Stuff to Buy Channel / Bullz-Eye Home
The holiday season is the most important time of year for the video game industry, as developers unleash some of their biggest and best titles in the hopes of earning a spot on your wish list. And with the release of potentially game-changing peripherals like the Microsoft Kinect and Sony Move, this year feels an awful lot like 2006, when gamers were forced to decide between the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii. But while these big ticket items will certainly steal some of the spotlight, there are plenty of games that are just as worthy of your attention and money. Below you'll find a list of our favorites, as well as a few that we can't wait to get our hands on.
"Alan Wake" has been a long time coming (five years to be exact), but most people would probably agree that it was well worth the wait. Developed by the guys responsible for the groundbreaking first-person shooter, "Max Payne," the game tells the story of a bestselling horror author who is dropped into the world of his latest novel and forced to fight an evil entity in order to save his kidnapped wife. The kicker? He hasn't actually written the book yet. It's all part of the mystery, which is slowly revealed throughout the game as you discover missing pages from said manuscript. And while "Max Payne" gave us bullet-time, "Alan Wake" gives you a flashlight as your primary weapon. It may sound stupid at first, but it's one of many things that makes the game so unique. You might want to play it with the lights on, though, because this is one survival horror game that's soaked in the kind of haunting ambiance that nightmares are made of.
Really, what is there to say about "Black Ops" that hasn't already been said? The game sold more than five and a half million copies on its first day and made almost $400 million, making it the largest entertainment release of all time. The "Call of Duty" franchise is so big, in fact, that Activision managed to sign Ed Harris, Sam Worthington, and Gary Oldman to voice the characters behind the story. You play as Alex Mason, a soldier being interrogated for information he can't remember, who must track back through his memories via flashbacks in order to uncover what he's lost. As cool as the story is, "Black Ops" is really about expanding the "Call of Duty" multiplayer experience – like the introduction of CoD Points, a currency you earn for leveling up that can be traded for perks, weapons, etc. – that has become the staple of the series. A great addition to the "Call of Duty" family and a must-have for fans of first-person shooters.
Finally, you can give the MMA fan in your life the gift that keeps coming back and putting him in an arm bar. Not for the faint of heart, "EA Sports MMA" brings all the heavy-hitting action of the octagon to your living room. Serious MMA fans will love the dynamic strike control and online competitive modes. The real standout feature of this game, though, is career mode, which allows you to build a fighter from the ground up. Choose his fighting style, and progress from the amateurs up to the pro rings. Along the way, you'll meet MMA legends like Rickson Gracie and Randy Couture, visit their training facilities, and learn classic moves like the Triangle Choke and the Kimura. Players can even choose the leagues in which they wish to participate. This is an excellent gift for any MMA enthusiast, as well as those that like to take out their anger in a digital environment.
Both Peter Molyneux and his "Fable" franchise have become more famous for what gets left out of the games than what makes it in them. "Fable III" comes this season bearing a sack full of holiday promises, like weapons that change based on how you're using them, a co-op experience where you can actually bring your character into a friend's game, and removing almost all menus (and have that not piss you off.) Well ho, ho, ho, because Santa Molyneux delivered, and even crazier, he did it without delaying the game three years. Your brother, Logan, sits on Albion's throne and has been ruling it with an iron fist, and it's up to you to head up a revolution to unseat him. In the third installment, you will have to deal with the political side of things, like making promises to certain people who help you on your path to the throne and the weight of having to make good on these promises. If all this wasn't enough for you, then how about your own Personal Butler who is also kind of your pause menu – voice courtesy of John Cleese! That's what I thought.
"Fallout: New Vegas" is the newest release to Bethesda's massive franchise. If you have never played a "Fallout" title before, don't worry – the story is completely new and bears almost no attachments to previous titles. You will wander the Mojave wastelands and interact with multiple factions who are vying for power over the Vegas strip. Bethesda is well known for deep game play and a strong immersive feel to their games, and New Vegas is no different. The story and your moral standing may change as you pick which factions to support and how you choose to meet their questionable needs. The story and environment aren't the only new things brought to the table in this one, either; they have taken a deeper look into their crafting system, allowing you to customize your weapons and ammo. The biggest change is Hardcore mode, where you will be required to eat, drink and sleep. An increase in weight restrictions, coupled with ammo having their own weight, make you really think about what you take with you into the desert. For fans of the franchise, or players looking for a deep first person shooter experience, "Fallout: New Vegas" is sure to bring some joy.
