NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, November 25, 2015, 10:52 AM
There’s a fifth Metal Gear game and four ways to get real toys in your video games. There are three worthwhile collections of last-gen games, two games that get you up and playing the guitar (yeah, that trend’s back again), and one Halo.
And a Fallout. And a Call of Duty. And a Tomb Raider. And . . .
Welcome to the 2015 holiday season. There’s no better time to be a gamer, thanks to a brilliant collection of titles on three well-established consoles. The Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Wii U all delivered plenty of blockbusters in 2015, setting new bars for gameplay depth and graphical fidelity.
But not every title can be a must-have, and the holiday gift rush is often all about choices. These 12 questions for the 2015 holiday should help you shop for the gamer in your life:
1) HAS ONE CONSOLE RISEN ABOVE THE REST?
The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 continue to run neck-and-neck, but Microsoft’s machine has the slightest of edges this holiday, thanks to the more potent gaming library.
The marquee titles (think NBA 2K16 and Fallout 4) continue to land on both consoles, but the Xbox will deliver the superior exclusives, headed by Halo 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. Sony has its share of solid games (cough, Bloodborne!), but Microsoft also debuted the better backward compatibility earlier this month: Unlike Sony’s pay-as-you-play service, PS Now, the Xbox One will simply play 360 games, either downloaded or hard copy. This doesn’t work with all games, of course, but it’s a free and easy brand of backward compatibility.
The only knock on the Xbox comes next year: Sony will deliver Uncharted 4. If that’s the apple of your special someone’s eye, then veer toward the PS4.
2) IF THERE’S ONE MUST-HAVE GAME OUT THERE THIS YEAR . . .
It’s Halo 5. The Xbox One’s iconic franchise delivers on almost any level in the hands of developer 343 Industries.
Halo 5 may be the year’s most well-rounded game, delivering a single-player component and a sizable multiplayer suite as well, while still finding time to tell a deep story that touches ties deeply into the franchise’s deep lore.
3) ANY OTHER GAMES THAT ARE GUARANTEED TO IMPRESS?
It’s been a year overflowing with quality hits worth picking up. Fallout 4, Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic role-playing masterpiece, is just as good as advertised, the kind of game that can easily suck 50 or 60 hours of playtime away.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is terrific as well, perhaps the most cinematic adventuring blockbuster game of this year, tossing Lara Croft into Siberia in a pulse-pounding quest for the Divine Source.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is this year’s premiere stealth game, and it plays like a dream once gamers adapt to the control scheme. The game gets preachy, and the story can get wild, but few games make skulking around in the shadows feel quite this fun.
4) WHAT ABOUT NINTENDO’S WII U? IS THAT CONSOLE DYING?
Eventually, perhaps, and even Nintendo has tacitly acknowledged that by promising a new console announcement in 2016. But for one more winter, the Wii U will remain the most family- and kid-friendly of all the consoles.
It’s hard to recommend purchasing a Wii U now, but it’s easy to recommend several games if you already have a Wii U. Splatoon is the most accessible and family-balanced shooter you’ll ever play, and Mario Maker is a blast for the wannabe game designer. Yoshi’s Woolly World, meanwhile, continues Nintendo’s trend of delivering the cutesy but challenging platformer, and while the upcoming Star Fox game seems to have some control foibles, it will almost certainly tug at special nostalgia for old-school gamers.
5) ANY EARLY-YEAR HITS THAT STILL DEMAND ATTENTION?
Sony’s Bloodborne, which arrived back in March, is easily the cream of the PlayStation 4 crop this year, a blend of Dark Souls challenge and Ninja Gaiden-style combat in a story that gamers discover and unlock for themselves. Just in time for the holidays, it has a Game of the Year Edition as well, and that’s the version most worth getting, including the excellent Old Hunters expansion.
Batman: Arkham Knight is another early-year must-have, a stellar coda to RockSteady’s Batman Arkham franchise. Sure, the Batmobile is more annoying than fun, but this is still the must-purchase game for the superhero fan in your life.
And in a lean year for fighting games, Mortal Kombat X still stood out, delivering over-the-top fighting and near-flawless mechanics, as well as a plethora of modes. It’s the rare fighting game that offers more than a deep fighting system, with plenty of single-player action to hold your attention.
6) HOW’S THE SPORTS GAME CROP?
This is that rare year when several sports games are worth picking up. Developers stepped up and delivered plenty of refined mechanics in this year’s sports games, so parents can confidently pick up the likes of Madden 16 and know it’s more than a mere roster update.
NBA 2K16 is the class of the field, and a deep game overflowing with modes. A massive fan base means there’s plenty of online competition, and the game plays nearly free of lag, although connection issues still abound.
