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The best games for Christmas 2011

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© Image courtesy of Digital Trends © Image courtesy of Digital Trends
© Image courtesy of Digital Trends © Image courtesy of Digital Trends
© Image courtesy of Digital Trends © Image courtesy of Digital Trends
© Image courtesy of Digital Trends © Image courtesy of Digital Trends

By Ryan Fleming
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From platforming games to sports, first-person shooters to massive open world RPGs, this year has had something for anyone who deems themselves even a casual gamer. Ever wanted to slay a dragon? Done. Fight a world war? Easy. Want to make Bird dunk on Magic. No problem (well, at least in theory). There are a plethora of choices to be had in all genres.

Despite being a multi-billion dollar industry, it is still an industry that is just finding its footing. It is like a kid that has so much potential, but keeps getting picked on by the mean older industries. Plus gaming is still not as socially acceptable as the revenue figures might suggest, as evidenced by Roger Ebert's famous declaration that games could never be art. In a true example of the Internet community in action, gamers and others pelted Ebert with game suggestions that contradicted his assessment, and eventually harassed him to the point that he withdrew his criticism. Which is sort of like a win for gamers. Yay?

The point is, slowly the gaming industry is growing up, and this is one of the best years it has ever seen. The early part of the year was a bit slow on sales—which was in keeping with the economic times—but the end of the year has seen an absolute crush of games that have both been critically well-received, as well as commercially. It has been a good year for the industry, and this holiday season should further bolster that thanks to myriad titles for people to buy and gift.

With that in mind, here is a list of our choice for the 15 best games of the year.

Assassin's Creed: Revelations(PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

From pampered Renaissance nobleman, to master assassin, to a man sick of the conflict, fans of the Assassin's Creed series have been with Ezio Auditore and watched him grow through two previous games. Now his story comes to an end. As an added bonus, the original assassin, Altair, also has an epilogue through a handful of playable moments that conclude his story as well. The game itself also offers an intriguing look at the Ottoman Empire, as Ezio jumps, climbs and stabs his way through Constantinople. The game mechanics are mostly unchanged, for good and bad, but that probably doesn't matter. If you have played the previous games, you owe it to yourself to say goodbye to one of the most iconic gaming characters of the last few years.

Read our full Assassin's Creed Revelations Review.

Batman: Arkham City (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Developer Rocksteady did something amazing here, and made a video game based on a superhero that did not suck! And more than that, it is actually one of the best games of the year. A sequel to the surprise 2009 smash, Batman: Arkham Asylum, you once again take the controls of the caped crusader (as well as Catwoman), as you search the sprawling section of Gotham City that was walled off and turned into a prison. Kind of like Detroit. With a wide assortment of some of Batman's most legendary foes, as well as some enemies that will appeal the hardcore fans, this game has a little something for fans and non-fans alike.

Read our full Batman: Arkham City Review.

Battlefield 3 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

While the Call of Duty franchise may still hold the crown, no other shooter has challenged it recently likeBattlefield 3 has. Comparing the two games is an inevitable hazard for gaming fans, but it really isn't a fair measure. Both games feature an incredibly addictive online experience, and both are first-person shooters. Beyond that, they really are very different animals.Battlefield 3 is also a different experience on the PC versus its console counterparts, which further makes a fair comparison difficult. Still, it is hard not to choose a favorite. You can like both, but most gamers have a clear favorite. It is Coke versus Pepsi. Putting aside allMW3 comparisons, BF3 is a great game for online gamers. On the console it is solid and addictive, but on the PC it absolutely shines.

Read our full Battlefield 3 Review.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3(PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

When a game reaches a certain level of popularity, it becomes a lightning rod for criticism, both just and unjust. The Call of Duty franchise is the biggest gaming series in the world right now by huge margin, and the latest iteration of this annual series, Modern Warfare 3, has gone on to murder entertainment records. It hit $1 billion faster than any other entertainment property in history, and had a $400 million launch day– also a record. And yet there is a loud contingent of critics that dislike the game. As the kids say, "haterz gonna hate." This game is made for the fans of the series—and not the casual fan that is already growing tired of the online nature of the series—but the hardcore fan that will appreciate the tweaks and adjustments this title offers. The game doesn't innovate, but it delivers what it needs to. MW3 isn't for everyone. It will appeal to the online gamer more than the solo player, and if you weren't a fan or lost interest along the way, this game won't win you back over. Judging by the sales though, you will be in the minority.

