Videogames are hard to buy for friends, family, co-workers…just about anyone. There are two reasons for this: first, it’s hard to know what people have or don’t have, and everyone’s tastes vary. And every year there are so many games, that it’s hard to keep track of the best ones. Thankfully we at Gadget Review are also avid gamers and keep track of the best titles across consoles. This guide is specific to the best videogames you can purchase released this year, period.
So what are the best games to release this year? There are quite a few worth considering, and plenty you undoubtedly missed.
Console Agnostic (available on multiple consoles)
Dishonored (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Dishonored is a generous blend of first-person stealth gameplay that utilizes an incredibly potent grouping of fast-paced action and thought-provoking strategy. Like Splinter Cell or other stealth-based titles, Dishonored can be played ruthlessly or completely in the shadows. Players choose how to accomplish missions and their actions will determine the events that unfold in the game in the noire steampunk universe.
Gameplay is dastardly fun and very provocative. It’s a mad dash of Assassin’s Creed combined with Skyrim, in a sense creating a very RPG feel to what is in fact a first-person shooter. And thanks to just how deep gameplay can get, the number of available tools enables players to get extremely creative with combat maneuvers and completing missions…or you can do it very topically. The choice is yours, but if you missed this game, now’s the best time to pick up a copy.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (PC, 360, PS3, Wii U)
Many will claim that the latest Call of Duty title is just another rehash of last year’s best-selling game, but such statements couldn’t be farther from the truth. Black Ops 2 continues the story from the original Black Ops, which took place during the Vietnam War, but combines the somewhat old-school combat with futuristic warfare in the year 2025 with Alex Mason’s son, David Mason, and his own team trying to stop a global catastrophe from taking place. The brilliant writing is something rarely seen in gaming today, and is reminiscent of Modern Warfare 1′s heart-wrenching plot, but without any over-the-top tricks.
In fact, Black Ops 2 can easily be considered a masterpiece of single-player gaming. It is one of the first FPS titles to offer in-game choice on a realistic scale. Players can actually fail at specific missions, which will impact the game’s story, meaning the following cutscenes and future levels. The choices are few in number, but they’re all critical to the story. Short at just six hours, choice doubles the replay value of the single player campaign.
Of course, the bread and butter of any Call of Duty title is multiplayer, which returns with several major changes like an all-new loadout system that offers more and better customization in a balanced way. Level design is generally good to great, and online multiplayer is very fun. And like all Treyarch COD titles, Zombies returns with three new maps and more on the way for a return to the hectic squad-based survivor gametype.
Max Payne 3 (PC, 360, PS3)
Rockstar’s original runaway hit returned this year with a final game to the decade-old noire franchise that invented bullet time. Like all Max Payne titles, Max Payne 3 is a brilliant tale of the dark underworld that one man travels through for salvation. The use of graphical technology and keen storytelling weave together to form one of the best stories of this console generation combined with fun gameplay that we haven’t seen since Max had hair.
While multiplayer is fun, the real meat is in the single-player campaign, which is jam packed with not only an incredible story, memorable characters and scenes, and some really excellent acting, but a ton of collectables and secrets that will keep anyone in trance for hours on end.
Mass Effect 3 (PC, 360, PS3)
I had my problems with Mass Effect 3, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a good game. It’s a great trilogy, in fact, and for anyone who hasn’t played through to the end, you are surely missing out, even if the close is lackluster. The space-opera RPG does a fine job of putting Commander Shepard through enough hoops to satisfy any player’s desire for space-faring exploration, and the multiplayer is extremely fun though limited. We absolutely recommend that you play through Mass Effect 3, though if you’ve stayed away because you don’t want to ruin the game because of the atrocious ending, fret not: you can always stop once you reach the end and leave it as a mystery.
