The holiday season is fast approaching and we all need to start thinking about what to get as gifts for those we care about (or for ourselves as personal presents). Those of us who are gamers know that this is shaping up to be a crowded marketplace for new games on all the major platforms.
With all of these choices, deciding what to buy someone can be a very daunting task. Being faced with these decisions as well, we decided to research all the upcoming and recently released games for all platforms and come up with a definitive list of must-have games in each major genre (Action, First Person Shooter, Fighting, RPG, Sports, Strategy and Other) for all the platforms. We will look at not just what games to buy, but why they should be bought! Please note all release dates are based on North American street dates.
So without further ado, let’s get to the guide!
Part 1: Xbox 360
The Xbox 360 is poised to have an excellent holiday season with a number of exclusive titles ready to launch on Microsoft's Juggernaut system. The X360 has just enjoyed immense success with the recent record breaking launch of Halo 3, but since everyone in North America has that game already it won’t appear on this year's list.
Assassin’s Creed – This groundbreaking title will be released on November 16 and it stars the assassin Altair. This game is set in the Middle Ages during the dark times of the third crusades and you will guide Altair through a series of assassination missions that can be completed in numerous ways (through stealth, poison, brute force, trickery, etc.) It is a third person action game that is sure to please that gamer who is looking for a stealth action game like no other.
Why buy it? Assassin’s Creed not only features incredibly impressive visuals, it will also introduce numerous new features such as blending with crowds, context sensitive walking (you can walk carefully around people or jostle them as you walk and attract attention) an innovative battle system and the ability to scale any surface that has a remotely viable handhold (brick, stone, and various other surfaces will all have seams and handholds). Plus to add even more to the already intriguing game, Assassin’s Creed has a futuristic angle that has yet to be revealed but looks to add excitement to an already great looking game.
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men – This is another unique take on an established genre that is being released Nov. 20. Kane & Lynch features the two titular characters being shipped to their execution site and they are rescued by a mercenary group. They are then forced to perform missions together accompanied by a squad; at times they are each given different objectives that are not revealed to the other. The dynamic relationship between the two (they dislike and distrust each other) and the innovative squad mechanics make this a unique title in the X360 lineup.
Why buy it? Not only does Kane & Lynch have some great hooks in the form of gameplay and squad mechanics, the tense atmosphere of not knowing what your ‘partner’ will do as they have different objectives adds an edge to this game that others don’t have. Add to this the local co-op play that has both players splitting their squad and working on objectives together and separately there is an incredibly deep online multiplayer component as well. The game will feature a mode called fragile alliance that will encourage both cooperation and back-stabbing. Your goal is to escape with as much money as possible; you cooperate to steal the money, but backstab to get out with as few partners as possible to split the loot with. This game has many features that make it a great choice for the action gamer out there.
FIRST PERSON SHOOTER
BioShock – Bioshock is a groundbreaking game from famed developer Irrational Games (System Shock 2) that features a phenomenal sci-fi mystery story focusing on the lost underwater city of Rapture wrapped around a beautiful shooter. You stumble upon this city that was designed as a utopian society, but quickly discover that everything has gone horribly wrong. The story that unfolds is scary, engaging and very deep. This game is already available everywhere, but was obviously overshadowed by the hype surrounding Halo 3. Any gamer worth their salt who owns an X360 needs to have this game.
Why buy it? The designers of Bioshock had two thoughts in mind: let’s compel the players to want to discover what is happening and let’s scare them enough that they are nervous as they progress through the game. They hit both points with style and substance, building not only a beautiful game, but one that has a story that any genre would die to have. The amazing atmosphere and voice acting is even more icing on the cake — oh yeah, and it is fun to play as well. Do yourself a favor and get this game as soon as possible.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – The developers of Call of Duty 1 and 2 return to the franchise with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The series, which has always been exceptional, promises to take a huge step forward with a modern slant. As in other CoD games you will play as different characters from US Marine and British SAS teams as the game and plot progresses. This game promises to deliver a stirring story and edge of your seat gameplay.
Why buy it? Ignoring the fact that developer Infinity Ward has an impressive roster of hit games, CoD 4 has the potential to be a game that will knock the socks off even the most jaded of gamers. The graphics are a sight to be seen with smooth animation and amazing effects. This game nails gunplay whether you're shooting from the hip, or sighting an enemy through your scope. This may not have a slew of innovative features, but it does have gameplay that will keep you coming back over and over again.
The Orange Box – The Orange Box is an honorable mention from a sheer gameplay and value perspective. This regular priced package comes with Half Life 2, HL2 Episodes 1&2, Portal, and Team Fortress 2. While TF2 and Portal are limited experiences due to length and map counts, both are a blast to play; this title is available October 23.
Why buy it? Half Life 2 was on of the best first person shooters released some time ago and its episodic chapters (1&2) enhance the story and mechanics further. Portal and Team Fortress 2 are both unique experiences that any gamer should play and play as soon as possible. Bottom line — there is more game in this Orange Box than many people can handle and that is a great thing!
Virtua Fighter 5 – This will be the first for the Xbox family — Virtua Fighter has long been the realm of Playstation and in fact this title was an early launch game for the PS3. What makes this game notable on the X360 is the addition of online modes to the already great fighter. Also it is the only fighter on the radar for some time on the X360, so people looking to experience great martial art fighting action this is the game to get. It's available October 30.
