At any time of year, video games are big business - they are arguably the only marketplace that remains intact (and in fact increasing in sales) despite the recession, regardless of what is happening to certain retailers like Game's value. And while the sales window for most titles is primarily in the first few days and weeks immediately after release, Christmas offers gamers the opportunity to ask for titles that they missed first time round, especially in terms of titles released in the ridiculously busy November release period. So with that in mind, the third part of our 2011 Christmas Gift Guide is dedicated to the world of video games, including games, consoles, peripherals and a select few merchandise lines to make your Christmas that little bit more entertaining. Hold tight for a selection of the best games of the year, as well as a number that accommodate certain specialist requirements and gamers. The first group are what could be called the Essential Titles of the year, all of which will appeal to a broad range of gamers, and all of which can happily sit on the Universal Must Buy shelf. And look out for some exciting competitions in there as well...
Batman: Arkham City
Game of the year? Sequel of the year? Whatever awards Arkham City walks away with by year's end (and it will undoubtedly pick up some in a year riddled with exceptional titles) they will be justified. What Rocksteady achieved in the mega-selling sequel should never be sniffed at - rather than rest on their laurels the developer ironed out some barely perceptible limitations in the original, and added a number of refinements to make City an overall step-up in quality over Asylum. It is a brilliant superhero-themed sandbox, with stunning visuals and an incredible eye for detail, as well as some of the most impressive set-pieces of the last year. Buy a copy here.
Arguably the game that will be played for the longest, thanks to phenomenal size and the promise of substantial DLC, as well as the dedication that Elder Scrolls fans invariably put into playing the titles. And rightly so: Skyrim is an exceptional RPG, vast in scale and wholly engaging, with a rich story and a hugely immersive in-game universe that will keep even the most fleeting of gamers enthralled for a good long while. A very strong candidate for game of the year. Buy it here.
It was either this or Modern Warfare 3 for the military FPS of the year, and Infinity Ward's unfortunate bias towards story over immersive gameplay, and the odd decision to make the gamer a backseat player in someone else's story pushes BF3 forward in that particular race. The story might not be its strongest point, but it remains a hugely entertaining campaign, and the multiplayer mode is incredible. And most importantly, the threat feels real, and your fate as a character feels like it is in your own hands, while the game also requires a certain amount of skill, without insistently thrusting patronising instructions down your throat. Buy it here.
Saints Row: The Third
The natural antidote to the po-faced seriousness of a good deal of this year's most important releases, and the antipathy of what we can all expect from next year's GTA V, Saints Row The Third is a balls-out, crazy as a bag of hammers sandbox, with some of the most ridiculous moments of the year. THQ have created a game with reckless abandon and a gleeful dedication to uber-violence, and the result is a beautiful, balletic carcophany of crazy. Buy it here. Attention Comp Thanks to THQ, we have a copy of Saints Row: The Third to give away to our one of U.K. readers. Simply email email@example.com with the heading Saints Row 3 with your name and address to enter.
The gaming event of the year for WWE fans, and a whole new direction for THQ's flagship combat title, WWE 12 will be an essential purchase for all fans of the sports entertainment property, as well as those who have previously shelled out on earlier franchise additions. It is a massive step-up in quality from last year's Smackdown vs Raw, with a slicker more realistic game engine and a whole new story-mode with a tight storyline (which hopefully will be supplemented with DLC). With the opportunity to play as legends like Eddie Guerrero and Ricky Steamboat as well as modern icons and all-time greats like The Rock, and the chance to play as Macho Man and Mick Foley in DLC wrestler packs, it is a game that allows wrestling fans to step into the high-top boots of their idols from every generation. You can buy it here. Attention Comp Thanks to The Hut, we have a copy of WWE 12 to give away to our one of U.K. readers. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with the heading WWE 12 with your name and address to enter.
Gears of War 3
With a relatively early release (it was outside of a particularly manic November), Gears 3 could well have been forgotten by Christmas were it not an explosive, brilliant finale to the current trilogy. With a heady mix of story-line, engaging, exhilarating combat play and near-perfect design (in characters and environment) it is a threequel which packs as much punch and is as appropriate and important a title as the original game, which is some going considering how easily it might have been to fall back on the guaranteed sales without amping up the quality. It is a beautiful game, despite it's futuristic, sci-fi hyper-violence and it is one that will last well into 2012, especially given it's massive sales so far. Available to buy here.
