Latest video games, including Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Epic Mickey 2, enthrall, surprise, and charm

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This fall, the latest Call of Duty game broke sales records that were set by the previous game in the franchise. Fortunately, Black Ops II is worth all the fuss. Also getting a look this week are the latest game featuring Disney’s mouse, a shooter that wouldn’t be out of place in a postcolonial-studies course, and a merger of minds from Britain’s Media Molecule and Vancouver’s United Front Games.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II
(Activision; PS3, Wii U, Windows, Xbox 360; rated mature)
If the Call of Duty games from Infinity Ward are about “modern” warfare, then the latest Black Ops game from Treyarch is all about the future. The game is set sometime between the late 1980s and 2025. Interlocking stories revolve around a high-concept, paranoia-inducing tale about technology changing armed conflict, which ranges from cyber combat to drone attacks. The intense gameplay is much as you’d expect, with plenty of gunfire and grenades. What’s new here is the notion that a player’s decisions during the game, as well as their success or failure in Strike Force missions, will affect the story being told. Five different endings are possible, and it’s a welcome addition that freshens up the franchise. Multiplayer options include the standard competitive mode—tweaked to make it more open and accommodating—and a few different ways to play the Zombies mode. With Black Ops II, Treyarch establishes itself as the Call of Duty developer to beat.

Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
(Disney; Mac, PS3, Wii U, Windows, Xbox 360; rated everyone)
The first Epic Mickey title was notable for giving new life and a fresh video-game feel to the pop-culture icon. It was an interesting experiment, but the game was flawed. This sequel solves many of its problems. It’s not a Wii exclusive, for one, and the camera view of the environment has been tweaked. The game is also fully voice-acted, which not only makes it stand out as a true Disney experience but also means younger players don’t need to be able to read to understand it. Like the first title, though, Epic Mickey 2 really isn’t intended for youngsters. For one, the platforming is too difficult for beginners. And there are issues early in the game with figuring out how to get Mickey and his half-brother Oswald, who are costars here, to interact. This game was created for two players, but it should be easier for one person to play alone. The colourful characters and the addition of old-style musical numbers go a long way toward making this feel like it belongs in the Disney pantheon, but The Power of Two doesn’t really live up to its “epic” designation.

Far Cry 3
(Ubisoft; PS3, Windows, Xbox 360; rated mature)
Yes, Far Cry 3 is another first-person shooter. But it’s not just another first-person shooter. If you look closely enough, it’s a treatise on colonialism. Protagonist Jason Brody and his entitled American friends get captured by pirates while vacationing on an island in the South Pacific. While Jason begins the game whimpering at the blood and the violence, he quickly becomes accustomed to it and ends up destroying the thing he believes he is rescuing. Set on Rook Island, a place where the animals in the environment are as deadly as the pirates you confront, the open world is full of strange and wonderful things to discover. There are various side missions and collectibles to keep you busy, and the process of gaining new abilities, supernaturally granted by the tattoos you collect on your body, is particularly enticing. At E3 in June, the writer of the game, Jeffrey Yohalem, told the Straight he was intentionally playing with some of the clichés and standard tropes of first-person shooter games. He saw Far Cry 3 as an opportunity to surprise. He has—in the best possible way.

LittleBigPlanet Karting
(Sony; PS3; rated everyone)
Mixing the charm of the LittleBigPlanet characters with the crazy kart racing of ModNation Racers, this release from Vancouver’s United Front Games has a lot going for it. It’s structured like LittleBigPlanet, providing a loose story framework for the game, and the levels are all racing tracks in which your Sackperson character goes up against Hoard drivers who have invaded LittleBigPlanet. Completing each level unlocks a mini game and a versus mode. You can race with or against up to three others, wielding wacky weapons in your attempt to finish first. Both franchises have a penchant for providing opportunities for players to create their own levels and custom content, and that continues here.

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