Well, it has come again: the season when it is better to give than to receive--or at least, that is what we are told. The truth of the matter is that unless you tell people what you want, receiving can be disappointing.
Sure, there is the spirit of giving, but who really wants a tie or socks when he or she can have hours of fun adventuring through surreal worlds, hacking and slashing to glory? That doesn't sound very much like a Christmas attitude, although it does sound like Black Friday shopping.
Regardless, it's time to name of few of this year's top titles that may crop up on the Christmas wish lists of your favorite gamers. A host of games was released for handheld gaming devices, but we'll just focus on the Big Four: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii (Wii U).
A lot of solid titles were released this year. There were rehashes of old favorites like Mass Effect 3, Call of Duty Black Ops II, Darksiders II, Max Payne III, UFC Undisputed 3, Assassins Creed 3, Borderlands 2 and Halo 4. All of those titles garnered media acclaim, have solid action and animation, and you really can't go too wrong with a Halo, CoD, Assassin's Creed or Mass Effect title.
Borderlands may only be the second release in the series but the artwork, irreverent tongue-in-cheek dialogue and action also make it a great choice.
For those looking for something that they can play either in a solo setting or with a community, Diablo III is pretty much the same as Diablo II but with a darker story, some improvements in gameplay mechanics and a few new elements introduced to enhance the experience. Still, it is a dungeon crawl that combines magnificent cut scenes with a "same thing, different setting" feel.
The same goes for Guild Wars 2, one of the better massively multiplayer releases of the year. Both D3 and GW2 require buying the box but the online gameplay elements are free to play.
Dishonored is a new title that combines Renaissance with steampunk, mixes in some arcane elements, and then supports the whole thing with a strong storyline. Be careful, though: you need to have a big enough system to handle it if you get the PC version.
Other titles to consider include Starhawk, Journey, Twisted Metal and Fez.
Family Friendly Titles:
Exercise-based programs got a huge boost thanks to titles like Zumba Core Fitness, Adidas miCoach and Nike+ Kinect Training, and there are plenty other titles that bear some consideration. Compilation titles featuring a bevy of mini-games that can be played either solo or in competition with others on the same machine include Sports Champions 2 (PS3 exclusive), Kinect Sports Ultimate Collection (360 with Kinect exclusive), and the annual releases like Madden Football, NCAA Football, NBA 2K13, FIFA Soccer 13 and SSX.
Titles like Far Cry 3, Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition and Battlefield 3: End Game are planned for release by the end of the year. A couple are slated to launch in December, and in the case of Battlefield 3, that could actually slide into 2013. For shooter or role-play fans, Far Cry's latest entry and the re-release (with upgrades) of Baldur's Gate will be welcome additions to gaming collections.
It should be noted that Baldur's Gate EE will also launch for the iPad, and the buzz is that the game looks pretty darn good on that device.
What Those in the Business Want
Getting in touch with friends in the publishing business of the video-game industry is always a treat. This year was no exception. When asked what they would want for Christmas, their lists provided some surprising answers.
PlanetSide 2 was on the top of one list--a massively multiplayer online shooter title that is free to play but does have some elements that have to be purchased to be accessed.
"It's been nine years since the original game launched, and I have been eagerly awaiting it ever since," said Sean Kauppinen, founder and CEO of International Digital Entertainment Agency. "Free-to-play makes it even better."
Angry Birds Trilogy, Cabela's Dangerous Hunts 2013 and Cabela's Hunting Expeditions were also high on the list, as was the family friendly title Skylanders: Giants.
A new console? Really? You already have a Wii, and the price on the Wii U is bundled at around $380. But the real steal is this: You can pick up a Wii for less than $100 and the Wii is more of a family friendly gaming device. If you are looking for a console that is more physically interactive, however, then a 360 Kinect system might be more appropriate.
Sadly, you won't find titles like New Super Mario Bros. U or Nintendo Land on the old console.
Before diving in and purchasing titles for gamers, here's a bit of advice: Find out what type of game they like and don't buy based on presumed age-oriented appropriateness. Not too many teen boys would choose Angry Birds over Halo. And if you buy a PC game, make sure the gamer's system can handle the game. Some games require newer operating systems or video cards.
And lastly, if the game has an online component, check for fees to play online or if the recipient has access to online play. Xbox LIVE requires a membership to play online, and if the person getting the game can't afford to buy that membership, maybe toss in a gift card for online accessibility. Of course, if he or she doesn't have a wireless router or way to connect, the point is moot.
Whatever title you end up selecting, remember, by next year, there will be a whole new batch of titles to wade through.