2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Games

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

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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

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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.

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2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Guy Stuff

Guys are pretty easy to shop for. Most of the time, you can just get stuff that you’d buy for yourself. Of course, you sometimes have to cast a wider net, because tastes obviously vary, but at least you can pick up some stuff for yourself while you’re browsing.

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.

Philips Sonicare FlexCare Platinum Connected

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We’ve tested some Philips Sonicare products in the past, but the FlexCare Platinum Connected does something the others don’t by using Bluetooth technology to deliver the most complete cleaning experience yet. The FlexCare Platinum Connected takes the guesswork out of your oral care routine by using smart sensors that send your brushing data to the free Sonicare app in real-time, providing you personalized coaching and feedback. The Location Sensor highlights any spots you missed during cleaning, while the Pressure Sensor will alert you if you’re brushing too hard. You can also track trouble areas (like plaque buildup, gum recession and potential cavities) in your personalized 3D mouth map, reminding you to give them extra attention each time you brush, as well as set goals and share data with your dentist professional. The FlexCare Platinum Connected has three different brushing modes (Clean, White and Deep Clean) and three different intensity settings, and the included charger even comes with a UV brush head sanitizer. It may seem a bit over the top for everyday consumers, but for those who struggle with daily oral care or just want to learn more about their brushing habits, this makes the perfect gift.

E-Z UP Vantage Shelter

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Whether your loved one is an outdoor enthusiast, a business professional looking to showcase their brand, or just a diehard sports fan who wants the best tailgating experience, E-Z UP makes some great recreational pop-up shelters that are stylish, sturdy and easy to assemble. Available in a number of different designs (from the lightweight Vista to the best-in-class Eclipse), we sampled the super-durable Vantage model and came away very impressed. Featuring 100 square feet of shade and cross truss reinforcement inside the shelter to help withstand tough conditions, the Vantage stood strong in cold Midwest weather… and that was before we even secured it to the ground using the optional metal spikes. The E-Z UP Vantage comes in eight different colors and includes a sturdy roller bag that makes it incredibly easy to store and transport, which is a good thing, because this sucker is pretty heavy. Additionally, E-Z UP offers an array of accessories to make your shelter even better, including Event Lights that illuminate the interior, Half Walls for extra shade and weight bags for additional support.

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2016 Holiday Gift Guide: For the Home

Gifts like these might not be the most romantic if you’re buying for your wife or girlfriend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find cool stuff that will put a smile on their face. Products for the home can be just as desirable if you focus on items with great design or that make someone’s life a lot easier, and if you stick to those simple guidelines, you’ll make whoever is on the receiving end very happy.

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.

Logitech Harmony Elite Remote

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If your entertainment center is anything like ours, it’s overflowing with set-top boxes, streaming devices, gaming consoles and audio receivers… and with them, a small army of remote controls. So why aren’t there more options available for universal remotes like the Logitech Harmony Elite? Probably because nobody could make one as good as this. The latest addition to the Harmony family is the most powerful and intuitive remote yet, featuring a full-color touchscreen and the ability to manage up to 15 entertainment and smart home devices. It’s compatible with more than 270,000 products and can connect to Alexa for voice control, while the included Harmony Hub allows you to control devices in closed cabinets, even when you’re not home thanks to the free iOS/Android app. The best feature, however, is the option to create one-touch Activities like “Watch Apple TV,” “Play Xbox One” or “Dinner Party” that will automatically power on all the correct devices and switch them to the right settings. It takes a little patience to set up, but once it’s ready to go, you’ll be amazed how you went so long without having a Harmony remote in your life.

eero Home Wi-Fi System

Wi-Fi can be a fickle mistress; just when you need it most (e.g. it’s Sunday night and you’ve just settled down to watch “Game of Thrones” in your man cave downstairs), there’s either no signal or the connection is poor. Enter the eero Home Wi-Fi System, a set of small access points that are placed throughout the house (with each device typically covering 1,000 square feet) and automatically connect to create a single wireless mesh network, eliminating the need for a wireless router and range extenders. The sleek, minimalist design blends in with virtually any décor, and it’s incredibly easy to set up, although it works better in homes with a more open floorplan where the eeros can see one another. The accompanying iOS and Android app allows you to set up family profiles to help manage schedules for internet usage or pause internet access altogether, and you can even test internet speeds and provide temporary guest access right from your phone. Though the eero still has some growing pains to endure before it becomes a must-have gadget in every household (especially at its $500 price point), for early adopters desperate for a Wi-Fi solution, you’d be hard-pressed finding a better option.

eero

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2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Booze

Walk into any liquor store and you’ll see hundreds of options. You can zero in on someone’s favorite drink when picking a gift, or you can get creative and choose something they wouldn’t buy for themselves. Also, remember that you don’t want to come to a party empty-handed, so get in the habit of at least bringing a bottle.

