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2011 Holiday Buyer's Guide

The Escapist Staff | 25 Nov 2011 13:00
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We've come to that time of year once again, dear friends. That time when you'll lose many of your sanity points not only trying to figure out what to get the nerd in your life, but also what to suggest your clueless loved ones procure for you. To the rescue comes your friends at The Escapist!

Over the next few pages, you'll find our suggestions for a bevy of goodies guaranteed to bring a smile anyone lucky enough to unwrap them. These are the games, books, movies, and whatnots that are sure to please just about anyone with a hint of nerdiness in their soul. We even provide suggestions for those of you who've recently hit the lottery, or simply have a bit too much money weighing down your wallet.

So read on, and get your holiday wish lists ready!

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Festival Of Games

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Bastion

Justin says: I freaking love Bastion. If I was asked to recommend a game to someone without knowing anything about them, it would be Bastion. The combat is solid action RPG hack, slash and shooting with enough weapons to keep it varied. It goes out of its way to incorporate gameplay elements into the world. The setting is rich with detail and culture, but it's all slowly doled out to you and lets you piece it together instead of bashing you over the head with exposition. The graphics have this incredible hand drawn aesthetics. And the amazing soundtrack and the dynamic narration seal the deal. All of these elements come together to make for a truly amazing experience.

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Batman: Arkham City

Steve says: The original Batman: Arkham Asylum was easily one of the greatest superhero videogames ever made and Rocksteady's sophomore effort is, in many ways, just as good. Freed from the confines of Arkham Asylum, Batman is finally able to take to the skies and streets of Gotham City, brooding on top of skyscrapers and swooping down to punch goons in a back alley. The Dark Knight detective is, first and foremost, an urban hero, so finally having him in his element makes this game even more exciting. Throw in confrontations with a host of Batman's greatest villains, including big names like the Joker, Catwoman and Penguin, and this is basically like living out your own Batman comic book. Sure, there were some focus problems, but no game really delivers such a strong superhero experience. Until someone murders your billionaire parents and gives you a nocturnal rodent fixation, this is probably the safest way to get your Batman fix.

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Dance Central 2

Susan says: Do you know someone who has a Kinect? Do they have Dance Central 2 yet? No? Then you should fix that. It's perfect for just about anyone, no matter their age, skill level, or interest in videogames. Dance Central 2 improves and expands on its predecessor by adding a cooperative element that lets two players shake their groove things simultaneously while also making it even easier to learn the basic steps. If you're worried about looking like a doofus, don't. When you pull off some complicated moves, you look like a wizard, but the rest of the time you'll be just as dorky as everyone else. That's part of Dance Central 2's magic - it's the great equalizer that makes it not just ok to act like a fool in front of your family and friends, but genuinely enjoyable.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Justin says: While I personally enjoy the more open freedom of Battlefield 3's multiplayer, if you're only going to buy one shooter this holiday season or are shopping for someone not knowing exactly where their preferences lie then Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is the better overall package. The singleplayer, while still short, is a bombastic thrill ride. The multiplayer continues to refine its run and gun gameplay with some great new mechanics that start to crack the mold for the series while still delivering on what everyone expects. The cooperative Spec-Ops portions have seen similar refinement with their very own leveling and unlock system that runs with the games new Survival mode. You'll want to add Modern Warfare 3 to your wish lists if you're an existing fan, enjoy military shooters or are just looking for the next game that "everyone" is going to be playing.

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Justin says: Of all the high profile series continuations this year, Deus Ex: Human Revolution had me the most hesitant. Would it be able to deliver on the classic gameplay freedom that made the original Deus Ex so great? Once you've made it through the tutorial areas, the game begins to really branch into the multi-pathed solution structure. There are a few slip ups, like in the out-sourced boss fights, but I still found myself legitimately getting into the experience and making decisions based on the character and setting instead of just the gaming approach. Sure it would be easier to simply kill that janitor, but he's just there doing his job. There was a particular section near the end where I felt so strongly about my character's choice that I intentionally went out of my way to resolve the issue in a overly difficult manner. If you like a little RPG in your shooter, enjoy being offered multiple solutions in game or simply want to explore a near-future cyberpunk setting, check out Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Susan says: The little elf boy in the green outfit has been trying to rescue the blonde girl for 25 years now, but his latest adventure feels as fresh as his very first. It's bright and cheerful, with an outstanding soundtrack, cleverly designed dungeons and a bevy of unusual characters. Skyward Sword will give veteran gamers plenty of challenge, but has mechanisms in place to help out brand new players who may find themselves stuck. The story is intriguing, the bad guy is genuinely creepy, and best of all, it will last quite a while as your favorite gamer happily tracks down every last hidden treasure chest, bug, and collectible. If you want to be extra giving, pick up the Limited Edition, which comes with a Triforce-emblazoned Wii Remote with Motion Plus built right into it.

