Over two decades after first putting pedal to the metal, the Need for Speed franchise — world-renowned for its white-knuckle arcade racing antics — returns with a gut-wrenching ode to turn-and-burn excitement. The 22nd (!) installment in the series quickly wows with its open-world play and deep storyline, as well as high-resolution graphics so real you can practically smell the burning rubber as you get all up in your opponent's grille. But don't be fooled by the game's good looks: more than 50 different makes and models of cars to take for a test drive from Audis and BMWs to Porsches and Ferraris promise to be the real draw for motorheads here. With deep customization options, endless odes to the import scene and tuner culture, and enough aftermarket thrills to satisfy any auto enthusiast, you'll primarily dig the game because it frequently goes from 0 to “HOLY CRAP DID YOU SEE THAT?!" in less than six seconds flat.
Winner: Original. Despite many gut-clenching turn and burn moments, it's hard to beat the thrill of previous series entries for pure adrenaline-pumping excitement. Still, you won't go unsatisfied here.
Ever dream of playing a hired killer who stalks and offs targets in an increasingly absurd fashion? Then break out your peacoat and silencer, because it's back to work in the sixth entry in the critically acclaimed stealth-action-adventure series starring a chrome-domed assassin on the prowl. In an interesting twist, Agent 47's latest escape goes back to his mysterious origins, focusing on how he became a top-notch killer with so many notches in his belt. With more opportunities to live the life of a jet-setting hired gun, count on enjoying numerous opportunities to shadow potential victims, spark off diversions, then get up close to finish off marks with a blade or casually pick them off from afar with a variety of exotic firearms. Fire it up, and you can don disguises, rig up potential traps, or set explosives to send adversaries off with a bang. In short, the newest installment in the ever-popular series for mature adults offers a variety of ways to get the dirty work done.
Winner: New. Each installment of the franchise keeps adding new tricks to our favorite killer for hire's arsenal — and ways to take down the competition.
Rise of the Tomb Raider (Square Enix)
What's a poor gun-toting adventuress who's traveled the world dodging dinosaurs, uncovering ancient artifacts, and engaging in endless acrobatic escapes to do once she's done everything? Take a darker and more serious approach to saving the world and hunting for history's lost treasures in Laura Croft's latest action-adventure, which builds further on a recent series reboot to offer fans even more stomach-clenching thrills. As ever, fans can still enjoy the usual mix of globetrotting adventures she favors (think furious gunfights, puzzle-solving in hyper-atmospheric environments, and frantic getaways, typically from crumbling tombs or lost underground enclaves). Only here, you also get to do it in even more realistic settings, and at higher resolution graphics, as Croft seeks to uncover the truth behind her father's research into a lost city and the promise of immortality.
Winner: New. No matter how many times she bounces back, or how many absurd archaeological adventures she's cast in, we just can't get enough of gaming's first lady.
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth (2K Games)
Less a true remake than spiritual successor to epic sci-fi strategy game Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (which itself was a spiritual sequel to the all-time classic dynasty-buildingCivilization series), but who's counting? Either way, this is one that prospective empire-builders will want to send straight to the top of their wish lists. Picking up where previousCivilization games (a favorite with genre enthusiasts) left off, it offers a familiar blend of 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) turn-based gameplay, only set in the far future on a distant planet. Playing it, you'll take control of an expedition sent out to find a new home for humanity in space, and explore a strange and wondrous planet filled with riches and danger. To win, you'll have to outthink, outperform, and outmaneuver rivals, steadily working to chart a path, research new technologies, and build an army capable of conquering this brave new world. A space-age answer to traditional exercises in desktop conquest, anyone with an interest in manifest destiny would do well to check it out.
Winner: Old. It's hard to argue with a formula that wasn't broken to begin with — the original Alpha Centauri remains a gaming classic for many reasons, including the fact that it's a must-play for strategy gaming fans as is.
RollerCoaster Tycoon World (Atari)
Ever dream of being able to build and run your own theme park? Either you need to start playing this game immediately, or consider finding a way to get over that Peter Pan complex. Naturally, we jest: even those who don't appreciate doing loop-de-loops and binging on cotton candy will still appreciate the brightly colored fun presented in this surprisingly deep and engaging construction and management simulation, the newest in the long-running (and bestselling) staple PC game series. Both old and new players alike should find it deeply engrossing, as RollerCoaster Tycoon World ups the usual world-building thrills by adding 3D graphics and options that allow players to virtually ride the coasters they've created. And unlike in past editions of the franchise, coasters can now fly off the tracks if built incorrectly, so new safety-rating options are included, letting you push designs to the extreme and beyond. Best of all: even as a full-priced PC outing, admission is still just a fraction of the cost of your typical day pass to any given park.
