published Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Christmas comes early: Fall marks the release of the year's most-anticipated video games

Every year, the onset of fall brings a flood of some of the year's most highly anticipated video game titles.

With a year under their belts, the Playstation 4 and Xbox One are hitting their stride for the 2014 holiday season, with the first next-generation entries of some of the most-beloved franchises from the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

Here are some of the blockbusters likely to end up on gamers' list of must-haves this year:

'SIMS 4'

Release date: Sept. 2

Summary: Five years after the third entry in Electronic Arts' long-running life simulator, gamers will once more take control over the lives of tiny, virtual people, either guiding them to success and prosperity or wreck and ruin.

Why it's hot: When "Sims" released in 2000, it was a massive critical success, offering players the novel power of controlling the most minute details of the Sims' lives. The latest entry offers even more control over Sims' physical appearance, streamlined construction tools to make building (and sharing) a dream house easier than ever, and the addition of "moodlets" will change how Sims react to situations.

Age rating: T for teen

Price: $60, PC


'DESTINY'

Release date: Sept. 9

Summary: Hundreds of years after a golden age saw it colonize the solar system then be crushed to near extinction, mankind's former colonies are infested by hostile aliens that now threaten the last bastion of civilization. Humanity's last line of defense are the Guardians of the City, who have the ability to tap a mysterious power known as The Light.

Why it's hot: "Destiny" is the first new intellectual property to be released by original "Halo" developer Bungie since severing its ties to Microsoft almost five years ago. Featuring gorgeous next-generation graphics, "Destiny" blurs the lines between single and multiplayer, first-person-shooter and massively-multiplayer-online-role-playing game. It will feature dynamic events and on-the-fly matchmaking to pair gamers during missions that will reward them with unique gear and weapons.

Age rating: T for teen

Price: $60, PC, PS4 and Xbox One


'FORZA HORIZON 2'

Release date: Sept. 30

Summary: Explore a massive, open environment in one of more than 200 of the world's most desirable cars.

Why it's hot: "Forza Motorsport," Microsoft's flagship racing franchise, was long track-bound, but "Horizon 2" follows the trail blazed in 2012 by the original "Horizon" with race events dotted across a freely explorable environment. This time, the races have been relocated from a fictional take on the Southwest to a faux-European landscape that is three times the size of the original. The series' debut on next-generation consoles, "Horizon 2" also takes advantage of an updated graphics engine and continuously updated "bucket" list of challenges for players to tackle.

Age rating: E for everyone

Price: $60, Xbox One


Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

'MIDDLE-EARTH: SHADOW OF MORDOR'

Release date: Sept. 30

Summary: Talion, a ranger watching over the Black Gate to Mordor, is killed. A sudden revival of activity in the long-dormant, evil-infused land leads to his death and that of his family. Resurrected through mystical means, he embarks on a quest for vengeance.

Why it's hot: "Shadows of Mordor" explores an entirely new storyline that fills in the narrative gap between the events of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. An open-world action roleplaying game, it sets itself apart from other titles in the genre with the Nemesis system that "remembers" players' interaction with certain enemies and adjusts their interactions during future encounters.

Age rating: M for mature

Price: $60 PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One; $50 PC


Alien: Isolation
Alien: Isolation

'ALIEN: ISOLATION'

Release date: Oct. 7

Summary: Set 15 years after the events of "Alien" and decades before its sequel, "Aliens," players take on the role of Amanda, the daughter of heroine Ellen Ripley, as she seeks clues to her mother's disappearance. She soon discovers that the space station to which she was transferred has already been infested by a xenomorph that is now intelligently stalking and eliminating the crew.

Why it's hot: In keeping with the spirit of the 1979 film, "Isolation" is focused on creating a tense, horrific tone. The sole alien in the game is unkillable and programmed with complex artificial intelligence that allows it to hunt using sight, sound and smell, react to the player and alter its behavior accordingly. Instead of weapons, players must rely largely on their wits and intelligent use of the environment to survive.

Age rating: M for mature

Price: $60, PS4 and Xbox One; $50, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360


Dragon Age 3: Inquisition
Dragon Age 3: Inquisition

'DRAGON AGE 3: INQUISITION'

Release date: Oct. 7

Summary: Players return to the fantasy realm of Thedas, a once-peaceful kingdom that has been thrown into turmoil thanks to a war between the Templars and magic-users. Together with their companions, players must strive to save the world from itself.

Why it's hot: Developer Bioware is the birthplace of many legendary roleplaying franchises and, despite slightly lower reviews for the second "Dragon Age" in 2011, the third game promises a return to form with larger environments, multiple options for the player character's race and a greater emphasis on strategy in combat. Many characters from previous titles in the series are set to return in "Inquisition," whose game world will be shaped by players' choices and will be rendered in striking detail by the new Frostbite 3 graphics engine.

Age rating: Mature

Price: $60, PS4 and Xbox One; $50, PC; $40, Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS.