That is, until someone spoils it for you. That might prove better than actually watching it though, so it’s not such a bad thing.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted (PC, 360, PS3)
I loved Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. It was an absolutely brilliant game, one that Criterion Games undoubtedly had a lot of trouble both emulating and besting. One they actually couldn’t best, in fact, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play Most Wanted, their latest Need for Speed title. It’s an open-world arcade racer that features fast cars, lot’s of crashes and intense racing, and some of the best driving you can find in any game anywhere.
With an improved graphics engine and a laundry list of incredible cars, Most Wanted is a well-organized racer that has a massive world for online play as well as a huge solo experience, even if the two don’t perfectly coincide. It’s the same great racing on a bigger scale, though the action isn’t quite as intense or quite as good as Hot Pursuit, which was really a masterpiece of racing. The two are so similar though that I recommend them both: Hot Pursuit for solo play and Most Wanted for online play. It’s a win-win scenario.
Borderlands 2 (PC, 360, PS3)
The quintessential FPS-RPG this year, Borderlands 2 ups the ante from the original by adding a host of new characters, an incredibly funny new story, a practically infinite number of new weapons and collectables, some of the wittiest dialog ever, and the same excellent four-player cooperative play you know and love. It does so with a vastly improved graphics engine, the same world of Pandora, and an even madder world then you left it just two years ago. Only this time players will have a lot more content in the coming months, with new expansion packs planned in regular intervals and daily updates for earning more current in-game items direct from developer Gearbox. It’s the perfect never-ending story.
The Walking Dead (PC, 360, PS3)
What do you get when you take one of today’s hottest TV shows and make it into a choice-based arcade game that involves zombies? You get one of the most emotionally challenging games of the year. The Walking Dead takes place in the same world as the hit AMC show but is the story of a different cast of characters, where players work through five individual episodes (that make up season 1) to survive. Every choice made impacts the future of the game, and these choices aren’t like the ones in Mass Effect 3: they actually matter. Most decisions end with either someone dying gruesomely or something very bad happening. Then again, most choices are between bad and worse, and players have to decide which is which.
Few games make players feel and care about characters as well as The Walking Dead. The game itself isn’t particularly challenging, but it can be emotionally draining and it certainly is unique. The full season tells the story of one group surviving after the zombie apocalypse; your choices will make things better and/or worse. It just depends for who, because every choice matters.
Hitman: Absolution (PC, 360, PS3)
After a serious hiatus, the Hitman franchise returns and does so gracefully. Not only is it supremely well balanced, the single-player only game has one of the smartest multiplayer features ever thought of: ”Contract mode”, where players, using actual game levels, assign up to three very specific hits on in-game characters for anyone in the world to complete. The whole system is so gracefully done that anyone with the skill to pull off the hit themselves can share it with the world.
Of course, that only adds to the seriously improved gameplay, which is more accessible than ever in the franchise’s history and is also harder than ever before. Creativity, good judgment, fast thinking, and twitch skill is all rewarded across multiple playthroughs of this 3rd-person action title. Sure, it looks a little weird, but Absolution is what people will think of when Agent 47 is brought up in conversation thanks to excellent balance and in-game dynamics. It’s a proper mixture of its parts, and for a game with so many moving parts like Hitman, that’s an astounding feat on it’s own. The fact that it’s also equally frustrating and fun makes it all the better.
Darksiders 2 (PC, 360, PS3)
Darksiders was considered an underachieving title, but I wrote that it was great because of some of the best storytelling ever seen in a videogame. Darksiders 2 balances the two with a dumbed-down plot but vastly-improved gameplay that loses the repetitive nature of the original and feels much more like God of War than a button-mashing Zelda. Aside from the abrupt ending, Darksiders 2 is a fun tale that continues and ends the legend of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and while the story isn’t nearly as graceful or as potent as the original, it’s still ahead of what most games today can muster. The 10-15 hours of campaign are a decent play.
Assassin’s Creed 3 (PC, 360, PS3)
After playing Assassin’s Creed 3 for the first five minutes, I was hooked. The previous games in the franchise were all decent, good games that had some very serious flaws but the gameplay was fresh and unique enough to still be an enjoyable experience. But AC3 is a step above its predecessors in storytelling, so much so that the exceptionalism that made the first game such a pleasure to play returns in the form of American history, plenty of characters we actually know from history (speaking as an American), and some of the best game writing this year makes Assassin’s Creed 3 a must have.
