Posted Tue Nov 8, 2016 at 08:00 PM PST by Brian Hoss
Games, games, and games.
This guide focuses on the video game software primarily for the PS4 and Xbox One. The hardware-focused High-Def Digest's Video Game Hardware & Accessories Holiday Gift Guide 2016 can be found here.
It's November 2016, and that means that it is time to talk about holiday shopping lists. When you love games like I do, well, you can never have enough. Listed below are some of the most giftable games from 2016. Some of these games are due out in late November and early December, but most are from the second half of the year and have linked reviews. In the first few categories, there are games that are subjectively appropriate for even very young players. There are also some games that make sense to share in a family setting. Beyond that, these are mainly high-profile games that are meant for the gamer in everyone's life.
'LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens' first came out at the end of June, but there has been a trickle of downloadable content since then, some free but mostly paid. (Get the PS4 Season Pass here, and the Xbox One Season Pass here.)
It's with good reason that 'LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens' tops this list. It's a game that is well-suited for both the very young and the older 'Star Wars/LEGO' fan. It has great co-op, and it makes the most out of having access to the 'The Force Awakens.' The beloved big-screen characters are here doing fun stuff in silly ways, which means that this a fun gift on the day it is given and beyond. Extended play comes via a deep collectability within the game that should entertain brick-hunters on and on. This is also a great game for multiple family members to play together or on their own.
And yes, this is a game that will sound great through a nice home theater.
No doubt, 'Skylanders Imaginators' continues the franchise's ability to enthrall kids both in game and in collecting the figures for use in the toys-to-life concept. There is great co-op here, and this is a game where parents can play with kids drop-in, drop-out style. But with 'Imaginators,' players can create their own characters, and then continue to tweak and customize them at length through the game.
The online/splitscreen cart-style racing mode returns from last year, and this mode is a great gift on its own (and the racing mode even includes some "Instant" vehicles).
The 'Crash Bandicoot Edition is the fancier version one to get, but overall this is one of the best games to play with the kids. (Or maybe that non game-playing person in the family.)
One of this year's surprise gems, 'Dragon Quest Builders' is a welcome way to tie together some of the best elements in gaming. Certainly the building part of the game is good for the creative and industrious type, but the narrative, which sees the player restoring the freedom, wonder, and variety in the world, will also soothe those of use compelled by heroes and stories.
Zen Studios' pinball tables are great fun, and offer a nice range of design variety (see some of our 'Marvel Pinball' reviews here and here).The 'Marvel Pinball: Epic Collection Volume 1' puts together ten tables into one package.
As with the best that pinball can offer, these tables are quick to dabble in, but long to master. They are full of character touches that are fun to find and see, and they have global leaderboards to reward those that can delve into the missions and deliver high scores.
I love cars, and I love racing, but I think even those with only a casual interest in driving would find 'Forza Horizon 3's open Australian festival world beautiful. This is a game that will let players color outside the lines (like going offroad whenever) and even race their friends' drivatars. What starts out as playing around doing little races can get deep as players seek out the barn find cars, the Bucket List events, and even create their own racing challenges to share online.
'Forza Horizon 3' is a home theater showcase, and it's also one of the few games that supports HDR (through a Xbox One S and a 4K HDR display).
The first thing to make clear about 'Life is Strange,' is that it is rated Mature. So while I think of it as a great game residing outside the typical nonstop violence of many games, it's not for the little ones at all. 'Life is Strange' is about art school/high school student Max Caulfield as she faces both a coming of age condition and some extraordinary events. (Like being able to manipulate time, which ought to make her social life easier, but also brings more trouble.)
This is really a 2015 game, but it's a special one. The five episodes are well worth experience and sharing with someone else. Back in January, a Limited Edition of the game was released. This LE is a bit pricey and can be hard to come by, but sometimes that's the kind of game worth giving.
Here's a trailer for the LE:
Games like 'Life is Strange,' which are few, are great for playing together in a family setting during those in-home holidays.
Three of the five 'Batman: The Telltale Series' episodes are out now, but the final two are coming in 2016. This a new take on Batman, one which puts incredible pressure on the Bruce Wayne part of the equation to handle relations with friends, allies, family members, and even businesses with a deft touch, and often the results are catastrophic. I'm really enjoying the series (see here), and that's without using the new Crowdplay feature which lets a local room full of people join in on playing the game.
This game is rated as Mature, and I think the content is on par with the Nolan Batman movies, such as 'The Dark Knight.'
Clearly, I have the PC player is mind when thinking about 'Civilization VI,' but with its immense and inherent cultural and historic content, I think that 'Civilization VI' is a great game for anyone who can use a computer. This turn-based game has the player building cities within their civilization, and guiding them year after year and era after era towards a future of the player's choosing.
