Holiday Gift Guide: Best Video Games

12 November, 2012 Play No comments
Holiday Gift Guide: Best Video Games

It’s the holiday season once again, and perhaps you’re stuck for a good gift idea. Video games are a good option: Almost everyone loves receiving them, which makes them successful gifts in the short term. On the other hand, you don’t have to play a game for long in order to know it’s rotten. That’s why it’s a good idea to grab hold of some suggestions before you shop. 

Getting a game for an adult is a bit different from getting one for a kid. Games for grown-ups tend to contain mature content and/or gameplay mechanics that are difficult to grasp. That said, they also offer some remarkably deep experiences that can last for hours. Here are 2012’s best games for adults. 

Halo 4 (Xbox 360) – Microsoft’s latest entry in its popular first-person shooter series features an extremely detailed story and campaign, not to mention killer multiplayer features (literally). Its presentation is top-notch, and should be a hit with any fan of shooting games. 

Dishonored (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows) – Dishonored is a first-person stealth action adventure title. Seems like a mouthful, but what it basically means is that you play as an assassin who’s out for revenge against his betrayers—and we all know that assassins work best undetected. However, it’s actually possible to play through Dishonored without using lethal force. The story alters depending on how violent you are, or aren’t. 

FIFA Soccer 13 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows, Wii, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita) – Soccer may not be America’s favorite sport, but don’t let that drive you away from EA’s FIFA Soccer 13. It’s loaded with features. If you never got a chance to pick up FIFA 12, that’s all the more reason to jump right in with lucky 13. Also note: If you’re a hockey fan, don’t miss out on NHL 13 either – it’s a great choice for winter sports fans.

WWE ’13 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii) – Similarly, THQ’s latest large-budget WWE game might be familiar for anyone who played WWE ’12, but wrestling fans will love the game’s story, which takes place across the industry’s Attitude Era. 

Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows, Wii U) – This role-playing /adventure game from BioWare received massive critical acclaim thanks to its epic story, interesting cast of characters, multi-tiered choice system, and stunning graphics. There was some controversy over the game’s supposedly lame ending, but the quality of the game’s finale ultimately lies in the eye of the beholder. It’s the whole experience that counts. 

Journey (PlayStation 3, via the PlayStation Network) – Journey is a downloadable game that takes the player on a trip through the desert  and towards a distant mountain. You meet other players as you travel, and you can help one another—but your communications are restricted to wordless “singing.” How will you cooperate—if you choose to cooperate at all? Journey has received critical acclaim for its originality and beauty. 

Dragon’s Dogma (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows) – And sometimes, you just gotta bash things. Dragon’s Dogma is an action role-playing game by Capcom that takes place in an open world. There’s tons of hacking and slashing to be had, but the game’s real strength is its gigantic boss battles, which encourage you to search for unorthodox ways to bring down your prey. 

Tokyo Jungle (PlayStation 3) – Tokyo Jungle is a survival/action game that takes place in the deserted streets of Tokyo. It’s initially not clear what’s happened to humanity, but what’s important is that wildlife has reclaimed the region and you need to survive. You play through the game as a deer, a hyena, a couple of lions, and (prepare yourself) a Pomeranian. 

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows) – The must-have game of the holiday season. Dig first-person shooters? Then check out this home theater showpiece, which doubles down on pyrotechnics, Hollywood-style set pieces and online action galore – its Internet multiplayer mode alone will keep you busy for months.

Xenoblade (Wii) – This action/role-playing hybrid is the best role-playing game for the Wii, and one of the best RPGs ever released, period. You travel through large, open worlds and fight through swarms of enemies via a complex but compelling battle system. There’s a main story to follow, but you can do so at your own leisure while you pursue hundreds of side-quests. 

Max Payne 3 (Xbox, PlayStation 3, Windows) – In this third-person action/shooting game, you accompany a slightly older, slightly more cynical Max Payne as he works through Sao Paulo, Brazil. Unfortunately for him (and fortunately for you, the player), he’s caught up in a conspiracy and is pulled into trouble. Max Payne 3 features some of the best graphics seen in any console title.

Borderlands 2 (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) – Post-apocalyptic action role-playing in an animated, cel-shaded world: Where do we sign up? Letting you live out your every Mad Max fantasy, this sequel to the multiplatinum-selling megahit delivers more excitement, more gear, and more chances to collect loot while successfully straddling the line between run-n-gun thrills and detailed stat crunching.

