Many of you out there likely know someone that just enjoys a good video game. There were many great games released this year on every platform that it may seem overwhelming which ones to buy for the gamers in your lives. With less than a week to go until Christmas and even less until Hanukkah, there’s never a better time to start shopping than now. There’s something for everyone and quite a bit of ground to cover so let’s get started…
These are the games that give gamers a sense of adventure, throwing countless obstacles in the face of the hero on their journey to some distant goal. Some really make you feel like you’re living a movie or the life of the hero, others tap your imagination and throw you in whimsical worlds that could only exist in dreams. They range from old-fashioned platformers to cinematic experiences, but they all provide gamers with the urge to keep moving forward. This year had many great action/adventure games, but these are the ones that really stood out this year.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
The latest entry in the beloved Zelda franchise has only recently arrived on store shelves, but it is quickly becoming one of the most beloved entries in the series. The story takes place right at the beginning, before the creation of the iconic Master Sword and the birth of series villain Ganon. In a sense, this is an origins game revealing just how series hero Link and the titular Zelda came to Hyrule. Everything players loved about other Zelda
games is intact in Skyward Sword, but the addition of 1-to-1 motion controls really sets it apart from anything else available on the Nintendo Wii. Some may wonder where the “realistic” graphics of the previous entry, Twilight Princess, have gone but the great artistic style of Skyward Sword will make players forget all about that. Also, for the first time in a Zelda game, the music is fully orchestrated. How great is that?
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
The sequel to 2009’s incredible Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Uncharted 3 continues the series’ reputation of being amongst the best action/adventure titles of this generation. Boasting some of the most realistic graphics and animations by even cinematic standards, Uncharted 3 truly makes players feel as though they are controlling the action of a movie and not a game. Part of this is due to the incredible amount of detail developer Naughty Dog and put into the game by using motion-capture for many of the animations as well as an impressive level of voice acting. With a lengthy single player campaign and a very fun multiplayer option, gamers will have many hours of play time with Uncharted 3. If you want something to show off your Playstation 3, make no mistake that Uncharted 3 is the game to turn to.
Batman: Arkham City
Everyone knows Batman. Everyone. Don’t lie. You know Batman, and odds are you wanted to be Batman at some point in your life. Arkham City gives you the opportunity to really feel like Batman in a way no other game can. Even 2009’s surprise hit Batman: Arkham Asylum doesn’t match the level of Batman found in Arkham City. Players are given the role of Batman (who else?) to keep Arkham City from getting out of control and uncovering the truth behind the prison. Now, odds are you want to play this game because it makes you Batman. Fair enough. Gamers will get to use classic Batman equipment and beat the snot out of familiar Batman villains using all manner of Batman awesomeness. Don’t want to take the direct approach of just making bad guys acquaintances of your Bat-fist? Taking the stealth approach is just as fun and in all honesty more rewarding and Batman-like than just pummeling people for not being Batman. This is actually one of the few games where playing through a second time is actually better than the first simply because you’ve reached a level of Batman not available in the first playthrough. If you or someone you know want to be Batman (you know you all want to), get this game.
Platformers are amongst the oldest gaming genres out there. Think Mario, and you immediately know what a good platformer is. Back in the 80s and 90s, odds are you played a platformer and even today they exist and are still wonderful.
Rayman Origins may be one of the most important titles of 2011. Why? Well, for starters, it’s a 2D old-school platformer featuring hand-drawn graphics in a series known for its superb 3D platforming. Rayman didn’t start off in the old 2D realm like Mario and Sonic did after all. This is the kind of platformer you would get if you didn’t own a Nintendo console, and even if you did own one it’d still be difficult to pass Rayman Origins up. There is plenty to do in this game and simply going through a level isn’t enough. Players must free characters called Electoons by completing various puzzles hidden throughout the levels before moving forward in the game. It’s a nice way to keep things fresh in a world where platformers just have you go from point A to point B and not much else.
