For the non-gamer, buying video game gifts for the teen or adult in your life can be a very daunting task. With hundreds of titles available, how do you choose the one that will make them exclaim, "Oh man, that's so AWESOME!" when they tear open the wrapping paper?
While far from an exhaustive list, we've rounded up five of the hottest video games that will be gracing wishlists this holiday season and a little bit about each one to help you pick just the right gift for your gamer. (All Metacritic scores are out of 100)
Longtime fans of the Halo series might be apprehensive at seeing the series leave the hands of Bungie to be picked up by 343 Industries, but in case you haven't heard already, it looks like they've lived up to those lofty expectations. With challenging new enemies to face, a vibrant new planet to explore and a few new weapons, there's enough to give fans something different to experience while going back to many of the things that makes the Halo series great in the first place.
Players follow Master Chief as he works to save not just the planet but his AI companion Cortana, providing a deeper character story in addition to the campaigns, which make up the heart of the game. High praise has been given to the visuals and audio of the game, making both the single player and local multiplayer experience of Halo 4 not one to be missed.
It's no surprise that this game made it onto this list as one of the most popular games of this holiday season, considering it managed to bring in $500 million in first-day sales when it launched on Nov. 13. This entry into the series takes place in two different time periods, jumping between flashbacks to the 1980s, then ahead to post-modern warfare (as Destructoid calls it) in 2025. There have been lots of little improvements made throughout the game, especially in the single player mode. The player can now make "narrative changing" decisions during the single-player campaign, which may have players comparing notes on how his or her game turned out differently from a friend's playthrough.
While some reviewers have said that the multiplayer mode feels like "more of the same," for a lot of fans of the series, that's sufficient. The addition of 'Pick 10' create-a-class system in multiplayer now allows player to customize what weapons, perks, attachments or non-lethal weapons you bring with you into battle, leaving the more rigid Call of Duty class system behind. Longtime fans of the series might need to adjust to some of these changes, but chances are, they'll still be hooked before long.
It's time for AC fans to bid farewell to Ezio and say hello to Conner in a brand new world for the franchise. Instead of hopping through the rooftops of 15th century Italy, players are transported to America in 1775 where they take on the role of Connor, a half-English, half-Native American assassin. Early America offers an expansive environment to explore, which reviewers have touted as being visually rich and full of opportunities to explore. It provides hours and hours of single-player play. Improvements have been made to the free-running aspects of the game, and new weapons (including muskets) as well as naval combat have been added to further the AC player's experience.
There are still the occasional bugs players will have to contend with and some players might feel a little restricted by the available missions, but that shouldn't stop players from enjoying many of the things that the new Assassin's Creed game gets right.
It's been on the market for a little bit longer than the other titles included here (released on Oct. 30), but that doesn't mean you should overlook it. NFS:MW is publisher Criterion's second stab at the popular racing series, and one that critics found to be a very favourable one. Players can choose one of 41 finely-crafted cars and take it for a spin in a traditional race or one of the game's specialty modes, like Ambush or Speed Run, all of which take place in visually stunning environments.
The single player mode will give you plenty of room to learn the ropes of the game, but the multiplayer mode is where many reviewers say the game excels. The whole game takes place in an open world, where players can set up events around the city and race in various challenges with up to eight friends in online play. The open world environment means that you're never going to wait for the next race to load, and you're free to drive as you like — whether that's by the rules to win the race, or deliberately sabotaging your friends' attempts at victory. Oh, and don't be fooled by the name: there's been a previous "Most Wanted" game in the Need for Speed series, and while it's also great fun, this is the one you'll want to get the racing fan in your house this year.
As the last game on this list to be released this year, you won't have much time to grab it off store shelves before giving out gifts, but as one of the most highly anticipated games announced at E3 earlier this year, it'll be worth hunting down. It's the third installment in the first-person shooter series, which takes place on a mysterious desert island. Who you choose to fight and who you befriend will change how your story unfolds. Those who got the opportunity to go hands-on with the game at E3 and PAX had plenty of good things to say about the visually-impressive jungle setting, with lots of freedom to explore and lots of side quests to complete alongside the main single player story.
Far Cry 3 is available December 4.