"Hello Commander" is a line known well by 'XCOM' players, and indeed this is a series that places the player in charge of humanity's struggle. In 'XCOM 2' human collaborators are in control of Earth and have been enhanced via genetic manipulation. Through strategy (turn-based) and smart management, the player must turn the tide. The PC version is from early 2016, but the console versions are new, and as indicated above, this is the kind of game for the intelligent defender of earth.
Games really don't come more prominent than the 'Call of Duty' franchise. With the 'Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare - Legacy Edition,' players get one of the best first-person shooter campaigns in years, a camp zombie mode, and a remastered classic in 'Modern Warfare.' Basically, the new game has a great sci-fi campaign that spans the solar system, complete with lots of awesome space jet dog-fighting. The 80's themed co-op zombie mode is a pure bonus. This is one of the few games around that supports splitscreen multiplayer, which is great for an one game/one console/one TV in a household.
'Infinite Warfare' is also one of the best home theater demo material games to date. It even offers a PS4 Pro mode for use on the new PS4 Pro hardware.
If you are looking for a game that scratches the desire for action, for upgrading a character, and for a compelling story, (thought-provoking even), then 'Deus Ex: Mankind Divided' is perfect.
'Mankind Divided' does well in presenting a future Prague beset by mechanical apartheid and information hoarding. Playing as Adam Jensen lets the player choose a smother way (hacking, reading messages, sneaking) or a more direct way (weapons, abilities, environmental attacks). The game offers HDR support on all PS4s and the Xbox One S, and has a PS4 Pro mode for use on the new PS4 Pro hardware.
The release of 'Gears of War 4' not only marked the return of an important franchise but also how much we enjoy what the franchise is best at. It's a third-person sci-fi shooter, but it's still a game that offers excellent co-op and top shelf production values. It's not just the campaign either as the Horde mode looks to have legs.
'Gears of War 4' makes for great home theater material, and it's also one of the few games that supports HDR (through a Xbox One S and a 4K HDR display).
On the PS4, 'Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration' is packed with content to go along with the story mode. The lead player character, Lara Croft, has in the past 20 years ascended into the stratosphere in terms of recognition, but this rebooted series sees a much more believable and interesting character all around. She is a survivor, but also manages stealth, combat, and platforming skills to rival the best around.
The Xbox One and PC versions are from 2015 and do not include the 20 Year Celebration content (which is offered as DLC for those versions). That content includes 'Blood Ties' which lets players dig into the history of the family, and along with the other included DLC, like the Endurance mode, make this version worth checking out.
As noted below, 'Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration' includes PS VR support for 'Blood Ties.' This game also exhibits one of the more impressive examples of PS4 Pro mode support, and so PS4 Pro (and 4K TV) owners will want to take note.
It can be challenging picking gifts for others, but fans of anime and fans of Musou games like 'Dynasty Warriors 2,' will absolutely want to play 'Attack on Titan.' This isn't an action game with 'Attack on Titan' trappings, rather, there is a whole way of playing unique to the game that is fun (even for those who know nothing of the anime) and involves taking down the titans with rapidity and circle swing combat system. The game basically follows the show's first season, so even without really knowing the story, players can get grounded and caught up in it. So for fast action attacks on a wide roaming battlefield and a nice helping of cadet melodrama, look to 'Attack on Titan.'
Few things are as satisfying as executing a well-laid plan. Meanwhile, finding new twists, new methods, new limits, and really, new solutions, can take things to another level. Having a plan is one thing, but refining it and pulling it all off is where that grand caper feeling comes in. This dynamic is really at the heart of the new 'Hitman,' where missions are fun and well-practiced but also surprising and challenging, and that in turn fuels the desire to make each attempt.
Well that, and a globe-trotting set of missions full of exotic locales, cagey targets, and a slick list of challenges. The full season is now out, so there's no better time to jump in with 'Hitman.'
"Standby for Titanfall" is what players hear when they call down their giant titan mech in 'Titanfall 2.' This sequel adds in a fun campaign and free DLC maps to go with a pilot/mech multiplayer experience that has garnered a passionate community. Because the first game was not on PS4, this might be an especially good pick for PS4 only players.
'Titanfall 2' will also have a PS4 Pro mode for use on the new the PS4 Pro hardware.
'Dishonored 2' (November 11th, review here) is one of the late 2016 games that promises to be interesting, but remains in question mark territory. The first 'Dishonored' offered a first-person steampunk world full of opportunities to be creatively clandestine. This second game features two playable assassins to go with the seedy but marvelously realized world.
