The gamer in your household is probably getting on your nerves just about now. With the holidays rolling in, game companies have let loose the floodgates and all the megasequels have hit the shelves. Halo 4 (an excellent return to form), Assassins Creed 3 (an interesting but buggy installment in the long-milked franchise) and Call of Duty Black Ops 2 (a sad retread that seems destined to damage the series as a whole) have a lot of gamers talking. But odds are the gamer in your household has already begged, stolen or borrowed themselves into these games. So what kind of gaming treasures are out there that will light up the center of those dark crusty pouches they call eyes on Christmas morning? Here are a few clues.
No. 1: Don’t buy a Call of Duty game.
Remember Guitar Hero? Remember how local jobs relied on the franchise? Remember how Activision pumped out halfhearted retreads of the game more than once each year until finally the market was drenched and they closed down the local studio and a lot of folks lost their jobs? Well, that is the road Activision seems to be headed down again with Call of Duty. If the gamer in your house has played one Call of Duty, he has played them all.
No. 2: Try something off the beaten path.
There are a number of original games on the shelves this holiday season, and because they have to compete against monsters like Halo 4 and Call of Duty 2,546, they are selling at a discount. Dishonored is a creative take on stealth and steam punk that allows gamers the freedom to come up with creative solutions to their goals—goals that usually involve assassinating a despot. Not for younger gamers. Have a comic nerd in the house, someone who is obsessed with The Walking Dead TV show? The Walking Dead game is a must-have. The game combines storytelling with intuitive and innovative game play allowing readers to decide the fates of some very interesting characters. Think of it as a hi-tech “choose your own adventure”—with zombies!
Then there’s Borderlands 2. Sure, it’s a violent shooter, but it’s crazy as all get-out. It features a story involving a megacorporation violating, manipulating and destroying a planet and its people for its financial benefit; the story is told with snarky wit, and the game play is innovative and addictive. Shoot the always-hungry tunnel rats with flame weapons, and they shout “I smell deliciousssss” as they melt. Again, this is not one for kids.
Though it’s in the long tradition of Grand Theft Auto-style games, Sleeping Dogs brings something unique to the genre by presenting an amazingly rendered Hong Kong full of shops, karaoke clubs, dojos and gangs. As the game’s protagonist, you maneuver your way through the underworld as an undercover cop. The voice acting is particularly interesting and the cast includes Emma Stone and Lucy Liu. X Com Enemy Unknown, from the producers of Civilization, shows gamers what decisions really need to be made when mankind meets an alien civilization. Turns out it involves guns and strategery.
No. 3: Choose a can’t-miss.
If your gamer hasn’t played the brilliant Elderscrolls: Skyrim or Mass Effect 3, it’s time to let them play the best games of the year. Both are immersive, feature amazingly rendered worlds, and allow for players to make moral choices. Skyrim is for the knight in the family, while Mass Effect will suit the aspiring Buck Rogers.
No. 4: Take a risk.
I don’t care who you are, what your relationship with Nintendo is or what kind of games you want to play: The Wii U looks like an awesome gadget. It is this year’s new, must-have system. Why must you have it? I have no idea! But look at it! It has a controller that is basically a tablet PC. You can play games on it while someone else uses your TV! No, I don’t know why you wouldn’t go use another TV rather than play on your controller, but let’s just pretend that—unlike 97 percent of America—you are a one-TV household. The deal is that the Wii U has lots of potential. If you buy in now, your gamer will get to show it off and be the coolest kid on the block—for a few days at least. And it’s recommended for kids.