Time for a change: Fresh ideas, new properties mark first wave of 2015 video game releases

Time for a change: Fresh ideas, new properties mark first wave of 2015 video game releases

January 8th, 2015 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Gallery: 2015 video game preview

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Finally, something a little bit different.

After a holiday season that saw the expected flood of repetitious releases and sequels in well-established franchises, the first quarter of 2015 will mark the debut of many fresh properties that bring new worlds and innovative ideas to the latest generation of gaming hardware.

Fourteen months into their life cycle, the Xbox One and Playstation 4 are hitting their collective stride, with upcoming titles that take full advantage of their capabilities. But many of the winter's hottest titles also will release on their predecessors, the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

In short, even with the shrink-wrap still freshly removed from the biggest holiday releases, gamers on both sides of the generation gap have plenty to look forward to during the early days of 2015.

Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell

"Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell"

* Release date: Jan. 27

* Summary: Freshly escaped from an alien simulation with the extraterrestrial leader's head in his trophy case, the leader of street-gang-turned-pop-icons-turned-political juggernauts the Third Street Saints is abducted by Satan and taken to hell. Two of his most trusted lieutenants venture into the abyss to try to save him.

* Why it's hot: As usual, the absurd open-world misadventures of "Saints Row" are central to this standalone expansion to 2013's "Saints Row IV," but in a series' first, players don't create their own character; instead, they take on the mantle of franchise favorites Johnny Gat or Kinzie Kensington. With the action relocating to the afterlife, players will tear apart Satan's hometown with weapons inspired by the seven deadly sins and a host of angelic and demonic powers, from summoned imps to an awe-inspiring holy aura.

* Age rating: M for mature

* Price: $20 PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360; $50 Playstation 4, Xbox One (as a bundle with "Saints Row IV: Re-Elected")

Grand Theft Auto V

"Grand Theft Auto V"

* Release date: Jan. 27

* Summary: In the Southern California-esque metropolis of Los Santos, three criminals form an unlikely team to take on a series of increasingly difficult and dangerous heists in search of purpose, money and pleasure.

* Why it's hot: When it launched on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in September 2013, "Grand Theft Auto V" was a critical and commercial juggernaut, earning game of the year nods from many major media outlets. Last fall, Rockstar's massive, open-world title was rereleased on Playstation 4 and Xbox One with improved visuals, additional content, larger multiplayer matches and the option to play the game entirely from a first-person perspective. Now it's coming to the PC with the same bonus content, as well as a new video editor for capturing and sharing all the in-game ridiculousness.

* Age rating: M for mature

* Price: $60 PC (new release); $60 Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Dying Light

"Dying Light"

* Release date: Jan. 27

* Summary: An undercover operative sent into a quarantined Turkish town soon finds that survival of the fittest is even harder when the competition are mindless, zombie-like hordes. By day, the situation is difficult, but when the sun sets, things go from bad to scream-until-you-run-out-of-breath worse.

* Why it's hot: Set in a stunningly beautiful, expansive world, players explore varied environments full of plenty of enemies -- infected and healthy alike -- and hundreds of missions but scarce resources. Players can take several approaches to survival, from stealth to run-and-gun action, and the world can be traversed smoothly using a parkour-like free running system. "Dying Light" features a four-player cooperative mode, and multiplayer takes on an interesting twist at night, thanks to occasional surprise appearances by the Night Hunter, a powerful, human-controlled invader.

* Age rating: M for mature

* Price: $60 Playstation 4, Xbox One; $50 PC

Evolve

"Evolve"

* Release date: Feb. 10

* Summary: On the alien world Shear, teams of four humans must coordinate their efforts to stop the wave of terror wrought by an alien monster whose abilities and powers are constantly changing and improving.

* Why it's hot: "Evolve" is being made by Turtle Rock Studios, whose pedigree includes the phenomenally popular "Left 4 Dead" series of cooperative survival games. "Evolve" features asymmetrical multiplayer in which four players choose from a variety of human roles -- soldiers, trappers, medics, support personnel, etc. -- and work together to stop another player, who acts as one of several ever-evolving alien monsters. Character progression is persistent, rewarding gamers with additional upgrades and perks over time.

* Age rating: M for mature

* Price: $60 PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One

The Order: 1886

"The Order: 1886"

* Release date: Feb. 20

* Summary: In an alternate version of Victorian-era London, the grinding gears of the Industrial Revolution grind away while a secret order of knights protect humanity from the growing threat of mysterious Halfbreeds that threaten to throw the brave new world into disarray.

