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2008 Gift Guide

Games / Playtime

If you are buying video games for children, this guide might not help you very much. Your kids probably want or have a Wii and would now like a very iconic Nintendo-type game with universal appeal like Mario Kart, Super Smash Brothers, or Julian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2009. But for those of you buying for teen to adult gamers, this Christmas presents a number of challenges because the last few months have seen the release of cinematic, nuanced, sometimes darkly humorous, violent, video-game epics that will keep your gamer happy through the winter doldrums. Again, I stress that the following recommendations are by no means appropriate for younger gamers.

First, let’s talk systems. All the kiddies want a Wii, but adult gamers, don’t be fooled. Wii’s game quality is mediocre, and unless your gaming tastes have not evolved since you owned the 8-bit Nintendo Entainment System, you will quickly find the Wii serving as an overpriced conversation piece.

A recent gift guide in the Times Union touted the Playstation3 as a must buy this holiday season. A “must buy”? While we have heard the gaming industry called “recession proof” in recent weeks, we regard the PS3 more as a “How can you afford to buy?” or a “Why would you buy?” With most PS3 packages coming in around $400, and a lack of worthwhile games that makes the Wii catalog look strong, this system seems more like a last choice. Of course, the TU gift guide made the Blu-ray argument. The PS3 is a Blu-ray player. But we wonder in this economy who is interested in replacing their DVD collection with Blu-rays when Blu-ray discs run upward of $35 each? Unfortunatly for Sony, the PS3 is burdened with a high price tag and development software that is difficult to work with, which has driven game developers away to other systems and made cross-platform titles for the PS3 inferior to their Xbox 360 versions.

So clearly, this is a good Christmas for 360 owners, especially with 360 bundles coming in as low as $199.

With that said, regardless of whether you are buying a game for the owner of an Xbox 360, a Playstation 3 or a high-end-PC, there is one game that every adult gamer should own: Fallout 3 ($59.99). The game is set in post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C.; the player begins his time being pulled from his mother’s womb. After customizing your in-world avatar by gender, hair style and body type, you begin exploring Vault 101, the nuclear fallout shelter that has functioned as an underground sanctuary for multiple decades for generations of families. But quickly drama develops—the player’s father, voiced by Liam Neeson, does the unthinkable—he leaves the safety of the vault, and soon you are thrust out into the irradiated wilderness to search for pappy.

Not appropriate for a rental or quick play, Fallout 3, with its dark humor, cultural references, political satire and extremely nuanced game play—where every moral decision affects the capital wasteland—is more novel than comic book. It is all-consuming. From meeting the new wanna-be rulers of America to salvaging documents of historical importance from the ruins of the National Archives or simply trying to stay alive by finding clean, nonirradiated water sources, Fallout 3 is a unique gaming experience no intelligent gamer should miss. It is rare when a video game actually lingers in the player’s mind after the experience, like when reading a good novel, but Fallout 3 will stay with you for years to come.

For a more lighthearted twist on role-playing games still based on the player making moral choices, Xbox 360’s Fable II ($59.99) offers a more traditional swords and sorcery setting. Unfortunately, the game offers far less playtime and bang for its buck than Fallout 3.

The 360 exclusive Gears of the War 2 ($59.99) is the Iron Man to Fallout 3’s The Dark Knight. And it provides the best straight-ahead shooter action of the year. Think Halo 3 with a third-person view, but darker, slower and with chainsaws. Those looking for a multiplayer frag-fest need to look no further.

Guitar and band games Guitar Hero World Tour ($59.99) and Rock Band 2 ($59.99) did not make a huge splash this year. Guitar Hero was busy catching up to the first Rock Band’s multi-instrument setup, while Rock Band 2 mostly focused on improving its music catalog without making any drastic changes to the software. If you have to make a choice between the two for your music-minded gamer, Rock Band 2 is by far the superior product as its song catalog is absolutely massive.

Metroland paid Grand Theft Auto 4 ($59.99) heavy attention earlier this year; it is worth repeating that any adult gamer who has yet to pick up this iconic title should do so. It is available for every format except the Wii. Those who have completed the sordid tale of Eastern Eurpoean immigrant Niko Bellic might want to check out the surprisingly fun (although extremely crude and juvenile) Saints Row 2. Imagine Grand Theft Auto with no morals and even less taste. However, it has fun missions like insurance fraud, where the player must hurl himself into traffic to cause accidents to earn money, and Fuzz, where the player goes along for a ride with the local police department to film episodes of a Cops-like reality TV show.

It is pretty clear this year the real gaming treats are not for the kids.

—David King

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