Few years can compare to 2011’s bountiful stuffing of gaming goodness into the gullets of gamers creating a plump holiday season of buying. Picking the right game can be as confusing as identifying the ingredients in fruitcake but hopefully this annual gift-giving guide can help carve through the myriad of gaming titles and help identify the best one for your loved ones, or yourself, this holiday season. This guide will attempt to stay economical, which means you won’t see recently released titles like “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” or “Elder Scrolls: Skyrim”, to ensure you’re not diverting holiday buying plans like needing to buy a junior turkey this year to afford as many video games as possible.
Also be sure to check out the 2009 and 2010 versions of the guide which are still relevant and most likely feature even cheaper games.
Games appropriate for the entire family and not excrutiatingly medicore.
LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (under $20)
The Lego series of video games blend well-known movies and the Lego building blocks into a no-brainer family-fun experience. While the core concept is starting to feel too familiar after each game’s release, they’re still a great option for kids to enjoy and allow parents to game with their kids without boredom of having to count anything or finding an obvious brown puppy on-screen. The “Harry Potter” version adds the familiar setting of Hogwarts to the Lego games and is an easy enough to follow story for non-fans or younger kids. Even as the movies progressively grew darker, starting with Year 3, or “Prisoner of Azakaban,” the game still treats the material lightly and humorously. Although if you’re looking for virtual Lego building there’s surprisingly little actual building block creativity to find.
Cheap, must-own 2011 titles for the hardcore gamer
Dragon Age 2 (under $20)
Fans of Bioware’s RPG pedigree have already picked up the great addition in the “Dragon Age” series, but if you skipped out on the sequel released in March, it’s a great time to buy with the discounted price. Most likely an “Ultimate Edition” will be released next year with all the downloadable content included, like the first game, but the price is great if you don’t want to wait any longer. “Dragon Age 2” streamlines a lot of the features and makes it more of an action experience, which can create a shallow experience, but the sequel retains the strategic battles and amazing storytelling and well-built characters. It does feel a bit wonky in some sections, including a lot of recycled environments, but you’ll get a nice chunk of time out of the experience.
L.A. Noire (around $30, $50 for the Complete Edition)
I loved “L.A. Noire,” it’s like the point-and-click adventure games of yesteryear updated for modern tastes, while adding a stunning visual component. It’s not “Grand Theft Auto” and it’ll feel like the game holds your hand a lot, but it’s a game experience unlike many others currently. As long as you can sustain periods of time void of action, it’s definitely a title needed to be experienced. A “Complete Edition,” with all downloadable content included, has been recently released, but the game is still incredible without all the extraneous additions if you don’t want to drop an additional $20.
Last year’s hits
2010’s games, today!
Dead Rising 2 (Under $20)
Zombies and gaming are practically synonymous, but the “Dead Rising” series is a stand-out, offering up thousands of zombies for the slaughter in wacky ways like using bowling balls, parts of mannequins, condiments and other random objects. “Dead Rising 2” adds even further zombie madness in a Vegas-like locale and weapon-crafting to further put down the zombie horde. While the most recent Capcom re-release of the game changes the protagonist to Frank West, the Chuck Greene show is still a worthy playthrough and a cheaper one.
Other 2010 holiday titles you’ll find under $20: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, Enslaved: Odyssey to The West, and Fable III
Black Friday titles
The following titles are slightly discounted, but have a good chance of being even cheaper starting on Black Friday
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (currently around $45)
For the past few months, the sci-fi shooter “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” has consistently been a discounted title on sites like Amazon and the price is already down to around $40-$45 on most shopping sites because of its early release in the holiday season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it, or it’s also discounted “Augmented Edition,” even lower this Black Friday. This is one I’m waiting to buy for the lower price, but thoroughly enjoyed the last iteration “Deus Ex: Invisible War” and this game has enjoyed decent reviews already (89 on Metacritic).
Gears of War 3 (currently around $50)
There’s certain titles this year that deliver a ridiculous amount of high-quality content like “Mortal Kombat” and one of Xbox 360’s best, and only, exclusive titles this holiday season, “Gears of War 3.” The last iteration in the “Gears of War” trilogy doesn’t just offer standard campaign and multiplayer options, but numerous other features including “Horde 2.0” and a ribbon and medal system that’ll have you stat-watching even more than in previous games. The multiplayer is more accessible thanks to new modes that aren’t one-and-done round deaths. It’s a time-sucker gorefest that’ll chainsaw its way into your heart if you’ve managed to avoid it, or the series, thus far.
Batman: Arkham City (currently around $45)
Although most of Batman’s improvements in “Arkham City” are gear-related, it’s still an amazing gaming experience with enough fan service to please any Batman aficionado. Much like “Gears of War 3,” the options are numerous to keep one invested for many hours with the main story, challenge missions and campaigns, and Riddler trophies to discover. Plus the Calendar Man achievement, playing on each month’s major holiday, will ensure you’ll be returning quite frequently to it throughout the next year… unless you cheat.
Potential pick-ups on Black Friday: Portal 2, Mortal Kombat, Dark Souls, Forza Motorsport 4, Crysis 2, and Rage
Other titles to examine
Those that don’t fall under the previous categories or are not Xbox 360 related.
Fallout: New Vegas – (under $20) However the ”Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition” with all downloadable content is being released in February 2012 for $49.99.
Mass Effect 2 (PC) – ($4.99) While the Xbox 360 version is already under $20, this week you can download the PC version for $5. It’s a little hard to gift a downloaded game, but hey, you deserve something as well. You work hard… at buying video games online.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – (around $30) – What’s nice about yearly sequel games is in theory the previous year’s title should receive a significant price drop before the next game’s release (theory doesn’t apparently apply to “Call of Duty” games). With “Assassin Creed: Revelations” release, last year’s “Assassin’s Creed” title should be easily found at half price.
Dead Space 2 (under $30) – I’ve got sitting on the shelf, but the first one was an action success with a few gruesome moments. The sequel looks like it only adds onto the gore-heavy shooting.
Have a great holiday everyone and be sure to list your own economical gaming finds in the comments section below.