The holiday season is the video game industry’s busiest time of year, with publishers saving many of their marquee titles to release on the public like an avalanche of digital goodness. It can actually be quite overwhelming with so many different options to choose from, so we’ve done our best to put together a collection of what we feel are some of the year’s finest games.
Click the links within the write-ups to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.
Gears of War 4
Set 25 years after Marcus Fenix defeated the Locust Horde once and for all, “Gears of War 4” finds Marcus’ son JD leading a group of ex-COG soldiers against a mysterious new threat. Though the game is pretty much business as usual for fans of the series, “Gears of War 4” does introduce a few changes that improve and shake up the overall gameplay. In addition to several new weapons (including our personal favorite, the Buzzkill, which shoots circular saws that can ricochet off walls), the emergence of extreme weather phenomena called Windflares affect combat with strong winds, flying debris and more. Story mode is also a lot more difficult thanks to A.I. enemies that pile on the pressure instead of sitting back and waiting for you to attack. Of course, while the single-player (or co-op) campaign serves as a nice refresher course for those who haven’t played “Gears of War” in awhile, online multiplayer is still the game’s bread and butter. All of the usual modes are here, along with newcomers like Dodgeball and Arms Race to ensure you don’t get bored. Though “Gears of War 4” isn’t as groundbreaking as the original, it’s an enjoyable franchise reboot that keeps everything that was great about the previous installments and builds on it.
Batman: The Telltale Series
Telltale Games has been on a real streak lately with high-profile titles like “The Walking Dead,” “The Wolf Among Us” and “Game of Thrones,” but the company’s latest episodic game features perhaps their biggest IP yet. Though it’s not as instantly captivating as some of the aforementioned titles, “Batman: The Telltale Series” delivers the tried and tested combo of choice-based dialogue, puzzle solving and quicktime action scenes that we’ve come to expect. The game doesn’t explore the World’s Greatest Detective angle quite as much as it should, but that’s largely because you spend more time playing as Bruce Wayne, digging into his family’s secret history after it’s revealed that his father may not have been the saint he appeared to be. With that said, the Batman sequences are a lot more fun, whether you’re devising a plan of attack, stringing together clues at a crime scene or battling one of his many iconic villains. As with most Telltale games, the storytelling is stronger than the gameplay, but fans of their click-and-point adventures (and Batman in general) will find plenty to enjoy.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The LEGO video games are always good fun, but the folks at Traveller’s Tales (who have been in charge of the long-running franchise since 2005) have really outdone themselves with their latest installment, “LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” In addition to retelling the events of the blockbuster film with the typical LEGO humor, the game features new story levels set before the movie, including one where Poe Dameron has to rescue Admiral Ackbar and another that reveals the mystery of C-3PO’s red arm. Although past LEGO games have been criticized for pretty much playing the same way, “LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens” seeks to remedy that with a few key changes. The new Multi-Builds system gives players more choice when solving puzzles (e.g., you can build multiple items with the same pile of bricks), while the shooter-style Blaster Battles and arena-based dogfights prevent the gameplay from getting monotonous. At the end of the day, it’s still the same “LEGO [Insert Movie Title Here]” game that the company has been cranking out for years, but it’s one of their most enjoyable yet.
Batman: Return to Arkham
Whether you never got around to playing Rocksteady’s first two Batman titles (“Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham City”) during their initial release, or you just want to experience them all over again, “Batman: Return to Arkham” brings the critically acclaimed games to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 for the first time, completely remastered and featuring every piece of additional content. The upgraded graphics are without a doubt the biggest draw of “Return to Arkham,” and with the exception of a few quibbles, they’re a major improvement over the original versions. Though the gaming industry has changed a lot in the years since their release, both titles are still really solid stealth/action games that hold up remarkably well. That’s as much a credit to the outstanding gameplay as the visual enhancements that have been made, and it shows why Warner Bros. Interactive and Virtuous would invest the time and money to remaster them. Granted, it would have been nice if they had also included the series’ third installment, “Arkham Origins,” but there’s more than enough value here to warrant the upgrade.
Turtle Beach Elite Pro Tournament Headset & Tactical Audio Controller
Turtle Beach has long been one of the most respected brands in the gaming industry when it comes to delivering a first-rate audio experience, and they show no signs of slowing down with their new Elite Pro Tournament Headset. Featuring 50mm Nanoclear speakers that provide more efficient, crisper sound and a detachable, professional grade microphone with TruSpeak Technology, the Elite Pro doesn’t disappoint. However, what really makes the headset stand out is its incredible comfort. From the cool, gel-infused memory foam on the Asahi spandex ear cushions, to the ability to adjust headband tension, ear-cup position and even eyeglasses relief in the ear cushions, the headset can be worn for hours without problem. The supplementary Tactical Audio Controller (which can be purchased separately or together with the headset) offers gamers a more robust audio experience with 7.1 Surround Sound, fingertip control of mic and chat settings including a background noise limiter and outbound mic boost, as well as the capability to create an instant local chat network by linking multiple audio controllers. For the hardcore gamer or audiophile in your life, this is as close to a sure thing as you can buy.