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LittleBigPlanet 2

Susan says: Sackboy is hard to resist. He's a hero without guile, grinning and flopping his way through the levels of LittleBigPlanet 2 as he sets out to save Craftworld from the Negativatron. So many game worlds feel like variations on the same grim theme, but the sheer creativity and variety of LBP2 is a joy to experience. And best of all, it's meant to be experienced with a friend, with plenty of minigames and areas designed with multiplayer in mind. The level creation toolkit, which was already incredibly robust, has been made even easier to use, so that anyone, no matter their skill set, can bring their imagination to life. If getting into the nuts and bolts isn't your thing, pick up the Game of the Year edition, which includes loads of levels the members of the LBP community have made for you. Giving someone LittleBigPlanet 2 is like handing them a bundle of happiness. Hard to go wrong with that.

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Minecraft

Paul Says: As a child, was one of your favorite past times building massive forts out of pillows, cardboard boxes and anything else you could get your hands on? Then Minecraft is for you. This sandbox games puts players into a huge procedurally generated world and lets them construct pretty much whatever the heck they want out of textured blocks. In Minecraft's Survival mode, you can construct your own personal doom fortress composed of solid obsidian, gold and lava traps while fending off various creatures, such as spiders, zombies, skeletons and explosive creepers, craft weapons and armor made out of harvested materials, or mine deep into the earth searching for diamonds. Creative mode gives access to a nigh-infinite number of every in-game object, giving players the ability to construct entire cities of their own design. There's so many ways to play Minecraft that it's incredibly difficult to list them all, and any gamer with a penchant for design and building will definitely enjoy what Minecraft has to offer.

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Portal 2

Paul Says: The long-awaited sequel to Valve's award-winning first person puzzler from 2007, Portal 2 brings us back to the Aperture Science Enrichment Center for more physics bending and portal dropping tests! Players are once again put into the boots of Chell, trying to outwit and survive the resurrected artificial Intelligence GLaDOS. With tons of new puzzles, science, black humor and the voice of J.K. Simmons as Aperture Science's founder Cave Johnson, Portal 2 is a fantastic experience for anyone looking for a puzzle game with a unique twist. Portal 2 also introduces the Cooperative Testing Initiative, letting you and a buddy put your friendship to the test as you work together through five sets of test chambers, each more intricate and complex than the last. Valve has also plans to release several DLC packs for the game, including an upcoming level designer to let players build up their own complex test chambers.

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Saints Row: The Third

Greg Says: Does your buddy play games such as GTA or Fallout just going around shooting everyone, blowing up tanks and wreaking havoc? Does he also have predilection towards beating bikini-clad women with a giant purple dildo? Well then, Saints Row 3 is the perfect game for your psychotic friend. The open-world mechanics are deliciously engaging with the easy-to-use smartphone interface, and the story and voice-acting are more outrageous than a pornographic grindhouse film on meth. The customization options are just as crazy, allowing you to trick out the protagonist, his clothes/tattoos or his cars in whatever day-glo colors you can imagine. Saints Row 3 even dabbles in other genres with science-fiction and survival horror thrown into the gang motif just for the hell of it. Buy Saints Row 3 for the wacko on your list (or for yourself, if you're nasty).

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Steve says: Is there an RPG fan in your life who you never, ever want to see again? Give them Skyrim. Bethesda's latest entry in its celebrated fantasy franchise is epic in every sense of the word: it's gigantic, heroic, poetic and full of fire and blood. The dragons have returned to the cold land of Skyrim, where the Nords make their home. You're dropped off in this world with nothing but your own name and expected to find your own way through the game's story. Do you become a thief who preys on the inhabitants of Skyrim's cities? Do you become the virtuous warrior, eager to kill whoever the establishment needs killed? Do you become a powerful wizard who wanders the countryside picking up flowers and eating them? The most wonderful thing about Skyrim is that it lets you be all of these things and more. Buy it and then don't make any plans for the next few months.

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Total War: Shogun 2

Greg Says: The Total War series from Creative Assembly has been staple of the strategy wargaming genre on the PC since they released the first Shogun in 2000. After goosestepping in different eras of warfare with Rome, Napoleon and Empire, the British developer returned to its roots this year with Shogun 2, an excellent update to the original title. Set in a feudal Japan, you guide your clan in the conquest of the island nation through war or diplomacy. The campaign map lets you guide armies and agents like monks and ninja to invade neighboring castle-towns through turn-based seasons, but then switches to real time to play out battles in randomly generated terrain. Using units like no-dachi samurai (wielding big two-handed swords) and warrior monks to out flank opposing armies takes skill and patience, and the addition of naval combat adds another satisfying layer. For a grognard or someone interested in the military history of Japan, Shogun 2 is the must-have game this year.

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