The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 22, 2012

The Ultimate Holiday Video Game Gift Guide

Justin Dennis
jdennis@tribdem.com

— The gaming industry has seen a glut of AAA titles released in 2012 — another installment in the revered “Halo” franchise, throwback magic in form of an “XCOM” reboot and a true sequel to “Kingdom Hearts 2” are giving gamers plenty to squawk about this holiday season.

But the wide world of electronic entertainment can be daunting at best, paralyzingly indecipherable at worst. This guide is a comprehensive list of can’t-miss gifts for the gamers on your holiday shopping list along with Black Friday deals that will save you some scratch.

Still not sure about a game's content? See trailers for these titles along the right sidebar.

FOR THE OLDER KIDS (17 and up):

HALO 4

Picking up right where “Halo 3” left off, players once again assume control of Spartan-117, Master Chief, as he awakens from cryosleep to meet a new Covenant threat. Multiplayer is bigger than ever, expanding on the arsenal and gameplay additions from “Halo: Reach.” The new game mode, “Spartan Ops,” takes the player and a buddy through a season’s worth of episodic, story-driven missions where cooperation and teamwork are the key to success. Any “Halo” fan — or space marine aficionado — will be onboard.

CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS 2

“Call of Duty: Black Ops” was a sideways take on the military FPS genre, being set during the espionage-laden Cold War era. Its follow-up skews ahead roughly 10 years and instead of 60s-era tech like RC car bombs, players will have access to modern military gear like unmanned drones and concept technology that hasn’t seen real-life combat — yet. With an experience-based multiplayer system and the return of much-beloved zombie survival mode, there’s plenty here at which shooter fans or military buffs will take aim.

ASSASSIN’S CREED 3

Ubisoft’s flagship franchise about the ancient war between an assassin’s guild and the Knights Templar is pulling out all the stops for their second proper sequel. The series has taken players to Crusades-era Jerusalem and 15th century Italy — now players will rub elbows with George Washington on the Delaware River as they assume the role of Connor, a Native American assassin that has a hand to play in the American Revolution. Those looking for a blockbuster experience won’t be disappointed.

XCOM: ENEMY UNKNOWN

A reboot of the classic mid-90s “XCOM” franchise, much has changed since gamers’ last visit to its wacky, comic book-kitsch world. Players control Earth’s defense forces from a top-down perspective as they clash with an encroaching alien threat. What XCOM lacks in originality it makes up for with its tactical combat mechanics and sheer depth. Between sorties, players must manage finances, expand their war base and research alien equipment for use in the field. “XCOM” is perfect for the calculating gamer or the one who's always beating you at chess.

ZOMBI U

One of the Nintendo Wii U’s exemplary launch titles, ZombiU promises an immersive survival horror experience. Making full use of the new Wii U gamepad, players must perform context-specific tasks like aiming a gun or unlocking a door via the pad’s inlaid touchscreen, as well as manage their inventory. This creates a new sense of tension as your eyes aren’t always watching for the zombie that could be sneaking up behind you. Perfect for the “Walking Dead” fan on your list or the gamer who has been stocking up for the inevitable undead apocalypse.

OTHER SUREFIRE WINNERS:

DIABLO 3

BORDERLANDS 2

HITMAN: ABSOLUTION

MASS EFFECT 3

FOR THE YOUNGER CROWD (10 and up):

PLAYSTATION ALL-STARS BATTLE ROYALE

Ever wanted to pit the “God of War” Kratos against Crash Bandicoot or Sly Cooper? “PlayStation All-Stars” takes a page out of Nintendo’s playbook, throwing dozens memorable Sony characters from throughout the game maker’s history in up to 4-player combat. If your gamer owns or has owned one of Sony’s consoles, this one promises a lot of crossover fun.

NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. U

As is tradition, a new Nintendo platform brings a new Super Mario Bros. Up to four players can jump in and change the level using Wii U’s new touchscreen gamepad. The additions of challenge mode and boost rush mode give much more mileage than the minigames that were tacked on to previous New Super Mario Bros. titles. As always, Super Mario Bros. is a formulated, time-tested classic. All gamers need apply.

FORZA HORIZON

With roughly 200 cars, a legacy of impeccable auto racing mechanics in gaming and famed “Burnout” developer Criterion pulling the strings, Xbox exclusive “Forza Horizon” is a car nut’s dream come true. Racers will cruise around the Colorado countryside trying to up their race standings among the local speedsters, not unlike 2008’s “Burnout Paradise.” Fast and furious gamers will be in for a rush.

OTHER SUREFIRE WINNERS:

JUST DANCE 4

DISNEY EPIC MICKEY 2: THE POWER OF TWO

PRO EVOLUTION SOCCER ‘13

NEED FOR SPEED MOST WANTED

GREAT HANDHELD GAMES ON-THE-GO

KINGDOM HEARTS 3D: DREAM DROP DISTANCE

The menagerie of iconic Disney characters mashed up with memorable heroes and villains from two decades' worth of games from beloved RPG maker Square-Enix — what's not to love? After years of spin-offs, this is the first direct sequel to 2006's "Kingdom Hearts 2" and is a killer addition to the growing Nintendo 3DS library. No one does RPGs like Square-Enix and the nostalgia from meeting and fighting alongside your favorite Disney characters in its world makes this one endearing to gamers of all ages.

GRAVITY RUSH

This visually stunning action game is the first Vita title that really shows what the handheld can do. Players control gravity to traverse between the floating, blasted levels and get the drop on enemies in combat — all at breakneck speeds. With a visual style inspired by Japanese animation and slick, psychedelic cutscenes, this one's for the action anime fans.

POKÉMON BLACK & WHITE VERSION 2

This Japanese role-playing game giant continues to enthrall new generations of young gamers with its simple-to-learn yet complex-to-master mechanics ... and merchandise and spin-offs. After more than 10 years and 500 new Pokémon to catch, battle and trade, its popularity speaks for itself.

OTHER SUREFIRE WINNERS:

ADVENTURE TIME: HEY ICE KING! WHY’D YOU STEAL OUR GARBAGE?!

LITTLEBIGPLANET VITA

DIGITAL STOCKING STUFFERS ($19.99 and under)

THE ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM | DRAGONBORN ADD-ON

A handful of downloadable add-ons and countless Game of the Year awards later, "Elder Scrolls" fans are getting the most robust expansion yet for the series' fifth installment, set in the Nordic land of Skyrim. In "Dragonborn," players must travel to the frigid island Solstheim — a place longtime fans of the series may recognize. A new story arc, new powers for the player and rideable dragons (rideable dragons!) make this a no-brainer for any "Skyrim" owner.

FTL: FASTER THAN LIGHT

A wholly original offering from a small team of independent developers, "FTL" is strategic, real-time space combat in a way you haven't seen before. Players must take an intrepid crew of humans and aliens aboard a customizable, upgradeable ship, learn to manage ship energy and resources while making their way across the galaxy with evil rebel ships close behind. “Trekkies” will really appreciate this one.

HOTLINE MIAMI

This game is intense. A cerebral, trippy and narrative-driven thrill ride, Hotline Miami is frustrating yet immensely rewarding. Players must clear buildings full of armed goons using only the weapons scattered about and the fastest of reflexes while the visceral and fluid combat is charged by pulsing 80s-flavored electronic house beats. Not to be missed by the hard-boiled action movie crowd.

JOURNEY

ANGRY BIRDS SPACE HD