Assassin’s Creed 3 (Xbox, PlayStation 3, Windows) – What can we say about the blockbuster franchise – in which you play a historical hitman, tasked with stalking and offing targets in a living, breathing 3D world – that hasn’t already been said in countless positive critical reviews? Rewinding the clock to the Revolutionary War, this latest installment blows the doors off the genre in the graphics, sound and gameplay departments, making it a must-play for mature audiences.

Special Mentions:

007 Legends

Need for Speed: Most Wanted

Medal of Honor Warfighter

And of course, don’t miss Nintendo’s Wii U – a revolutionary new video game system which adds a tablet-like touchscreen controller, extensive online connectivity and games in dozens of favorite franchises such as Super Mario Bros. and Pikmin. The first of the next-generation (next next-generation?) consoles, it’s sure to be a hit with family and core gaming audiences of all ages, given its HD action, backwards compatibility with Wii games and extensive media playback and streaming options.

MMOs and Virtual Worlds Explained

MMOs and Virtual Worlds Explained

Family Tech

Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.

In a quest to become the main destination for kids online, companies large and small create MMOs and virtual online worlds for kids.  These are designed to be place where kids can play games while connecting with their friends, all while staying on one site or location for an extended period of time.  Sounds a bit like social networks, no?  In essence that’s what they are, just with more emphasis on graphics.

According to research firm KZero, there were nearly 1.2 billion registered users across all virtual worlds in 2011, the largest of which is kids age 10-15. 

Most of these virtual worlds are free to access, just like the rest of the Internet.  Getting there is as simple as typing the correct address in your web browser, and all of a sudden you’re transported to a medieval land, outer space, or even an island inspired by a fast food restaurant.  Many virtual worlds aimed at older kids require a download to play, and run more like a traditional video game, but are still free to play, at least at first.

But as you and your kids will soon discover, not everything in these worlds is free.

What’s proven successful for most online worlds is to provide a “freemium” or free-to-play model. Anyone can access these games free of charge, but in order to access more areas, items and fun stuff within the virtual world, kids need to pay a monthly or even yearly subscription fee.

Major brands spend lots of money and resources to attract players to their own virtual worlds, because it provides a way for them to market themselves and expose their brand to youngsters, all while staying compliant with laws about privacy and collecting information.

Companies and major brands such as McDonald’s, Disney and General Mills provide a place online for kids to spend time, although a few have recently come under fire for their use of a “refer-a-friend” feature which many advocacy groups complained to the FTC was in violation of COPPA laws.

Many of these virtual worlds are aimed at tweens and teens.  Games like Wizard 101, FreeRealms, Minecraft and Lord of the Rings Online all strive to be a place where older elementary-aged kids spend their time online, as well as their money.

Other virtual worlds are aimed squarely at younger Internet users. Club Penguin, Animal Jam, Jump Start, Starfall and even Build-A-Bear Workshop are all examples of persistent online destinations created to attract young kids, and many tout their educational benefits.

And there are others that fill in the area between the two.  Little Space Heroes, Cartooon Universe, Fantage, Fusion Fall and Moshi Monsters blend elements of traditional video games with the easy access of browser based online games.

There are even virtual worlds for families, like Ohanarama, which allow for family and friends scattered around the globe to connect and play games with each other asynchronously.

The concept of online virtual worlds makes a lot of sense from the perspective of developers, and the proposition can be appealing for parents.  Instead of setting kids free in the seemingly wild, wild, west of the Internet, virtual worlds allow kids to spend large chunks of time in one safe environment, where they can find games, activities and chances to interact with others.  And that piece of mind is even worth a few bucks a month for some parents.

There are a number of reasons why kids love spending time in these worlds, from feeling like they’re having their own space to being able to interact with friends in a new environment.  And here’s where we start to get to some of the potential danger areas.

One of the key features of these virtual worlds is that they allow some sort of contact with others, even if it’s just by comparing scores.  But most virtual worlds do include the option for chat with others, and it’s here that the proposition of virtual worlds can start to get dicey for many.  While many include some form of moderated or restricted chat, nearly all provide some way to access (with parental permission) chatting with strangers.

We’ll take a closer look at how these virtual worlds manage these types of safety issues, as well as look at some of the other dangers and concerns of virtual networks, in the next part of our series.