Super Mario 3D Land
Ah, Mario. No matter how advanced video games become, it is always nice to know there’s a great old-school platformer out there to challenge us all. Super Mario 3D Land is first Mario Land entry in nearly two decades, and it continues that old tradition of being among the best of the classic 2D Mario games. The big draw here is that 3D Land utilizes the 3DS’ 3D (did I mention the game is in 3D?) capabilities to their fullest extent, so much so that playing with the 3D turned off makes the game incredibly more challenging. The return of the beloved Tanooki Suit (“Raccoon Suit”) from Super Mario Bros. 3 is also a welcome sight even if the ability to fly has been removed. There are hours and hours of gameplay featured in 3D Land and the further into the game you get, the more challenging and rewarding it becomes. In an age where games would rather hold your hand than challenge you, this is a fantastic breath of fresh air. For younger players (and those who just want to have fun), this may seem a bit overwhelming. For them, Nintendo has included the option of using a special power-up to allow players to quickly complete a level if they have died one too many times. That is what makes Mario games so great. Everyone has fun.
Create. Explore. Play. That’s the premise of LittleBigPlanet, a game that dares you to create the best 2D levels imaginable to share with the world. LittleBigPlanet 2 upped the ante by providing gamers with the tools necessary to practically create entire games of varying genres. There really is nothing out there quite like LittleBigPlanet 2. Everything in the game looks fantastic, and the Sack Boys are just as silly and adorable as ever. The controls still take a bit of getting used to when it comes to swapping between planes, but after that brief hurdle you’ll find a rewarding game with nearly endless amounts of content to explore. And hey, it’s another game to play with your friends and family. Who wouldn’t want that?
There weren’t too many fighters this year, but quite frankly it’s better that way. The fighter genre demands skill few other games require so less releases per year are always a good thing. Fighters are fast, brutal tests of skill and reflexes as well as a bit of memorization to keep those combos flowing. This year there were three major releases from old favorites and both all exceptional.
Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3
Fighting game fans all know about the Marvel vs Capcom series. The second entry in the series, Marvel vs Capcom 2, is still considered one of the best fighting games ever made. Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 is the second version of this year’s Marvel vs Capcom 3 and it throws in additional characters, stages, modes, and some gameplay tweaks for a lower price. The big thing about the MvC franchise is found in the name itself; it’s some of the best of Marvel characters fighting against (and at times with) some of the best of Capcom’s characters. Ever wonder if Ryu (Street Fighter) could take on Wolverine (X-Men)? How about The Hulk (Hulk) fighting against Nemesis (Resident Evil 3)? Throw in a three-man tag-team system and a dizzying number of combos and abilities and you have one of the best fighters of this generation.
Mortal Kombat. One of the bloodiest, silliest, most brutal fighting game series ever made went back to basics with this reboot of the franchise. There are no more goofy weapons, multiple stances, a bazillion fighters, tag teams, nothing. This is pure, one-on-one action where your only objective is to beat the ever loving hell out of the opponent with the hopes of hitting the right button combination upon hearing that classic “Finish Him!” we’ve all come to know and love. The addition of “X-ray moves” adds a nice touch to the game as it makes it even more cringe-worthy and allows for a nice change of pace. Build up a special meter and unleash one of these moves on your opponent for a bone shattering, organ bursting attack that the game lets you see from the inside. It’s classic Mortal Kombat, and this latest entry is quite frankly the best since the old arcade days. There are even special editions of the game that come complete with an arcade-style controller full of oversized, plastic click-tastic buttons. Quite frankly, MK is one of those games you laugh at for its absurdities while cringing at the attacks dealt to your enemies. This is not for the squeamish, and although the game doesn’t feature jaw-dropping graphics it is still disturbing to see someone pulled in half and their brain turned to mush all in a shower of blood and guts. I’m sorry, were you eating lunch while reading this? My apologies.