Read our full Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Review.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

I used to be an RPG fan, until I took an arrow to the knee. If this line doesn't mean anything to you, it means you have yet to catch onto the phenomenon that is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. When developers talk about having choices in their games, usually they mean that you can be a bad guy and attack people, or be a good guy and save them. Despite the wide gap between the two sides, the results typically just mean a slightly different ending, maybe a unique mission or two, and possibly people either run away or applaud you, that's it.Skyrim is different. Say you want to be a vampire. Or a werewolf. Or a vampire werewolf that studies magic and has a lovely little house in the city. Or you want to be a soldier. Maybe you prefer to be a blacksmith, a mercenary, a rebel, or a serial killer. From the amazing to the creepy, Skyrim is so packed full of choices that it will be a different experience for everyone as they explore the massive world. Sacrificing 100+ hours to this game is not just common, but average. It is an important game that will have an influence on titles for years to come.

Read our full The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review.

FIFA 12 (Mac, PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii)

Despite the best efforts of Americans, around the world people continue to refer to soccer as "football." Sure, the rest of the globe can trace the name back at least 400 years, and some say it is closer to 700 years, but that's beside the point. Regardless, the beautiful game is the most popular sport in the world by a lot, and the digital version of it is one of the most popular sports games around, year after year. But rather than just throwing out another new iteration of the same old game, EA Sports decided to tweak the formula. And in doing so, it made a series that will hit the two decade mark in a couple of years, feel fresh. So if you are one of the several billion footie fans, FIFA 12 is a game you should own.

Read our full FIFA 12 Review.

Forza Motorsport 4 (Xbox 360)

For years and years, when people talked racing simulators there was one name that always came up: Gran Turismo. The Forza series was interesting, but compared to GT, its kung fu was no good. But over the years, the developers at Turn 10 Studios learned both from its own games, and from the GT series. The Forza games were always fun, but they could never shake the impression that they were GT clones. After years, the Forza series has snatched the pebble from the hand of the GT franchise, and the student has become the master. Forza 4 is an exceptional game with more than 500 cars, real world tracks, hundreds of races, a huge online side, and tuning options that will more than satiate hardcore racing simulator fans while still being accessible enough to new players. If you are, or even just know a gamer that is even remotely interested in cars–even if they just like the way a freshly cleaned tire shines–then you won't go wrong with Forza 4.

Read our full Forza Motorsport 4 Review.

Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360)

In the war between the PS3 and the Xbox 360, when it comes to exclusive titles the PS3 has a much deeper library. There are other things to mitigate the comparisons, but on an exclusivity head-to-head, the PS3 pwns. There are exceptions though, and one of the best is the Gears of War franchise. The series has been a staple of the Xbox 360, and now the current trilogy comes to a conclusion. With a solid campaign and robust online offerings, Gears 3 has plenty for solo gamers, co-op fans, and multiplayer aficionados alike. The series will live on, but for those that have played the previous entries, this game is a fitting conclusion to one of the best stories that can only be found on the 360.

Read our full Gears of War 3 Review.

L.A. Noire (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Easily one of the most inventive games of the year, L.A. Noire utilizes a brand new form of facial recognition in order to help you gage the reactions of people as you interrogate them in the name of Johnny Law. You step into the shoes of a Los Angeles police officer in post-WWII, and essentially play a noir-based story that takes you through five different departments in the LAPD. If you wanted to see this as more of an interactive movie than a game, that would probably be fair, although it would undermine the solid gameplay as you administer a bit of lead justice, LAPD style (in a good way).

