We're still a number of weeks away from the frenzy of the holiday gift-giving season, and already we've had a number of stellar games rise to the top, begging for your attention.
Set in 1960, when the lustre of the postwar '50s was fading, that decade's unbridled optimism making way for paranoia, BioShock is unlike any first-person shooter you've ever played. From 2K Games for the PC and Xbox 360, it puts you in the role of an unnamed character who ends up in Rapture, an undersea city created by Andrew Ryan, a megalomaniacal libertarian who rejected the two political systems of his day–democratic and communist–in favour of a place where people could determine their own fate. But something went horribly wrong, and the degenerating metropolis is now populated by citizens who have mutated themselves through the use of ADAM, a genetic material that you'll also use to survive. Consuming ADAM means that you can use plasmid powers, such as telekinesis, incinerate, and enrage (which makes your enemies fight each other)–but at what cost? From the stunning art-deco art direction to the creepy character designs to the smooth and intuitive gameplay, Bioshock is a beautiful nightmare of a game.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
The debut of The Legend of Zelda on the Nintendo DS is also one of the best Zelda games ever. In Phantom Hourglass, you are Link–again–and you find yourself being heroic–again–as you endeavour to save your friend Tetra, also known as Zelda–again. Everything you expect from a Legend of Zelda game is here, but you also get to play through a fun story. A ghost ship is terrorizing the waters, and Tetra boards the vessel to find out what's going on. When the ship disappears with her onboard, it's up to you to put things right. You navigate your small ship from island to island and, using the DS touchscreen, you'll move Link around, swing his sword, and throw his boomerang. The puzzles are just difficult enough to challenge without being frustrating.
The television ad campaign for EA Sports' latest incarnation of their hockey franchise, NHL 08, does more than put some extra cash in the pockets of one-hit-wonder Rockwell. It conveys the most important innovation in this year's edition: the artificial intelligence. In the commercial, a gamer (who is far too young to know the song "Somebody's Watching Me") is shown trying the same offensive move three times, and each time the game's AI has the defenders respond in a different way. The first attempt at a one-timer from the corner is successful. On the second attempt, a backchecking forward intercepts the pass. The third attempt sees a defenceman crush the player as he's about to pass the puck. Add to this crackerjack AI the improvements made to the skill stick, which allow you to use the right thumbstick to control the stick of your player, and NHL 08–available for PC, PS2, PS3, and Xbox 360–is the hockey sim of the season.
Rated everyone 10+.
Created for the PS3 and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Heavenly Sword is a sweeping action game where you play as Nariko, a young woman with a terrible destiny. Tasked with protecting the titular sword, you cut a swath through hordes of enemies from the start of the game to the finish. At every break in the action, you'll be turning away from the screen, gasping for breath and reaching for a drink of water. The control scheme makes it easy to pick up and play without the combat feeling derivative, and the animation is smooth and seamless, making Heavenly Sword an eye-catching wonder. Admittedly, it's shorter than a lot of games, but it's sweeter too.