* Why it's hot: "Order 1886" has been one of the most highly anticipated releases on next-generation consoles since it was announced as a Playstation exclusive during the reveal of the Playstation 4 in 2013. Preview gameplay footage shows the third-person action to be highly cinematic, with beautiful visuals that convey a dark, moody and foreboding atmosphere. Players have access to altered firearms that blend historical accuracy with Jules Verne-like science fiction.

* Age rating: Rating pending

* Price: $60 Playstation 4

Project CARS

"Project CARS"

* Release date: March 17

* Summary: A driving simulation in the truest sense of the word, "Project CARS" lets players get behind the wheel of digital vehicles governed by one of the most true-to-life physics engines ever developed.

* Why it's hot: After riding the line between accessible arcade racing and accurate driving physics in "Need for Speed Shift" and "Shift 2 Unleashed," Slightly Mad Studios have moved into full simulation mode with "CARS," including a new dynamic tire modeling system to replicate how the rubber reacts to different road surfaces. Unlike most driving titles, all tracks and car models -- across multiple disciplines -- are immediately unlocked from the beginning, and multiplayer is emphasized through events that range from quick races to multi-day races with practice, qualifying and warm up rounds.

* Age rating: Rating pending

* Price: $60 Playstation 4, Xbox One; $50 PC

Battlefield Hardline

"Battlefield Hardline"

* Release date: March 17

* Summary: Offline, players control Nick Mendoza, a newly minted detective who discovers an undercurrent of corruption on both sides of the badge as he and his partner track a stream of drugs back to their source. Online, players face off in battles that eschew massive military engagements for cops-and-robbers-style heists, chases and hostage situations.

* Why it's hot: Despite a messy, bug-filled launch to 2013's "Battlefield 4," EA's military franchise has long been considered the truest contender to "Call of Duty" in the realm of online first-person-shooters. Like the "Bad Company" off-shoots before it, "Hardline" marks a departure from the series' narrative norms, retaining the environmental destruction and vehicular combat of past titles while offering up an intimate, urban tale that is more "Training Day" than "Black Hawk Down."

* Age rating: Rating pending

* Price: $60 PC, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Final Fantasy Type-O HD

"Final Fantasy Type-0 HD"

* Release date: March 17

* Summary: Class Zero, a group of students at Vermillion Peristylium, an elite military academy, enter the battlefield on a quest to discover the motivations behind a neighboring country's unprovoked assault on their homeland.

* Why it's hot: Billed as a darker, more mature entry in the decades-old "Final Fantasy" roleplaying franchise, "Type-0" also features a much faster pace of combat, with players moving in real-time fashion similar to an action game. The game marks the first single-player "Final Fantasy" title to appear on next-generation consoles and is a high-definition re-imagining of a project that was announced years ago as a Japanese-only release for the Playstation Portable and mobile phones. Players control members of an elite group of cadets, each with varying weapons and abilities that affect play style. Preorders of the game include access to the upcoming "Final Fantasy XV," which will release at an unspecified date for Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

* Age rating: Rating pending

* Price: $60 Playstation 4, Xbox One

Bloodborne

"Bloodborne"

* Release date: March 24

* Summary: A traveler afflicted by a terrible disease seeks a cure in the ruined confines of a dark gothic city whose residents have been mutated by an even more deadly condition.

* Why it's hot: From Software established itself in recent years as a master of the action roleplaying genre with the fiendishly difficult but expertly crafted "Demon's Souls" and "Dark Souls" games. This spiritual successor -- and Playstation 4 exclusive -- by series director Hidetaka Miyazaki maintains the same unforgiving approach, but a dark fantasy aesthetic for Victorian cobblestones and steampunk gloom. A new risk-reward system returns some lost health to players who act quickly against their attacker.

* Age rating: Rating pending

* Price: $60 Playstation 4, Wii U, Xbox One; $50 PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3; $40 Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Vita

Mortal Kombat X

Mortal Kombat X

"Mortal Kombat X"

* Release date: April 14

* Summary: The battle to determine the fate of Earthrealm continues with a new slate of fighters, including descendants of past combatants.

* Why it's hot: "Mortal Kombat," along with "Street Fighter," is one of the pillars of the fighting game genre. This 10th entry -- the first on next-generation consoles -- introduces a new gameplay mechanic with character variations that offer players even more options in battle. Like its most recent predecessor, "X" features brutal X-ray moves and even more violent fatalities but adds in stages with interactive objects. The story takes place 25 years after the last game, offering fans a chance to take the reins of the children of past fighters and aged versions of series' favorites.

* Age rating: Rating pending

* Price: $60 Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

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