With the season of gift-giving once again upon us, you might be wondering what to get the gamers in your life.
I’ve got a few ideas, the most obvious being, of course, video games, which I've attempted to separate into categories by general age group. But because a game can actually be a complicated purchase, what with the proliferation of different gaming systems, I’ve also got a few slightly more off-the-wall ideas for you to consider, too, though I've separated those into a separate post. (Please note: Prices aren't always as listed, thanks to vagaries of the retail market.)
1. Find out what video game system(s) he or she has. This is imperative, as a game will work only on the system it was built for, and most accessories are system-specific as well.
2. Learn what you can about the game genres your intended recipient likes. For example, some people don’t like sports games; others play nothing else.
3. With few exceptions, games built around licensed properties — movie tie-ins, popular kids’ cartoons, hit TV shows — are horrible. Unless you’re buying for a really, really young child, avoid these like the plague.
4. Concerned the game on the list has too much violence, gore or bad language? Pay attention to the ESRB rating on the front and back of the box. It’ll give you a general idea of age appropriateness and what sort of potentially objectionable content is in the game.
As amazing as it might sound, you could choose to help out a local video game developer — Volition Inc. — and their slightly troubled parent company, THQ, by purchasing games made here in Champaign. Don't worry; their games are actually really good. Or you could help a local, independent movie maker — Dark Maze Studios — by purchasing a comedic video game-based film.
Red Faction: Armageddon (Xbox 360, PS3, PC; $39.99; rated M): Battle dangerous aliens while hunting down a conspiracy that threatens humanity’s existence on Mars. This third-person shooter takes the series underground — literally — as the destruction of the planet's terraformers has forced humanity to seek refugee beneath the Red Planet's surface. The setting results in a much more linear game than we saw in "Red Faction: Guerrilla" (itself a great potential gift), but we still get to play with fantastically destructive weapons amid environments that we can bring crumbling down. But this time around, players can also quickly rebuild the environment, too, in order to gain strategic advantages.
Saints Row: The Third (Xbox 360, PS3, PC; $59.99; rated M): The Third Street Saints, the world's first megaconglomerate, superstar street gang, is back and bigger than ever. Other criminals don't quite like that, so the gang must reach beyond its traditional stomping grounds, Stilwater, and begin building a new empire in the city of Steelport in this over-the-top, immature and crassly entertaining adventure.
Press Start 2 Continue (DVD; $14.99, order through www.darkmaze.com/pressstart2/): The fate of the world is on the line and the world's greatest champions are ... already in the villain's clutches. Yeah, that's not good. But that's how things start in this mildly hilarious tribute to gaming and geekery. Anyone into classic gaming or campy cinema will appreciate this mocking homage.
FOUR GAME IDEAS FOR CHILDREN
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure (Xbox 360, Wii, PS3, PC, Mac, 3DS; starter kit with game and three figurines: $69.99; single figurines: $7.99; rated E10+): Sure, they look like collectible toy figurines, but once you place them on the included Portal of Power, they transform into heroes in the virtual world of "Skylanders." The game itself — with a story written by Academy Award-nominated "Toy Story" feature film writers Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow — is a platformer designed with youngsters in mind. The combat is simple, the puzzles are basic, but it's bright, cheerful and fun. The toys can be used across the various gaming platforms, remembering their experiences along the way, and also used to play minigames online at "Skylanders: Spyro's Universe."
Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster (Xbox 360, Kinect required; $49.99; rated E): Elmo, Cookie Monster, Oscar and others have stumbled upon a long-lost children's book, which has started coming to life around them. It's up to the player to help the beloved characters overcome the problems they encounter by interacting with the Sesame Street universe through the Kinect camera. It's a great game to get children moving about while learning about friendship and empathy.
Kinect: Disneyland Adventures (Xbox 360, Kinect required; $39.99; rated E10+): Roam a virtual rendition of the Disneyland theme park, complete with Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Disney Princesses galore, from the comfort of your living room. And when you're ready for a little more adventure, you can ride the many rides, though these aren't the kinds of rides you'll see at the park. No, here you get to jump, duck and move around as you ski the Matterhorn or join Peter Pan in his fight against Captain Hook.
LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3; $59.99; rated E): Customize your SackBoy and take him on adventures that can be anything from traditional platforming to races, or really any type of competition your mind can imagine. Then create your own adventures using LBP2's incredible level creation tools, and share them online with other players.
