Disclosure: The Escapist may receive compensation for purchases made through product links.
Developed by DICE. Published by EA. Released October 21, 2016 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Review copy provided by publisher.
The latest entry in the Battlefield series eschews the trappings of modern warfare to take gamers back to the days of World War I. Thanks to its setting, the game doesn’t feel like most recent shooters. The pace is a bit slower, the vehicles feel less potent, and it’s an all-around more balanced experience.
As you might expect, Battlefield 1 is at its absolute best in multiplayer. Because the role of vehicles has been scaled back in keeping with the setting, the infantry gameplay is the best it’s been in years. You can expect to see classic game modes like Conquest, Rush, and Deathmatch, but also new additions, including a mode titled War Pigeons that tasks you with fighting over messenger pigeon used to call in artillery. There’s also the new Operations mode that drops you into a series of maps and challenges you to attack or defend points throughout them. Battlefield 1 also manages something its predecessors haven’t – it packs in a single-player campaign that while short, is still fun to play and enjoyable.
In short, DICE’s latest entry in the Battlefield series is also the best in recent years.
XCOM 2. Developed by Firaxis Games. Published by 2K Games. Released February 4, 2016 for PC and September 27 for PS4 and Xbox One. Review copy provided by publisher.
As a gamer growing up in the 90s, the XCOM series fascinated me, putting a much-younger me in command of the only organization capable of halting the ongoing alien invasion. It hit my favorite sci-fi tropes, and it was one of the first games I played that mixed different types of gameplay together. Firaxis rebooted the classic series, and XCOM 2 is the studio’s follow-up, where the team took a bit more creative liberty, and it worked like a charm.
The sci-fi, alien invasion setting makes XCOM 2 a great option for strategic gamers with a fondness (or hatred, I suppose) for extra terrestrials. If your game-loving gift recipient typically only plays games like Call of Duty, you should give this a pass, but the deep strategy will be perfect for those that like to take time to think during a firefight.
Developed by Traveller’s Tales. Published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Core game released September 27, 2015. Expansion products released regularly. Available on PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Review unit provided by publisher.
LEGO Dimenstions definitely targets a younger audience than most of my past recommendations, but the game continues to see a robust expansion release schedule, including some of my favorite franchises, old and new. I’d been a fan of Disney Infinity, but it was discontinued earlier this year, and the Dimensions offerings cover such a wide scope of interests, I’d be remiss not to make mention for those looking for gifts for a younger generation of gamer… or an older generation with a penchant for LEGO and properties from the 80s and 90s. (I’m talking about me, yes.)
Dimensions uses special physical LEGOs that interact with the game, so you’ll actually get to build some things with real LEGOs, and pull them right into your game. You can explore and adventure with (and as) your favorite characters, past and present, inside some of your favorite worlds. For my part, I’d be perfectly content playing BA Baracus, driving around the A-Team van, but I’m told Adventure Time is popular among today’s youth.
Developed by Naughty Dog. Published by Sony. Released May 10, 2016 for PS4. Review copy provided by publisher.
Hate to see you go, love to watch you leave. Uncharted 4 was one of those games for which I was cautiously optimistic. Finales in any form tend to leave me disappointed, and painfully unsurprised at my disappointment. Uncharted 4 was an exception to that rule. It was discussed frequently that the game would be Nathan Drake’s final adventure, and the entire build-up to our farewell to the globetrotting adventurer showed Nathan struggling to reconcile the life he had – and the one that we had with him – with the life he is attempting to have.
The game is visually stunning and, to the surprise of no one, incredibly cinematic, but it doesn’t try too hard to be a movie – there is still plenty of room for demanding gameplay and challenge, particularly in the multiplayer mode.
In short: If Uncharted 4 was the only PlayStation 4 exclusive ever, I would purchase the system all over again in a heartbeat.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Developed and published by Steel Crate Games. Released October 8, 2015 for PC and October 13, 2016 for PS4. Review copy provided by publisher.
One of the great things about indie games is how they embrace ideas that you just don’t find in other games. Case in point: Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. In short, it’s a bomb-defusal simulator. But it’s much more than that. You see, it’s not a game you can play alone. You need a friend to read the bomb disposal manual and walk you through the steps to defuse the explosive. Because you can’t see the manual, and your friend can’t see the bomb, communication is key.
The bombs start out easy, but quickly become quite challenging. Sometimes the lights flicker out, or the nearby alarm clock goes off, forcing you to set the bomb aside and turn it off. All the while, the timer ticks inexorably down, bringing you closer to the inevitable explosion. It’s a great co-op game that you can play with friends across the room, or across the internet.
If you’re more into the world of virtual reality, you can also play it on PlayStation VR.
Hyper Light Drifter
Developed and Published by Heart Machine. Released March 31, 2016 for PC, PS4, Xbox One. Review copy provided by publisher.
