published Friday, May 30th, 2014

Powering through: Eight new titles to tide gamers over during heat of summer

Summer is a tough time to be a video game fan, and not just because of all the social pressure to get off the couch and out of doors.

After the glut of high-profile releases during fall and winter, the flood of anticipated games dwindles to a lazy trickle when the weather gets hot. For gamers, the onset of vacation season typically means months of twiddling their thumbs waiting for the next AAA release.

But the summer slump is also a time when game publishers are more willing to take chances. There are a few promising titles set to hit stores in the coming months that stand out from the pack simply by being standalone products instead of numbered entries in established franchises -- although there are plenty of those coming out this summer, too.

Here are eight titles worth holding on to controllers for this summer.


Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart 8
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

'MARIO KART 8'

Release date: Today.

Summary: Nintendo's now 22-year-old racing series returns, once more pitting heroes and villains from the Mario universe against each other in turtle-shell-launching heats around whimsical tracks.

Why it's hot: Not one to reinvent the wheel, the big N's eighth "Mario Kart" keeps the tweaks subtle, adding new racers, tracks with anti-gravity sections and video sharing through the new Mario Kart TV channel. Thanks to the Wii U's more powerful hardware, the graphics have received a high-def face lift while maintaining the series' beloved cartoon-y style.

Age rating: E for everyone

Price: $60, Wii U


"Murdered: Soul Suspect"
"Murdered: Soul Suspect"
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

'MURDERED: SOUL SUSPECT'

Release date: June 3

Summary: After dying during a violent burglary, police detective Ronan O'Connor arrives in limbo, where he realizes that his only path to a peaceful afterlife is by solving his own murder.

Why it's hot: Murder mysteries and video games go hand-in-hand, but "Murdered" throws a supernatural twist into the familiar scenario by giving players access to O'Connor's ghostly ability to possess humans, influence their thoughts and manipulate objects to create distractions. O'Connor is voiced by former "Days of Our Lives" star Jason Brooks.

Age rating: M for mature

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


'ENEMY FRONT'

Release date: June 10

Summary: Through a series of flashbacks, American war correspondent Robert Hawkins relives many of the pivotal moments of World War II.

Why it's hot: For years, developers saturated the market with games set during WWII, but the conflict has been largely avoided in recent years. "Enemy Front" gives the setting a true next-generation graphical treatment thanks to the use of the cutting-edge CryEngine3 engine used in 2013's "Crysis 3." The game largely takes place during the Warsaw Uprising, which has been all-but-unexplored by game developers.

Age rating: M for mature

Price: $40, PS3 and Xbox 360


“Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark"
“Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark"
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

'TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE DARK SPARK'

Release date: June 24

Summary: The third entry in the "War for Cybertron" series features a plot tying together the events of the games with that of the summer blockbuster film "Transformers: Age of Extinction."

Why it's hot: For the first time in the game series, players will be able to choose whether to align themselves with the heroic Autobots or the villainous Decepticons during both the single-player campaign as well as multiplayer matches. In the latter mode, gamers will be able to choose between 40 playable characters and apply upgrades using experience points earned offline and online.

Age rating: T for teen

Price: $60, PS4 and Xbox One; $50, PS3, Wii U and Xbox 360; $40, PC; $30, 3DS


'GRID AUTOSPORT'

Release date: June 27

Summary: Developer Codemasters' latest entry in the GRID series returns with an even wider selection of racing styles and tweaks made after input from players, racing professionals and experts from "Autosport" magazine.

Why it's hot: "GRID: Autosport" features races along 100 routes in 22 locations across five racing series: touring, endurance, open-wheel, tuner and street races. Offline, the artificial intelligence of computer drivers has been improved to be adaptive and to react to player behavior. A new RaceNet online service will provide new weekly challenges and allow players to form clan-like driver clubs.

Age rating: Rating pending

Price: $50, PS3 and Xbox 360


'SNIPER ELITE 3'

Release date: July 1

Summary: American Office of Strategic Services agent and sharpshooter Karl Fairburne finds himself deep behind enemy lines during decisive World War II battles in North Africa.

Why it's hot: The "Sniper Elite" series' trademark "kill-cam" feature has been improved to provide an even more visceral view of each shot's impact on Nazi soldiers. The kill-cam has also been expanded to show how bullets damage the internal components of vehicles. Greater emphasis has been placed on offering larger environments to give players greater freedom to choose their own approach. Experience points are awarded for more creative approaches, such as using the sound of machinery to mask the rifle's report.

Age rating: M for mature

Price: $50, PS4 and Xbox One; $40, PS3 and Xbox 360


"Tales of Xillia 2"
"Tales of Xillia 2"
Photo by Contributed Photo.

'TALES OF XILLIA 2'

Release date: Aug. 19

Summary: Injured during a train hijacking by a terrorist organization, the descendant of a family with the ability to destroy alternative timelines incurs medical debt that he must pay off by working for the company that healed him.

Why it's hot: The "Tales" series is one of the longest running role-playing franchises in video gaming, and Westerners have waited two years since the Japanese release for an English localization. This title, the series' 14th, is a direct sequel to the well-received "Tales of Xillia" (2011, Japan) and features many recurring characters and a storyline that changes to reflect players' choices during pivotal moments.

Age rating: Rating pending

Price: $50, PS3


'DESTINY'

Release date: Sept. 9

Summary: Hundreds of years after a golden age that saw it colonize the solar system and 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 highly anticipated first release from Bungie, Inc., following the developer's departure from the "Halo" series after 2010's "Halo: Reach." Featuring gorgeous next-generation graphics, "Destiny" blurs the lines between single and multiplayer, first-person-shooter and massively-multiplayer-online-role-playing game. The game 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: Rating pending

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

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, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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