Sony’s MLB The Show 15 is the only baseball game in town, but once again, it’s loaded with fun, with one of the most in-depth franchise modes around. Just beware: Online play can be messy and lag-free. If the gamer in your life lives off online games, shy away; otherwise, grab The Show.
EA’s sports games also manage to deliver. Madden NFL 16 is one of the best Madden games in several years, even if it does still have some shaky points, and NHL 16, near-unplayable last year, rebounds this year and delivers fun hockey and enough modes to keep gamers busy.
7) IS THERE ANYTHING OUT THERE FOR THE FILM BUFF?
Yes. More than ever, 2015 has moved gaming (or at least a sect of it) closer to aping television and film. There were the fantastic cutscenes of Need for Speed and Halo 5 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, sure, but several games aimed to give the gamer a front-row, in-control seat in an actual film.
Sony’s Until Dawn did that effectively, essentially letting the gamer play the role of several teenagers in a spectacularly realized slasher film. There are plenty of scares in this title, and enough depth and replay value that the game can be worthwhile.
Meanwhile, Square Enix delivered the downloadable episodic adventure Life Is Strange, which essentially cast the gamer as a young girl in a CW-style game filled with teen angst . . . and a few mystical elements. Sadly, there won’t be an on-disc version until 2016.
8) ROCK BAND 4 OR GUITAR HERO LIVE?
Yes, the rhythm-music game made its much-anticipated return this year, with two revamped titles in Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4. But, unlike the last console generation, both these games are very, very different.
Rock Band gets the overall edge here, proving to be happily backward compatible with every Rock Band song you’ve ever purchased, and delivering a solid music-playing experience. It’s a pricier entry, though, at $ 249.99.
Guitar Hero Live offers the deeper playing experience and is recommended for the hardcore music gamer. But do your pal a solid and grab him a gift card on his console, too, for those frustrating nights when he just has to buy a few extra “plays” to rock out to his favorite tune.
9) HOW DO YOU SORT THE VIDEO GAME TOY LANDSCAPE?
Tough one. A few years ago, Activision’s Skylanders franchise was the only game using a “portal” to connect real-life toys to a video game adventure, but these days, that’s anything but true.
This year, there’s Skylanders: Superchargers, Lego Dimensions, and Disney Infinity 3.0, which is driven by a healthy dose of Star Wars. Oh, and then there’s Nintendo’s ever-growing collection of stunningly cute Amiibos to think about, too.
If you’re planning to play along with your youngster, Lego Dimensions is the way to go, delivering the most creative experience, but Disney’s Infinity isn’t far behind. It’s a convenient way to introduce your youngster to the Star Wars universe, and it’s a fun game to boot. Skylanders is a solid game as well, although it lurks behind the more big-name competition.
Nintendo’s Amiibos? They’re the cutest and cuddliest of all the actual toys, but they still offer limited game functionality. They’re best reserved for the Wii U gamer, who will find proper ways to put them to use.
10) ARE THE COMPILATIONS WORTH IT?
There were some good ones this year, ranging from the Handsome Collection of Borderlands games to the Gears of War Collection, but these generally don’t make great gifts. They’re older games, and, particularly on the Xbox, with its newfound backward compatibility, it’s hard for them to have true lure.
Sony’s Uncharted Collection, however, is a different story. It arrives at a perfect time, just months before the release of the much-hyped Uncharted 4 on PlayStation 4, offering a solid entry point to a franchise that’s going to have plenty of people in a tizzy early next year. The first Uncharted game, Drake’s Fortune, dropped eight years ago, so yes, there’s a chance your sixth-grader is behind on the series.
11) MUST-HAVE MULTIPLAYER SHOOTER OF 2015?
Black Ops 3 continues to deliver that solid Call of Duty multiplayer experience, with plenty of options and room for growth, and Halo 5 has plenty of depth as well, even if you’ll want to play that game as much for its story as for its gunplay.
The dominant multiplayer shooter this year: Star Wars: Battlefront. EA essentially merges Battlefield franchise principles with Star Wars lore, generating an exciting and versatile brand of multiplayer shooter that offers something for everyone.
The lone blemishes are sloppy vehicular travel and a complete lack of single-player, but if you’re buying for somebody who wants to scream into a headset and talks kill-to-death ratio all the time, this is your game, followed by Black Ops 3.
12) BEST RACING GAME?
This one’s a toss-up. The most fun racing game of this year is Need for Speed, a reboot that returns a classic franchise to the street-racing roots that made it a hit. And although this is a racing game, it’s somehow also one of the most beautiful games of 2015, with cutscenes that look right out of a feature film.
For those who want a more serious, simulation brand of racing, look no further than Forza Motorsport 6. Microsoft outdoes itself with this Xbox One racer, delivering realistic racing with a smattering of fun elements just to spice up the action.