It’s also stunningly gorgeous on the PC, though if you own a PS3 and Vita you may be inclined to get the PS3 version if you get Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation. Owning will give access to additional missions unavailable to other console owners.
Resident Evil 6 (360, PS3)
When I spoke with the directors of Resident Evil 6 back at Gamescom, they said that it was the culmination of all of the Resident Evil titles before it, with an ensemble cast and three separate cooperative campaigns to play through. And they weren’t kidding. Each campaign follows one of the three main protagonists: Chris Redfield, Leon Kennedy, and Jake Muller (Wesker’s son) all follow separate paths along the same journey to stop the latest plague of zombies and the more powerful J’avo, gun-wielding and intelligent enemies that at a moment’s notice transform into nightmarish creatures.
The beauty of this trifecta approach is that each gameplay style is slightly different. Chris is hard and fast, with big guns, lots of bullets, and a ton speed and muscle. Leon’s is much slower, with generally just a pistol and your wits. And Jake is a mix of both, with a tinge of unique gameplay elements because of his abilities (which we won’t spoil). All of the stories are interwoven, so players will get a shot at sharing a mission with another character at least once in the game, and for cooperative play (either on-console or online) that means some levels have up to four player coop. It’s a fun mess, though the story is lacking. The PC version is still in the works too, but isn’t expected for some time.
The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings Enhanced Edition (PC, 360, PS3)
A mostly unknown developer shocked the gaming world when it released the first footage of The Witcher 2, at first a PC only title that released in 2011 and brought with it some of the most spectacular graphics you could find anywhere. Even Crysis, known for it’s incredible CryEngine 3, paled in comparison in many ways, and so did plenty of extremely powerful PCs. Even mine, running two GTX 580′s in SLI couldn’t hold 30 frames per second with The Witcher 2.
Now available on all consoles (and for PC buyers upgraded to the Enhanced Edition for free), The Witcher 2 is available to all players in a simple, albeit somewhat quirky RPG adventure following Geralt, one of the few Witchers in the world who hunts monsters, and his quest to maintain order in an old-fashioned world filled with the undead, kings and queens, medieval wars, magic, and a handful of undressed women. Let’s just say that as much as you’ll enjoy The Witcher 2, this one isn’t for the kiddies.
Xbox 360 Exclusive
I’ve already written how Halo 4 isn’t the game it should’ve been, but if you don’t already own it, it still is one of the best games to own on the Xbox 360, if only because of some really fun multiplayer. Master Chief’s latest venture is lackluster and the story leaves plenty to be desired, but it’s by far not the worst that the franchise as seen. In fact, it reaches a pretty decent balance, with a reasonable single-player campaign, a unique and ever-updating list of cooperative “Spartan Ops” weekly challenges, and a regularly changing list of multiplayer matchmaking games.
The important thing to know is that combat has seriously improved in Halo 4; not quite to the peak it reached in Halo 2, but enough to make it fun for a long time coming. It’s one of a few titles I’ll be playing over the holidays regularly. I recommend you do the same.
Dance Central 3
While the tracklist and gameplay isn’t quite what it was in the original, Dance Central 3 does exactly for dancing games as Guitar Hero and Rock Band did for music games: it upgrades the gameplay, style, and offers a whole new selection of tracks while allowing players to play the same songs from yesteryear. Dance Central 3 introduces a few new play styles that area great for group-play and parties, though aren’t a total turn-on for individual or just two players. Then again, it is a Harmonix title; the more people you play with, the more fun it is.
As much as EA’s Need for Speed franchise makes racing fun, it isn’t exactly a realistic racer. In fact, that much is to be expected. But Forza Horizon takes a different approach to arcade racing. It’s a massive game with hundreds of races all surrounding the Horizon event. Everything you do counts, from overtaking competing vehicles to heavy drifts in a muscle car. Players start from the bottom and work their way up in what is, like all Forza games before Horizon, an almost RPG-like racing game.
