CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As my yearly self-imposed summer vacation draws to a close, it is time once again to look back at some of the games I’ve been playing recently. It’s an eclectic mix, to be sure, but I was somewhat disappointed that there were no true blockbusters released this summer.
It’s not a new trend — most publishers hold back their biggest titles for the holiday shopping season — but every once in a while it’s nice to see a bona fide Game of the Year contender land on store shelves to help pass the time on those long, hot summer days. The lack of such titles this year was made even more glaring by the seemingly endless stream of postponements that arrived in their place, resulting in some of the year’s most hotly anticipated games being pushed into 2015.
That’s not to say that the final months of this year are going to be a barren gaming wasteland — we still have plenty of AAA efforts to look forward to, including “Far Cry 4,” “Alien: Isolation,” “Dragon Age: Inquisition” and “Evolve,” to name a few — but wouldn’t the fall would be a whole lot more fun with “Batman: Arkham Knight,” “The Witcher 3” and “Battlefield: Hardline”?
But enough about what’s yet to come. Today this space is reserved for looking back at a handful of games that helped keep me occupied during these past few weeks.
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“Murdered: Soul Suspect” (Developer: Airtight Games; Publisher: Square Enix; Available for: PlayStation 4, Xbox One): The premise alone — you are the ghost of a murdered detective trying to find and stop your killer — makes this one worth checking out, but the over-simplified approach takes away any real sense of accomplishment. It’s a shame, too, because I really enjoyed everything the game had to offer, except the gameplay, itself.
Using your ghostly powers to uncover clues and solve crimes is a really neat idea, and developer Airtight Games did a very good job creating a world I wanted to explore and characters I cared about. But the crime-solving gameplay, which in essence was nothing more than a guessing game that didn’t punish you for wrong answers, left me wanting more. Score: 6.8/10
“Sniper Elite III” (Developer: Rebellion; Publisher: 505 Games; Available for: PlayStation 4, Xbox One): Having not played either of the first two entries in the “Sniper Elite” series, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this latest offering. What I got was a thrilling, edge-of-my-seat third-person shooter that combines two of my favorite genre staples, sniping and World War II.
Set in Northern Africa, you wage war against the Nazis one well-place bullet at a time, with gruesome slow-motion kill shots revealing the damage done. Levels are largely open, allowing plenty of freedom when it comes to picking your plan of attack, which is a must because you are no invincible super-soldier — confronting the enemy head-on is the quickest route to the Game Over screen. The enemy AI isn’t great and the graphics certainly aren’t up to next-gen standards, but the fun I had sneaking and sniping my way though waves of German troops made those shortcomings easy to overlook. Score: 7.5/10
“EA Sports UFC” (Developer: EA Sports; Publisher: Electronic Arts; Available for: PlayStation 4, Xbox One): I’m tempted to call this the greatest mixed-martial arts video game of all-time, but considering the history of UFC video games, that isn’t exactly high praise. Rather, I will say that “EA Sports UFC” is the most impressive debut for a new sports franchise that I can remember. It’s not perfect, but it lays a solid foundation that the developers at EA Sports can certainly continue to build upon for years to come.
As with previous UFC games, the steep learning curve here is the biggest obstacle for new players. It took many, many fights before I began to really understand how to properly apply and defend submissions or manage my stamina, but once I got the hang of things, the game took on a whole new life and became much more enjoyable. Visually, “EA Sports UFC” raises the bar for all sports games, both with its highly detailed fighters and great physics and animations. EA’s Ignite Engine certainly lives up the hype here. I’m already looking forward to seeing what’s in store for next year. Score: 8.1/10
“Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark” (Developer: Edge of Reality; Publisher: Activision; Available for: all major consoles): Since the launch of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, there have been two types of Transformers video games — the “Cybertron” series created by developer High Moon Studios and movie tie-ins. High Moon’s games have been very, very good; the others ... not so much. For “Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark,” developer Edge of Reality pulled gameplay elements from each of those distinct series. And while the game is certainly better than the movie tie-ins of the past, it is nowhere near the quality of the “Cybertron” franchise.
The biggest issue I had with “Rise of the Dark Spark” is the story, which introduces characters such as Lockdown and Drift from the latest Transformers film, yet doesn’t have anything at all to do with “Age of Extinction.” And the story unfolds in such a way that you’re often switching between multiple perspectives with no real rhyme or reason, which only serves to further confuse matters. On the gameplay front, “Rise of the Dark Spark” is a serviceable shooter but offers little in the way of memorable moments. And I encountered more than a few random glitches that forced me to replay large chunks of missions, something that’s never good. The co-op Escalation mode is a nice change of pace, but I miss the player-vs.-player mode that the “Cybertron” franchise introduced. While I wasn’t altogether impressed by “Rise of the Dark Spark,” my kids absolutely loved it. So to be fair, I split the difference of what I intended to score the game and what they wanted me to score the game. The verdict ... Score: 6/10
Reach Jeff Rider at email@example.com, 304-348-5122 or follow @gazette_gamer on Twitter.