The King of Fighters XIII
After a rather shoddy performance with The King of Fighters XII, XIII brings a much needed classic feel back to the fighting genre. It feels more like an arcade game in both look and gameplay than anything else out there today and really plays nicely. It isn’t off the wall chaos like Marvel vs Capcom 3, it isn’t crazily bloody like Mortal Kombat, it’s just good old-fashioned fun. It’s a very balanced game with some nice single player options to better yourself if you so desire. From a graphical standpoint, it goes more for an old school look. This will definitely appeal to the more “classic fighting” crowd who prefer to understand how the characters work without any crazy nonsense thrown in. This is the fighting game to get if you’re looking for classic, old-school fighting.
This year saw a lot of threes as the biggest shooters in gaming got their third major releases this year. Shooters are exactly that: games that focus on lots and lots of shooting. From realistic military shooters where you play as a soldier to the more science fiction action of the space marine, there’s no mistaking that shooters are all about in-your-face action and lots of bullets flying around.
One of the biggest releases of the year is EA’s Battlefield 3. Boasting the most realistic graphics seen in any video game to date, and absolutely superb sound design, and a phenomenal multiplayer suite, this game should be without a doubt at the top of your list for multiplayer shooters. There is a single player campaign as well, but let’s be honest here. You are buying Battlefield 3 for the absolutely brilliant multiplayer. There are four roles players can take on, assault (your standard soldier), support (machine gunners that act as mobile ammo drops), engineers (lay down explosives and fix vehicles), and recon (snipers). In addition, players can pilot helicopters and even jets as well as drive a variety of vehicles across massive battlefields containing a few dozen players. There may be a few of you wondering if this game has the same annoying issue Call of Duty games have (campers), and the answer is no. Why? Simple: Battlefield 3 environments are fully destructible, meaning any potential camper has their hiding spot blown to bits in a matter of seconds. This really is the most realistic shooter available.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Now we have the biggest release of the year with Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. It may look only marginally better than 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, but make no mistake this is the game to get for fast, arcade-styled shooter goodness. This game has it all, an explosive single player campaign, great cooperative missions, and so many multiplayer options it’ll make your head spin. Every player can set up their multiplayer character to wield the weapons they want and have a number of savable created classes. Throw in a nice perk system that rewards skillful play, a leveling system that rewards players who stick with the game, and some of the fastest and most intense gameplay around and you’ll understand why the Call of Duty games have remained so popular for all these years. The environments may not be destructible like Battlefield 3, but with the action moving so fast and furious you won’t care. Even the single player campaign keeps the action rolling as you fight through World War III and try to end the reign of terror of Modern Warfare 2’s Makarov. Definitely one of the most fun shooters available.
Gears of War 3
Epic Games’ final entry in the main Gears of War games offers a glimpse into humanity’s last stand against the terrifying Locust Horde and the even more horrifying Lambent. Players once again take on the role of Marcus Fenix, though for the first time ever players get to fight from the perspective of other Gears in the single player campaign. Unlike the other entries on this list, the Gears series is a third-person cover-based shooter. This gives a small amount of realism to the otherwise hilariously over-the-top violence of the games. Humans, Locust, and Lambent can all absorb an absurd amount of bullets before going down, but don’t think this is an easy game. The higher difficulties really punish careless players and you’ll be scrounging around for ammunition if you aren’t a good shot. The story is about as good as a cheesy 80s action film, but the campaign is so much fun it doesn’t matter anyway. Add in four player cooperative play (a first for the series), a collection of multiplayer modes, the revamped Horde mode (survive wave after wave of enemies), and the all new Beast mode (Horde mode but from the perspective of the bad guys), and the replayability of Gears 3 skyrockets. A must-have for Xbox 360 owners.