Holiday Tech 2012: Best New Gadgets & Gear

Holiday Tech 2012: Best New Gadgets & Gear

Shopping for the best new high-tech holiday gear has never been easier, thanks to endless online bargains and deals. Just one problem: With hundreds of awesome HDTVs, smartphones, tablet PCs and other cutting-edge electronics suddenly competing for attention, choosing the perfect gift for gadget lovers isn’t always an easy task. Credit a bounty of new stocking stuffers – 2012’s must-have electronics and accessories include great gift-giving options for every interest and budget. Luckily, our team of technology experts have culled through hundreds of the best new tech toys and put together a handy cheat sheet to seven of the season’s hottest picks.

Looking to get your wish-list started? Among the year’s top selections are digital cameras, next-generation video game systems, connected television sets, eReaders, portable computing solutions, and media players of every shape and size. The following list – just a small preview of the coolest new gear available in coming weeks – can help you get a leg up on your holiday shopping. The best part: Sweet as these gadgets are, they’re just the tip of the virtual iceberg.

Apple iPhone 5

Many smartphones such as the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx (notable for its ultra-long battery life) and Samsung Galaxy S3 (recommended for its oversized screen) deserve shoppers’ attention this holiday. But Apple’s latest model, the iPhone 5, is among the very first you should keep on speed dial. Compatible with over 500,000 apps and building on its predecessors’ highlights – videoconferencing, an ultra-crisp display, cloud music streaming, etc. – with all-new features, the best just keeps on getting better.

Roughly 18% thinner, 20% lighter and considerably faster than the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5 also adds high-speed 4G LTE broadband connectivity for brisk downloads, a larger 4-inch screen, and a brawny A6 processor. Letting you wirelessly stream movies, music, television and games down on-demand, the handset doesn’t just load websites, apps and media faster than ever. It also delivers better graphics and computing performance, and comes with enhanced front- and rear-facing cameras for sharper photos, slicker video recording and stutter-free teleconferencing.

The iPhone 5’s multitude of features – including a touchscreen, motion-sensing gyroscope and support for voice commands through its Siri virtual assistant – make it a supercomputer that fits in your pocket. Using the device, you can enjoy a portable media powerhouse to go, or connect with friends and family from nearly anywhere your holiday travels take you.

Wii U Video Game System

Nintendo’s motion-sensing Wii console redefined gaming for a generation. Featuring a unique tablet Game Pad controller with a dedicated 6.2-inch LCD touchscreen (offering a second view on the action, or allowing for video viewing separate from TV), successor the Wii U hopes to provide a repeat performance.

Available in two models – Basic (includes 8GB internal storage) or Deluxe (offers 32GB internal storage + Nintendo Land video game, console stand and a cradle/stand for your GamePad) – it’s a prospective game changer. Credit the ability to play groundbreaking titles such as New Super Mario Bros. Wii U, Pikmin 3, and Madden NFL 13, which allow for solo or multiplayer action across multiple screens. Better yet, awesome options are available for all ages including kids (Skylanders Giants, Just Dance 4), adults (FIFA Soccer 13, Assassin’s Creed 3) and everyone in-between (Disney’s Epic Mickey 2).

Upsides include the ability to view gameplay on both your TV and GamePad, control your television with the tablet’s touschscreen, and link up to four Wii remotes for frantic head-to-head excitement. Backwards compatible with games from the original Wii, it doesn’t skimp on forward-thinking technology either. Bonuses include Internet access for multiplayer match-ups and downloading movies, music and games; video chat capabilities; second-screen viewing experiences; and wireless connectivity that lets you interact with real-world objects.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LS7

Fans of digital photography can give images a boost with this speedy and high-performing compact camera whose lens captures bright, top-quality snapshots even under low-light conditions. Whether using it to fire off bursts of pictures in rapid succession, or tape 1080 high-definition (HD) video, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the device’s premium capabilities and intuitive user interface.

Designed to work in a variety of shooting conditions, including nighttime or outdoor scenes, the device also offers a wide-angle Leica lens with 3.8X zoom functions, so you can take stunning shots from a distance. Built-in noise reduction features are simply icing on the cake, helping ensure your holiday memories look gorgeous when printed or viewed on the DMC-LX7’s 3-inch LCD screen.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 3G

Literally dozens of great eReaders are available from companies like Sony (Reader), Barnes & Noble (Nook HD+) and Kobo (Arc, Glo, etc.). But don’t miss out on Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite, the latest in the bestselling line of eReaders, which adds a higher-resolution and -contrast screen, and a built-in light offering 8 weeks of battery life when charged.

