The Exclaim! Holiday Gift Guide: Videogames

The Exclaim! Holiday Gift Guide: Videogames
Whether you're a newbie, referring to videogames as "the videogames" or you've just finished modding your own Xbox like a whiz, you'll find help pinpointing the proper gift for your gamer in the Exclaim! Holiday Gift Guide. Just don't walk in front of the screen while they're playing.

The Exclaim! Holiday Gift Guide: Videogames:

Halo 4
Xbox 360

Set a few years after the Halo 3 climax, this latest Halo numeral (pictured above) marks the start of the "Reclaimer" trilogy and return of Master Chief after the side-stories of ODST and Reach. New studio 343 Industries may lack Bungie's familiarity with the source material, but they did whet their teeth on last year's tenth anniversary HD remake of Halo: Combat Evolved. As for what to expect? We last saw Master Chief floating in space and, wouldn't you know it, he winds up on a Forerunner planet, upon which the majority of the campaign is set. It's primed to feature more mystery and exploration than their traditional shoot-shoot-shoot gameplay, but will likely aim to be as epic as ever. Oh, and the soundtrack comes courtesy of Massive Attack's Neil Davidge.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown
PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Rather than another sequel in the long-running but also long-absent XCom series, this latest game is a reboot of the 1994 original cult strategy game UFO: Enemy Unknown, which told the tale of an alien invasion in the then-near-future year 1999. In response, an international anti-alien taskforce dubbed "Extraterrestrial Combat," or XCom, was assembled to kick E.T.'s butt. The game, developed by Sid "Civilization" Meir's Firaxis, mixes real-time strategy with turn-based combat as you alternate alien-killing missions with resource management goals like inventing new technology, building out your base and handling finances. It's a notoriously difficult game, but for any strategy-loving gamer on your list, it's an easy choice.

Sound Shapes
PS3/PS Vita

If you dig this magazine, then you're probably going to dig Sound Shapes, a Toronto-made mash-up of a virtual instrument, side-scrolling platformer and user-generated community. Helmed by Everyday Shooter's Jonathan Mak and electronic artist I Am Robot and Proud (aka Shaw-Han Liem) with assists from the likes of Deadmau5, Beck and indie rock expat Jim Guthrie, Sound Shapes is an impeccably designed downloadable game for both PS3 and Playstation Vita. Sound Shapes is also the ne plus ultra of Toronto's cooperative indie game scene and a must-have for anyone who loves gaming, music and indie innovation. Plus, with the ability to build and share your own levels, it's not only replayable but unending.

Assassin's Creed III
PC, PS3, Xbox 360

When Ubisoft Montreal first launched Assassin's Creed back in 2007, the story's sci-fi bookends about a centuries-spanning war between the Assassin's Guild and the Knights Templar due to culminate in a December 2012 apocalypse seemed unnecessarily cliché when its Crusades-era setting was so innovative. Five years and five games later, it turned out to be a genius way of moving the setting while maintaining the story. After a three game stint in Renaissance-era Italy, we're now in 18th century America in the throes of its Revolutionary War. You play as your more recent ancestor, a half-Native American named Connor as you explore and slaughter people across Boston, New York and the wild frontier. As ever, expect the primary plot to be headspinningly esoteric while the historic locales you wander about are brain-tinglingly accurate.

Forza Horizon
Xbox 360

The Forza Motorsport series is Microsoft's answer to Gran Turismo, a circuit-based racing simulator that aims to be as realistic as possible. This is great for racing fans, but what about gearheads who just wanna hit the open road? Well, this is for them. It's still about racing, but this open-world game set at the Horizon music festival turns all of Colorado into a track, including 65 different types of terrain for the still-realistic physics engine to figure out. So you get all the benefits of a traditional Forza game (the detailed realism and car fetishism) without having to drive around in circles. Plus, the game features three radio stations with driving tunes ranging from Avicii and Black Keys to Skrillex and Santigold.