You didn't really think we forgot about "Halo," did you? Few things have skyrocketed into the upper echelon of fanboydom that is occupied by the likes of "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings," but "Halo" definitely belongs to that elite group. Over the last decade, the "Halo" franchise has taken the video game industry by storm, almost single-handedly transforming the Xbox from the new kid on the block into the console of choice for hardcore gamers. The latest installment in the sci-fi series isn't another sequel, however, but rather a prequel to "Halo: Combat Evolved" that documents the UNSC's attempts to defend the planet of Reach from the alien Covenant invasion. Following in the tradition of the other games, Bungie Studios has once again shattered expectations with fantastic graphics, deep combat and a rich story. Bidding farewell to the characters and lore that are loved by so many, "Halo: Reach" is a beautiful finale that closes the door on a decade of intergalactic warfare so that a new one can be opened for the next generation of Spartans.
The Nintendo 64 may have been a disappointment compared to the company's previous consoles, but at least one good thing came out of it: "GoldenEye," a game so addicting that you almost forgot there was nothing else worth playing. Entire weekends were spent glued to TV sets shooting up friends in split-screen multiplayer, and to call it the best game on the system wouldn't be exaggerating one bit. So imagine our nostalgic delight when Activision announced that it would be releasing a new version of "GoldenEye" for the Wii. Though it follows the same basic story of the original game (and the movie on which it was based), several noticeable changes have been made, like swapping out Pierce Brosnan's likeness for current Bond, Daniel Craig. They've also updated the graphics and added online multiplayer, but for the most part, this is still the "GoldenEye" you know and love. Just be sure to dust off the GameCube controllers for this one, because it's the closest you're going to get to playing the original.
The pink puffball known as Kirby has experienced his share of highs and lows over the years, but "Kirby's Epic Yarn" is without a doubt his best adventure yet. It also represents a major shake-up in the Kirby franchise, as he loses the ability to inhale his enemies after he becomes trapped in a world called Patch Land where everything (including himself) is made of yarn. But Kirby isn't completely defenseless, and along with a whip-like attack that allows him to capture enemies into a ball which he can then throw, he can also transform into different objects like a parachute, anvil and car, among other things. The gameplay is simple yet bursting with creativity, and the ability to play side-by-side with a friend only makes the experience that much more fun. If we had to compare it to anything, it's probably most reminiscent of "Super Mario Bros. 3" (the ultimate compliment for any video game), although it's clearly been influenced by a number of past Nintendo titles. A guaranteed crowd-pleaser for youngsters or fans of classic sidescrollers.
Anyone that grew up playing "NBA Jam" on Super Nintendo – or better yet, in its original incarnation at your local arcade – is well aware of just how fun and highly addicting the 2-on-2 basketball game can be. Crazy dunks. Hilarious commentary. Big Head Mode. It had it all – except, of course, for Michael Jordan. Unfortunately, the new reboot of the popular series hasn't done anything to fix that last part, but it does bring back everything else – including secret playable characters like Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and the Beastie Boys – as well as a host of new features like 1-on-1 boss battles and the classic backyard game, 21. Additionally, you can play as teams from this era (where the Miami Heat features the unstoppable trio of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh), or as legends from the original series. It's a bit pricey at $50, even with upgraded HD graphics, but sometimes there's no limit to the cost of nostalgia. Boom shaka-laka indeed.
He's no Sherlock Holmes (and his apprentice Luke is certainly no Watson), but Professor Layton can still solve mysteries with the best of them. In the latest installment of the popular puzzle series, the duo must travel ten years into the future to save London from its inevitable destruction after they receive a mysterious letter from a person claiming to be a future version of Luke. Revealing any more about the story would ruin part of the fun, but let's just say that in the future, not everyone is the same as they are in the present. With over 150 different brainteasers and additional puzzles disguised as minigames, "Unwound Future" might just be the best Professor Layton adventure yet. Some of the puzzles are still maddeningly impossible to solve with the information that you're given, but for anyone who likes to exercise their mind along with their thumbs, there's not a better gift around.
