2014 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 best titles, and ones that the gamer on your list will love.

Click the links to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Destiny

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After creating one of the most successful video game franchises in history, Bungie could have done pretty much whatever they wanted for their next project and it would have undoubtedly been a massive hit. Thankfully, the team behind the “Halo” series hasn’t strayed too far from its roots with this sci-fi first-person shooter, although it’s certainly a different experience due to the incorporation of role-playing and MMO elements. But while you can do things like upgrade your character’s abilities, weapons and armor, or team up with fellow players (via Bungie’s matchmaking system) to complete missions, the game is still very much a shooter at heart – one that has the benefits of co-op multiplayer without making you feel like you can’t play and progress at your own pace. The story doesn’t dig as deep into the post-apocalyptic premise as we would’ve liked, and the gameplay can get a bit repetitive at times, but “Destiny” is a deceptively enjoyable shooter with fantastic visuals, an addictive multiplayer mode and an open-ended structure that allows Bungie to continue to provide new content for many years to come.

FIFA 15

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Most video game sports franchises have gotten to the point where the truly innovative features are less about what’s on the surface than what’s underneath, and “FIFA 15” is a perfect example of how subtle changes can still make a world of difference. Though it plays very similar to last year’s edition, “FIFA 15” has gone one step further in bridging the gap between a video game and the real thing. Slide tackles and boot marks are visible on the pitch, the surface becomes more weathered as each match progresses, and crowds behave differently according to their specific club or country. Gameplay has received a few upgrades as well, including the ability to control teammates during set pieces, improved push/pull mechanics during man-to-man battles, and more accurate ball movement. There’s also a brand new intelligence system for goalkeepers that allows them to better anticipate shots and passes, while players now recognize situations (whether it’s a hard tackle or a series of bad fouls) that trigger an emotional response. And believe it or not, that’s just a taste of what “FIFA 15” has to offer, because this is arguably the most comprehensive digital soccer experience yet.

Titanfall

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When the Xbox One was originally pitched as an always-online console, the team behind “Titanfall” was probably ecstatic. After all, the first-person shooter was built entirely around that philosophy, eschewing a single-player mode in favor of focusing their efforts completely on creating the best online multiplayer experience possible. Though that leaves “Titanfall” feeling a little one-sided as a result, it’s hard to imagine anyone wasting their time on a traditional campaign mode after getting a taste of what multiplayer has to offer. The gameplay itself is fairly basic – you play as a free-running foot soldier with the ability to pilot hulking mechs called Titans over the course of each round – but it’s ridiculously addictive and entertaining, thanks to some great mechanics, a nice variety of weapons and tactical skills (like cloaking and x-ray vision), and a number of different game modes that keep things fresh. The auto-locking Smart Pistol is one of our favorite new weapons, while the ability to hop on a Titan’s back rodeo-style to shoot its weak spot is just one of the ways that the game has managed to strike the perfect balance between both modes of combat. There are so many different ways to enjoy this game (even if you never entered the cockpit of a Titan, you could still dominate) that it’s no wonder it continues to be so popular nearly nine months after its release.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

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The first true next-gen installment after last year’s polished version of “Ghosts,” the latest entry in the “Call of Duty” franchise is one of the best yet, boasting photorealistic visuals and exciting gameplay that takes the series to new heights thanks to the addition of Exo Suits, which grant its wearers with special abilities like boost jumps, cloaking and more. The game also features Kevin Spacey as the head of a private military corporation called Atlas that specializes in, you guessed it, advanced warfare, and the irony of the actor’s involvement (his character on Netflix’s “House of Cards” is an avid fan of the military shooter) wasn’t lost on us, especially as you progress further in the story. The main campaign is a solid but short appetizer that mostly serves as a platform in which to brush up on your skills and learn how to use the new weapons before heading online, because as usual, that’s where most players will flock to eventually. Co-Op Exo Survival mode – an interesting take on the Horde mode concept introduced in the “Gears of Wars” series – offers a nice break from the punishment of multiplayer, but “Advanced Warfare” was built for the latter, and if you’re not planning on spending a bulk of your time there, then this game isn’t for you.

