Gaming transcends all other media. Films, television, comics, books -- nothing can give such an interactive, immersive experience as playing a game. Want to be a soldier, fighting against aliens for the sake of humanity's existence? Feel the urge to take a high-power muscle car for a spin through the city streets? Want to kick back, relax, and let go in a world where you control the elements and shape the setting around you? Gaming allows all of this -- and so much more. On your own, with friends, online -- there's no limitations when you pick up that controller, or stand in front of a Kinect sensor, or sit down at your keyboard. To ensure gaming perfection is within reach this holiday season, we've lined up 6 titles that are a must for inclusion under any gamer's tree.
Halo 4 - Halo is synonymous with Xbox. There is no stronger brand recognition than that between Master Chief and Microsoft’s gaming powerhouse. Halo formed a major part of this writer’s gaming youth — Halo LAN parties with friends, playing Halo 2 online, the excitement of waiting for the third iteration to be released. Sadly, I came away from Halo 3 disenchanted with the saga, It felt less like a next-gen Halo for the 360, and more like a HD remake of Halo 2 designed to give more of the same without really pushing the boundaries of what other shooters were already doing on the console. This all changes with Halo 4. 343 Industries have crafted what is arguably one of the strongest entrants in the franchise, eschewing any worries of a non-Bungie-crafted tale and proving that Halo can feel fresh, new and innovative while still retaining what made the original games such endlessly satisfying fun. If you know someone who hasn’t yet picked it up, do them a favor and get them a copy for Christmas. They won’t stop thanking you — at least until Halo 5 comes out. Available exclusively on Xbox 360.
The Walking Dead - I hate zombies. I’ve never understood the fascination, never enjoyed the films, and never liked the games. They’re awful. So, naturally, I’m recommending “The Walking Dead” by Telltale Games, which is based around survivors in the immediate aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. “The Walking Dead” takes a narrative approach, as opposed to the run-and-gun style of most zombie games, favoring a point-and-click, dialogue-driven style that deliberately controls the player as they navigate the game world. Released episodically over the course of this year, all 5 episodes are now available on a single disc, and I urge you to get it, or gift it to a gaming friend, and experience the full game. It follows the efforts of protagonist Lee Everett and his experiences as the zombie outbreak occurs, and by gradually introducing a choice mechanic, the game allows you to shape the story and make it your own. Death is a constant threat, and no character is guaranteed to survive to the end, but it’s a thrilling, involving, immensely satisfying game. Most of the action is between survivors, dealing with internal politics, family struggles and the moral choices that come with a world in which there is no order. Get it, now, for yourself, for friends, for strangers on the street, and experience the bleak reality the characters – and subsequently the player – must face. Available on PS3, Xbox 360, PC and Mac.
Okami HD - Can games be art? It’s a question asked often, usually by those who don’t actually play them, as gamers have known for years that their “playthings” are amongst the most interactive examples of art there are. Roger Ebert famously slammed games for not being art – well, Mr. Ebert, I give you Okami HD. Originally released — and subsequently ignored — on PS2, it was released on Wii, where it drew a slightly more emphatic response. Thankfully, Capcom is trying again with Sony hardware, and the result is one of the most unique, beautiful, emotional games available. Okami plays like a Japanese ink painting come to life, with gorgeous backdrops, stunning visuals and rich character animations. Its story is classic Japanese – rural past, emperors, kings, traditions, mystical forces – and it’s steeped in history and influences that are a joy to behold as you play through. Utilizing the PlayStation Move (though the DualShock can also be used), you play as Amaterasu, the sun goddess come to life as a wolf, and control her Celestial Brush, painting over the landscape to manipulate it. Want to turn night into day? Freeze the frame and draw a circle in the sky. Need to cross a river? Paint a bridge and climb over. Attacking an enemy? Slice the brush across their torso to cut them in half. Gameplay is satisfying, natural, never feels tired and is bolstered by a deep story, bursting with humor and life. Why does it make a great gift? Buy it for yourself, fall in love, and then spread it to your nearest and dearest. It’s gaming nirvana. Available exclusively through the PlayStation Network on PS3.
New Super Mario Bros. U - Ask most people where their gaming memories start, and they’ll likely name a Nintendo system. NES and SNES were the best consoles of their generations, and produced some of the greatest gaming characters and adventures — many of which have endured in some incarnation to this day. The most ubiquitous of these is Mario. The Italian plumber has transcended typical console fanboyism, becoming a mascot for gaming as a whole. He is Nintendo’s greatest marketing tool, and they’ve ushered in the launch of the Wii U with a title that harkens back to the original 2D platformers of the NES and SNES era. Super Mario Bros. U brings HD visuals, fun, addictive gameplay, a new challenge mode to punish those who find the regular story a little too casual, and the usual cast of Mario, Luigi and Toad. It’s initially simple gameplay quickly deepens, and will suck players into Mario’s 2D world, and many hours will be lost exploring every secret area, finding every star, completing every challenge. Grab a copy, grab some friends and invest in some of the best 2D multiplayer action you can have. Available exclusively on Wii U.
GTA: Vice City 10th Anniversary Edition - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. In the palm of your hand. Do I really have to sell this any more? One of the greatest games of last generation, Vice City brought the 80’s screaming back into fashion in a flurry of white suits, big hair, neon lights and flashy cars, all tempered by gun fights, drug feuds, and driving around to some of the best music ever put in a game. Featuring hours of content, updated to make the most of the Android and iOS devices it’s available on — higher-res textures, better audio, smoother gameplay — it’s Vice City with a coat of polish and a generous burst of Sissy Spritz. Download it now, turn on Flash FM, and melt into the glitzy, faux-Miami world of GTA: Vice City all over again. Available now on select iOS and Android devices.
EA Sports Active 2 - Know someone that needs to shed the holiday pounds? Consider EA Sports Active 2. Not the most flattering gift/suggestion, but they’ll thank you after a few weeks when they start dropping weight. Combining leg and arm straps to measure vital statistics, it offers a full workout, complete with personal trainer, to punish your body into submission through numerous mini games and activities. Combined with diet plans, the weight will fall off — just make sure to remind the recipient who helped them get that bangin’ bikini bod. Available on PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii.