Each year it seems that there are more and more fantastic video games worth giving as holiday presents to friends, family, and loved ones. 2011 goes above and beyond that with more top titles than ever before. This is a holiday season that brings us assassins, time travellers, caped crusaders, detectives, treasure hunters, and a malevolent supercomputer intelligence trapped inside a potato. How can anyone possibly hope to separate the good from the better from the best (we won't waste our time on the terrible)? Leave it to me to suggest a variety of titles suitable for gift-giving that will delight anyone on your list. Just like last year, in order for a game to make the list, it must be something that I thoroughly enjoyed or have definite intentions of buying for myself. It's a more personalized perspective that I hope you find useful as you make your list and check it twice. Before you head out to the mall or over to Amazon.com, take a look at what I'm recommending this time around.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations (PS3 / X360 / PC)
Ubisoft delivers the final chapter in the long-running story of master assassin Ezio Auditore in this sequel to last year's Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. The formula remains largely unchanged as the franchise delivers more free running, climbing, and leaping off of tall structures with blades bared. It's largely more of the same, but when the same is so much fun, I'm willing to let it slide. There are a few new aspects added to the formula, however. A tower defense mini-game has been added to the proceedings along with new weapons and techniques (such as the hookblade and customizable bombs), and from time to time a Templar assassin will track Ezio and attempt to covertly take him out. Online multiplayer is back with even more new challenges. The PS3 version even includes the original Assassin's Creed on the disc as a bonus. It's hard to argue with that!
Back to the Future: The Game (PS3 / Wii / PC / Mac / iPad)
Great Scott! Telltale Games has brought Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and the time-traveling DeLorean back for another adventure that follows on from the original film trilogy in this adventure title. When Doc goes missing in 1931, it's up to Marty to travel across time to rescue him and prevent his future from being derailed by local busybody Edna Strickland. The story is told across five episodic installments, each one with its own unique twists and puzzles. You may even see a few familiar faces from Hill Valley history. Featuring Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown and AJ LoCascio as Marty, it's impossible not to like this fun extension of the best film trilogy of all time. For more on Back to the Future, check out our interview with AJ LoCascio on Episode 36 of the Power Button podcast.
Batman: Arkham City (PS3 / X360 / PC)
Following on from 2009's stellar Batman: Arkham Asylum, developer Rocksteady brings Batman back to deal with an entire city filled with crazed criminals, madmen, and diabolical geniuses. The Joker is dying from injuries sustained at the end of the previous game, but the real threat this time comes from newcomer Hugo Strange who is not only pulling the strings behind the city-turned-prison complex, but also knows that Batman is actually billionaire Bruce Wayne. More puzzles, increased combat abilities, and interludes with a playable Catwoman mark some of Arkham City's strong points, but there's really more to it than all of that. I don't dare spoil the twists, turns, and character cameos waiting within. For more on Batman: Arkham City, be sure to listen to Episodes 66 and 68 of the Power Button podcast.
inFamous 2 (PS3)
Poor Cole MacGrath. Already dubbed "The Demon of Empire City" following the events of the previous inFamous title, Cole heads south to New Marais for a fresh start only for his own demons to follow him. When a massive beast zeroes in on him from across the country, he has no choice but to augment his trademark electrical powers with new abilities based on fire and ice. A dangerous preacher is stirring up anti-superpower sentiment, and it's not long before Cole finds himself fighting battles from several sides. Offering plenty of objectives and an ongoing collection of user-generated content, developer Sucker Punch has outdone itself with inFamous 2. It even features support for the often-dusty PlayStation Move if you're into that sort of thing. inFamous 2 is featured on Power Button's Episode 53 if you want to know more.
L.A. Noire: Complete Edition (PS3 / X360 / PC)
Speaking of protagonists named Cole, here we have Detective Cole Phelps of the Los Angeles Police Department. In this investigation adventure from Rockstar, players must search the mean streets of southern California to collect evidence, question witnesses, interrogate suspects, and solve cases based around traffic, theft, vice, and homicide. Think of it as Grand Theft Auto with less emphasis on violence and a heavy dose of deduction and reasoning. While L.A. Noire released earlier this year, be sure to track down the recently released Complete Edition which includes all of the post-release downloadable content cases as part of the base package. It's the smarter buy and includes much more bang for your buck. Power Button covered L.A. Noire in Episode 52.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
As the era of the Wii draws to a close, Nintendo intends to send the console out with a bang in this new Legend of Zelda offering. Requiring Wii MotionPlus, this latest adventure of Link does away with pressing buttons to use weapons and instead relies on enhanced motion controls to swing the sword. Yes, we've heard this before with games such as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but the sword isn't merely mapped to a random flail this time around. Players must accurately and intently control the sword by swinging with the proper motions. After all this time, it seems that Skyward Sword has hit on Nintendo's early promises of what the Wii would actually allow. Beyond that, you most likely know the drill: explore Hyrule, discover magical items, clear out the dungeons, and reunite with the princess. Old hat doesn't necessarily mean a poor experience (and it never does when Nintendo is pulling the strings), and while I had some misgivings about the game earlier this year, the finished product certainly looks polished and refined. Purchases this holiday season include a music CD of a symphonic performance of memorable music from the series.
Mario Kart 7 (3DS)
The Mario Kart formula continues to evolve, and this latest iteration of the franchise not only brings Nintendo 3DS's special 3D abilities to the table, but also adds moderate flight and underwater portions to the usual automotive proceedings. Speaking of cars, a variety of customization options for each vehicle are also new this time around allowing for players to change how a kart steers and accelerates with variable tires and vehicle weights. New power-up items include a Fire Flower and — cross-promoting for Super Mario 3D Land - the Super Leaf which adds a Tanooki tail to the rear of one's kart. Returning favorites such as Mario and Yoshi welcome newcomers to the competition such as Lakitu (so who's working the checkered flag and lap signs this time?). There's even an optional first-person mode complete with gyroscopic controls if that's your thing.
