The holiday season saw an unusual rush of late-season game releases. Traditionally, most titles would have hit shelves before Black Friday, but these aren’t normal times. Releases tried to fit in the lucrative holiday window and beat a crowded field next year. Meanwhile, other game launches snuck up on players. It’s harder nowadays to break into the public consciousness amid a more fragmented and chaotic world.

Although these projects came out toward the tail end of 2022, they shouldn’t be overlooked. They each have a distinct quality that makes anything but vanilla. Here are three games that should be on your radar and at least one reason to check them out:

“High on Life” Believe it or not, “Rick and Morty” co-creator Justin Roiland has dabbled in video games for years. He set up his own studio and even released a few games in virtual reality.

This comedic first-person shooter is his team’s latest work and it’s easily the best. Players take on the role of a gamer whose parents have gone away for a week when an alien syndicate called the G3 cartel invades Earth. They realize that consuming humans makes them high and the advanced civilization sees this as a business opportunity and try to take over the planet to farm people as a narcotic.

It’s up to players to stop them with a talking gun named Kenny and other members of the Gatlian species. Players will spend time visiting other planets and realms in order to kill each cartel leader. Defeating a boss unlocks new weapons, and opens up more of the world as players also gain new skills by upgrading their bounty hunter suit.

Gus Gatlian
Gus is one of the Gatlian guns players use in “High on Life.” They are talking weapons. (Squanch Games) 

Why you should play it — The comedy and creativity make “High on Life” different from other shooters. It has the trademark Roiland humor, and it feels as if the game could have taken place in a version of the “Rick and Morty” universe. Aliens are cynical. The player has an annoying sister named Lizzie. The planets they visit are as wild as they are whimsical, and the combination makes the project oddly compelling.

“Need for Speed Unbound”The long-running series finally returns after a three-year hiatus, and the new entry sees a series returning to its roots while featuring a bold visual take on street racing. Taking place in the Chicago-inspired city of Lakeshore, players take on the role of The Kid, who works at Rydell’s garage along with a friend named Yaz.

The two are besties but the relationship is ripped apart after a shady incident, in which thieves raid Rydell’s garage and take off with several cars. Two years later, the player still works at the small shop and finds herself again thrown into the street racing scene. In order to help Rydell build back his business and take back her own stolen vehicle, the Kid embarks on a racing journey.

“Need for Speed Unbound” features franchise hallmarks including street racing, vehicle upgrades and police chases. As players win contests and move up the ranks, they earn money for better parts. There’s a risk-reward in competing in so many events though as players build up heat and that makes them a target of relentless police chases.

Need for Speed Unbound
“Need for Speed Unbound” features racing effects that appear hand-drawn and go with the cel-shaded look of the characters. (Electronic Arts) 

Why you should play it — Although “Unbound” returns to the basics, the game stands out because of its visual flair. This iteration features cel-shaded characters and that hand-drawn aesthetic extends to special effects on the vehicles. Criterion Games adds flourishes to the racing and they look as if the developers doodled on the screen in real time.

It accentuates the action while offering players an opportunity to show off their style. The only issue is that “Unbound” is best played from a third-person perspective so players can appreciate the flair in this arcade-style racer.

“Warhammer 40,000: Darktide” Fatshark made a name for itself in its first foray working with Games Workshop. They created the hit “Warhammer: End Times — Vermintide,” which adapted concepts from the miniature-figure war game into a first-person co-operative action title. With its second collaboration, the developer took on the more popular dark sci-fi series and it created another intriguing co-op experience.

Similar to “Left 4 Dead,” “Darktide” brings four players together as they do missions for Inquisitor Grendyl. Parasitic entitled called, Chaos, have infiltrated the Hive City of Tertium, and it’s up to a band of recruited inmates to cleanse the planet of Atoma Prime. Players start off as lowly cannon fodder, but as they play more missions, they gain better gear, earn higher levels of trust and acquire more powerful perks.

The developers’ years of know-how in the genre shines, and they craft levels and scenarios that have enough variety to keep players coming back. With four classes to master and power-up, “Darktide” has no shortage of replay value.

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide
“Warhammer 40,000: Darktide” features hordes of enemies that squads of four will have to survive. (Fatshark) 

Why you should play it — If you’ve always been curious about the Warhammer 40,000 universe, but too intimidated by the lore, then “Darktide” is the perfect entry point. The project’s details and atmosphere are ensconced in the dark sci-fi setting while the gameplay is accessible to gamers familiar with first-person shooters.

The franchise’s profile is only going to rise after “Superman” actor and fan Henry Cavill is working to bring the “Warhammer 40,000” to the masses in a deal with Amazon.


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