Avid readers will especially love the ability to download thousands of books, newspapers, magazines and more anywhere in the world using free 3G wireless or WiFi capability, all visible on its 6-inch screen even in direct sunlight. Browsing options include over 180,000 exclusives and self-published volumes, so you can catch up on everything from the latest Twilight novel to definitive works on nearly any topic. From children’s books to action-packed thrillers, you’ll be surprised at the selection – and how just akin to real-life reading the experience feels.

Want to catch up on your reading while visiting the in-laws or hitting the beach? Spare yourself the indignity (and hernia) of having to haul along a bunch of hardbacks – able to hold hundreds of volumes, it’s basically a portable library to go.

LG Intuition

Is it a smartphone or tablet – you decide. Following in the footsteps of Samsung’s popular Galaxy Note, this powerful cellular handset with oversized 5-inch screen allows for full-fledged computing performance without sacrificing pocket-ready convenience. Ideal for video viewing, Web surfing or reading, its bright colors, ample visual real estate and high-def resolution should prove a hit with road warriors.

Perfect for jotting down notes with the included stylus, the Intuition also offers lightning-quick wireless 4G LTE connectivity, WiFi support and an 8MP with LED flash. As such, it should also strike a chord with professionals hoping to boost productivity, or avid social media enthusiasts. You know what they say about all work and no play, though – running on the Android 4.0 operating system, tens of thousands of compatible apps are available. That way, whether you’re killing time waiting for a connection or happily cruising along at 10,000 feet, you’ll always have the power to summon up endless sources of entertainment on-demand.

Panasonic Viera TC-P55ST50 TV

Critics have praised this 55-inch plasma HDTV and 3D TV for its arresting picture quality, brilliant contrast and suave aesthetic. But what will really turn heads is its price – think premiere features for a fraction of the cost. Capable of displaying 1080p HD video, you’ll be able to enjoy TV shows and films at staggering levels of detail, with characters and objects that pop right out of the scenes. Of course, ultra-crisp color and 3D viewing support only enhances this effect: Don a pair of active shutter 3D glasses, and high-def images will literally burst from the screen.

Extras are plentiful too – Smart TV (a.k.a. Internet-ready) features being among the most prominent. Via Panasonic’s Viera Cast options, you can access Pandora for streaming music, enjoy video-on-demand from services like CinemaNow, and enjoy MLB, MLS and NHL news and info whenever the mood strikes. Online video won’t blur while playing either, thanks to enhanced image reproduction. But perhaps most engaging is the availability of 2D to 3D upconversion, which lets you take standard everyday content – e.g. your favorite TV shows, Blu-ray movies and online media – and screen them in 3D. Consider it a gift that keeps on giving: Put the set in your living room, and every time neighbors come to visit for holiday gatherings, their jaws will drop.

Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700

Many portable computing enthusiasts now own an iPad (and with good reason). But if you’ve been holding out on buying a tablet PC, especially if you’re torn over the decision between purchasing a more fully-featured laptop, this is the model that will make you reconsider. Among the best Android selections, The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 packs full HD resolution, a dedicated NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core CPU and serious processing muscle. Translated into plain English, that means sick 3D graphics, speedy load times and apps so powerful you’d think you were sitting in front of a desktop system.

Capable of delivering jaw-dropping 3D visuals for a fraction of the price, the tablet PC is also compatible with an optional QWERTY keyboard dock with touchpad, SD card reader and USB port that extends battery life to 14 hours. Pair the two, and you can effectively enjoy the best of both worlds, letting the Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 double as a notebook PC. Bonuses include an 8MP camera for snapping natty-looking photos, cloud storage solutions for archiving files online, and a full suite of office and productivity software. Compatible with thousands of apps, it’s a nicely portable and expandable alternative to traditional laptop systems that lets you enjoy two computing options for the price of one.

This post is part of eBay Finders, a new partnership that presents collections of items curated by a carefully selected group of electronics experts. Meet more of the Finders at ebayelectronics.tumblr.com. #eBayFinders