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December 21, 2004 > Guide to Video Games for Gift Giving

Guide to Video Games for Gift Giving

by Jeremy Inman

Christmas is drawing near and the game developers are coming down from their holiday production. This usually means two things. One, greedy gamers spanning the entire market demographic are drooling over the games that they couldn't save up enough lunch money to buy; and two, parents everywhere are scouring local shops and toy stores with illegibly scrawled directions ("the one where you play as the robot who fights aliens, not the one where you play as the alien who fights robots," or "the one with the guy with the gun on the cover." Hint: they ALL have guys with guns on the cover.) Or they're simply standing bewildered in the midst of a veritable ocean of consumers as they face the harrowing task of finding that perfect game for their kid.

Fear not! For the answers are nigh. Below you'll find a listing of some of the best games currently on the market- most of which will make for a nice $49.99 stocking stuffer for your resident vidiot. In time, you too may be a savvy connoisseur of this ever-evolving market, but for now, just take my word for it.

For Xbox owners:

Halo 2: $49.99
You absolutely can't go wrong with Halo 2. The follow-up to the now legendary (and arguably best ever) Xbox title dares to be even greater than its predecessor. With the addition of some brand new, hard hitting features and an online component meticulously handcrafted to fit the needs of any avid Xbox Live gamer, Halo 2 is a must have for any Xbox owner. Even if players aren't online, Halo 2 has a rock solid single player campaign and fully supports offline multiplayer both on the same TV and through the Xbox's system link capability. For the true Halo addict, developer Bungie produced a special edition version of the game which retails at $54.99. It includes a spiffy tin case and a second disk packed with all the bonus features and extra info that any enthusiast would ever want to know.

Parents: If your kid owns an Xbox, memorize the name "Halo." This is the definitive Xbox title. Prepare to not see your children ever again if you purchase this title, especially if you have high speed internet and Xbox Live.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2: $49.99
For those gamers out there who (for whatever reason) don't fully appreciate the fast and frantic action of the Halo franchise, Ghost Recon 2 is the next best thing. With an approach more based on strategy, stealth, and realism, Ghost Recon 2 is the thinking man's shooter. You take control of the leader of a four-man team of army special operatives in the very near future. You're equipped with the latest and greatest military technology and the game gives you the ability to issue commands to the members of your squad. The single player campaign is as satisfying as it was in the first game, and the online mode is even better. With massive, true to life battlefields to hide and fight in, any fan of realistic battle simulation will get immense satisfaction out of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2.

Parents: This one has a more complicated and subsequently mature focus than most other shooters. It is based on stealth and strategy, which for some gamers translates into "slow". If your kid walks around in army fatigues this is the game for him.

For Playstation 2 owners:

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: $49.99
In the years since the release of Grand Theft Auto III on Playstation 2, developers everywhere have sought to mimic the sheer amount of freedom that GTA developer Rockstar crafted into its most coveted franchise. History has shown (a la GTA: Vice City) that the only developer out there who can top Rockstar in this respect is indeed Rockstar. Recently, with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Rockstar once again redefines the very meaning of full freedom in a video game. San Andreas is an experience that no Playstation 2 owner should rightfully pass up. Where the previous GTA titles have taken place in fictitious cities (satirically based on real-life locations, of course), San Andreas takes place across an entire state. As a matter of fact, San Andreas is the state, and it's meant to parody our very own California. The game, which includes three major cities, modeled after Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas, 21 small country towns, a number of major land marks and massive geological formations, several different climate zones and vast amounts of open wilderness is simply gargantuan. Most impressively, players can move around this environment at their own free will by car, boat, train, plane, motorcycle, and even bicycle (all stolen of course). What will players do in this massive environment? Why take it over, of course! Players begin the game as lowly street thug gone legit Carl "CJ" Johnson as he returns home from a much needed and very lengthy getaway only to find that his 'hood is in serious need of his particular brand of community leadership. You once again pick up the reigns of the Grove Street Family gang, complete with all your local drive-byin', sign throwin', cap poppin', pants saggin' homeboys. As in previous titles, things are never what they seems, and as the adventure spirals out of control and spans the entire state, you'll come across many unforgettable characters voiced by celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson, James Woods and Peter Fonda.

Parents: This is a mature game. GTA's brand of humor is always meant to be a tongue-in-cheek by poking fun at the state of society and the particular trends of the time period in which the game is set. San Andreas takes place some time in the 90s during the L.A. gang wars and subsequent riots. While often times hilarious, the game is filled with four letter words, racial slurs, and liberal dosages of violence. It really is no worse than any movie currently out there, and it is very clear from the start that the game is not meant to be taken seriously by any stretch of the imagination. Know your kid, trust him. If he can handle it, this game is a must have. Don't let a bad rep turn you away, because more important than that, it's one of the greatest video games ever made, and deserves every word of this lengthy paragraph. Plus, it's fun!