Role Playing Games. The genre of nerds, as some might say. Yet this genre isn’t all about rolling dice and making up silly, medieval sounding names to save some pen-and-paper princess. Nowadays, these games give you the tools to play the game by building your own adventure. What you do is entirely up to you.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Odds are you’ve heard about the latest Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim. You may have heard it’s one of the biggest single player games available, that it contains hundreds of hours of content, unbelievable graphics, incredible sound effects, beautiful music, and superb gameplay. It’s all true. This game may be the best single player experience of the year and possibly this generation. Like many MMOs, this game doesn’t really have an end. It ends only when you decide to stop playing. There really is that much to do in the game and that many different ways to play. You start as a prisoner, ready to be executed for crimes you may or may not have committed, and eventually you’ll become the most powerful warrior in the land. Or perhaps you want to be a mage. Or a rogue. Or a spellsword. Or a wanderer. Or a blacksmith. Or a trader. Or a mercenary. Or a thief. Or a…
Here it is, one of the most difficult games of the year. This isn’t just a difficult by today’s standards kind of game either. No, this game punishes you for failure, and it punishes hard. It’s the kind of game that knocks the ice cream from your hand then pushes you to the dirt to eat it. It’s old-school Battletoads hard, the kind of game you play to truly show off your skill and tenacity. This is not the kind of game to get for a younger gamer as it is violent, bloody, and punishing. This is the kind of game to get for people who laugh in the face of old Mega Man games, who found the hardest difficulties of Devil May Cry too easy, who don’t find a challenging game challenging enough. Despite the extreme difficulties, this is still a superb game that gives a feeling of satisfaction few games can give. If you have a gamer in your life craving a challenge of the most difficult kind, Dark Souls will fit the bill perfectly.
Massively Multiplayer Online games are the games you and everyone you know play together for hours on end and will keep playing for months. They are, in a sense, digital time sinks, and the best of these can consume your life without you even realizing it. That’s the power of these games.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
The newest MMO out there also has the potential to become one of the best. While the last Star Wars MMO , Galaxies, failed for a variety of reasons, The Old Republic has two major factors going for it: it’s been developed by BioWare, the creators of the beloved Knights of the Old Republic series and most recently the critically acclaimed Mass Effect series, and World of Warcraft has been on the decline lately. Plus, it’s Star Wars. Say what you will about Episodes I, II, and III, but the Star Wars universe is as popular today as its ever been for a reason: it is fascinating, exciting, and interesting whether you care to admit it or not. The Old Republic will allow players the opportunity to shape the Star Wars universe in their own way and leave their own imprint in the mythos. As the game doesn’t actually come out until December 20th, there’s little more I can say about it.
The MMO that I personally play, Rift is a game that released in a surprisingly stable state for a game as large as it is. While it isn’t as big as World of Warcraft, and quite frankly
steals a good amount of things from it, what it does offer is a fantastic world to explore and continual support from its developer, Trion Worlds. What sets it apart from WoW though are the titular Rifts, tears in the world that act as miniature dungeons for soloing players or groups of players that appear at random. Even the class system, which is a bit overwhelming at first, is ingenious in that players can choose to be whatever they would like to be through a combination of subclasses known as Souls. Want to make a rogue-tank? You can do that. It’s all about how you assign your skill points. Rift is also continually growing, with a recent update adding a massive new zone to the game as well as a slew of additional gameplay options.
Command armies and lead your faction to total victory. Or just build some cities that thrive. Whatever you choose to do, you better make the right calls or you will lose.
Total War: Shogun 2
This is likely to become the best strategy game of the year, if only because nothing else really comes close to the level of polish of Total War: Shogun 2. The latest entry in the Total War series brings players back to feudal Japan much like the previous Shogun entry nearly ten years ago, but improves upon its predecessor substantially. This is a turn-based strategy game where every move counts, and every detail cannot be ignored. Combined with absolutely gorgeous graphics, impressive AI, and dozens of small details to give it a historical vibe makes it one of the best strategy games ever made. Every decision in the game has a consequence, so everything must be carefully planned and managed beforehand. Even the terrain type can cause a seemingly lopsided battle much closer and potentially ruin the seemingly greater force. There really aren’t many strategy games out there quite like this.
Here is one of those off-the-wall strategy games that comes out of nowhere and impresses. Anno 2070 forces players to be mindful of landspace as it is in short supply, taking place on an Earth some 60 years into the future where our seas have risen substantially to the point where mountains are the only spots of land remaining. The display the user gets is similar to that of a satellite feed; every so often some static kicks in or scan lines appear, and that’s the point. You get a bird’s eye view of your cities because you are in fact in the sky. But this is one hell of an addicting game, where you can work with and against other players to benefit your growing civilization. Quests occassionally appear, and the rewards for completing them are divided among those who participate and work together. There are three factions, each with their own unique advantages and disadvantages, to play as and there are always people to play with online. The only real issue is you have to be online at all times to play, but let’s be honest here; who isn’t online all the time anymore?
