With Thanksgiving now over, it’s time to look forward to that special time of the year when everyone displays their affection for each other by buying extravagant gifts. So we’re here to give you some pointers, starting with the realm of video games. We’re broken down our video game gift guide into three categories – systems, retail and digital. "Systems" is self explanatory, while “retail” represents the titles that run about $60, and “digital” are games that are $20 or less and bought through digital marketplaces like Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and Steam. Now that the parameters are set, let’s get to it.
Nintendo Wii U
Price: $300 (Basic), $350 (Deluxe)
With Nintendo’s new console officially out in the market, it seems only fitting it be featured here as a big-ticket item. The Wii U is Nintendo’s first attempt at high definition gaming, allowing the system to run gorgeous looking versions of Nintendo staples like Mario, and some of the biggest hits from the past year like Batman: Arkham City and Mass Effect 3. Additionally, the new GamePad tablet controller changes how you interact with your video games and television in the living room.
There are a few things that make us hesitate to flat-out recommend the Wii U, let alone they are pretty hard to find at the moment, but if you want a taste of the next-next generation of gaming, Nintendo’s new system is the way to go.
Sony PlayStation Vita
Price: $250 (WiFi model)
The PlayStation Vita has had a rough first year. The system isn’t selling as well as Sony anticipated, and the game library has been rather limp outside the initial launch lineup and a few sporadic releases. But with newcomer PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, things are looking up. There’s also a new Ratchet & Clank on the way, as well as a new Sly Cooper title releasing in the near future.
The PS Vita is a powerful system with a fantastic build; it just needs some more software to really stand out. But if you’re looking for near-console quality on the go, the PS Vita comes recommended by us. At least at this moment there are enough backlogged games to keep you busy until those aforementioned next-big-things release early in 2013.
Retail Games – $60 or less
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
First things first: Black Ops 2 does not come recommended as a single player game. The campaign is short and pretty uninspired. But if you plan to take Treyarch’s latest shooter online, then you’ll have a blast. Black Ops 2’s multiplayer offerings are robust, with a deep competitive suite and a fully-realized Zombies mode. There is month’s worth of content to be found in this game as long as you have the means to an internet connection and friends/strangers.
Platform: Xbox 360
343 Industries couldn’t have done a better job reviving Master Chief than they did with Halo 4. This game marks the start of a new trilogy for the franchise, and the story is absolutely one worth experiencing. Even newcomers who have no clue who Cortana is or what a Spartan is will find plenty to enjoy with this extremely fine-tuned first-person shooter. And things only get better once you finish the single player effort; Halo 4’s multiplayer mode is grand and extremely addicting. Highest recommendations with this one, as long as you’re a Xbox 360 owner, that is.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Borderlands 2 is a great example of bigger is better. Everything that kept the original from greatness has been remedied in Gearbox’s sequel, leading to more diverse environments, more enemy types, more memorable characters and a more engaging storyline. If you and your buddies/family are looking for a great cooperative shooter to play over the holidays, there’s no better choice than Borderlands 2. Just be prepared to strain relationships over that precious loot.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
We really like when a fresh face enters the room. In a year full of sequels, a brand new IP – one that’s actually good, too – is something to smile about. Enter: Arkhane Studios’ Dishonored. The game is an action/stealth hybrid set in a steampunk-inspired world full of magic and ravaged by plague. The game’s universe was actually designed by one of the creator’s of Half-Life 2’s City 17, so that right there should raise your eyebrow and make you take notice. And while the game’s environment is definitely one of the stars of the show, it’s the gameplay that makes Dishonored such a treasured title of 2012. If you like your games full of player freedom and some RPG elements, then Dishonored is worth taking note of.
Digital Games – $20 or less
Platform: PlayStation Network
There’s no game in 2012 (yet) that delivered on its vision as clearly as thatgamecompany’s Journey. The game only lasts for roughly two hours, yet the experience will forever be burned into the memories of our gaming staff. Without sounding overly hyperbolic, Journey is a transcendental experience that every gamer should play – as long as you or the person you’re buying for has a PS3. And the best part? You can experience Journey for a measly $15!
The Walking Dead: The Game
Platforms: Xbox Live, PSN, Steam, iOS
The Walking Dead is everywhere these days – comics, television, books and games. Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead, though, might be the best of the bunch from this year’s offerings. The game, broken into five 2-3 hour chapters, is one hell of an emotional roller coaster ride, full of great writing and heart wrenching twists. The Walking Dead is also important because it proves the classic point-and-click adventure genre isn’t quite dead just yet (or, well, it kind of is when you’re talking zombies).
You can purchase each chapter individually for $5, or you can buy the full “season” for $20 over Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Steam, or even Apple’s App Store. The full game will be available as a retail release in mid-December, too, for $29.99.
Platform: Xbox Live
The hype behind Polytron’s first game, Fez, leading up to the game’s release was palpable. And for the most part, the title delivered a grand tribute to the 8-bit gaming of yesteryear. But some glitches and an obnoxious map held back what is otherwise a fantastic platformer. So it might not be perfect, but Fez really is a game that Xbox 360 owners should try for themselves. The music is magical; the 8-bit graphics mesmerizing; and the core gameplay – in all its perspective shifting glory – is addictive.
The Unfinished Swan
Platform: PlayStation Network
If there ever was an "arthouse" game, The Unfinished Swan is it. The game, developed by Giant Sparrow, sees players throwing paint at the walls and floors in order to reveal the world around them as they chase an elusive swan. While we never reviewed The Unfinished Swan ourselves, the game has been receiving critical praise from outside outlets. For that reason we’re willing to throw it a bone on our holiday gift guide.
Erik Norris is the Gaming Editor for CraveOnline. You can follow him on Twitter @Regular_Erik.