Rated M for Immature

Time-sucking dragon quests and gargantuan battlefields await the man-boys of 2011.

It’s another amazing year for video games, as both Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 plunge deeper into their respective cycles, offering great exclusives, sequels galore, and some innovation to boot. Mobile gaming is exploding, getting kids addicted via their parents’ iPhones, while the PC space keeps getting more advanced. Bonus: Amazon.com offers a killer “buy one get one free” deal on new games this holiday season, valid one per customer when purchasing two games at once while supplies last.


For: PC, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360

Rating: M for Mature

MSRP: $59.99

Texas-based id Software made Doom and Quake, thereby joining the pantheon of gamemakers for all time. And it’s taken nearly all of time for them to enter the console market, with post-apocalyptic RAGE. You play an “Arc” survivor who awakens from hibernation 150 years after an asteroid resets humanity. Bandits, mutants, and a new-world Authority control what remains. Part first-person shooter, part third-person vehicle combat, the concept isn’t very original. But thanks to a bunch of new technology, id more fully inhabits the shooter-driver concept than any of its peers. In an era of shooter fatigue, RAGE manages to make gunplay crisp and driving thrilling. This title gets the blood pumping, and we mean buckets of it.


For: PC, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360=

Rating: M for Mature

MSRP: $59.99-$149.99

All across the Bay Area, gamers are missing. Jobs and girlfriends are going neglected, laundry is piling up, personal hygiene is falling by the wayside. What could bring on such a crushing addiction? Skyrim, aka The Elder Scrolls V. The role-playing game puts players on the trail of a mythical Nordic dragon terrorizing a world of magic. The long-anticipated sequel sold 3.5 million copies in the first two days of release this fall. Role-playing gamemakers Bethesda Softworks allow players to explore the open world of Skyrim for weeks, finding quests, hunting wild beasts, and exploring dungeons. Join a faction of assassins. Help a local town deal with a dragon problem. Using the “Radiant Story” system, each action affects the future trajectory of the game.

Battlefield 3

For: PC, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360

Rating: M for Mature

MSRP: $59.95

The 2011 holiday game season for shooters has been set up as a grudge match between two big franchises: the Battlefield series and the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare brand. But when it comes to innovation, it’s no contest at all. Modern Warfare 3 is the most craven of re-treads, the equivalent of paying $60 for a $10 set of multiplayer map packs. Yes, there’s a single-player campaign, but multiplayer is what gamers sign up for, and the MW3 multiplayer offers idea-recycling at its worst. Contrast that with Battlefield 3. It’s more complex, sometimes more alienating and involved. But it’s also got tanks and other vehicles, destructible environments, and, for the first time, pilotable jet aircraft. Death from above never looked so sweet.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

For: PC, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360

Rating: M for Mature

MSRP: $39.99-$69.99

Despite our bloodlust, we actually enjoy a well-made action game where you have the option not to kill anyone. Deus Ex: Human Revolution offers an operatic cyberpunk thriller set in the future that allows players to either focus on combat, stealth, hacking, or social skills. Deus Ex‘s stellar graphics conjure Blade Runner with dark, wet, neon cityscapes. The twenty-hour-long single-person storyline revolves around a global conspiracy to control cyberized people, and each run-through can be different, depending on how you’ve augmented your body. By the end, you fight with the character you’ve built, not the one you wish you’d built. Us? We’re super-hacking uber-ninjas with a license to kill and that’s the way we like it.

Batman: Arkham City

For: PC, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360

Rating: T for Teen

MSRP: $49.99-$99.99

Video games are good for a lot of things, but they might be best at letting players be Batman. Arkham City delivers more of the same game-of-the-year goodness that made its predecessor Arkham Asylum so beloved. Never has a game allowed one to so fully inhabit the Dark Knight — swooping from rooftop to rooftop, pouncing on unsuspecting foes, then beating down sixteen other guys who jump in the fight. Arkham City‘s action is fluid and intuitive, resulting in unscripted kung fu scenes that would make Jackie Chan proud. This time, the Joker is up to his old tricks again, and Catwoman gets in on the action.

Where’s My Water?

For: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

Rating: 4+

MSRP: $0.99

The new Disney app from the creators of Jelly Car offers a physics-based puzzle game, the goal of which is to direct water to an alligator in a bathtub. Where’s My Water? utilizes iPhone’s retina-display graphics and iOS’s multitouch controls. Comes with eighty puzzles in four themed chapters; the water physics are quite impressive. Players use a finger to plot a path through the puzzle for the water to follow, but tons of contraptions and obstacles try to get in the way.

EVE Online

For: PC

Rating: T for Teen

MSRP: $19.99

There’s something weird and powerful brewing on the Internet. Massive multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft were just the beginning. Now such games are being tied into the real-world cash economy, and linked into the once-separate world of console-gaming. At the forefront of this evolution is Icelandic company CCP and its eight-year-old title EVE Online. EVE‘s an MMORPG space simulator with a notoriously difficult learning curve. CCP has crafted a Hobbesian, dog-eat-dog galaxy where venturing beyond secure zones can yield instant grief at the hands of stronger players. That’s why gamers have formed in-game corporations of massive scale. And when two corporations decide to square off, the dynamic, real-time space wars rival anything scripted by George Lucas.


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