It's been a banner year for the video-game industry, and that means there's a wealth of possibilities this holiday season for gamers and those seeking gifts for them. In addition to Gears of War 2, Resistance 2, Guitar Hero World Tour, and Rock Band 2—which I've covered recently in this space—here are some options that are certain to please the gamer on your list.
BioShock (2K; PS3; rated mature)
One of last year's best titles finally made its debut on Sony's game system this fall. Now, PlayStation 3 owners can unravel the secrets of Rapture, an underwater dystopia populated by insane, genetically modified citizens. The bonus for being patient is the availability of Challenge Rooms, exclusive to the PS3, with new locations, art, and objectives.
Tom Clancy's EndWar (Ubisoft; PC, PS3, Xbox 360; rated teen)
This tactical game turns players into generals who direct the movement of units in a world war that occurs in the near future. An advanced voice-recognition feature means that with a headset and a microphone, you can play this game using only voice commands.
Call of Duty: World at War (Activision Blizzard; DS, PC, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360; rated mature)
Just what a gamer always wants for Christmas: first-person mayhem. The Call of Duty series returns to the Second World War for this game, focusing on the Pacific theatre—which means naval and air battles—and ground assaults in Eastern Europe.
Far Cry 2 (Ubisoft; PC, PS3, Xbox 360; rated mature)
There are no bad guys in this game. Or is everyone a bad guy? It's difficult to know in Far Cry 2, which takes place in a fictional African nation. Players take on the role of a mercenary and fight for the faction of their choice. Does the end justify the means as you try to kill the arms dealer behind the conflicts? You decide.
Tomb Raider: Underworld (Eidos; PC, PS3, Xbox 360; rated teen)
The sexy Lara Croft is back, and her adventures in this game take you to Thailand, the Arctic, and Mexico, and under the Mediterranean, in search of Thor's hammer. Croft is a more skilled adventurer in this game, able to free-climb and find alternate solutions to the problems she faces.
Quantum of Solace (Activision Blizzard; DS, PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii; rated teen)
Daniel Craig is the current James Bond, and Activision is the new publisher of 007 video games. This one bridges the two films that star Craig. Big bad Bond with his big-gun. You know you want it.
Left 4 Dead (Electronic Arts; PC, Xbox 360; rated mature)
From Valve, the developer of Half-Life 2, comes this survival horror game that redefines cooperative play. Up to four players must depend on each other in order to survive a journey through environments swarming with flesh-eating zombies. If you never learned how to play nice in kindergarten, you'll have to learn fast or die trying.
Prince of Persia (Ubisoft; PC, PS3, Xbox 360; rated teen)
This is a different prince from the one featured in the Sands of Time trilogy. In this game—which sports a beautiful illustrative style—the prince teams up with Elika, a woman with magical powers. Together, they fight Ahriman, the ancient god of darkness, who is spreading an evil rot over the land. It's a metaphor for saving the environment. Really.
Mirror's Edge (Electronic Arts; PS3, Xbox 360; rated teen)
In this title, gamers literally look at the world through the eyes of Faith, who lives in a seemingly clean city ruled by a totalitarian government. Faith is a runner, a courier who uses parkour—jumping, climbing, swinging, et cetera—to move through the environment. It's possible to complete this game without ever shooting an enemy, either by avoiding them or by disarming them with acrobatic moves. At its best, it'll leave you breathless.
Fallout 3 (Bethesda Softworks; PC, PS3, Xbox 360; rated mature)
In 2277, 200 years after a nuclear war devastated the world, players start this game by leaving the safety of Vault 101, the fallout shelter in which they were born and raised. In what used to be Washington, D.C., you find that life, of one form or another, has survived. As you unravel the mystery of your father's whereabouts, you also try to survive.
Fable II (Microsoft; Xbox 360; rated mature)
In this high-fantasy tale set in the land of Albion, gamers take on the guise of a burgeoning hero. You start as a child and grow into either a benevolent or a tyrannical hero. Which you become depends entirely on the choices you make, so consider your actions carefully.