Driving feels heavier and more solid, not light and ridiculously fast like most arcade racers, and the physics are more realistic too. Horizon is a great game for the racer who doesn’t want a fantastical driving game, but who isn’t necessarily looking for a perfectly accurate sim racer.
Dust: An Elysian Tail
The XBLA exclusive is a simple combat-based adventure game that offers over a dozen hours of gameplay, a spectacular 2D environment, and a tale of redemption that is strangely poetic…in a very philosophical, ‘I almost don’t get it’ sort of way. It follows the story of Dust, a confused…creature who searches for his past and redemption, led along the way by a talking sword and a cute/whiny wombat-like creature. But the story itself isn’t waht makes Dust worth getting over the holidays; the replay value and tons of collectables are.
It may take about 12 hours to complete the story, but completionists will spend at least 20 collecting everything in the game, and you can double that if if they plan on playing through on the harder difficulties as well. There is so much stuff hidden away in this game that, for the right person, you can keep them playing for a long, long while. And having fun along the way.
PlayStation 3 Exclusive
Journey: Collector’s Edition
Journey is probably the finest PSN game you can play. Short at just four hours but artistic beyond what most games can offer, it really justifies videogames as art, not just interactive experiences. Traversing a foreign desert world with massive environments, untold dangers, and potentially a completely unknown friend make up part of the beauty found in Journey, but this collector’s set is a bit more memorable than that.
Not only does the Collector’s Edition include Journey on a full Blu-ray disc, it includes all of developer ThatGameCompany’s titles before Journey, including both Flower and Flow, as well as the student projects that the team developed while still studying game development at USC. It also comes with the full Journey musical soundtrack, which is some of the best orchestral work of any game this year, along with a selection of themes, images, and artwork from the game. It’s not just a great deal; Journey: Collector’s Edition is just one of those games you should own both to play and to treasure.
God of War Saga
The Xbox has Halo, and the PlayStation 2 was practically built upon the incredible God of War franchise. Starring Kratos, the original vengeful Spartan warrior both for and against the gods, the God of War Saga includes all five major titles from the series (it does not include the mobile game, made for smartphones years ago) completely remastered with HD graphics and updated controller support for the two PSP titles.
Like Journey, the God of War Saga makes for a great holiday gift for anyone who has or hasn’t played all of the games already. For those who haven’t, it’s a great way to start fresh and enjoy the whole series, perhaps even in the order of the story (instead of the release, since Ghost of Sparta and Chains of Olympus don’t both take place between God of War 2 and 3). And for those who have, the saga is the only way to replay the PSP titles on the big screen, and there’s no better way to play the PS2 titles than with updated graphics to better fit your HDTV.
The Infamous franchise isn’t synonymous with PlayStation like God of War or Uncharted, but it is a sort of cult classic that includes some really fantastic gameplay across a massive city on a scale reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto IV. As Cole McGrath players act as a pseudo-Zeus, firing bolts of lightning and zipping down electric lines to clean out the town from whatever infestation each game brings.
And along with Infamous 1 and 2 is the acclaimed Infamous: Festival of Blood DLC, a standalone expansion pack that is a unique twist on gameplay and story of vampires taking over New Marais (fictionalized New Orleans). It may sound like visiting Twilight, but I assure you the combination of lightning-induced combat and malevolent blood-sucking demons that need petrification is a good one.
The experience of Papo & Yo is absolutely incredible. Not only is it the most emotionally stark game of the year, it’s also a simple, intuitive and memorable experience. Few games show the level of character and emotion portrayed in this entirely non-English 4-hour arcade game. The content may not be the best for happy gift this holiday season, but that doesn’t make it any less of an exceptional game.