Nintendo's latest handheld system suffered from an uncharacteristic rough start earlier this year when it debuted, but a price cut and a little refocused development has been just what this gadget needs to gain some traction. Now that the casual market has left dedicated handheld gaming consoles for the latest in Angry Birds and other $1 time wasters, the company is coming back around to the core gamer with solid titles such as Super Mario 3D Land, Star Fox 64 3D, and Mario Kart 7. With 3D visuals that do not require clunky glasses, the 3DS experience must be seen to be fully appreciated. Oh, and then there's the growing eShop stocked with beloved Game Boy games, Wi-Fi play for select games, augmented reality challenges, backwards compatibility with the original DS platform, and so much more to explore. Nintendo stumbled a little when it introduced this one, but has finally found a satisfying and fun footing. For the holidays, Nintendo is offering bundle packages with a new 3DS and either Super Mario 3D Land or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D packed inside.
Portal 2 (PS3 / X360 / PC / Mac)
A dimwit personality core. Exploding lemons. Congressional hearings on missing astronauts. You'll find all of these things and more in Valve's long-awaited sequel to 2007's Portal which kicks things into high gear with an impressive set of puzzles, a brilliant storyline, and plenty of humor. Players once again set foot inside the Aperture Science complex's series of enrichment chambers to become the scientific plaything of the malevolent GLaDOS, but of course there's more than meets the eye going on here. This first-person puzzle game is one of the best titles of the year and would be worth high marks as a solely single-player experience, but the cooperative modes (both local and online) add even more amazing entertainment to the package. Don't miss out on the free downloadable expansion released recently, too, that adds more multiplayer fun. Portal 2 is a must-play. Tell 'em that Cave Johnson sent you. Power Button Episodes 46 and 49 offer more details.
Red Dead Redemption: Game of the Year Edition (PS3 / X360)
This complete edition of Rockstar's stellar Red Dead Redemption now includes all of the post-release downloadable content that was offered up in pricey bits over the course of 2010. Those who missed the base game last year have no excuse for passing up this package which includes "Outlaws to the End" multiplayer co-op activities, the "Legends and Killers" pack that adds new multiplayer settings and weapons, "Cheats and Liars" which brings mini-games of cards and dice to the experience, and the critically acclaimed "Undead Nightmare" that overruns protagonist John Marston with wave after wave of zombies in a lengthy single-player standalone storyline. It's the only returning title from last year and is only back for an encore due to all of the extra content loaded into the package. Episodes 11 and 18 of Power Button will tell you more.
Saints Row: The Third (PS3 / X360 / PC)
THQ and Volition sure took their sweet time in bringing back Saints Row (the previous game in the series debuted in 2008), but wait appears to be worth it has the general insanity and over-the-top scenarios from Saints Row 2 have been pumped up to ridiculous levels. Now that the Third Street Saints have grown from being a typical gang into a media empire, it's only natural that rivals would gun for their position and power. The city of Steelport is the backdrop for conflicts with new gangs and new colorful characters across a variety of interconnected missions that shape future progression. Think of it as Grand Theft Auto without limits on excessive craziness. Be sure to bring a friend for the cooperative multiplayer modes! Register the included online pass for the PS3 version prior to February 2012 to unlock a free download of Saints Row 2.
Sonic Generations (PS3 / X360 / PC)
Now here's a surprise: Sega and Sonic Team have created a new Sonic the Hedgehog title that is well-crafted and downright fun all the way from start to finish! Celebrating Sonic's twenieth anniversary, Sonic Generations brings back the Sega Genesis-era incarnation of everyone's favorite speedy hedgehog to run through side-scrolling platform levels armed with only a spin dash and a spin jump. No homing attack, lightspeed dash, or annoying friends here! Fans of the modern Sonic gameplay will enjoy the other side of the coin, as the behind-the-back, ever-quipping version of the character has his own share of levels to complete. Every stage is based on a location from Sonic's past adventures, allowing the likes of Green Hill Zone, Sky Sanctuary, Speed Highway, and Planet Wisp to exist in the same game. Sonic fans will love the nostalgia, while those new to the franchise will enjoy the tight timing and sense of speed.
Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
Mario is back to save the princess once again in this adventure that combines something new (3D effects) with something old (the Tanooki suit from Super Mario Bros. 3 returns!). Cribbing lovingly from past Super Mario exploits, this season's biggest 3DS title and best reason to own the handheld system boasts a new Boomerang Bros.-based power-up that lets Mario attack both coming and going, a level celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Legend of Zelda with a dungeon-like experience, Goombas with Tanooki tails (shame they can't quite use them effectively), and enough nostalgia to keep you smiling until the 3DS battery dies out. By the way, saving the princess is only half the fun, as the real challenge begins with the eight Special worlds. Luigi even returns as a playable character! For more on Super Mario 3D Land, give Episode 69 of Power Button a listen.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)
Nathan Drake and his treasure hunting partner Victor Sullivan are back in trouble in Naughty Dog's latest effort. The duo are searching for a lost city in the middle of the world's most inhospitable desert, and only by traversing impressing set pieces like a burning building, a sinking cruise ship, and a crashing plane can they possible hope to unravel all of the mysteries surrounding the so-called Atlantis of the Sands. The single-player story campaign seems designed to take a back seat to the competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes this time around, so bear that in mind as there are plenty of ongoing challenges when playing online, but Drake's latest adventure can be a mixed bag. There's still enough happening here to make it worth some attention, although your mileage may vary. For more on this confusing turn of events, Episodes 67 and 69 of Power Button will explain all.