Top video game picks for winter break

The newest installation of "Call of Duty" takes players into space. (Courtesy Activision)

The end of the year is dense with new video game releases, as publishers rush to release their big-budget titles when consumers are most likely to pick them up. The holiday season deluge of overhyped flagship games can be a little overwhelming, however, so here are some picks of glitzy, big-budget blowouts to be your guide.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Release date: Nov. 4
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
One of Activision’s in-house studios has churned out a new entry in the “Call of Duty” series every year for over a decade, and 2016 is no exception. Developer Infinity Ward takes the series to space by setting this latest entry in the midst of an interplanetary conflict. The reaction to the game’s announcement was not kind: the announcement trailer quickly became the second most disliked trailer in YouTube’s history. Though the magic of “Call of Duty” may be wearing off, “Infinite Warfare” will nevertheless be the ten-ton gorilla of 2016 holiday season releases.
“Call of Duty” has never been intellectually challenging, so expect a single-player mode full of flashy visuals, along with a brain-dead story full of conspiratorial waffle and pseudo-philosophical nonsense about freedom. “Infinite Warfare” also features the voice and likeness of “Game of Thrones” star Kit Harington, who burnishes his acting credentials by mumble-yelling about “the authority of the Earth.” MMA prodigy Conor McGregor is also featured, trying his hand at acting.

The core of the modern “Call of Duty” experience has always been the multiplayer, and players can expect another iteration of the same tight, closer-quarters multiplayer experience that first brought the series to a wide audience. Special editions of “Infinite Warfare” also include a bundled copy of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered,” an updated version of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” (2007). War — it never changes.

Titanfall 2
Release Date: Oct. 28
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
2014’s “Titanfall” was the phoenix that rose from the ashes of the acrimonious divorce of Infinity Ward’s founders and Activision. The game was an imperfect bird that nevertheless achieved originality through a combination of giant, fighting robots and parkour. To stand out is no mean feat for a first-person shooter, but “Titanfall” managed it. Despite its charm, the game never really took off; sales were low and what players there were didn’t stick around long. “Titanfall 2” comes back for another bite at the apple, refining the best elements of its predecessor into a sequel that, by all accounts, is outstanding. If players are looking for something a little different but not too far removed from the big multi-player shooters that define this time of year, “Titanfall 2” is worth a look.

Dishonored 2
Release date: Nov. 11
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
2012’s “Dishonored” was a revelation. A kinetic first-person stealth game that took place in the marvelously decaying 19th century maritime city of Dunwall, with magic and Lovecraftian horror bubbling under the surface, “Dishonored” left so much of its rich universe unexplored. “Dishonored 2”explores the new city of Karnaca, inspired by southern Europe, and once again plunges them into a web of conspiracy, which they must unravel with blade and magic. For the game universe alone, “Dishonored 2” is worth one’s time, but the finely-crafted stealth action that made the original so satisfying to play also reportedly makes a comeback. Just spare a thought for those poor, sad whales and all the hapless guards.

A holiday lineup that is nothing more than a raft of sequels might inspire one to bemoan the state of big-budget video games: Where are the original works? The novel gameplay ideas? The unknown studios? But such woe is for January, where, bloated and sluggish from a break spent gaming, one may wallow in shame and reflect on how gamers have all been playing fundamentally the same games since 2006. For now, while the weather is cold and school distant, enjoy some derivative, but well-executed games.