PS3 and Xbox 360 Christmas Guide
The holiday season is cold, and there's nothing good on the telly: what better excuse to get stuck into a two-week-long gaming binge? 2009 has been a bit of a funny one, with many of its holiday exclusives pushed back to the start of next year for various (read: Modern Warfare 2) reasons. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of excellent titles worthy of your precious time, however. Here are some of our favourite 360, PS3 and multi-platform titles currently doing the rounds, distilled into comfortable bite-sized pieces for your discerning reading pleasure.
It seems weird (and makes me feel very old) to think the 360 is approaching its fifth Christmas, but there seems to be plenty of life left in the dear machine - provided it's not inexplicably spluttering out red rings of death and E74 errors. Ahem. 2009 has seen Microsoft wave goodbye to its 60gb Premium SKU, reducing purchasing options down to the 512mb Arcade (149.99 GBP) and 120gb Elite (199.99 GBP) models, although the supposedly-scarce 250gb Super Elite console (249.99 GBP, with a copy of Modern Warfare 2 or Forza 3) can still be sniffed out at most retailers. As always, taking the console online has its own extra charges: a year of Xbox Live Gold (required to play online) will set you back 39.99 GBP, although it can be found for cheaper online, and most retailers sell the Wireless-G adapter for the best part of 50 GBP. Microsoft's Xbox Live infrastructure and gigantic userbase, however, ensure the console still mercilessly trumps the competition for online gaming.
Halo 3: ODST
Our Score: 85%
Metacritic Average: 83
After a slightly turbulent production, and some tail-between-the-legs affixing of the Halo 3 name to the ever-changing title, the game which started life as Halo: Recon popped out to a favourable reception at the end of September. Extolling its virtues, I remarked that "The set pieces are lavish, the environments are lush and the age-old Bungie design mentality - conflict in constant small bursts - is in full effect." The second disc, containing the entire Halo 3 multiplayer component - DLC packs and all - is great value, too, and the game still has a considerable online presence.
Our Score: 90%
Metacritic Average: 92
All three iterations of the Forza series have come out in the gap between Gran Turismo 4 and the upcoming 5, and developer Turn 10 have got pretty good at the racing genre in rival Polyphony Digital's absence. Our own Richard Walker proclaimed this "the finest racing sim money can buy" when he reviewed it in back in October. "Turn 10 has improved upon pretty much every facet of Forza 2," he said, "buffing the sequel's bodywork to a glaringly bright sheen." It's about as close to a realisation of a car nut's wet dream as you can get, and Gran Turismo 5 is going to have to be something very special indeed if it wants a chance at topping this. Bravo, Turn 10.
Left 4 Dead 2
Our Score: 94%
Metacritic Average: 89
One of the few third-party console exclusives doing the rounds this season, Left 4 Dead 2 throws a squad of four back into the breach of a pesky zombie apocalypse. In my review of the PC version, I conclude that Valve "managed to infuse their sequel with the exact same kind of nuanced creative energies that usually takes them years." If you've got three mates on hand - it's best not to trust the public masses with your fragile lives - there's no co-op experience that can hold a candle to Valve's phenomenal shooter. But I've still not been able to find a reference to Chicago Ted, sadly.
Also Worth Considering:
Our Score: 81%
Metacritic Average: 82
If someone had told me this time last year that an RTS on a console could actually work, I'd have laughed until I coughed up a kidney. Turns out I'd be proven wrong. In our review, Richard thought that whilst Halo Wars was "certainly not the first attempt to streamline the RTS genre for console play, what [the game] achieved is nothing short of astonishing." Ensemble's final project absolutely dazzles in its online modes, which are still being played by a group of dedicated players almost a year later. And not a Zerg rush in sight.
Tales of Vesperia
Our Score: 85%
Metacritic Average: 79
With the titanic Final Fantasy XIII due for release in March 2010, this holiday season is probably the best time to enjoy Namco's sturdy JRPG before it gets drowned out with the furious cries of Square Enix fans lamenting their beloved companies choice of picking Leona Lewis to sing FFXIII's title track. It's a long, sturdy and entertaining adventure that provides many hours of solid gameplay. That's if you're into that sort of thing, of course. As I said when I reviewed it, "Namco have produced a simple, unassuming adventure that's brimming with enough charm to easily make up for any lack of inspiration."
Our Score: 90%
Metacritic Average: 88
The jewel in Microsoft's Summer of Arcade campaign, Shadow Complex indubitably proves that high-calibre downloadable titles can be more than capable of outperforming full-blown retail releases. Based on a story by famous homophone and sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card, I called Shadow Complex "five hours of unashamed homage to industry darlings Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night" in my review, and if that doesn't pique your interest you probably didn't grow up in the nineties. Unlucky, because they were great.