So, Christmas is just round the corner and the retail market is gearing up for a massive sale of video games. There are titles being pushed out across the board for the consumer to spend their hard-earned money on, publishers all want you to buy their latest game from Gears of War 2 to Rock Band 2 and Prince of Persia. With the price of these titles, consoles and so forth across a wide array of products it can rapidly turn into a consumer based nightmare for the parent who has a video game obsessed child. They can either lock them in a room with a colouring book and some crayons or give in and buy a console from one of the many manufacturers.
This article isn't about any of that though; it's about Games Xtreme's 12 days of Xbox 360 Christmas. Microsoft and the Xbox 360 have been pretty good to us (thanks to all the publishers that do send us stuff) and many of our reviews have been on the 360, you might wonder why this is. Well, gentle reader, this is because we've received no games for review from Sony. We've got one or two from the third party publishers (thanks guys) and it's not that we hate Sony's console (far from it) but here at Games Xtreme we do this as gamers and that means we review games we're sent.
So in a kind of thanks for the support, I'm going to be taking a look at the 12 top Xbox 360 games of this Holiday Season as far as we're concerned. You might have a different bunch of games on your Christmas list, that's great, but these are the ones that we consider to be the top picks for Christmas 2008.
For the First day of Christmas my true love's game to me was: A prince and his new best buddy.
You can't go far wrong with the new Prince of Persia, if you have checked out our review you'll see why. The antics of the famous Persian hero have delighted us since its inception way back in 1989. Then came the superlative Sands of Time trilogy and we were wow'ed once more back into the mythical Persian tale. Ubisoft have gone one step further in defining free-running cinematic action with the newest prince and delivered a great stocking-filler packed with platform-jumping goodness, crisp characters and beautiful visuals. It's also great for newer gamers who might be intimidated by failing a jump or two, since there's no actual death in the game you're challenged by fiendish platforms and several puzzles instead. Elika, your sidekick is a good step forwards in that kind of AI, not quite as developed as Fable 2's dog, she is a helper character that will suit novice gamers.
For the Second day of Christmas my true love's game to me was: A cute, loveable game AI doggy.
Lionhead studios, who were once responsible (as Bullfrog Productions) for giving us games like Syndicate brought new life to the fantasy rpg, with Fable. Now for this Christmas it's time to return to Albion and cut a swathe across the land once again with a bigger, better game. Fable 2 takes place 500 years after the first game and is a bigger jaunt into the fantasy hack-slash rpg. It has a lot of choice under the hood and you can customize your character how you see fit. The biggest innovation of course is the dog, PM wouldn't shut up about the dog and after playing the game to completion - I can see why. You can hate the dog if you want, but we actually quite like the little bugger, it's a pretty slick simulation of an animal. Fable 2 is a perfect Christmas game for a household that has a few cooperative players in it, since you can play alongside a friend by importing your character as a henchman on the same screen. It also has a control system that's easy to learn for novice players and will appeal to the fantasy gamer mostly.
For the Third day of Christmas my true love's game to me was: a world on the brink of insanity.
I couldn't go far into our Christmas list of games and not mention: Fallout 3. Yes, Bethesda might have to fix a few gnarling bugs and it might not be a 2d isometric rpg-fest that Fallout 1 and 2 are, but, it's a fine game to have in your Christmas stocking. Fallout 3 does a great job of making an atmospheric post-apocalyptic world come to life, rich in detail and challenges. Fallout 3 has a real-time fps/3rd person shooter mechanic and a turn-based VATS system that allows people who might not be comfortable with shooters to play the game in a different way. The main story might be short but the world is a huge one with 100's of hours of play if you explore every nook and cranny. The moral choices aren't as black and white as Fable 2 and you can easily find yourself playing an anti-hero in the game even though you're striving to be a good guy. Custom character creation and an expansive skill list round off the perfect shooter-rpg package for this Christmas.
For the Fourth day of Christmas my true love's game to me was: A frag-fest in an underground city.
Epic games and Cliff Blezinski are capable of making gold out of lead, they did it with Gears of War and they have managed to deliver a pulse-pounding emotional-rollercoaster of a ride with Gears of War 2. Bigger and nastier than the first game, Marcus and Dom are back with vengeance and it's an all-out war against the Locust Horde with everything to play for. Gears of War 2 manages to push the Unreal Warfare (3) engine to new heights (and depths) with some solid visuals and great action, the frame-rate is solid throughout and the single player campaign is bigger and better than Gears. Gears 2 shines in terms of multiplayer and is the perfect Christmas game for a household of on and offline fraggers. You can play with some smart bots to round out missing team members or hook up with your friends and blast some meat-bags in a bunch of brand new game-types and variants on old favourites. Playing meatflag is an awesome spin on capture the flag and adding to that Horde mode, where you hold off increasingly difficult waves of Locust, it's hard to not recommend this as a top Christmas game for Santa to deliver.