Undoubtedly the driving game of the year, Forza out-stripped the vastly more serious and complex F1 2012, which for all of its authenticity somewhat unthinkably sucked all of the fun out of driving really fast around a track in competition with other supercars. Never has the spirit of driving been captured so pitch-perfectly, nor has such spirited racing ever looked quite this good: it's almost pornographic how good the supercars look, and Forza knows it, since there is the opportunity to drool over the machines in a brand new gallery style mode. But racing games are all about the relationship between car and driver, and between car and road, and Forza 4 manages to be both insanely entertaining and totally authentic, melding the lunatic free spirit of a rally game with the tight precision of a Formula 1 game. Buy it here.
Need For Speed: The Run
Another game for the maverick, slightly embittered driver canon, with the player charged with racing across America on a cannonball run to wipe out debts and start over. Good hook, since it has worked for countless movies in the past, and it allows the game to do what it does best: offering sun-drenched, petrol-soaked racing in beautiful environments and a lot of muscle. The Need for Speed titles may not be the most finessed of driving games, but they are recklessly fun and The Run is no different, offering high-speed thrills, broken into digestible race chapters and a variety of gaming modes. It also looks astonishingly good, and it looks like there is still a lot of life left in the Need for Speed franchise yet. Buy it here. Sport Games Always a massive part of the gaming market, sports titles represent some of the most high quality games released to shelves, and innovations appear at a far greater frequency in sports franchises than in other series. Here are the best this year has had to offer.
As a driving game fan, I have always felt that Rally offered more thrills and high-octane spills than the more reserved, clinically precise world of Formula 1 racing, and I have invested far more of my own money in picking up rally titles than the sibling race type. The big question for WRC 2 was whether it could at least compete with market leader DiRT, which is a fantastic title, and the brand new addition to the rally market coped manfully. It channels the spirit of the sport brilliantly, with authentic feeling race mechanics and entertaining track designs and environmentals. Most importantly, while DiRT is occasionally too realistic a rally experience to make the game accessible, WRC 2 has a far more simplistic set-up, and thus is appropriate for far more casual race game fans. And that is far from a criticism. Buy it here. Attention Comp We have 3 copies of World Rally Championship 2011 to give away to our U.K. readers. Simply email email@example.com with the heading WRC 2 with your name and address to enter.
The world of combat sports has been taken over somewhat in the past few years by the arrival and consolidation of MMA, and despite it's apparently furious brutality, it is a sporting art-form that has taken the world by absolute storm. Inevitably, the success of the sport has spawned a number of variously successful MMA video game titles. Supremacy MMA is the latest addition to that pile of games, which delivered on a promise of arcade-style simplified controls (in comparison to the ridiculously complex UFC 2011) and just the right amount of unfiltered brutality for fans of that sort of thing. The control system might not have been the most responsive, especially in ground combat, but it is still the most accessible MMA title to have been released this year. And at the price it is currently listed at - between £14.99 and £17.99 on Amazon, depending on the console choice - it's a simple decision to invest. Buy a copy here. Attention Comp We have a copy of Supremacy MMA for the PS3 to give away to our U.K. readers. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with the heading Supremacy MMA with your name and address to enter.
Rugby World Cup 2011
English rugby union might currently be lying in tatters at the feet of the demon of controversy following the real tournament, and the subsequent revelations, but we can all still fix the on-field problems of the Red Rose (or indeed most other national teams) by taking control of the players on our terms and taking on the best opponents the sport can offer. RWC 2011 is the usual tournament style release, with stripped back game modes and a simple, but still effective game engine: graphics and gameplay might suffer in comparison to Jonah Lomu's Rugby Challenge, but this is the more simply entertaining of the two games, and it is also far more accessible for casual players. Buy it here. Attention Comp We have 5 copies of Rugby World Cup 2011 to give away to our U.K. readers. Simply email email@example.com with the heading RWC 2011 with your name and address to enter.
Every year Fifa and Pro Evo face off in the battle of the footballing giants, and this year, thanks to some serious gameplay glitches in PES 2012, it was Fifa 12 which walked away with the accolade. It is a typically slick EA title, built on a solid, good-looking engine that is more realistic than ever, and whose gameplay has made moves towards further authenticity this year with a new defensive system. It might have initially frustrated some, but anything that shakes up the experience of a game that's been around forever and makes it more difficult for series veterans to immediately win 20-0 can only be a good thing. If it's a football game you're looking for, you can do no better. Buy one here.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters
Golfing has never looked this good, and let's face it, there is only one golf title to seriously consider on the market as a present for the golfer in your family. The Tiger Woods brand may be suffering in real time thanks to a drop in form, and the controversy that still follows him after his "indiscretions" , but the game franchise continues to go from strength to strength, with slick aesthetics, a wonderful game-engine and an eye for precision that is typical of everything released with the EA stamp. Currently priced at just over £12, it's a no-brainer for golf game fans who missed it when it came out. Pick up a copy here.
Yet another classic addition to EA's all-conquering NHL franchise, and arguably the finest sports game released all year. As a franchise fan - which is usually the sum of the game's demographic, considering the limited broad appeal - you know what you're getting with NHL, but this year's game still amped up the quality. It is as close to sports gaming perfection as we're likely to see on current consoles, with exceptional, immersive gameplay and huge scope: in short it's an absolute flaming triumph. Buy it here.
Madden NFL 12
Another step up in quality from the last franchise addition for an EA sports title. This time the sport is NFL, and while it isn't quite as good as NHL 12, it is easily the best NHL title that has ever been released. The game looks gorgeous, and the game engine runs extremely well, adding in a new level of authenticity, especially in the defensive set-up and overall it's not one that NFL fans can afford to miss out on. You can buy a copy here. Fitness & Dance Christmas invariably adds a few pounds around the midriff, and thanks to the relatively recent development of motion sensitive gaming across all consoles (after the trail-blazing Wii was matched by peripherals on the 360 and PS3) we can all work off the pounds without having to brave the winter weather. So,with that in mind, the next section of games is dedicated to some of the more interesting and effective titles from that part of the market...
Zumba Fitness 2 (Wii)
A couple of years ago, mentioning the word Zumba in normal conversation would probably have drawn blank, mildly confused looks in response, but now anyone carrying a few extra pounds knows exactly what the dance work out phenomenon is all about. What can't be argued is that Zumba adds a more entertaining element to aerobics, and anything that is likely to extend the post-Christmas fitness kick is well worth the cover price. It might be marketed as something of a party game, but let's be honest, it's appeal shouldn't really reach beyond the fitness world, even though it is probably the most fun you can have in exercising. Definitely one for fighting the post-Turkey blubber. Buy it here. Attention Comp We have 2 copies of Zumba Fitness 2 to give away to our U.K. readers. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with the heading Zumba Fitness 2 with your name and address to enter.
Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012A far more standard, and impressively broad fitness game for the Kinect, this is the sequel to the best-selling fitness game available for the peripheral, and encourages the player to exercise your way with a customizable, social and fun experience which delivers serious results. Which is always good to hear in those first eager-to-lose-weight months of the New Year. You can't sniff at the over 90 hours of activities, which offer a variety of experiences based on your own goals and interests, including zen classes, latin dance and boot camp. The Kinect responsiveness is also top notch, and you really get the sense you're burning off the selection boxes - as a further personal endorsement this is the game that I will be challenging to make my trousers not fit me anymore in the new year in a feature I am just announcing now in a fit of bravado. That's how much I believe it can work. Buy it here.
Grease Dancehere. Attention Comp We have 2 copies of Grease Dance Kinect to give away to our U.K. readers. Simply email email@example.com with the heading Grease Dance with your name and address to enter. Consoles & Peripherals The main parts of the present pile this year, the next few picks are the most expensive. But they're also the most likely to put the biggest smiles on the gift-receivers' faces...
XBox 360Console of the year for me - and this comes from a gamer who owns all of the major consoles (and most classic ones at that). Until the next generation of consoles is released, the PS3 only outstrips the 360 in terms of its blu-ray capabilities, and there is far more charm to be found in the Achievements set-up than in the Trophies world that Playstation dreamed up to compete. The controller feels more comfortable in my hands after so long playing with it, and PS3 lag-problems persisting was the final straw in choosing this over Sony's flagship machine. 2012 will remain a big year for the 360 with the new dashboard and additional extra-content features, and the addition of both the Kinect and the uDraw as peripherals has gone some way to opening new markets. Regardless of how responsive the Move might be, nothing quite beats the magic of playing the Kinect with no controller at all. Attention Comp Thanks to Microsoft, we have an XBox 360 to give away to our U.K. readers. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with the heading XBox 360 with your name and address to enter.
