks later, it continues to dominate video game chatter as gamers explore its more than 100 hours of gameplay.
Like all “GTA” games, this one courts controversy with its over-the-top violence and what some critics complain is an ingrained misogyny. It’s also being hailed as a masterpiece of ambitious game design and one of the top games of the year.
If going on a crime spree and having the freedom to punch strangers in the mouth on the street isn’t your thing, I’ve got good news. We’ve entered the pre-holiday season, when many of the year’s best games are released. Even looking past the high-profile, big-budget games like “GTA V,” you’ll find there are lots of low-profile gems out there also worth checking out.
Local flavor: It’s been a good couple of months for Austin-developed games. “Shadow Warrior” ($40-$50, downloadable for Windows PCs, Rated M), a reboot of the 3D Realms shooter, had a good showing at the recent Fantastic Arcade festival and is available for download.
Austin’s Chaotic Moon Studios, best known as app-design aces, helped fund a new game studio, Team Chaos, and a new game, “Dragon Academy” (free-to-play for iOS, Android and on Facebook, 4 and up). Developed with talent including the former general manager of Zynga Austin, it features a beautiful cartoon style, and its creators hope it’ll catch fire like the recent hit “Candy Crush Saga.”
If you didn’t get a chance to play the critically hailed game “Dishonored” from Austin’s Arkane Studios when it was released last year, a new “Dishonored: Game of the Year Edition” ($40, for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, Rated M) is out next week and includes the four downloadable content packs that followed its original release.
Bite-size fun: I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment this year from games that don’t require a huge time commitment (looking at you again, “GTA V”) and that can be recommended even to gamers on a tight budget.
“Plants vs. Zombies 2” (free-to-play for iOS devices, 9 and up) is a great sequel to a near-perfect game. I was turned off initially by what looked like a money grab; you can buy plants and coins to advance in the game. Turns out you can get an awful lot of fun out of “PvZ2” without spending a dime. The biggest complaint I have now is that it’s not available for more devices including Android tablets and PCs.
Few retro reboots have gotten as much attention this year as “DuckTales: Remastered” ($15-$20 for Windows PC, Xbox 360, PS3 and Nintendo Wii U, Rated E for Everyone), an HD remake of a well-regarded 1989 Nintendo Entertainment System game. Reviews were mixed for this version, but if you’re feeling nostalgic, it might be worth a look.
My favorite game last year was the emotional, episodic masterpiece “The Walking Dead” from Telltale Games. The studio is working on a new season, but a placeholder teaser, “The Walking Dead: 400 Days” ($5, downloadable for PC, PS3, Xbox 360, iOS and PS Vita, Rated M) was released over the summer. It’s short but effective and may have dropped clues as to what to expect in the second season of the “Walking Dead” game.
Unusual and wonderful: For a change of pace and sheer audacity, there’s “Wonderful 101” ($60 for Wii U, Rated T for Teen), one of the Wii U’s more intriguing action games featuring citizen superheroes, a giant blazing fist and… well, just trust me on this one, a short summary doesn’t do its crazy game design justice.
“Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” ($15, downloadable for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, Rated T) is a fantasy requiring players to control two separate characters at the same time with one controller. Good luck with that!
And then there’s “Gone Home” ($20, downloadable for PC, Mac and Linux, unrated), a new critics’ darling about a college student who returns from a year abroad to an empty home. You must help Kaitlin Greenbriar uncover the secret of what happened to her family. Oh, and the game takes place in 1995.
“Rayman Legends” ($40-$60 for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC and PS Vita, Rated E-10+ for 10 and up) is a glorious game that shines on all platforms but is best played on the Wii U, where it has easily become one of the console’s best games. It’s colorful, perfectly designed and incredibly fun.
Coming soon: A few games to keep an eye on over the next few months include “LocoCycle” from Austin’s Microsoft-owned Twisted Pixel Studios, which will be a Nov. 22 launch title for the Xbox One. “TowerFall,” already a hit on the OUYA game console and a featured game at Fantastic Arcade, should arrive early next year for PC.
Speaking of Fantastic Arcade, the festival’s biggest draw was “Samurai Gunn,” a frantic four-player, 8-bit fighting game. It should be out on PC by the holidays with PS4 and PS Vita versions expected in 2014.
And if just thinking about the holidays is already making you absorb calories, there’s “Wii Fit U,” which will be released on Nov. 1 as a free download. If you still have your old Nintendo Wii Balance Board, it’s time to dust that thing off and get ready to weigh in.
Find technology news, reviews and more at Omar L. Gallaga’s blog, Digital Savant, at austin360.com/digitalsavant.