For the Fifth day of Christmas my true love's game to me was: In space where no one can hear you scream!
Dead Space isn't really a scary game, it's a jumpy game. It tries to shock more than disturb and does a good job at providing thrills, spills and a DOOM-esque setting onboard the infested mining-ship that's in orbit around a strange planet. EA managed to succeed in providing a solid control system and a genuinely new IP that appealed to many System Shock fans waiting for a sequel. Graphically it's superb and the game deserves to be in someone's Christmas stocking. It's not one for the kids so it's clearly an adult's game, if you buy it for a kid and let that kid play it - on your own head be it, don't complain to us or EA that little Jimmy is running around the house scared of shadows and the family pet, Snoobles. Dead Space also has an excellent portrayal of zero-g and the best space vacuum effects that have been seen in a game to date. The old adage of 'In space no one can hear you scream' is extremely true in Dead Space and it's one of the highlights of the game. It comes highly recommended by us and is a great horror game for the sci-fi horror fan.
For the Sixth day of Christmas my true love's game to me was: A roof-run across a dystopian style-city.
You can love or hate this game, personally we loved it. Mirror's Edge is a bright-clean stark nightmare of a world in the grip of a totalitarian regime. It's George Orwell's wettest dream come true. Information is strictly controlled and every aspect of the citizen's life is monitored by computer and CCTV. There are those who live on the fringes of the society, known as Runners, they're hired to courier information from one place to another using free-running skills and acrobatic prowess. Mirror's Edge is like Assassin's Creed but from a first person perspective, one that has full body immersion. There are some quirky control issues and it's not a game for people who have vertigo or get motion sickness. It's perfect for the player that was fond of Assassin's Creed and loved Prince of Persia, it is a short game however and there are time trials to beat and hidden collectibles to find. You should get this one just because it's an experience and the ride is pretty hectic.
For the Seventh day of Christmas my true love's game to me was: Lara Croft in a tight bikini
Ok, so it's not really a tight bikini, but it is a pretty tight game. The new Tomb Raider manages to bring the franchise back towards some semblance of normality and ushers the game in the direction of Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider 2. With a lot of new tricks, a new graphics engine and for the first time motion-captured moves taken from at least three professional athletes Lara has never looked so good, or moved so good in any game incarnation. There are still some troubles with an annoying camera but Crystal (Soul Reaver) Dynamics have managed to pull out the stops to create a darker look at Lara's life and followed on from the events established in Legend and Anniversary. This is the perfect Christmas game for the Tomb Raider fan desperate to get their hands on more of Lara Croft. The locations are massive and the puzzles are pretty fiendish at times. The combat system is pretty solid and for the first time in a long time we actually cared about finishing a Tomb Raider game for once. There are numerous treasures to find and hunting for them will take you a while. This is the game to re-establish Lara Croft and her adventures as an iconic video game heroine.
On the Eighth day of Christmas my true love's game to me was: packed with flesh-eating zombies!
Valve Software has a habit of taking the best that the community and other developers have to offer and working with them, to spit, to polish and to shine their product. So it was in the case of Left4Dead when they teamed up with Turtle Rock studios and unleashed the zombie horde upon PC and 360 gamers recently. The 360 version has some concessions but it is still an amazing experience for the cooperatively orientated gamer. It sits on our Christmas list because it is an excellent team game, can be played split-screen on the same console with a friend and it has some of the most innovative FPS technology in a game yet. This is a game that's a must have for Christmas if you don't already own it. There's a massive amount of replay value in L4D and with the AI Director controlling zombie placement, sound effects, special effects and special panic events the game is different each time you play it. The level of teamwork and cooperation between the 4 survivors is only mirrored by the unique versus mode where the 4 human survivors can face off against 4 boss-infected players across 2 (of the game's 4) sprawling 5 mission campaigns. This round-based play is highly addictive and is bound to appeal to the casual and hardcore gamer in your household. This game is a highly recommended Christmas hit with new downloadable content on the way and the promise of more support from Valve. It is going to appeal to the fan of the horror genre and anything to do with zombies. If you don't have this, you need to get it for Christmas stat to prepare for the infection!
On the Ninth day of Christmas my true love's game to me was: chillin' in a crib with my homies.
Saints Row was a bit of a let down in some ways, yet in others it was a fresh take on the GTA SA style game (clone) that the game borrowed from. It was more a send-up of the game rather than a realistic look at gang life. Not as hated by Jack Thompson either. Now we move to this Christmas and the chances are that you already have GTA IV and are happy with that. If you are looking for something that's not as serious as Rockstar's blockbuster title then you really need to take a peek at Saints Row 2. This is the game that has redefined the gang-games for us. dapsycho and I are big fans of THQ and Volition's game and the cooperative multiplayer is some of the best fun to be had in a game of this type. It smokes the competition in that respect since it allows a full cooperative play through the whole of the game's story, it's built around a souped-up game engine and many of the problems of the first have been kerbstomped into the ground. It's going to be the perfect game for Christmas since it has a star-studded cast for voice acting, off the wall humour and a massive city to explore. There is a lot of replay value and the multiplayer (cooperative and adversarial) is highly addictive. Not only that but it has a great soundtrack and will appeal to a child of the 80's for sure. This needs to go into the stocking of someone who has finished GTA IV and might be looking at something a little different.