Why buy it? Simply put, this is the only brawler coming out for the X360 for a while; luckily it is one of the best out there. With the additional modes, items, and online mode this is also the best version of the game yet released. If you or a gamer you know loves fighting games, this beautiful deep and fun game is a sure thing.
ROLE PLAYING GAMES
Mass Effect – The newest opus from famed Canadian developer Bioware is the first part of a planned trilogy. You take the role of a starship commander who is also the first member of a newly formed galactic peace squad. Your initial task is to stop a rogue agent from disrupting galactic peace as he wages a war on sentient beings. Being a Bioware game, there is probably much more to the story then has been revealed, but already the story is shaping up to be an exciting one. Bioware is known as one of the greatest RPG makers of all time (Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Knights, Knights of the Old Republic) and this game looks to be another one of their gems.
Why buy it? The X360 has not had many great RPGs on its system yet, Mass Effect looks to be a killer app for those (like me) who are RPG fanatics. But even the non-hardcore can appreciate the story, action-based battles, deep character customization and fully featured quality voice acting. Mass Effect is a must have for any RPG fan and promises to be a game that once again redefines Bioware as the premium developer for RPGs. Be sure to snap this up when it is released on November 20.
Eternal Sonata – Buried in the Xbox360 lineup is the recently released Eternal Sonata, a Japanese style RPG (think Final Fantasy) that boasts an incredibly original concept. Frederic Chopin, the famed composer and pianist, is dying and having a fevered dream; the story takes place in this dream world of his. The characters and monsters are musically inspired and as you play through the magical environments you will often be struck by how beautiful the game looks. This is a great game that true RPG enthusiasts will love to play.
Why buy it? There is a serious drought of Japan-themed RPGs for the X360; luckily this is not only a JRPG, it is a fresh and very fun one. The completely original story and character roster is further enhanced by bright lush graphics that frequently elicit a "wow" from players and viewers. A great combat system is icing on the cake and ensures that this game is a joy to play. This game flew under the radar and is available right now for RPG enthusiasts everywhere.
NHL 08 – EA Sports has a consistently successful franchise with the NHL series. Instead of resting on their laurels, EA Canada decided to revamp the control scheme on this year's entry to the series. The results are one of the most natural playing experiences when on the ice. Instead of button presses to change your skating speed or bursts, all skating control is tied to the analog sticks, as is shooting. The resulting control just feels right, you can jink around a player and hit the shot where you want. Of course they also went ahead and improved the graphics yet again and updated the rosters as usual. This great game is available right now and is a must have.
Why buy it? Graphical improvements and tweaks to the play modes are expected, but what makes this the best entry in the NHL series in a long, long time is the natural control scheme and attention to detail. The skating on screen is so natural now and shots seem to fly with a more realistic flow. The shining moment so far for me with this game was seeing a goalie (Ray Emery) nail a glove stop that took my breath away — it was like watching a highlight reel in real time. This is a must have for any sports fan.
Madden NFL 08 – As with the NHL series, Madden 08 could have been a rehash and it would have sold incredibly well. Instead Tiburon Studios decided to revamp the tackling system, update the graphics, tighten the framerate and further improve the stick hit system. The result is the best and most consistent Madden experience in years. Another great offering for any football fan.
Why buy it? Well, since EA owns the NFL rights until what seems like the end of time, if you want the NFL experience this really is the only show. But despite the monopoly, Tiburon delivers a solid game with some of the best dynamic tackling I have seen. The branching animation system helps deliver original tackles over and over again and it really adds to the experience. A great game and a must have, it is available right now.
Rock Band – A few years ago when a little company released a game called Guitar Hero they started a revolution of gameplay that no one could have believed would be successful. Now we are about to have Rock Band, the ambitious new generation of interactive rock stardom. Available Nov. 23 at the staggering price of $169.99, Rock Band gives you a drum kit, guitar, and microphone that you and your friends can use to rock out till you pass out. Tied into a deal with MTV, Rock Band now features masters of most of their song lists (the original recordings instead of covers as in previous versions), which will add a definite surreal vibe to the experience. This game is not for everyone, but as someone who has rocked out in the past, Rock Band is an exciting concept that groups will have a blast playing together.
Why buy it? If you have some friends and you can afford the steep price, this game will be the ultimate party game experience. Bring out one of your old Guitar Hero guitars so someone can sit on bass and you will have a full rock band. There is nothing like jamming on "Sabotage" while your wannabe rapper buddy sings the lines. There is a deep multiplayer component where you can create a band with members on Xbox Live and as you play and members drop out due to missed notes, you can revive them to play on. Oh yeah, and any game where I can play "Wanted Dead or Alive" is a winner in my books. "I’m a cowboy and on a steel horse I ride, I’m wanted….WANTED, Dead or Alive!" Now I just need to feather my hair.
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords – This original puzzle game originally released on Sony PSP and Nintendo DS earlier this year is now available on Xbox Live Arcade as a download and it is a must have for any puzzle fan. The game places an EPIC RPG style story and instead of turn-based or real-time gameplay you are playing a fun and addictive puzzle game against vicious monsters and nights. The puzzle system is fresh and the bright dynamic graphics make this a great game for any fan.
Why buy it? There is nothing like this game on the X360 and its fun, engaging gameplay will keep you playing hour after hour. The story and varied RPG elements like leveling up, adding powers that affect the puzzles and finding/making items give this puzzle game a hook that doesn’t let you go. The inexpensive price and added online play further enhances an already GREAT game. If you haven’t tried it on the other systems, Puzzle Quest is an experience you must try!