Get a problem and figure out how to solve it. That’s the core of a puzzle game, but the use of environments and objects forces gamers to find clever solutions to their problems. This year had several strange puzzle games, but they were all quite fun in their own right.
If someone says the cake is a lie one more time that person will have legally given myself and everyone in a ten mile radius the right the punch you. With that said, there are no cake jokes in Portal 2. Thank god. What there is however is a heaping dose of humor. Couple that with some superb portal puzzles and you have a great game. The cooperative mode is arguably the better option, as two portal guns are clearly better than one. The hilarious hijinks of Wheatly only add to the great dialog of series villain GLaDOS, and if you need further humor simply look up Cave Johnson’s lemons speech for a glimpse of what to expect in Portal 2. Gameplay is relatively straightforward; click a button to shoot one portal, another button to shoot another portal, and move. That’s about it. The key is to figure out how to finish levels using only that and whatever happens to be lying around at the time. Considering the game very rarely frustrates and continues to make players laugh throughout, Portal 2 is definitely one of the highlights of the year.
Bizarre is probably the best way to describe Catherine. This is just a weird, out of this world game that makes absolutely zero sense, and that’s entirely the point. It isn’t supposed to make sense, it’s just supposed to make you think. And think you will. This is a pretty difficult game, though not anything on the level of Dark Souls. Many of the puzzle sequences occur when the lead character, Vincent, falls asleep and takes on the form of a bizarre sheepman. To survive his dreams, he must climb a tower by pushing blocks out of the way to make a path. It sounds simple enough, but eventually it becomes so tension filled from everything going on and the distorted classical music playing you won’t know what to do. The tower is continually falling apart from the bottom-up as well, forcing you to keep moving and staying several steps ahead. The multiple endings of the game means there’s reason to go back, but take note that this is a mature player’s puzzle game. Young children need not apply.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Another surprisingly well-done game is Capcom’s Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective for the DS. This game is just plain silly, as you take on the role of a recently deceased character whose soul has no memory of how he died. Your job is the select various objects scattered throughout the levels to figure out what’s going on. There’s a ton of great characters in this game to interact with and the puzzle aspects are great as well. You’ll have to switch between the real world and the ghost world to figure out just what is going on, and when in the ghost world you’ll have limited access to items to use. If you want to make it across each level, you’ll have to figure out how to get to the various items scattered about. This is the perfect game for a younger gamer that needs a distraction in a long car ride, or for an older gamer just looking for a reason to dust off their old DS.
Ready, set, go! You know the drill. Get the fastest time from point A to point B or just beat everyone else in the race.
Forza Motorsport 4
Looking for a realistic racing game this holiday season? Look no further than Forza Motorsport 4. This game comes packed with 500 different cars from various makes, and every single one of them exists in the real world, and this doesn’t even include the available downloadable content. From the realistic driving mechanics to the incredible level of detail, Forza 4 really is one of the best racing games out there to date. If you really want to show off your system, take a look at the game’s Autovista mode where the cars are shown in such stunning detail you’d think you were watching a television show about the cars. It looks that good, and plays even better.
Mario Kart 7
It’s Mario Kart. You race classic Mario characters through Mario-themed tracks and throw crazy items at each other like shells and bananas. Now, however, they’ve added in some neat add-ons to the karts that allow players to glide a little farther after jumps or drive underwater. It’s an interesting addition, and thankfully the motorbikes from Mario Kart Wii have been removed to bring everything back to pure kart action. Online play is still a blast, too. If you love Mario Kart and own a 3DS, you owe it to yourself to pick up Mario Kart 7.
Now, there are plenty other great games out there, but this should give you all a nice head start. Get everything you need, consult review sites for the games not on here, and have a happy holiday!