My column this week is about why it wouldn’t hurt to wait to buy the three-week-old Wii U, rather than rushing to get one under the tree in time for Christmas. To a lesser extent, I feel the same way about the PlayStation Vita. Both systems are less than a year old and are still staking out territory. In talking about the shiny new systems, which both have their selling points despite my warnings, I ran out of room to talk about some of the games worth giving as gifts this month. So I wanted to put together a blog post on that.
This is kind of a spur-of-the-moment post, and I expect I’ll be adding more games (as well as images!) over the weekend. Feel free to suggest your own picks in the comments.
I’m steering clear of obvious blockbusters like “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” “Mass Effect 3” and “Halo 4” because millions upon millions of gamers already own those, and if they don’t already have them and want them, they’ll be sure to ask for them. What follows are great games that people might not realize they actually would love. Also, if you’re truly ignorant about games and are shopping for a gamer on your list, make sure you buy the games for the right video game system. Your cousin cannot play the new Mario game on his Xbox.
Some of these (“XCOM: Enemy Unknown,” “Dishonored) are games I’ve played and loved, while others (“Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward,” “SSX”) are on my own wish list.
For the player who seems to have everything: Downloadable games seem to get better every year, and those of us with a broadband Internet connection can always use more point cards that allow us to buy games on Steam, Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network, Nintendo Network or the iTunes and Android stores. Virtual currencies for online stores hawking game downloads burn a hole in my pocket. Some retailers have whole kiosks full of prepaid cards if you’re not sure where to start.
For the gamer who loved “BioShock” and “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”: Arkane Studios’ “Dishonored,” rated M for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, feels like a synthesis of two of my favorite games of this console generation. It combines the otherworldly superpowers of Irrational Games’ “BioShock” with the sneaking around in Eidos Montreal’s “Deus Ex: Human Revolution.” The result is a satisfying, deep stealth game with enormous levels and dozens of ways to reach each objective. The violent game set in a seaside city-state afflicted by a rat-borne plague can be a tale of bloodthirsty revenge or humanely dispensed justice, depending on how you play.
For the sci-fi nerd who’s also an amateur military strategist: “XCOM: Enemy Unknown,” rated M for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3, from the makers of the popular “Civilization” games, resurrects a long-dormant, classic PC series with great success. Players are put in charge of the XCOM project, a secret human bulwark against an impending alien invasion. When extra terrestrials start showing up on Earth, you alternate between doing battle against them and using the XCOM base to interrogate aliens, perform autopsies, research their technologies and ultimately divine their motives.
For folks who just want to go fast: Console exclusives “Mario Kart,” “Forza Motorsport” and “Gran Turismo” are the kings on the respective platforms, but Electronic Arts-owned Criterion Games put out another stunning multiplatform racer this fall with “Need for Speed: Most Wanted,” rated E10+. The latest from the folks behind “Burnout Paradise” and “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit” blends the open-world, wreck-oriented racing of “Paradise” with the police chases from “Hot Pursuit.” Ever-present speed check locations, billboards and leaderboards constantly remind you of where you stand against your buddy. If you’re looking for something a bit more realistic, Codemasters has been cranking out top-notch racing games using the Formula One license for a few years now. “F1 2012” (rated E) is another in what’s becoming a terrific under-the-radar series. Well, it’s under the radar in the United States, at least. Want to go fast but not drive a car? EA’s reboot of snowboarding franchise “SSX” (rated E) early this year delighted plenty of gamers and is on my own personal wish list.
For the PlayStation-only gamer who’s looking to give the family some peace and quiet: Sony sent me its $150 Pulse wireless gaming headset to consider reviewing, but I didn’t want to devote an entire monthly column to something that’s probably out of a lot of folks’ price range, so I’ll say it here: The Pulse headset is a fantastic piece of hardware. It works great as a set of headphones when I play my Vita and also has a built-in mic and array of customizable controls if I want to use it for online gaming on the PS3 or PC. It will also work as headphones for anything with a jack. That said, I do the bulk of my multiplayer gaming on the Xbox 360, and pretty much any cup-style headset hurts my ears after a couple of hours. (I’ve tried several and don’t think it’s an issue with any particular headset; I’m the problem.) As a result, I haven’t been a heavy user, but its sleek design and versatility has me cursing my pressure-sensitive ears.
For the puzzle fanatic with a warped world view: “Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward,” rated M for 3DS and PlayStation Vita, is a follow-up to cult hit “999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors” and follows a similar premise and structure. Both games are essentially interactive novels interspersed with puzzles. Nine individuals are kidnapped and locked inside a mysterious facility, forced to complete a series of bizarre puzzles as the threat of death looms over them. Various alliances you form result in a branching plot with 24 different endings, so there’s plenty of replayability. The Vita version gets a slight edge because of a save-file glitch that affects some 3DS players. That said, if your gift recipient owns a 3DS, toss in “999,” which retails for $20.