'Splinter Cell: Blacklist'

From: Ubisoft

Rated: M

Who it's for: Fans of stealth gameplay -- outside of "Metal Gear," this is the best

Console: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, PC

Grade: B+

Late summer is a glorious time. Not because the weather (theoretically) starts to cool a bit, or because all the Halloween candy has magically appeared on store shelves.

No, this time of year rocks because the kids have returned to school.

That means you insist they go to bed at a reasonable time so you can catch up on some games meant for the over-17 crowd. So grab a beer and one of these new entries, and celebrate earlier bed times!

Sam Fisher, super spy, the lead character in Tom Clancy's "Splinter Cell" series, has been through a lot. He's watched friends and loved ones die, has been disavowed by the secret agency he worked tirelessly for and has survived the series' previous dismal installment, "Splinter Cell: Conviction."

Fisher makes a big comeback in "Splinter Cell: Blacklist," featuring a return to the stealth-based gameplay that made the franchise so successful.

The story -- which is mediocre and inconsequential -- revolves around the usual terrorist threats, convoluted plot twists and edge-of-your-seat close calls that make these games so much fun to play.

But gamers don't play "Splinter Cell" expecting "War and Peace" (my apologies to Mr. Clancy, who likely had little to do with the story here); they play for the refined gameplay that allows them to choose how to approach each situation.

You can run in guns blazing, if that's your thing, and find success. However, if you choose to play as the designers intended, you still will find multiple options and paths.

In fact, the game encourages replay by ranking you in three different areas -- Ghost, Panther and Assault.

Ghost challenges you to approach situations in a non-lethal way, knocking out or bypassing your opponents and leaving them alive. Panther requires a stealth approach but allows you to dispose of enemies any way you see fit. And Assault caters to those who don't care if they're seen or not.

The sublime gameplay makes me want to replay sections just to see how I could approach situations differently, elevating "Blacklist" to my favorite "Splinter Cell" entry.

I have one complaint, though. The actor who voiced Fisher from the start -- the incomparable Michael Ironside -- has been replaced. The new Fisher, Eric Johnson, comes off about as generic as his name suggests, though, to be fair, Ironside nailed it every time, making for a difficult act to follow.

Nevertheless, between the return of the stealth-based gameplay, the revamped multiplayer (Spies vs. Mercs is back!) and a good, if somewhat forgettable, co-op campaign, there's a lot to love here.

Stealth fans, put on your goggles and start sneaking about today.

'Saints Row IV'

From: Deep Silver

Rated: M

Who it's for: Those who enjoy games but don't take themselves quite so seriously

Console: Xbox 360, PS3

Grade: B-

The "Saints Row" series is ridiculous. So over-the-top it can't see the ground. So outrageous -- and occasionally offensive -- it caters to the same audience as the "American Pie" movies and pull-my-finger jokes.

However, this ridiculousness isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes ridiculous can be fun. This is one of those times.

In "Saints Row IV," you play Boss, a former member of the Saints gang who has become president of the United States.

Aliens invade. The POTUS gains super powers. Mayhem ensues.

While the "Saints Row" series was originally positioned as a serious contender to Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto" franchise, the former has gone farther and farther down the rabbit hole.

The open-world gameplay remains a lot of fun, tasking players to collect hundreds of objects, complete a plethora of side missions and immerse themselves in the madness.

The biggest problem with "Saints Row IV" comes from the superpowers. Once your character can run like a bullet train and leap multiple blocks at a time, there's little motivation to use the game's vehicles to move about, which limits the gameplay.

If you're looking for a hilarious, fun and well-crafted open-world game, though, "Saints Row IV" will scratch that itch.