Read our full L.A. Noire Review.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS)

Sales on the Nintendo 3DS have been steadily increasing, and many a surprised gamer is likely to find Nintendo's new handheld under the Christmas tree. But there is one problem that continues to plague the system: the software library sucks. That may seem like rhetoric, but the title selection for the 3DS has left a lot to be desired, as third-party developers have been slow to get on the bandwagon. That is, and will continue to change, but thankfully for 3DS owners Nintendo is one of the few companies that no need no stinking third-party developers. To help bolster the 3DS, Nintendo went back through its vaults and took one of its most critically acclaimed games of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and prettified it. Nintendo added new graphics, adapted the controls, and released one of the best games ever made for a whole new generation of gamers, as well as nostalgia hungry fans. The software library may still be lacking, but this game helps. A lot.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)

The Zelda franchise celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and even after selling some of the most influential titles of all time, Skyward Sword has become the fastest-selling title in the franchise's history. That is saying something. Using the Wii controls in a fresh and unique way, a poor unfortunate kid named Link was dumb enough to fall in love with an equally unfortunately named girl called Zelda, thus setting off a quest to save her. Thankfully, the quality of the Zelda games has remained consistently high over the years, and rather than fading away, the franchise continues to push and expand its own boundaries. As a result, Skyward Swordmay be the best Zelda game yet.

Read our full The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review.

NBA 2K12 (PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii)

It says a lot about a sports game when the sport it is simulating is in a lockout when the game is released, and that news is greeted by the game's fans with a rousing chorus of "meh." Last year's NBA 2K11 was a revolutionary new take on basketball games, and it did something most people thought was impossible: it a basketball video game fun. More than that, it made it accessible. Adding in some of Michael Jordan's best moments was a great addition, but the core gameplay was exceptional. Somehow, 2K Sports managed to top that. There was concern that the lockout was going to hurt the game as rookies could not be included due to legal concerns, not to mention the loss of all the real-life integration the game features, but they pulled it off. And now that the NBA is back, one of the best sports games in years just got better. It's almost unfair to other sports titles.

Read our full NBA 2K12 Review.

Portal 2 (Mac, PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

While the original Portal became something of a cult hit, the sequel went on to shed that "cult" title on its way to becoming one of the best games of the year. With a solid single player campaign featuring some of the best dialog around, a co-op mode that is totally unique from the campaign, plus a free DLC and a promised level editor on the way (also for free), Portal 2 is a game that deserves a spot in all gamers' collections. It is also a game that can be played by families, and there are probably a few developmental specialists that would love to take credit for some of the puzzles and the positive effects that solving them could have on developing minds. So basically, it is not only a good game, but it could make your child smarter. Or at least, that is one of the arguments you may hear from them as they ply you to buy them this game.

Read our full Portal 2 Review.

Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)

In the long history of the world's most action-packed plumber, there has never been a Mario game to sell as quickly as Super Mario 3D Land. That is a fairly mind-punching fact when you consider that Mario has appeared in more video games than anyone or anything ever, short of perhaps a ball. And it couldn't have come at a better time for the 3DS as the system is red hot even though the software library is anemic. Super Mario 3D Land my not be enough of a reason to go buy a 3DS on its own, but it is a must have for any 3DS owner.

Read our full Super Mario 3D Land Review.

Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception(PS3)

If you own a PS3, but haven't played Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, please stop reading immediately, head to your local gaming store to pick it up, than abandon your family and friends for a few days as you play what is unquestionably one of the best games of this generation of consoles. Then once you have done that pick up the sequel, which is almost as good. A compelling story with believable and sympathetic characters, and some of the most adrenaline fueled set pieces set against incredibly imaginative environments make this one of the best movies you will ever play. The only real knock against Uncharted 3 is that it didn't shock people in the same way that its predecessor did, which is sort of like criticizing a Ferrari for using a slightly less shiny paint than before. If you are thinking of skipping the theaters this holiday season, no problem, just play Uncharted 3 instead.

Read our full Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception Review.

 


This article was originally posted on Digital Trends

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