We can recommend game consoles and other for-play gadgetry all we want, but after you have the hardware... then what? Because not every console is just a Netflix box with an analog remote control, we thought it'd be best to delve a bit into the software titles you could pick for would-be gamers, for the guy or girl that already owns everything, and heck, even just for yourself.
It's been a very good year for multiplatform titles. Sure, there's been a number of great exclusives, but by and large, whether you own an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or decently-spec'd Windows PC, the choices have been pretty consistent and consistently good. Here are a few suggestions:
Without a doubt, the game with the highest playtime-to-dollar ratio this year. It’s easy to get lost in the vast open world Bethesda has created, which can quite literally encompass the land mass of its previous Elder Scrolls titles. There's a main quest, sure, but you can easily spend hours just exploring the lands helping others on sidequests (say nothing of the hours you'll spend just crafting your character's face). Skyrim is what you make of it — a story driven entirely by what direction you wander at any given point. A word of caution, though: if you think slaying dragons is tough, just wait until you run into a bear.
For the love of brooding protagonists in more story-focused open world environments. Arkham City brings back voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill from the animated series to reprise their roles as Batman and the Joker, respectively, and beat up crime with a variety of upgradeable hi-tech gadgetry. Deus Ex: Human Revolution opts for cyborg augmentation and a grittier, more political tale.
Though only one lets you use charm and dialog to succeed (that'd be DE:HR), both games let you smash through concrete walls to knock them out cold. You really can't go wrong with a good old-fashioned wall smash.
Super Mario 3D Land
Nintendo | Nintendo 3DS
From Amazon: $39.99
From Gamestop: $39.99
Nintendo is hoping for some holiday cheer, and with both a drastic 3DS price drop and a new Mario title, it'll probably gets its wish granted. As expected, the appeal is part nostalgia (another strong Mario platformer) and part 3D showcase — but it's also had critical appeal. If that doesn't do the trick, if Mario or even the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D remake don't do the trick, there's always Mario Kart 7 (due out sans bundle in early December).
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
PC / Xbox 360 / PS3 / Wii
From Amazon: $49.99 - $136.99
From Best Buy: $59.99 - $99.99
PC / Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3
From Amazon: $59.99
From Best Buy: $59.99
The two pillars of military combat simulators, each with a relentlessly passionate fanbase. Both are refinements to a well-worn formula. Both are multiplayer-driven shooters that have a very secondary solo campaign. So, why pick one over the other?
The Modern Warfare franchise has long been the more dominant of the two franchises, both in sales and user base. MW3 also has the more compelling (albeit short) campaign and a couple new multiplayer tricks like the "Strike Package" system and special perks. Battlefield 3, meanwhile, has great multiplayer and jets. In fact, we asked our resident BF3 aficionado T.C. Sottek to contribute to this gift guide, and he responded in video singalong form.
Did your significant other, friend or offspring ever wax poetically about a game named "Portal," only to get an incredulous stare from you? Here's your chance to make it up to them (and yourself) by buying Portal 2. It's a hilarious brain-twisting romp through a laboratory where a crazy computer is trying to "test" you into oblivion, and with two copies or the game (or split-screen on console) you don't have to go it alone: co-op mode with even more unique and challenging puzzles that require extreme teamwork. Smart, funny, charming, it's the best companion you could ever ask for!
Gaming's homage to Indiana Jones. In a nutshell, the gameplay is run, climb, jump, and shoot. Story-wise, in Drake's Deception we find part-time archaeologist / full-time daredevil Nathan Drake and a gaggle of his wisecracking cohorts racing against a conspiracy group with hundreds of suit-clad disposable gangsters across the globe, from city to jungle to temple to desert. It's the kind of cinematic game you can probably get away with playing while your significant other watches it like a long TV movie.
HD remakes: what's old is new again
If you’re pining for the days long gone, then this holiday season’s HD remakes will satisfy the you of years past. Xbox 360 loyalists will enjoy Halo: Anniversary Edition’s ($39.99 from Amazon) past-to-present graphics switching and your favorite LAN party maps now remastered for online use (albeit with no overpowered pistol — sorry, Halo fans, this uses the more balanced Reach engine for multiplayer).
The Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection ($39.99 from Amazon) will revive two classic, critically-acclaimed PS2 games for the PS3. The story remains the same, however the graphics are much improved, and catapults these emotional epics from the past to the present. For the platform agnostic, the Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection ($49.99 from Amazon) comes with a triple play of sneaking, etc. It packs Metal Gear Solid 2, 3, and Peace Walker, all remastered for your enjoyment on either Xbox 360 or PS3.
Alternative: going the gift card route
Sometimes the easiest way out is also the best. If you know the platform / console of choice but don't know their interests, consider picking up a Xbox Live or PlayStation Network cards for use as virtual currency on their respective online download stores. Games like Iron Brigade (aka Trenched) and Bastion for Xbox Live Arcade, anything PixelJunk for PlayStation, and Limbo for practically every platform around can definitely stand on their own against some physical media-based games — especially for the price.
The iOS platform, of course, is no slouch in gaming, and if you've got an iTunes gift card and an iPhone / iPod touch, statistically-speaking, it'll most likely be spent on games. Titles like Capybara Games’ Sword and Sorcery EP, a puzzle-solving point-and-click adventure title, marries both beautiful 8-bit visuals and one of the most unforgettable soundtracks in recent memory (it's also a favorite "new thing" for our Editor-in-Chief Josh Topolsky). If you're looking to wow your friends with the power of your device, look no further than Chair Entertainment and Epic Games’ Infinity Blade 2 and EA’s Dead Space. Both titles straight up bring the sexy, break android hearts, and flex the muscle of that A4 / A5 processor.
Patrick Austin, James Brace, Sean Hollister, Omy Melo, Alexander Roman, T.C. Sottek, and Gabriel Toledo contributed to this gift guide — thank you!