The Evil Within

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If you’ve seen any of the TV commercials promoting “The Evil Within” – where people have the bejesus scared out of them while playing the game in a dark room – then you already know that it’s aiming to put the “horror” back in the survival horror genre. Though not as scary as those ads would leave you to believe, “Resident Evil” creator Shinji Mikami’s latest game is dripping in creepy atmosphere – a nightmarish fever dream that’s equal parts psychological horror and Clive Barker gorefest. It doesn’t have a very strong story, but what “The Evil Within” lacks in a cohesive narrative, it makes up for with exhilarating gameplay that’s both frustrating and rewarding. Those familiar with the “Resident Evil” series will feel right at home, because it shares many of the same mechanics – like limited ammo and health – designed to keep you on the edge of your seat, always wary of what’s lurking around the corner. The game doesn’t always live up to its high expectations, especially if this really is Mikami’s swan song, but for fans of the genre, “The Evil Within” is just what the doctor ordered.

Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes (2.0 Edition)

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After the success of the original “Disney Infinity,” it was only a matter of time before the game was expanded to include other properties, and it’s hard to imagine a better fit than Marvel. If you’ve never played the game before, there are two modes: Play Set, story-driven campaigns filled with missions and side quests, and the much-improved Toybox, an open world sandbox where you can create customized levels to share with friends. The “Marvel Super Heroes” starter pack comes with all the basics: the 2.0 edition of the game, the Infinity base where you insert the playset pieces and figures you want to unlock, an Avengers-themed playset and three figures (Iron Man, Thor and Black Widow). Though Play Set mode can get a bit repetitive, the ability to upgrade characters using hero-specific skill trees helps to keep things fresh, while Toybox adds limitless hours of additional gameplay. For those who don’t want to play as the included characters, you can purchase the rest of the Avengers separately, as well as additional playsets and figures based on “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Figures and power discs from the 1.0 edition are also forward compatible, which will be music to parents’ ears, because while the near-endless customizability of “Disney Infinity” is part of its charm, it doesn’t make it any less expensive when you factor in all the extra accessories, which is almost another hobby in itself.

The Wolf Among Us

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After the runaway success of “The Walking Dead,” the gaming community couldn’t wait to see what Telltale Games would cook up next. A sequel to their hit game was a no-brainer (no pun intended), but released concurrently with that new batch of episodic content was another point-and-click adventure also based on a cult comic book series. In this case, Bill Willingham’s “Fables,” an unabashedly adult variation of the “Once Upon a Time” premise (i.e. fairy tale characters secretly living in the real world) that precedes the TV drama by more than a decade. You assume control of the reformed Big Bad Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown, who’s been tasked with tracking down a serial killer that’s murdering fellow fables. The gameplay is pretty much identical to the “Walking Dead” games – a mix between choice-based conversation trees and quick time events – although the moral ramifications of your actions aren’t felt nearly as deeply due to the more fantastical nature of the “Fables” universe. In spite of that, “The Wolf Among Us” is yet another homerun for the folks at Telltale, who have delivered an incredibly engaging story (set years before the comic) filled with great characters and memorable moments that most people will blow through in a single weekend.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

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If you like first-person shooters and killing Nazis, then you’ll love “Wolfenstein: The New Order,” which is set in an alternate history where U.S. soldier William “B.J.” Blazkowicz awakens from a 14-year coma to discover that the Nazis won World War II. Though technically a sequel to the 2009 reboot of the popular series, you don’t need to have played that game to enjoy “The New Order,” which mixes intense firefights with stealth-based missions where you sneak around taking down enemies (read: violently stab in the neck) without detection. It’s a pretty nice balance between the two, although due to the less-than-ideal cover system, it’s sometimes easier to just take your chances running around like a madman with a machine gun in each hand. You may spend time replaying certain portions as a result, but the checkpoints are plentiful, the weapon selection is solid and combat never gets old. While some people will be disappointed by the lack of a multiplayer mode, it’s nice to see a shooter dedicated to delivering an excellent single-player experience for once, and that’s more satisfying than the alternative.

  

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