The 2008 Holiday Video Game Guide, Part I

(Editor's Note: This is the first part of a short series reviewing video games. To read the next part, please go here.)

by Phil Kehres*

Special to iVoryTowerz

The classic idea of winter relaxation is cozying up next to a fireplace with a good novel and a glass of fine wine. Forget that. For the next two months, I’ll be curled up under my Slanket shouting obscenities into a headset while blasting aliens to bits with a few of my best online buddies. The holiday season (really mid-October through December) is to blockbuster video games as summer is to blockbuster movies. If you’ve ever been interested in getting into gaming, now is the time — and this year is one of the best in recent memory.

Video games provide the player with a unique experience, putting the destiny of the main characters in your hands in a way that no other medium can achieve. To that end, there are some wonderful single-player experiences to help warm up the blustery winter nights. Here are some highlights:

The Prince of Persia (PoP) series has been known since the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System for its rich puzzle-solving and action-adventure elements. The latest Prince of Persia (rated “T” for Teen, available on Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC) is a “reimagining” of the legendary franchise for “next-gen” consoles (“next-gen” or “next generation” is a term that refers to the latest series of consoles from the “Big Three” hardware developers, in this case Sony’s Playstation 3, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s Wii). It features an epic new story, thrilling combat system and an open-world setting rich with stunning new graphics and the beautiful art direction that fans have come to expect. Players control the titular Prince as they scale walls, swing across canyons and delve into perplexing puzzles. All this while accompanied by his sexy new sidekick, Elika. PoP will please long-time fans of the series and introduce new ones to its rich virtual world.

If you’re looking for a way to kill countless hours between last-minute shopping and awkward family gatherings, don’t hesitate to pick up Animal Crossing: City Folk (AC:CF is rated “E” for Everyone, available on Nintendo Wii). AC:CF is the sequel to the wildly popular Animal Crossing on Nintendo’s GameCube. AC:CF is a “life-simulation” game that is both uniquely charming and innovative. Gamers control an unabashedly cute created character and engage in a myriad of activities in their small village — house customization, farming, fishing and interacting with a cast of sugar-coated, anthropomorphic animals. Your character can also visit the big city if country life gets dull. AC:CF, like its predecessor, runs in real time, meaning characters sleep at night, Christmas in the game happens on real Christmas, etc. This feature adds immensely to the player’s immersion in the virtual world. New communication features allow you to chat online and swap pictures with other friends playing AC:CF. Adults will find this game an addictive guilty pleasure, and kids will love the cute characters and accessibility.

Still in a winter funk? Check out Fallout 3 (rated “M” for mature, available on Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC). Fallout 3 is the latest in the Fallout series, but you don’t need to have played the previous iterations — the story is completely independent. Fallout 3 is a massive Action-RPG (role-playing game) set in the wastelands of post-apocalypse Washington, D.C. More specifically, it’s the future as imagined in the nuclear scare of the 40’s and 50’s. Eerie big band music plays and the remnants of art-deco buildings litter the landscape of a distant, post-war future. Your character is an escapee from an underground fallout shelter (built to withstand a nuclear war with China) searching for his AWOL father. Players will arm themselves with a slew of innovative weapons, such as a rocket launcher that can shoot anything — even teddy bears. You’ll encounter scores of wicked creatures, nuclear mutants and quirky humans as you play and “level up” through the game’s main quest and side quests. You’ll shudder as you encounter partially destroyed versions of famous D.C. landmarks like the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building and the Metro. Fallout 3 is all about atmosphere, and it will draw you in — expect to spend 40+ hours on this one.

If gaming is a solitary activity for you, grab one of these games and plop down with a six pack (may I suggest a nice roasty porter?) to help pass the harsh winter. If you’re more of a social gamer (yes, we exist!), please tune in Part II for the reviews of the hottest multiplayer games of the season!

*Phil Kehres is one of the authors of Excuse Me, Is That Your Blog?

(The promotional screenshot from Prince of Persia is from Ubisoft.)

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