KinectThe peripheral of the year - with far more games now available than just a few months ago. It is a mistake not to buy the Kinect with your XBox 360 as part of a bundle, because there is a lot to be said for the magic of its technology. Especially around Christmas when you're looking for further ways to entertain the younger members of your brood. And as I said above, it will be an invaluable way to shift some pounds, tone up some softer edges and generally get a bit fitter come 2012. Buy one here.
uDraw TabletThe second peripheral on this year's list, and one that is now available on the Wii, XBox 360 and the PS3, with the same functionality and titles available to each (though of course there are currently more on Wii, given the recent release date of the other console versions). uDraw is basically a very fancy etch-a-sketch, or a design tablet to those with slightly more tech-knowledge: and it gets on this list primarily because of the excellent Pictionary game which was released at launch. The addition of a massive wide-screen TV to the party-game adds a whole new world of enjoyment, and it deserves to be a big winner this Christmas. Buy one here.
Thrustmaster Ferrari 458 Racing Wheel (For Xbox 360)Very possibly the most impressive gaming wheel yet released to the market, and with full Ferrari licencing to boot. So not only can you add an extra level to your driving game experience, but you can also pretend to be a multi-millionaire with an impressive rug of luxurious hair at the same time. The Thrustmaster is a wonderful piece of kit, that shows that old-school peripherals can still be as appropriate and as entertaining as all of the new fangled motion-sensing tech add-ons of the current market. Paired up with Forza 4, this blew my mind (full review to follow very soon), and you definitely get the sense of the arcade world coming back into play, and while I can't drive actual cars in real life, this and Forza combined to create as exhilarating a driving experience as I'm ever likely to get without getting out of my gaming car and asking someone to teach me to drive. It is released on the 9th of December, and trust me, you want to buy one here.
OnLive Game SystemDigital distribution and cloud-gaming services will form the cornerstones of every gamer's future in some way, and we already have the first wave of that revolution thanks to the excellent OnLive service, which allows subscribers to play any game from the service's healthy library through a cloud system. So no need to download, and thus no real system limitations or need to buy a Nasa-style supercomputer to run Skyrim without it going at a snail's pace. While OnLive will inevitably give the big console players a serious kick up the backside to get their own cloud systems up and working (they'll be doing that very soon, trust us), you can steal a march on them by either signing up for an OnLive account and play the newest titles like Batman Arkham City on your PC, or you can invest in an OnLive Game System for a paltry £69.99 and play them directly on your TV. Which is precisely what I've been doing for the past month. Buy one here. Merchandise Gaming is not just about games - as any cos-play enthusiast would testify, and so, the next step in our Gaming Gift Guide takes us into the merchandise section to find a few select treats for the discerning present buyer...
Klobb Submachine Gun T-ShirtSimple, wonderfully nostalgic and as cool as Goldeneye 64. But not the Wii report.
You can buy one here. And why the hell wouldn't you?
Assassin's Creed Monteriggioni HoodieAs the official blurb for this hoodie goes: there's nothing like being proud of your hometown - especially when you've helped restore it to its former glory. Not only does the hoodie fit that simple inspired design model I always look for in licensed clothing, it also features a bloody brilliant eagle peak hood (which can be hidden away admittedly), which Assassin's Creed fans should be falling over themselves to buy right about now.
The design comes in either grey or red.
Umbrella T-ShirtAnother minimalist, and thoroughly modern gaming inspired shirt, this time from the wonderful ShotDeadInTheHead, and inspired by Resident Evil. Buy one here.
Pacman GoodiesAs well as collecting endless amounts of film merchandise, I also spend way too much money on retro games merch, and you can't get moved for Pacman goodies these days. But that doesn't mean they aren't all beautiful, as the images below of some of TruffleShuffle's Pacman items prove...
Buy one here.
Buy one here.
Pick one up here.
So there we have it - the inaugural Gaming Gift Guide. Next up, we do Tech and Gadgetry. Best get your wallets at the ready.