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This week in gaming: Forza and Mordor aren’t the only games in town

This final week of September 2014 is defined by choice. We’ve seen the first crop of holiday blockbusters slip out in recent weeks, and they’ve arrived mostly uncontested. But this week brings multiple top-flight games, spanning a range of genres. Which will you be going with? Let’s take a look.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

PS3/PS4/Windows/X360/XB1 (September 30)
FEAR developer Monolith Productions provides the creative juice behind this latest interactive return to JRR Tolkien’s fantasy universe. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is an open world action game that’s colored in shades of Assassin’s Creed and the Batman: Arkham series. Roam around the fractured lands of Mordor as you fight for vengeance against the teeming hordes of Sauron’s army.

It’s the Nemesis System that makes Mordor unique. The enemy army’s hierarchy is comprised of Captain and Warchiefs, each of which is an individual with his own fears, hates, strengths, and weaknesses. The balance of power swings wildly as your marauding ranger executes major players in Sauron’s army and even turns them against their dark master. It’s refreshingly open-ended in a way that encourages players to paint their own story in their heads.

Forza Horizon 2

XB1 (September 30)
Playground Games re-envisioned Turn 10 Studios’ Forza series in the first Horizon game as an open-world, hook-driven racer. Forza Horizon 2 is much the same experience, though it’s been built specifically for Xbox One and it shows. The gorgeous open world racer moves the setting to the lush, sprawling forests, rolling hills, and craggy cliffs of western Europe for a new music-and-racing festival.

Dangling carrots abound in Forza Horizon 2, from the ever-present drip-feed of perk-unlocking experience points to the thrill of Bucket List challenges and their too-expensive cars to the quirky discoveries unlocked in collectible Barn Finds. As is true in the rest of the Forza series, Horizon 2 puts a premium on immersing players in the culture of car appreciation.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

PS3/X360 (September 30)
This is a weird one. Persona is a Japanese role-playing game series, a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensai series, follows different characters that fight an assortment of monstrous creatures with the help of powerful, summonable spirits. These Persona all have different powers, and they can be fused to create even more powerful variants. Ultimax takes this story framework, tosses out the RPG, and delivers a fighting game.

The story is set shortly after the events of Persona 4 Arena, another spin-off fighting game, and it splits into two campaigns: One connecting with Persona 3 and the other with Persona 4. The roster of 20-plus fighters is culled from both of those earlier games, and Ultimax nods to the series’ RPG roots with a dungeon crawl-inspired survival mode in which players have an opportunity to improve the stats of their favorite characters.

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments

PS3/PS4/Windows/X360/XB1 (September 30)
Frogwares has been building Sherlock Holmes games since 2002, and Crimes & Punishments marks the ongoing series’ debut on current-generation consoles. Set in 19th century London, the story follows Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective creation through seven cases. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s book Crime and Punishment serves as the inspiration for this more choice-driven adventure than the series has seen before.

The bulk of the gameplay involves investigating crime scenes for clues and then using a “deduction board” to connect them. The game is written in a way that supports multiple conclusions depending on how you fit all the pieces together — and Holmes is able to either absolve or convict the accused — which makes for a more flexible story than the series’ has had before. Frogwares also wrote Holmes in a way the fuses the Doyle character with more modern interpretations, to better help audiences identify with the classic character.

What else is coming:

  • Outland (Windows/Sept. 29) – This Ubisoft-published game from Housemarque combines elements of platforming and bullet-hell shoot-’em-ups in an inventive, stylish 2D action game with an open world structure similar to that seen in Super Metroid.
  • Dark Souls II: Crown of the Ivory King DLC (PS3, Windows, X360/Sept. 30) – The three-part story add-on for Dark Souls II concludes with Crown of the Ivory King. We don’t know much about it yet, but we can guarantee it’ll leave you frustrated in the way that only a Dark Souls game can.
  • Pier Solar and the Great Architects (Linux, Mac, PS3, PS4 Windows/Sept. 30) – This is an odd one. Pier Solar was developed and published in 2010 as a homebrew role-playing game for Sega Genesis. It’s now making its way to an assortment of more current platforms.
  • Natural Doctrine (PS3, PS4, PS Vita/Sept. 30) Natural Doctrine arrived in Japan back in April 2014, and it comes to North America this week. A tactical role-playing game (think Final Fantasy Tactics) from the director of rhythm-based side-scroller PataponNatural Doctrine features turn-based combat that pits large groups of allies against similarly large groups of enemies.
  • Silence of the Sleep (Windows/Oct. 1) – Jacob Reeves is nearing the end. He can’t seem to find any reason to live, but when he tries to end it all he wakes up with no memory of what his life was before. This 2D indie adventure created by Jesse Makkonen caught our eye with its unique visual style and intriguing premise. It’s a story-driven puzzle game, so look elsewhere if you crave something that involves guns and ammo.