The Last Remnant (Square Enix; PS3, Xbox 360; rated mature)
This is an entirely new role-playing franchise from the venerable Japanese RPG publisher. The game revolves around remnants, ancient artifacts that imbue their holders with great power and as a result are desired by all. The battle sequences in this game are much larger than you'd expect—you'll find yourself controlling squads, not characters. There's strength in numbers, as always.
Tales of Vesperia (Namco Bandai; Xbox 360; rated teen)
Vivid character design makes this RPG the best of the Tales series. Trying to recover a device stolen from his village that controls the flow of fresh water, Yuri Lowell gets caught up in an intricate plot of politics and classism. The fighting sequences here are in real time, and you can enhance your stats by cooking new recipes. That's right, cooking.
Valkyria Chronicles (Sega; PS3; rated teen)
Set on an alternate Earth during a Second World War–like conflict, this game features a unique blend of real-time and turn-based combat. Welkin, a nature-loving and reluctant war hero, leads a small platoon against the invading Empire.
Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures (Eidos; PC; rated mature)
This massively multiplayer on-line role-playing game is set in the world of Conan, Robert E. Howard's barbarian creation. Players explore Cimmeria in a series of single-player missions. It's a rambunctious and violent game of swords and sorcery, as befits those in the court of Conan.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (Activision Blizzard; Mac, PC; rated teen)
The most popular MMORPG, with more than 11 million monthly subscribers, World of Warcraft puts players in the world of Azeroth, where they come together in guilds and undertake various quests. Wrath of the Lich King, the most recent expansion of the game, takes players to the frozen lands of Northrend, and presents an opportunity to raise their characters to the new level of 80. The addition of a new character class, the death knight, is a bonus.
Zboard gaming keyboard (Ideazon)
Created with PC gamers in mind, the Zboard is a fully customizable keyboard equipped with a built-in USB hub. You lay key sets specific to games on the basic keyboard, so you don't have to remember which keystroke makes you move or slash at your foes. Key sets are available for Age of Conan, World of Warcraft—even Wrath of the Lich King—and others.
For the kids in all of us
Little Big Planet (Sony; PS3; rated everyone)
The most fun game of the year, Little Big Planet puts players in control of little Sackgirls and Sackboys, who run and jump through wacky environments that look like they were made with craft supplies. After mastering predesigned levels, you can easily build and share your own.
Lego Batman (Warner Bros.; DS, PC, PSP, PS2, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360;
rated everyone 10+)
The Lego series of video games reinterprets Gotham City and the world of The Dark Knight. This game is based not on the Christopher Nolan–Christian Bale films but on the original comic books, so the villains are adorned in bright colours and Robin appears as your trusty sidekick. There are no wisecracks or quips, though. Didn't you know Lego characters can't talk?
Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force (Disney; DS; rated everyone)
The ultra-popular virtual world for kids moves from computer to handheld with this collection of mini games. Players take on the role of a covert agent in the Elite Penguin Force, investigating mysteries and embarking on missions.
Sonic Unleashed (Sega; PS2, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360; rated everyone 10+)
Everyone's favourite hedgehog returns in this game that mixes the platform and fighting genres. In the day sequences, players run the super-speed Sonic through Mediterranean and Asian-inspired levels. At night, Sonic turns into the Werehog, his slower but stronger alter ego.
Wii Fit and Balance Board (Nintendo; Wii; rated everyone)
The Balance Board that comes with Wii Fit—released in May—is pressure-sensitive, so it can be used to perform any number of physical activities, including yoga and aerobics. The most fun, though, comes from using the Balance Board as a tool for true sports simulation.
Skate It (Electronic Arts; Wii; rated everyone)
Get on that Balance Board and learn to skate by completing a range of challenges that will school you in how to pull off ollies and flips by flicking the Wii Remote as if you were grabbing the deck of your board. You can customize the levels to your liking, so put the ramp wherever you want it.
Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip (Ubisoft; Wii; rated everyone 10+)
Use the Balance Board to control your snowboarder, with or without flaming-red hair, and stay warm and dry—rather than soaking wet with a bruised bum. Test your mad half-pipe skillz.