'BORDERLANDS: THE PRE-SEQUEL'

Release date: Oct. 14

Summary: Prior to the events of 2012's "Borderlands 2," players will have a choice of four new characters who are employed by a still-not-quite-as-evil-as-he's-going-to-get Handsome Jack, the primary antagonist of the previous entry. In the process, they'll contribute to the rise of Jack's tyrannical corporation, Hyperion, and witness his descent into depravity.

Why it's hot: Although it shifts the action to the new environment and offers four new characters, "The Pre-Sequel" is largely more of the same, which is no bad thing for a game that won countless Game of the Year nods in 2012. Minor tweaks to the formula include low gravity of Pandora's moon, which offers new options for movement and combat, weapons that can freeze and shatter enemies and beam-type weapon variations.

Age rating: Mature

Price: $60, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360


'THE EVIL WITHIN'

Release date: Oct. 14

Summary: Detective Sebastian Castellanos and his partners arrive at the site of a mysterious mass murder only to be ambushed. Ambushed and knocked out, Castellanos awakes to find himself the sole survivor of the incident but trapped in a nightmarish landscape he must desperately seek to escape.

Why it's hot: "The Evil Within" has been directed by Shinji Mikami, the man responsible for the "Resident Evil" series, one of the lynchpin franchises that popularized the survival horror genre. Unlike some survival-horror titles that gift players with an abundance of firearms, "The Evil Within" forces players to be inventive in how they confront gruesome terrors and enemies thanks to extremely limited resources.

Age rating: Mature

Price: $60, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One


Assassin's Creed: Rogue
Assassin's Creed: Rogue

'ASSASSIN'S CREED UNITY'

Release date: Oct. 28

Summary: In 1789, a young man named Arno Dorian finds himself wrapped up not only in the revolution that is tearing a nation apart around him, but also the hidden powers pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

Why it's hot: Since the first "Assassin's Creed" released in 2007, it has set a high bar in terms of open-world gaming within the stealth-action genre. "Unity" marks the series' first appearance on next-generation consoles with stunning new graphics to match. The newly refined parkour system significantly alters and streamlines how players can descend buildings in a more realistic, fluid fashion. The world of "Unity" is both more detailed and more densely populated and can feature up to 5,000 characters on screen at once. Developer Ubisoft Montreal has tweaked the series' formula with new stealth gameplay and by integrating multiplayer, cooperative missions seamlessly into the single-player experience.

Age rating: Rating pending

Price: $60, PC, PS4 and Xbox One


'ASSASSIN'S CREED: ROGUE'

Release date: Nov. 11

Summary: Former assassin Shay Patrick Cormac walks away from the Brotherhood after a mission goes tragically awry. The assassins' failed attempt at reprisal pushes him into the arms of the Templars, who welcome him and turn his skills to their own purposes as he hunts down his former allies.

Why it's hot: For fans of the "Assassin's Creed" series who have yet to invest in a Playstation 4 or Xbox One, "Rogue" represents a standalone experience only available to last-generation gamers. In a series first, players will be able to experience the "Assassin's Creed" universe from the perspective of its notorious antagonists. "Rogue" also features a return to North America with gameplay set in and around New York City in the 18th century.

Age rating: Rating pending

Price: $60, PS3 and Xbox 360


Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

'CALL OF DUTY: ADVANCED WARFARE'

Release date: Nov. 3

Summary: The eleventh entry in the mega-blockbuster "Call of Duty" first-person-shooter franchise is set in the near future, when a terrorist organization simultaneously attacks and destroys nuclear reactors around the world. With nation's armies crippled by the attack, private military corporations step into the fray to defend the public. Players take on the role of an amputee former Marine who is hired by the most technologically advanced corporation of all.

Why it's hot: "Call of Duty" games are guaranteed must-haves for many gamers. For the first time since 2005's "Call of Duty 2," the series will employ a new graphics engine that has been built from scratch. "Advanced Warfare" offers other changes to the familiar "CoD" formula by abandoning real-world weaponry in favor of futuristic equipment, including specialized drones, hover bikes and customizable armored exoskeletons that change the way players can navigate the environment.

Age rating: Rating pending

Price: $60, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One


'FAR CRY 4'

Release date: Nov. 18

Summary: Ajay Ghale returns to the fictional country of Kyrat to scatter his mother's ashes, only to find himself embroiled in a civil war and confronted by an unpredictable, violent dictator named Pagan Min.

Why it's hot: "Far Cry 4" trades in the tropical paradise of the open-world shooter series' third entry for the vertical mountains and lush vallies of the Himalayas. A wide range of new wildlife species -- leopards, rhinos, black eagles and honey badgers, among others -- populate this new landscape and can occasionally be hunted for crafting resources or used to gain a tactical advantage. In addition to new weaponry and vehicles, "Far Cry 4" also features newly implemented cooperative gameplay that allows a second player to drop in or drop out at any time.

Age rating: Mature

Price: $60, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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