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater: $49.99
Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid franchise has defined stealth action game play since the series made its first appearance on the PSone. In carrying on its tradition of strategic and clever game play, over the top action, unforgettable characters, and cinematic quality, Snake Eater will not disappoint fans of the franchise. Snake Eater sets out to clear up any holes left in the series' long-running and complicated plot, and serves as an origin for everyone's favorite scruffy-voiced commando, Snake. As Snake, players must sneak through an impressively rendered jungle environment avoiding enemy patrols and infiltrating checkpoints. For added realism, players must hunt and kill the critters in the jungle so that they may maintain stamina by eating the animals (either dead or alive.) Players must also treat wounds and manage what types of camouflage they're going to wear in order to blend in with their surroundings. Like previous Metal Gear titles, Snake Eater is filled with lengthy but impressive cut scenes and lots of dialogue. It's like playing an interactive movie, as the level of immersion and interaction with the environment is astounding.

Parents: This is more of the same from a favorite and long-lasting name in stealth action game play. Check your kid's video game library when he's at school or something, if you see anything with the name "Metal Gear Solid" on it, chances are your kid will enjoy Snake Eater immensely. It's a worthy way to wrap up one's Metal Gear collection.

Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal: $49.99
A follow-up to the previous two Ratchet and Clank titles, Up Your Arsenal does little to change the formula of the heavily combat-focused platformers before it. And nobody's complaining! Up Your Arsenal provides players with a huge assortment of creative weapons and abilities that they can then put to use in the main story (which completes the franchise nicely) and the game's many entertaining mini-game's. This time around, the developers at Insomniac Games saw fit to add a multiplayer component to the game, in which up to eight players can compete online.

Parents: This title earned Game Informer Magazine's coveted 10 out of 10 rating, so suffice it to say it's definitely worth checking out. It comes very highly recommended from all who play it. It's rated T for teen, which means it's appropriate for gamers 13 and up.

For GameCube owners:

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes: $49.99
Players once again step into the armor of legendary Nintendo galactic bounty hunter Samus Aran as she and her trusty plasma cannon take up the cause of ridding the galaxy of all types of interstellar monsters and space pirates. This time around, Samus finds herself fighting to save a planet from an alternate reality version of itself. Weird! But the Metroid franchise has been everything but normal. The control scheme and heads up display have been pretty much transferred straight over from the original, providing for the same stellar, action packed game play as its predecessor. It focuses mainly on exploration and problem solving, but with healthy bits of great action.

Parents: This one's a favorite among GameCube owners, and is fitting (if not, at times, a teensy bit scary) for all ages.

Viewtiful Joe 2: $49.99
Viewtiful Joe surprised everyone by seamlessly mixing an old school, side scrolling game format with the more common conventions of modern day video gaming. Its unique art style and level design are not only immensely enjoyable, but really set the perfect scene for some hardcore action. Players have a host of creatively implemented and one hundred percent awesome moves that are truly hard hitting and entertaining. The new version makes little changes to the formula of the original, and looks just as astounding. Life is viewtiful.

Parents: Think of this game as an interactive cartoon. Sure, it's a fighting game, but the art style looks very much like a common cartoon. There isn't any blood or foul language to speak of. Players fight either robots or big, colorful monsters. There's nothing inappropriate about a game where you eat hamburgers to restore health. Viewtiful Joe is one of the most worthwhile franchises for the GameCube, and is sure to please any action fan.

For everyone:

The games listed below are cross-platform titles. This means that they appear on Xbox, GameCube and Playstation 2.

Prince of Persia Warrior Within: $49.99
A revamping of a classic game, in Prince of Persia, players assume control of Persian, a Persian prince who has had something of a fall from grace since we last saw him in Sands of Time, his previous game. Warrior Within is arguably a much darker title, but all of the elements that made the first Prince of Persia "Game of the Year" have been retained. Players use a combination of acrobatic prowess, sword fighting finesse and time-altering abilities to complete the various tasks of the game. The fighting system has been redone and several new elements (like boss fights! Note: that was indeed glee) have been added.

Parents: Like I said, this one is a little dark. The main character wrestles with a dark past as he defies a destiny ultimately culminating in the death of his companion. However, it's not dark enough to stray away from buying this one for any avid gamer, even a youngster. It's at the more Disney end of the spectrum of games these days, believe it or not. Think of the main character as Aladdin with a five o'clock shadow and a chip on his shoulder. It's a challenging title, very entertaining, and one that this reporter is looking forward to completing very soon. Tip: Fry's has it for $37.99. Go now!

Need for Speed Underground 2: $49.99
Need for Speed Underground 2 is a racer that places players behind the wheel of some seriously tricked out rides. Players start the game with a car and a few race opportunities and must then earn money to buy parts and other customizations for their vehicle. While the racing action aspect of the game may not be as essential as it was for Burnout 3 (best racer EVER), the game is a perfect fit for car enthusiasts.

Parents: If your kid likes the Fast and the Furious or is a big car nut, this is the game for them. They can buy parts and paint jobs and race their tricked out rides through a huge city environment, competing to get their car featured in magazines and on DVD covers (fictitious, of course). Better than doing it in real life, right?

Remember parents, this is just a brief and by no means all inclusive representation of the video game market. These titles are the most popular of the newest ones out there, but the industry is a vast and growing medium for some very incredible forms of entertainment. Hopefully this list will help you to help your kids (or maybe even yourselves) tap into this increasingly mainstream form of entertainment. Enjoy! And good luck.
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