Winner: Original. No matter how many fancy-pants graphical upgrades and new features you add to the initial title's formula, nothing beats the thrill or experience of running your own theme park than the first time we played this forward-thinking series.
Total War: Attila (Sega)
It may be hard to picture Attila the Hun as a hero, but even today he's remembered in certain historical circles as a fearless warrior with the moxie to take on the might of Rome. Total War: Attila — a grand-scale, real-time tactical warfare outing coupled with a turn-based strategic overview that offers war games the best of both worlds — should prove equally memorable, as it effectively provides players with two games for the price of one. The ninth game in the long-running Total War series, it covers the transition from Late Antiquity to the early Dark Ages, and essentially allows players to watch empires rise, fall, and contend with epic barbarian invasions right on their PC monitor. Less about the glory of Rome than bringing its dynasty to a bloody end, it's well worth a spin if you're looking to carve out an empire in steel and blood.
Winner: New. As awesome as this series was when it first popped onto our radar, increasing technical and graphical performance (courtesy of increasing PC hardware capabilities) only continues to up the ante in terms of excitement.
Resident Evil HD Remastered (Capcom)
Don't play this one with the lights off: reprising the pant-soilingly terrifying thrills of one of survival horror's most memorable action-adventures, this welcome update brings the popular zombie-squishing series kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Playing through the tale — all haunting corridors, slavering undead, and sudden glass-smashing surprises as you explore a forlorn mansion crawling with walking corpses and worse surprises — you'll quickly see why it came to define an entire genre, spawning a legacy that has spanned movies, novels, action figures, and more. In addition to adding high-res graphics that bring the setting more to life, this awesome update of the all-time classic also adds sick special effects, improved background environments, and animated 3D models that increase feelings of dread and tension. Whether playing it for the first time or enjoying its PTSD-inducing thrills all over again, you won't forget the experience — be certain to pack extra adult diapers before diving in.
Winner: New. The best just keeps on getting better: although it's hard to view the title with the same eyes as when we first experienced it (a watershed moment in horror gaming), this update expands on everything that works and modernizes it for today's gaming audience.
Originally published in 1998, puzzle-solving point-and-click adventure Grim Fandango(loosely based on the art and styling of Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead) wasn't a commercial hit on release, but quickly became a cult classic. Over the years, it's also held the honor of being one of gaming's most-requested remakes ever: a behest that was finally granted recently when a remastered version arrived with improved visual effects, re-recorded sound, improved controls, and enhanced artwork. Playing as Manny Calavera, a travel agent for the Department of Death, you'll solve a riveting mystery in this sprawling interactive tale, which is part film noir masterpiece, part Tim Burton–style waltz through a hauntingly adorable afterlife. Still capable of holding up against the competition after all these years, it remains one of gaming's most original and endearing tales to this day — one which you should check out immediately, if you haven't already.
Winner: New. As much charm as the original game had, it's still present here, but in a form you can easily run on today's operating systems and hardware readouts.
Homeworld Remastered Collection (Gearbox Software)
Who said you can't go home again? One of the most celebrated games of sci-fi conquest ever just recently received a full-blown makeover, allowing a new generation of fans to experience its sprawling blend of space-age strategy once again. Play it, and you'll discover that the package offers everything that fans loved about the original, including the ability to control a fleet of starships across more than 30 single-player missions that offer near endless replayability, only now with freshly upgraded graphics. Enthusiasts will also be pleased to note that the bundle includes not only enhanced versions of Homeworld and Homeworld 2, but also versions of both games in their original forms. If you're a fan of these classics, you'll find that it's well worth strapping yourself into the captain's chair and setting your sights on global supremacy all over again.
Winner: New. Chiefly because the odds of most of this gaming generation having played either title are slim to none — and because it provides a great reason to correct the error by taking a trip in the wayback machine.
One of history's most defining first-person shooters, Doom essentially launched an entire genre to mainstream prominence, and defined nearly every FPS archetype we see in practice today. And while the series has received reboots before, this year its developers are trotting out heavily artillery in the franchise's latest revamp by promising to pit trigger men against "badass demons" and equip them with many more "big effing guns." Many elements from the original series will remain, but you can also expect to enjoy new mechanics, including a melee execution system that allows players to inflict brutal takedowns on opponents when enough damage has been done. As you might imagine, these enhancements promise to take what's always been an over-the-top, action-packed, wet-'em-up experience and add even more brutal, in-your-face, sci-fi run-n-gun excitement to the mix. Naturally, no one's complaining.
Winner: Original. Player, please: as if anything could compare to the first time you actually laid on this series.
By Scott Steinberg
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