On the Tenth day of Christmas my true love's game to me was: a rock and roll band on my TV.
There's something therapeutic about music and whether it is the screaming madness that was Iron Maiden or the subtle tones of Fleetwood Mac or Journey there's part of us that years to be in a rock band. EA's Rock Band took the world by storm with its addictive blend of team-based cooperative band play (four instruments) and solid gameplay mechanics a while back and now they're at it again with Rock Band 2. This is a game that you need to buy on its own though, and in the UK that's all you can do until the Band Box comes out next year. But don't worry, since our 12th day is Guitar Hero World Tour you'll see why. Rock Band 2 builds on Rock Band and offers more robust options, a few more character design customization options in terms of a few new faces and some new costumes. The biggest tweaks are in online and offline gameplay, where your rock star now can play any instrument and you don't have to create a character for each. You can also sub members of your band in so that friends can join you. The game has dynamic challenges built from your downloaded songs and allows you to import all but 4 songs from Rock Band onto your 360 hard drive. It deserves to be in the Christmas stocking of family members who are old rockers, new rockers and definitely into karaoke, forget Lips; this is where it's at. The vocal experience in Rock Band 2 is leagues ahead of that in Lips and it's much easier for the novice singer than Guitar Hero World Tour. In fact I'd go as far as saying it's easier in general for the novice gamer than GHWT. This is the Christmas game for a family that likes to play together or those housemates who want to be in a band yet lack the courage to start their own for real. Plus, with 20 free songs when you buy the game and over 100 on Rock Band 2, this is the biggest music library in a music game yet!
On the Eleventh day of Christmas my true love's game to me was: an epic tale of wartime camaraderie.
This game deserves to be on the Christmas list or in the stocking of anyone who loves World War Two games. I'm not talking about Call of Duty: World at War here though, I'm talking about Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway. This is one of the best single player World War Two games that's been made yet with a highly emotionally charged story, excellent characterization and even an appearance from Band of Brother's very own Robert Sink. Hell's Highway is a game that attempts to capture the gritty realism of World War Two and portrays the violence in a stark gritty manner; it's not one for the kids. This is going to appeal to anyone who is a fan of World War Two games and it even has a few control options to set the game to a particular control scheme. Tactical Six and Tour of Duty will allow you to play the game with similar controls to Rainbow Six Vegas 2 and Call of Duty 4 for example. Hell's Highway marries superb action with a solid storyline, beautifully crafted locations and tactical gameplay that requires a player to think more than shoot. If you play this game like a modern fps then you're going to lose. The multiplayer is decent enough but lacking in maps and modes, the only downside that might see some players want to look for something else. There's no cooperative play but as a single player game its one of the best of its kind. The cinematic action camera provides a spectacular view of a tricky shot or a well-thrown grenade.
For the Twelfth day of Christmas my true love's game to me was: Ozzy Osbourne singing Mr. Crowley
All aboard for the Crazy Train that is Guitar Hero World Tour. EA and Harmonix might have Rock Band and Rock Band 2, but Red Octane have managed to secure their place in the fret-burning, finger-ripping world of music games by making Guitar Hero after Guitar Hero game. Now they were obviously a little miffed by the fact that EA beat them to the punch with Harmonix and MTV with Rock Band, but not to be outdone they struck back with Guitar Hero World Tour. Now this is the game you want to get for your rock obsessive that is a big fan of Ozzy and older bands like the Eagles. Yet it's not so much a war between these two game giants as an uneasy alliance, since Rock Band 2 supports the GHWT drums (99.9% accuracy in response time) and other instruments, our Christmas recommendation is that you spend the £150 on the band box for GHWT and buy Rock Band 2. The instruments in GHWT are of an excellent quality and the game is superb. The character customization is insane and miles better than Rock Band 2. The track list is a little less impressive for some people but we like it. There are some solid hits here. The vocal play, instrument play is a lot harder than Rock Band 2 so this is more for the big fan of Guitar Hero or the player who really wants to challenge their fret-mastery of the fake plastic guitar. This deserves to go into someone's Christmas stocking that has a serious love of music games and Guitar Hero in general. As an added bonus it's possible using the music studio and mixer studio in the game to make your own songs and upload/share them with the online community. With a steady growing library of excellent music, instrument compatibility between games and a solid career mode, GHWT is the music game to buy first this Christmas.
So there you go, in no particular order of greatness those are the 12 days of Games Xtreme Xbox360 Christmas. These are the top picks out of a long list of good quality titles released this year and they're bound to provide hours of fun and gameplay goodness.