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Holiday Gift Guide: Video Games

by David King on December 12, 2013


Every so often during my childhood a video game company or two would release new game systems–and each year it was more a curse than a blessing. I would beg, plead and cajole my mother into finding one of the generally sold-out systems at a location somewhere across the Capital Region. I would make it my mission to have what was new—some years I would simply sell all of my old games betting the new system was worth the exchange—driven by a lust for new tech. Other years I would obsessively call stores until I found out when the next shipment of the hot new system would be in and not-so-smoothly slip the information to my parental unit in hopes she would take pity on my neurotic condition.

The lesson almost every year was that I should have waited until the price went down, until there were more games. And while I have learned that lesson and can recite it and type it as though it were gospel, this year, at 32, I decided I had to have the latest systems. It was easier this year: Amazon makes compulsive buying less of a chore. The following is what I learned from my experience over the years and I provide it to you in hopes that it can help you make better decisions than I.

PlayStation 4: This year’s most wished-for game system plays games at near-high-end PC graphics levels, has gorgeous 1080p resolution and a fantastic controller, and glows blue as though it were a magical ornament.

My PS4 showed up from Amazon dead in the box, but Sony was responsive and overnighted me a new working system once I had shipped the broken console.

Once I had the working model in my hands I popped in Assassin’s Creed 4—a gorgeous, enthralling pirate adventure that lets the player explore the Caribbean while building a fleet of trade ships, terrorizing the Spanish and British and acting as a bit player in some sort of nonsense conspiracy involving aliens and DNA memory devices. Thankfully, the game mostly focuses on joyful pirating adventures—scuttle a ship, swing over the deck, kill the captain and take the booty, plan trade routes through the colonies, dive for sunken treasure—it’s the modern day Oregon Trail, but with swordplay. There is also an anti-colonial theme in there for the thinkers out there.

The catch is that the game is available for just about every system—the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and the rest. It just looks its best on PS4. The PS4’s worthwhile exclusive games won’t be out until spring of next year, and it is not compatible with PS3 games. So patience could be the correct tack here. But if owning a PS4 is the gamer in your family’s obsession, it does come highly recommended.

Xbox One: This giant block of a gadget wants to own your living room. It wants to be your entertainment hub. You can plug your cable, audio components and even your PS4 into it and pop back and forth between your Xbox One games. The “Xbone,” as it is affectionately known on the internets, also launched with some interesting exclusive games. This includes Dead Rising 3, a game where you take on the zombie apocalypse by creatively assembling the most bizarre zombie-slaying gadgets ever. Chainsaw attached to a pinwheel hat anyone? The sheer number of zombies that gather on your screen is impressive.

If you are looking for something to show you just how much processing power the Xbone has, Ryse: Son of Rome will do the trick. You bash barbarians as a Roman soldier, violently oppressing the hordes in graphically rendered detail. It isn’t particularly deep. You can also pick up Assassin’s Creed 4 for Xbone but none of the games look as pretty as they do on PS4. However, Microsoft has a number of exclusive releases slated for next year that have gamers salivating—including Titanfall and Halo 5.

The Xbone is hard to recommend for everyone as it does a lot of things, but none of them in a way that makes you feel like you’ve entered the next generation. The system will also set you back $100 more than a PS4 because it is packaged with the ever-present, camera/microphone peripheral Kinect—something that proved to be a useless add-on to Microsoft’s last system.

If you are looking for great gaming experiences this year, the last generation is still the place to be. PS3 has amazing titles like the visceral and emotional The Last of Us, and the enchanting role playing game Ni No Kuni that features the animation of the famous Studio Ghibli.

The Xbox 360 lacked any major exclusives this year, but both systems are home to the ultra-compelling, adult crime drama-satire Grand Theft Auto 5; Bioshock Infinite’s unlikely combination of quantum physics and commentary on the nature of race, class and religion in America; and the latest Batman installment, Batman Arkham Origins.

The young gamer in your family likely already owns a 3DS but if not, this is the year to get them one. The portable system has enjoyed a Renaissance of amazing games like Fire Emblem Awakening, new entries in the Pokemon series and, most importantly, the newest installment in the Zelda series: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, which is a sequel to the Super Nintendo classic. The game is so good and full of nostalgia that the adult gamer in your life might just need it too.