In the vein of openworld champions like 'Grand Theft Auto V' or even the recent 'Mafia III' comes'Watch Dogs 2' (November 15th on PS4 & Xbox One, review here) The backdrop for the game is a not-too-distant tech saturated San Francisco, and the lead player character is a young rebel who goes by the name, Marcus Halloway. The game has hacker punks to go with the requisite driving, shooting, and exploring in the sandbox environment, and it might be the showstopper openworld game of 2016.
One late arrival (November 18th) on the PS4 worth checking out is 'Killing Floor 2,' and that's for one good reason. When playing this wave-based game online with friends, the potential for incredible (and funny) moments of madness, near-miss/near-save is as good here as anywhere.
'Final Fantasy XV' (November 29th) is a game that appears to be emerging from an extended development cycle to bring the long storied RPG series into a new (daresay) fresh direction. The player character Noctis and his three companions are not easily summarized by any one game genre, and that is also true for the game at large even if it is full of trademark 'Final Fantasy' elements. The combat is real time and the world is open, but the story appears to blend a road trip with a great war and the demands face by a young monarch.
Much like the first 'Dead Rising,' 'Dead Rising 4' (December 6th) promises to take the classic premise of a shopping mall full of zombies to the next level. For one thing, it's set during the holidays, and it's not just the mall, but the surrounding town that will become the player's playground.
'The Last Guardian' (December 6th) is the third game in a thematic trilogy. The other two games, 'ICO' and 'Shadow of the Colossus' are masterpieces, but they hail from all the way back in the PS2 generation. You could say that the 'The Last Guardian' is a story about a boy and his dog. That is, if the dog was a last of its kind flying beast somewhat reminiscent of 'The NeverEnding Story.' I'm expecting some very sad things (in a touching way) from this one.
As someone who is normally bored to tears (or otherwise saddened) by gaming on a phone, I'm thankful to have 'Deus Ex GO' to enjoy on my LG G5. The game carries the themes of infiltration and augmentation, as well as thinking about how to get through and circumvent the bad guys. Indeed, the entire 'GO' series ('Hitman GO,' 'Lara Craft GO,' and 'Deus Ex GO,') are great examples of smartly conceived experiences taken from popular mainline game series.
To understand why 'Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse' is such a triumph on the Nintendo 3DS, is to understand that Japanese role-playing games often offer a surreal fantastic setting that's is worth seeking out. Being a demon hunter is only the beginning as becoming a godslayer is where things really get going. Recruiting demons and knowing how to use them is a big part of the game's gameplay, and that ought to appeal to the more contemplative players around.
Below are important games that hit in the first half of 2016, and so may be a bit harder to give (as the recipient may already have them) but should also be priced in line with their release dates. But unless the recipient already gobbles up every big release, there is likely something here to enjoy.
'DOOM' (PS4, Xbox One, PC) - The singleplayer campaign is highly recommended across the staff.
'Overwatch' (PS4, Xbox One, PC) - Blizzard's online hero shooter is extremely popular and addicting.
'Uncharted 4: A Thief's End' (PS4) – Really not to be missed as it is one of the top games of this generation. It's also going to have PS4 Pro support.
'Dark Souls III' (PS4, Xbox One, PC) - There is no substitute for the enjoyable challenge of the 'Souls' series.
'Homeworld Deserts of Kharak' (PC, Mac) – Using strategy to play on PC is what some seek and need, and it is here.
'Street Fighter V' (PS4, PC) - One of the most important fighters ever created, 'SFV' continues to evolve, making it better for fighting fans across the board. (Online is a must, but not necessarily required.)
These days, digital versions of console games are widely used and accepted, and are the norm for many players. Even for those that stick to discs there are all kinds of add-ons (like Call of Duty maps) that require PSN or Xbox Live digital credit. These cards are perfect for any PS4/PS3/Vita, Xbox One/360, or Wii U/3DS player.
2016 has seen a wave of Virtual Reality headsets come to market. These headsets use a stereoscopic 3D headset mounted display along with head-tracking to deliver a kind of VR. The PlayStation VR headset works with the PS4 (and PS4 Pro), and it's the headset that currently is the most console friendly. Listed below is every PS VR game that we have reviewed, but these are only part of a the larger line-up already available for the headset.
Just by purchasing the hardware, the user will find a small wealth of free software (like the 'PlayStation VR Demo Disc,' 'The PlayRoom VR,' 'Jackal Assault,' etc.), and titles like the excellent 'Rez Infinite' and 'Thumper' to go with smaller motion controller items like 'Pixel Gear'
'PlayStation VR Worlds'
'Rez Infinite' (PS4 Pro support included)
'Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration' (Contains the PS VR compatible 'Blood Ties')
'Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare Jackal Assault VR Experience'
'The PlayRoom VR'
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