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PS3 and Xbox 360 Christmas Guide

The best of the HD world

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.

Xbox 360

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.

Forza 3
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:

Halo Wars
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."

Shadow Complex
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.

PlayStation 3

It's a good time to buy a PS3. The console is finally coming into its own in terms of features and exclusives games. This autumn saw the release of the slim model, sporting a 120Gb hard drive as standard alongside a sleeker, tinier and generally less silly looking case. It was easier on the wallet too, with a 50 GBP price cut: the console now retails for 249.99 GBP. Despite being more expensive than the competition, I'd argue the PS3 is currently the best value console on the market, with a Blu-Ray drive, wireless connectivity and even the little cable needed to charge your controllers all in the box. And they've finally done away with the silly Spider-Man font, too. Fantastic.

Uncharted 2
Our Score: 96%
Metacritic Average: 96

If this doesn't end up widely regarded as the Game of the Year I'll cut out a piece of my favourite coat (a nice black pea coat with snazzy purple lining) and eat it. When Paul reviewed it at the start of October he proclaimed "anyone with a PS3 should be beating down the door of their favourite games emporium come release day and the rest of you still waiting for a reason to belatedly join Sony's party have just found it." He's quite right, of course. With some of the finest graphics, voice acting and cut-scenes ever seen in a videogame, it's an aesthetic delight as much as it is an example of some incredibly nuanced action gameplay. Ace.

Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time
Our Score: 85%
Metacritic Average: 86

Ratchet & Clank have been knocking about for a fair while, with A Crack in Time serving as the ninth release in the series since 2002. Crikey, that's a whole lot of games. There's clearly a formula to be had: some wacky, interesting weapons, some nice little platforming sections and plenty of well-animated nasties to pew pew at. Such blatant repetition commonly makes a series stale, but there's clearly some life left in this old dog: the game left Richard pleading that "Insomniac see reason and postpone killing off their strongest franchise for some time yet."

EyePet
Our Score: 70%
Metacritic Average: 71

Sony's EyePet is a unique experience: not quite up to the level it needs to be if it wants to be taken seriously, but far better than the EyeToy stuff they were playing around with back in the PS2 days. It's certainly unique, and when its occasional moments of greatness align it's like staring into a world of slightly creepy future technology. Plus it's quite cute. Reviewing it in October, I said it was "more of a charming toy than a game [but] when it all clicks in place it's quite easily the fluffiest, most lovable experience you're going to get on Sony's black monolith."

Also Worth Considering

Killzone 2
Our Score: 96%
Metacritic Average: 91

Released onto Sony's budget-priced Platinum line just in time for Christmas, Killzone 2 was a bit of a big deal earlier in the year: few games find themselves subject to such an amount of frothy-mouthed fanaticism. I imagine Sony will always deeply regret marketing the ill-fated PS2 original as a Halo killer - that's still coming back to bite them. But it's a bit unfair to tar the sequel with the same brush: with a sturdy single-player campaign, some seriously underrated multiplayer modes and enemy hats that ping off in a comedic fashion, there's something in Killzone 2 for everyone. In our review, Stevie remarked that the action was "unfailingly breakneck, [hinging on] quick decision making and cutting a cover-to-cover zigzag through each mission." An excellent game.

infamous
Our Score: 85%
Metacritic Average: 85

I went batty for inFamous earlier in the year: it culminated in me booking a day off work so I could follow a guide to find every single one of its three hundred collectable shards. Coming out at the start of a glut of open-world titles (Prototype and Red Faction: Guerrilla shortly followed), Sucker Punch's lightning-infused adventure was blatantly the best of the lot. Don't just take my word for it: Richard called it a "suitably compelling and eminently playable title" in his review. Those who have yet to play it could do a lot worse.

Noby Noby Boy
Our Review: N/A
Metacritic Average: 75%

At just 3.19 GBP on the PlayStation Store, Noby Noby Boy is perhaps the finest stocking filler you could buy yourself this year. Whilst we never managed to get a review of this one on the site, I can publically confirm that I think it's wonderful. It's daft, it's weird and it doesn't even try and pretend to be a game, but there's something delightfully intriguing about Keita Takahashi's bizarre virtual playground. It's also quite relaxing after a long session of Modern Warfare 2.

Multi-Platform

Modern Warfare 2 (360/PS3/PC)
Our Score: 95%
Metacritic Average: 94

Let's face it; you've probably got this one already. Modern Warfare 2 is the biggest videogame of all time - in terms of sales, that is, because the single-player campaign can be blitzed through in less than six hours. It's the most bombastic, controversial and explosive videogame currently on the market, which left Luke concluding that "the cinematic appeal of the singleplayer action makes it infectious and hugely memorable in a way few if any other games can manage." The fact it's also "bundled with the best multiplayer experience of any game" means it's probably the de facto title for this holiday season.

Assassin's Creed II (360/PS3)
Our Score: 94%
Metacritic Average: 91

Assassin's Creed II is running, jumping, climbing Italian towers and murdering Templars when you're up there - what's not to like? The first game has its fair share of detractors, of which I am a card-carrying member: I couldn't stand the first game, but Ubisoft have completely bowled me over with the brilliant sequel. New protagonist Ezio and Ubisoft Montreal's more realised vision of Renaissance Italy combine to create an experience which left Luke "bowled over by the sheer ambition of the title." It also left him "convinced that Ubisoft really are building a truly vital franchise that this sequel is a pivotal part of."

Borderlands
Our Score: 85%
Metacritic Average: 83

Similar to its contemporary colleague Left 4 Dead, Borderlands is all about the co-op experience. It's best enjoyed by a group of four players, and it's at this point where it becomes a maniacal mix of the RPG and the FPS. In our review, Duncan loved how it took "the most basely satisfying parts of the whole RPG genre and [laid] them out in a fast moving buffet of bloodshed and looting." The unique art style and sense of humour give it a touch of identity in an overcrowded genre, leaving "the joy of acquisition and dominance inherent to role-playing games" the icing on the proverbial cake.