PlayStation Vita Exclusive
The franchise may be several years old already, but the PS3 hit isn’t quite done with new beginnings. On the Vita, LittleBigPlanet is an entirely new adventure that includes all of the level-building and platforming gameplay as the previous titles, and not on a smaller scale. On the Vita LBP is a fully-fledged game that is massive in scope and capabilities; players can do pretty much anything, from playing through the campaign over 10-12 hours to creating maps for players around the world.
And because it’s a Vita title, it comes with all the benefits of the console, such as touchscreen support. It is weird for a handful of mini games, but at the same time the list of creation tools enables players to work around anything, including the relatively bulky console frame. Definitely a must-own for the console.
Touch my Katamari
Katamari Damacy is extremely popular because it combines simple gameplay mechanics of rolling around an ever-growing ball of items into an objective-based game. It isn’t for everyone, but Touch my Katamari is one of the most travel-friendly games for the Vita. The huge number of short levels is astounding, and you can really spend as much time on any level as you want. It isn’t the full Vita experience with high-end graphics, but it offers quality gameplay that will keep you entertained on the car/train ride every time.
Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation
A twist on the fan-adored Assassin’s Creed franchise, Liberation takes place alongside the home console Assassin’s Creed 3 except in New Orleans, a port city of much French wealth, much slavery, and a lot of mischief. If you’re looking to take an Assassin’s Creed game on the road, Liberation is certainly that. It looks and feels the part, with high-end graphics, the same run-escape-kill gameplay, and the same clutch moments that make this series so great.
There are some pretty big differences though, such as playing the role of Aveline, a woman who can change clothes and instantly change personas between high-class citizen to slave. She can also charm men into doing her bidding, but won’t shy away from a fight. The controls take some time to adjust to (they’re different enough from the traditional Assassin’s Creed games), and load screens are tedious and long, but this is one of the best games on the console by far.
Nintendo 3DS Exclusive
New Super Mario Bros. 2
Everyone’s favorite plummer returns in another fun adventure for the 3DS. I could go on and tell you all about New Super Mario Bros. 2, or I can tell you that it is indeed new, that it’s Mario, that you can buy a physical copy or buy it from the 3DS digital store, and that anyone who hasn’t played NSMB2 that does own a 3DS is missing out.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
Those unfamiliar with Professor Layton will be in for a pleasant surprise. The series follows a well educated British professor and his apprentice, solving mysteries in game-long episodes. The Miracle Mask is the 6th game in the series, and plays like a movie puzzler. That is to say, a fair portion of the game is the cartoon of the plot unfolding, broken apart by puzzles, and gameplay revolving search mechanics and investigation by talking to in-game characters.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mast makes for a great gift for a few reasons: first, it’s a genuinely interesting, challenging, and fun game. Unlike most games that are gameplay only, Professor Layton is part cartoon, part game, and that is uniquely different because the two genres go well together. Instead of just watching characters on screen struggle to solve difficult puzzles, it’s up to you. And instead of watching generally dull exchanges in the form of gameplay, players watch it as a high-quality cartoon that you would expect to see on TV. It’s the sort of game that’s great for travel because it’s highly immersive, and at the same time it works for short voyages because puzzles can be very difficult and exhausting.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Unlike traditional Super Mario games, Paper Mario titles are RPG games. They follow a different track in the same universe with the same characters, except that Mario isn’t running and stomping on everyone’s head. He solves puzzles in a very cute, 2D paper world where all of the same characters and enemies make regular debuts, as you can see in the picture above. Carrying around a hammer and your wits, Paper Mario: Sticker Star is a true RPG that requires time, patience, and some gaming know-how. I’ve put the game in front of kids and adults alike with mixed results. It’s tricky and occasionally tough, unlike today’s slew of Nintendo titles. I like it that way, and if you’re buying it as a gift, know that the recipient will have built character after completing the game.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Kingdom Hearts is a franchise close to many people’s hearts. It takes famed Disney characters and brings them together with the RPG-expertise of Square Enix. You can read our full review to get a better sense of the game, but if you like RPGs, at least occasionally enjoy Disney, and want to do it all on a portable console, then Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is your game.