FOUR GAME IDEAS FOR TEENS OR OLDER
Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360, PS3, PC; $59.99, rated T): Many of Batman's greatest foes are running amok in Arkham City, a section of Gotham that has been transformed into a prison by the villainous Dr. Hugo Strange. It's up to the Caped Crusader to get to the bottom of Strange's little social experiment, while also containing the criminal hijinks of Two-Face, The Joker, The Penguin and the rest of his Rogue's Gallery. He's got all his wonderful toys and fighting skills almost on par with Chuck Norris, but things still won't be easy.
Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection (PS3; $39.99; rated T): Two of the most critically acclaimed games in history, previously released on the PS2, have been digitally remastered. Both number among my personal favorites. In "Ico," a young boy, meant as a human sacrifice, must escape his castle prison; he meets a young girl, who seems to be similarly trapped, and it's only with her help that he can hope to vanquish the darkness that dogs their steps and win his way to freedom. In "Shadow," a young man seeks the resurrection of his dead love; but for her to live again, first he must slay 16 massive beings.
Portal 2 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC; $39.99; rated E10+): Escape from Aperture Science alone or do the bidding of the maniacal GlaDOS with a friend cooperatively. Chell thought she had escaped at the end of the original "Portal," but she was wrong. Now she must once again run the gauntlet of deadly "experiments," with only her Portal gun to help her in an adventure that will show players how the world of Aperture Science came to be — and what happened to all the people who used to work there. The adventure continues even further in the cooperative content, where players control two robots — Atlas and Peabody — as they endure experiments of their own. A level-design tool for the PC version is reportedly on the way.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Xbox 360, PS3; $39.99; rated T): New characters join the roster of this fighting game, which pits characters from the Marvel comic book universe and Capcom’s video games against each other in three-on-three battles.
FOUR GAME IDEAS FOR ADULTS
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360, PS3, PC; $59.99; rated M): This sweeping fantasy adventure immerses players in a world embroiled in a civil war, where dragons — absent for thousands of years — are returning to prey upon the cities of mankind, and where only the Dragonborn can set things right. Yeah, that sounds kind of pompous, doesn't it? What you need to know: You can play this game for 100 hours and still barely scratch the surface of all there is to see and do. You don't need to play the hero; villainy even pays better.
L.A. Noire (Xbox 360, PS3, PC; $39.99 consoles, $49.99 PC; rated M): If you've always wanted to be an old-school Sam Spade-style detective, here's your chance. The player fills the shoes of Cole Phelps as he rises — and falls — through the ranks of the L.A.P.D. during Hollywood's Golden Age. You'll investigate crime scenes, follow clues, shoot it out with the bad guys and interrogate suspects aplenty, until you've solved the crime. It's a marvelous period piece.
Mortal Kombat (Xbox 360, PS3; $59.99; rated M): Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Raiden and the rest are back and better than ever as Warner Bros. breathes new life in the legendary fighting game series, which had been languishing a bit at the now-defunct Midway. Characters' moves are simple to execute, the controls are responsive and Fatalities are bloodier than ever. Side note: A University of Illinois graduate, Ed Boon, is one of the co-creators of "Mortal Kombat" and is still involved in making the games.
Battlefield 3 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC; $59.99; rated M): OK, I admit it. The single-player campaign you'll find in "Battlefield 3" is pretty average: the graphics are pretty, the action is fast-paced, the enemy AI tends to be kind of stupid, and the "modern" anti-terror storyline is hackneyed and wanders all over the place. The real draw here is the multiplayer, which not only allows players to hop into planes, tanks and helicopters, in addition to fighting it out on foot, but also is skill-based in a fair way. There's no over-powered perk system, like in some other game I could mention. And cooperative game-play rounds out the nice features here.
OUT BEFORE DEC. 25, BUT NOT OUT YET
Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC; $59.99, rated T): This much-anticipated massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) comes out Dec. 20. Set thousands of years before the coming of Luke Skywalker, players get to forge their own path — light side or dark side — while adventuring alongside everyone else playing the game. And everybody gets their own starship.
Listing every game that would make a great gift is about impossible, but I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't name a few other possibilties.
Driving: Motorstorm Apocalypse (PS3); Need for Speed: The Run (Xbox 360, PS3, PC); Dirt 3 (Xbox 360, PS3).
First-person shooter: Killzone 3 (PS3); Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Xbox 360, PS3).
Adventure: Uncharted 3 (PS3); Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360); Dark Souls (Xbox 360, PS3); Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii).
Dance: Dance Central 2 (Xbox 360); Just Dance 3 (Xbox 360, Wii, PS3); Get Up and Dance (Wii, PS3).