And for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Laphroaig Select Scotch Whisky

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We sometimes like to imagine master distillers as mad scientists of sorts, mixing up solutions late at night as they eagerly search for the next cure-all elixir. The story behind Laphroaig’s Select Single Malt Scotch Whisky, while not as dramatic, confirms at least a few of our suspicions. Select is a combination of four Laphroaig whiskies — Quarter Cask, PX Cask, Triple Wood and 10 Year Old — brought together in new American Oak casks for a final maturation period. The resulting creation is described by Master Distiller John Campbell as “peat, ash and spice wrapped in a blanket of sweetness.” Our thoughts exactly. Upon first taste, one cannot escape the wave of smoke that permeates the aromatics and personality of this scotch. This is what the island of Islay is known for producing, after all. The signature peat may feel overpowering to the novice drinker, but subsequent sips reveal a surprising uniformity and balance underlined by a soft sweetness. Its subtle complexity invites the drinker to further exploration, without a punishing burn. All in all, we found Laphroaig Select to be a very approachable scotch, both in taste and in price ($44.99). Well-liked by our friends and family, we certainly recommend it for yours.

Crown Royal Vanilla Whisky

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Crown Royal Whisky has always been easily identified thanks to the distinctive purple velvet bag with gold drawstrings that each bottle comes in. It’s been that way since 1939, when King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth visited Canada and were honored with this blend from Manitoba. But Crown Royal has continued to innovate since then, with each release being sold in a uniquely colored collector’s pouch. Their latest creation from the Flavor Series is Crown Royal Vanilla Whisky, boasting infused Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla. And as one might imagine, you don’t create a flavored whisky on the premise that the flavor is subtle. No indeed, the vanilla is unmistakable. The vanilla scent is upfront but fairly balanced, yet immensely amplified in flavor when sipped. There’s no doubt that it’s smooth, however, with just a little heat upfront that quickly dissipates before being usurped by the vanilla extract. We thought it a little too sweet to be sipped neat but were intrigued by its potential on enhancing some familiar cocktails. We mixed it into a simple whisky and coke and loved it. From apple ciders to Old Fashioneds, this whisky makes for a great twist on holiday drinks. This would be a great addition for your alcohol loving friend, and best of all, you can even customize the bag on Crown Royal’s website to make them feel like royalty.

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2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Gadgets

Adults like toys too, so if you’re on the lookout for a memorable gift, or you just want to treat yourself to an early Christmas present, a cool gadget is always a great option. Of course, prices run the gamut in this arena, so you’ll need to be careful, but whether you’re shopping for the latest fitness tracker or something to please the audiophile in your life, you can find something that fits almost any budget.

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.

TomTom Spark 3 GPS Watch

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There’s a variety of fitness trackers to choose from these days, but very few have been designed with athletes and outdoor enthusiasts specifically in mind, which is what makes the TomTom Spark 3 GPS Watch such an ideal product for runners, hikers, cyclists and even swimmers. In addition to tracking information like distance, speed, pace, time, heart rate and calories burned, the Spark 3 provides live feedback with built-in GPS and a feature called Route Exploration that shows where the path has taken you in order to find your way back to your starting point. It also includes 3GB of storage (roughly the equivalent of 500 songs), so you can listen to music without bringing along your phone, and comes packaged with a very comfortable pair of Bluetooth in-ear headphones that are sweatproof and waterproof. The Spark 3 is a little on the bulkier side compared to some of its competitors, but between the additional features and impressive battery life (up to three weeks in non-GPS mode), that’s one tradeoff that any runner would gladly accept.

Jaybird Freedom In-Ear Wireless Headphones

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We weren’t very familiar with Jaybird prior to testing out their latest in-ear wireless headphones, but it’s easy to see why the company has become one of the more trusted premium headphone brands on the market. The Jaybird Freedoms passed the test in all three major areas: style, sound and comfort, especially the latter. There are a variety of mix-and-match fit options inside the box, including standard silicone ear tips, Comply memory foam ear tips for maximum noise isolation and a snugger fit, and silicone ear fins that hug the different sections of your ear to ensure the headphones remain in place. Battery power is also respectable, with up to eight hours of playtime when using the included (albeit bulky) charging clip, while the Share Me feature allows you to share the music you’re listening to with another pair of Freedom earbuds. Though serious audiophiles may not be completely blown away, the ability to customize your EQ settings and save the presets to your headphones using the Jaybird MySound app makes for a truly unique listening experience that will undoubtedly win them over.

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