By Ian Boone. It’s a terrible time of year for everyone. We’re returning to our menial drudgery after the holiday break. If you’re lucky like me, maybe you never saw a holiday break and are eagerly eyeing that date on the calendar when vacation blackout lifts.

Grand Theft Auto V_20150104153244To hell with planned bookings and time requests! Opt to withdraw from your mortal shell and travel to some exotic virtual locations for a little rest and relaxation. I’m going to take you on a little travelogue I recently wrapped up… and of course, I have slides!  Sit down, I know you’re excited!

First, I caught a plane back to Blaine in Grand Theft Auto V: Remastered. Rockstar Games delivered the goods in 2013 with the original release, and here they step it up with a shiner, meatier package for next-gen systems and PC.

Grand Theft Auto V_20150103103650Everything looks much more lifelike in comparison to the original. Buildings, objects, characters, and terrain have a lot more texture to them, and plant foliage and wildlife have increased as well. Wherever you’re clomping around or burning out tires, you’d barely recognize the old game.

Grand Theft Auto V_20141201190522For those not already familiar with the original Grand Theft Auto V’s premise, picture a story of three shady characters from very different backgrounds meeting and eventually working together to pull off grand heists in an open-world satirization of Los Angeles, California.  

Grand Theft Auto V_20141201154515While the player can (for the most part) switch between the three characters at will, each will require you to act and react like John McClane as action comes at you. Driving, flying, shooting, ski-dooing? San Andreas has a ton of diversions trying to kill you, but it’s worth the effort.  

Grand Theft Auto V_20141126000715Story Mode has gained a few new missions to go through for each character that will unlock personal affects for them. New Stranger missions are available too, and you simply HAVE to try out any peyote you can find. Take a nibble and enjoy an animalistic spirit journey.

Just beware of where you are when the drugs wear off.

Grand Theft Auto V_20141204113308By far my favorite addition to the remastered Grand Theft Auto V is the inclusion of a first-person play mode. It feels great and can be snapped into at any moment, just like the other camera views. Controls can be easily remapped for this to to play as a first-person shooter.

Grand Theft Auto V_20141119025317Moving around an open re-creation this intimately and closely feels like slipping on a second skin and living a life miles away in a fame-obsessed Babylon where snark is beaten to death. I must now lend my voice to the sea crying for impending virtual reality products – Morpheus by Sony and the Occulus Rift – to be released already.

Grand Theft Auto V_20141205013840First-person isn’t just a mode, it’s a mindset.  And it can be a terrible one to be snapped in.

Grand Theft Auto V_20141205013856I suddenly had to leave the country. I chose the location of Kyrat, the setting of the revolutionary war you’re sucked into during Far Cry 4. Temples, elephants, bad driving, and nasty wildlife await intrepid tourists in the latest of this line of sandbox first-person shooters.

Far Cry® 4_20150105223844Your character is newly arrived the closed regime of Kyrat (located somewhere in the Himalayas), on a request to deposit his mother’s cremated remains at an undisclosed location.

But the immaculately-dressed and delightfully cruel Paigan Min has taken a special interest in your being there. So has the revolution, which was started by your also-deceased father years ago.

Far Cry® 4_20150105182812As you wage guerrilla warfare with stealth and audacity in equal parts, Far Cry 4 gives you wild freedom in going about pushing back regime forces. Shooting or knifing silently through enemies is an option. So is shooting open a trapped animal’s cage and turning it loose on the would-be poachers. Setting fire to flammable pallets of drugs and ammunition can cause a ruckus and kill a guard or three.

Far Cry® 4_20150105234049However the job gets done, rewards in cash and experience points will further character advancement and armament. There’s tons to unlock for weapons, but customization of each gun seems a little more limited than previous Far Cry games. The abilities don’t feel as pick and choose as before, allowing better options for more well-rounded characters.

Far Cry® 4_20150105230519Far Cry 4’s visuals are stunning.  The locale offers wide-spread sets along which you can raise all kinds of hell, providing jungles, frigid mountain peaks, crowded cities and more. While details can come apart due to the buggy engine rendering the game, a jittering body or levitating snake isn’t likely to really stick out when you’re on a spree.

Far Cry® 4_20150105221827If anything, what will really ruin your appreciation of the scenery is the goddamn animals. They’re everywhere, most of them are hostile, and they have the annoying habit of getting territorial as if it’s the world’s fault they decided to make their nest in a smuggler’s fortress.  

Far Cry® 4_20150105225358I decided that if I was going to be forced to fight animals for a video game, it had better be the main point of the game (it wasn’t fair to me otherwise), so I sailed to Hoenn for Pokémon: Omega Ruby on the Nintendo 3DS. Here, no one will involve you in civil wars or bank heists. Here there is just the catch and the battle; same as it ever was.

virvac16Released alongside Alpha Sapphire, these two Pokémon games are enhanced versions of two beloved entries from the Gameboy Advance era. Pokémon has animated 3D models for its battles, carrying their actions out with moxy. Special attacks look flashier too, although I’d say the fight animations still lack the oomph of fellow Nintendo series, Fire Emblem. (If series designers are afraid to let their Pokémon engage in full contact, for example, they should see how their creation is represented in the cartoons or manga.)

virvac17New trainers are given their choice of a starter Pokémon and sent out to catch and raise stronger ones to fight their way to the top of the Pokémon League. On the way there, watery plot will be sloshed through as bumbling villains get in the way and a weaksauce rival attempts to thwart the efforts of the player.

Features-wise, this one’s a mashup of returning elements and more recent improvements. Secret Bases are back, allowing trainers to customize a den for friends to hang out and have challenges. Many things carried over from Pokémon X and Y, like Pokémon Amie (grooming and feeding, think Nintendogs-lite), and Super Training, where Pokémon shoot soccer balls at targets to raise stats in a minigame. The player’s trainer can no longer be customized in appearance which feels a little backwards, but the sting fades soon.

virvac18All the Pokémon of the original releases (Ruby and Sapphire) are here, and there’s new ones to find as well. Apparently a lot of Legendary Pokémon are capturable in the game, giving trainers the first chance to grab some of these returning favorites on the 3DS.

Any of these titles are going to be worth your free time and attention, time and age permitting (Grand Theft Auto V and Far Cry 4 are rated M, m’kay?), and Pokémon: Omega Ruby has been a portable tropical paradise I can visit when pressed face to ass in a crowded winter’s bus. If that next break doesn’t seem like it’ll ever come soon enough, delve into virtual retreats and leave this wretched flesh-realm behind.