With the amount of music rhythm games saturating the market these days, it's difficult to know which one is worth spending your hard-earned money on. In some cases, it's a simple matter of what soundtrack most appeals to your musical taste, but Harmonix's "Rock Band" series goes so far above and beyond what its competitors offer that it's usually a safe bet just to stick with their latest installment. Green Day fans will obviously be more interested in the band-specific title released earlier this year, but for everyone else, "Rock Band 3" is the better choice. Along with introducing a new instrument into the mix – keyboard, which doubles as a fully-functional 25-key MIDI – the game also features a new mode that helps you develop real-world skills on the guitar, drums or keyboard. That's right, folks – "Rock Band" isn't just about pressing buttons on a plastic toy guitar anymore; you also get your own personal music tutor. And if learning how to play music doesn't tickle your fancy, you'll still have fun rocking out the traditional way as well.
"Rock Band 3" could change the way people consider rhythm gaming forever. The game has already made a keyboard available, giving virtual rockers access to real musical skills. Come March, guitarists will have a chance to join in with a fully-functional six string, but for a lot of gamers, that might be a bit of a stretch. There's a big difference between playing a six string and playing "Rock Band," which is exactly why the Fender Mustang Pro Guitar was made. The Mustang looks like a "Rock Band" guitar at a glance, but it's designed to bridge the gap between virtual rocking and the real deal. The guitar has six fixed strings on the body that you actually strum to play, and each fret has six string-like buttons designed to simulate playing a real guitar. It's not a perfect translation, but it's certainly close enough that your Hard to Expert virtual players should be able to cross over with ease.
If you've seen the inside of an undergrad's apartment, you know something has to be done about the "Rock Band" clutter. The small-scale plastic guitars and drum kits typically sit on display, taking up valuable space and causing the kind of mess that would make your mother's chest tight. Level Up's Storage Towers offer a solution to the eyesore, giving any gamer's console, games, and fake guitars a home when they aren't in use. The company offers storage solutions to match the three major systems. Each tower is topped with molded slots that fit the respective console's controllers, hosts storage for game cases and a console in the center, and has hooks on either side for organizing cables and hanging up guitars. The best part about the Level Up Gaming Tower is that you can organize your gear without hiding it away. When you're ready to rock, everything you need is right on hand.
It's no secret that Microsoft has been trying to get into the motion gaming business ever since the Nintendo Wii took the industry by storm a few years ago. But while its competitor, Sony, seems perfectly content with just copying the basic features of the Wii, Microsoft has gone a different route entirely. The result is Kinect, a completely controller-free experience that uses a combination of an RGB camera, depth sensor and multiarray microphone in order track your body's movement and recognize your face and voice. It's a pretty innovative peripheral that could very well change the way we play video games in the future, but for the time being, it's hard to know whether it will be a game-changer or just another gimmick targeted towards the family-friendly consumer. At $149 (which includes the sensor and "Kinect Adventures"), it might be a little too expense for some people to take the gamble on, but between its decent selection of launch titles and other cool features like video chat and motion-based entertainment controls, it's definitely a must-have for tech-obsessed gamers.
When Microsoft announced Kinect, everyone knew Sony would have to jump on the motion control wagon as well. Almost no one assumed we'd get a product that was so close to the Wiimote, but that's exactly what Sony did. PlayStation Move is all about capitalizing on the consumer market's familiarity with Nintendo's Wiimote, but improving on that experience. That's exactly what makes Move a great gift. Where the Wii was about simplicity above all else, PlayStation Move aims to be the controller of choice for nuanced, technical games. A lot of the titles Sony originally showed off for the technology were from genres like the FPS world, which hasn't traditionally embraced motion control. By keeping a variety of control buttons a part of the Move experience, Sony has been able to bridge the gap between serious game markets and the fun of motion control. If you know someone with a PS3, you know someone that would enjoy the PlayStation Move.