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

The giant panda of the massively-multiplayer online gaming world returns with its fourth expansion pack (pictured above), which is as good a gift for not-yet-upgraded long-timers as it is for noobs. The big thing here is the addition of a race of warrior pandas and their China-influenced home continent Pandaria to the world of Azeroth, and all the new quests that entails. It also raises the level cap and adds a new monk class, among other bells and whistles. The game, which has been ongoing since 1994 and still claims over ten million monthly subscribers, is getting a bit long in the tooth, but this new expansion pack is aiming to win people back. Also, Lights is a huge WoW geek so this may be your chance to join her fan guild and go on raids with the Canadian pop star.

Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse

Family Guy admittedly doesn't have a good track record as far as videogames go, but neither did their Springfield rivals before 2007's The Simpsons Game knocked the ball out of Duff Stadium. Though still for fans only (let's just say the Giant Chicken is involved), we do like that this co-op shooter starring Stewie and Brian is a spin-off of the Emmy-winning, fan-favourite sci-fi episode "Road to the Multiverse." Once again, our intrepid infant and canine heroes must explore alternate realities while chasing down Stewie's evil half-brother and arch-nemesis Bertram, thus allowing for an infinite number of sight gags. This includes an Amish universe, which is enough for us.

NHL 13
PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Normally, the annual rollout of sports games feels like a cynical cash-grab, but this year let's reserve our cynicism for the conflicting cash-grabs of the real-world NHL players and owners and just be thankful that someone is lacing up their skates, even if it's (virtually) us. The improvements to this year's edition include smarter AI opponents and a new physics-based "True Performance Skating" engine that makes it as close to a sim as it's ever been. There's also NHL Moments Live mode where you can re-play great moments from last season but which was also built to upload new ones from this year. (Guess not.) Oh, and since hockey inherently inspires patriotism in the northern part of North America, let's thank EA Canada for including the Canadian Hockey League, made up of minor leagues in Quebec, Ontario and the West.


Wii U:

When the most recent round of next-gen consoles launched, Nintendo was last out the gate. Sure, they were only a few days behind the PS3, but as far as the tech went, the Wii wasn't even HD. Nintendo had the last laugh, but this time they're kicking off the next generation of gaming consoles without their rivals even announcing plans. The Wii U, which is backwards compatible, finally brings Nintendo into the 1080P present, but the main goal is to change up gaming. Last time, they introduced motion-sensing; with the Wii U they're mashing up their own dual-screen handheld innovations with an iOS-style touchscreen GamePad and an HD console.

As is their wont, Nintendo is using their trademark quarter-century-old characters to move units. The Wii U launches with another side-scrolling New Super Mario Bros game, though it only barely uses the new control scheme. That gets more of a workout with the packed-in Nintendo Land, a mascot-filled, Wii Sports-style mini-game collection that doubles as a tech demo for the new functionality.

Trying to avoid the Wii's casual gamer rep, the U is launching with core gamer-targeted titles, including ZombiU, Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition, Assassin's Creed III and Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

iPhone/iPad Controller:

The rise of the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch has sent mobile gaming from the sad depths of Snake to the heady heights of The World Ends With You: Solo Remix and the enraged widths of Angry Birds. But while touchscreens have inspired a new style of gameplay, it often comes at the cost of tight controls. Plenty of peripheral makers are attempting solutions, albeit with only limited compatibility so far. The latest is Duo Gamer, a console-esque Bluetooth controller. Designed by Discover Bay for mobile publisher Gameloft, it works with their hits like MMO Order and Chaos Online and shooter N.O.V.A. 3, as well as future releases. But it plays nobody else's games and costs $80.

A much cheaper option is iCade's latest release, the 8-Bitty, a wireless Nintendo N.E.S.-style controller that basically shrinks the size and cost of their original arcade cabinet. It's a gorgeous, if expensive, desktop cabinet with an '80s-era joystick and sight button setup that the iPad slips into so you can play retro games in old-school style. The iCade Jr does the same for the iPhone, and both Atari and Taito (Space Invaders) have since released their own inspired-by versions.

Stay tuned the rest of this week for the continuation of the Exclaim! Holiday Gift Guide to film, music box sets, and more.