Leading up to its release, Hyper Light Drifter was so far under my radar, it wasn’t even registering. News came across my feed that the Crowdfunded game would be releasing the following week and, after viewing a few screenshots (and the rather bold comparisons to The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls), I figured I would give it a try. Several days later, I realized I had neglected my work, may or may not have showered, and realized that the only way to justify the amount of caffeine I was pumping into my body in order to avoid sleep was to write about the game. I still don’t regret that week.
Visually, the game draws obvious inspiration from the 8 and 16-bit eras, yet never feels like a paint-by-numbers recreation of those games. It gives a respectful nod to its influences, with hints of Zelda and Metroid, but never feels like a clone. Rather it adopts the most successful elements of the games that inspired it and crafted them into an experience that is simultaneously familiar and fresh. It’s unapologetically difficult while still being consistently fair.
The Jackbox Party Pack 3
Developed by Jackbox Games. Published by Jackbox Games. Released October 17, 2016 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Review copy provided by publisher.
“Party games” are a dime a dozen on consoles, but Jackbox is the only one that really does it right. Rather than forcing everyone to use a controller, in the Jackbox games, players simply use their own phones/tablets/touchscreen devices as a controller. The huge advantage of this is that you can easily have up to eight players in a game (and even more in the “audience”). The games themselves are also hilariously fun. Quiplash 2 challenges players to write the funniest response to a prompt, Guesspionage has players guess the percentage of people that do a certain thing (like fart in the bath), Trivia Murder Party is what Saw would have been like if Jigsaw was a trivia freak, Fakin’ It challenges players to find the one player who is faking his responses to prompts, and my personal favourite, Tee KO, has players create T-Shirts by mixing and matching images and slogans created by other players. Whenever there’s a party at my place, the inevitable question is “when are we gonna break out Jackbox?”
Developed and Published by Red Hook Studios. Released January 19, 2016 for PC, and September 27, 2016 for PS4 and Vita. Review copy provided by publisher.
Games don’t tend to be universally enjoyable, but Darkest Dungeon is one of those games that breaks the rule, and does it affordably. The gothic horror theme will delight fans of that genre, but won’t detract from the enjoyment for people that care mostly about the gameplay. The gameplay is where Darkest Dungeon, ironically, shines the brightest. Dungeons are scary, and your team will get stressed out, they’ll catch diseases, and they’ll develop personality quirks. You’ll need to fight to survive while you explore dungeon depths, combat all variety of monster, from ogres to Lovecraftian monstrosities, and collect loot to bring home. Fitting the dark, foreboding aesthetic, if you do lose a team member, they’re dead forever, memorialized in the town’s graveyard.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a gamer that won’t be able to appreciate Darkest Dungeon, and the $25 price tag ensures they’ll get your money’s worth.
Developed by Eric Barone. Published by Chucklefish Games. Released February 26, 2016 for PC, PS4, Wii U, and Xbox One. Review copy provided by publisher.
Stardew Valley is a indie pixelated farming simulator. It’s a love letter to those old school Harvest Moon games, so fans of the series will definitely enjoy it – but even if you’ve never played them you’ll still have a blast. It is honestly one of the most relaxing, soothing video games I have ever played. If someone you know needs to just forget about their worries, feed the chickens, water the crops, and lose themselves in another world, then this is the game to get them. A word of warning, though: once you’re lost in the world of Stardew Valley, it can be hard to find your way back to the real world.
Kingston HyperX Alloy FPS Mechanical Keyboard
Produced by Kingston Technology. Review unit provided by producer.
If you know the technical specifications that your cherished gamer wants from a keyboard, you’ll want to refer to the official site to see if this fits the bill. Technical savvy aside, I do spend a minimum 10 hours a day using a keyboard, so practical experience I’ve got in spades, and I’ve never been quite so happy with a keyboard as I have been with the Kingston HyperX Alloy FPS.
Fair warning, the Alloy is loud. If you have to sit in the same room as the recipient, you should know what you’re getting into. The click-clack of the keys – something a passerby might describe as “nails on a chalkboard” level of grating – is actually a profoundly important aspect of the experience. To me, it’s almost like a metronome, offering a percussive, dynamic rhythm to work by that always keeps pace with you. The mechanical keys offer incredible precision for gaming, and the extra resistance make it harder to accidentally press keys.
I can’t say whether Alloy is a keyboard fit for professional gamers, but I can recommend it for just about any professional that also happens to be a gamer.
Produced by Nintendo. Released November 11, 2016.
I’ve put this item up here on the gift guide because it is cool as fuck for any retro game fan. 30 of the very best NES classics crammed into a box that channels the console’s look and easily hooks up to your modern TV. It even comes with a classic NES Controller that’s compatible with all your Wii/Wii U controllers! It really is the perfect gift, if you can manage to get your hands on one.
Nintendo has been having a lot of trouble keeping this one stocked, with many retailers reporting shipments in the single digits. If you’ve absolutely got to get one, eBay is your best bet. Otherwise, find a retailer and bug them every day about when they are getting new stock in, and hope you can swoop in and get one before the scalpers do.
Razer DeathAdder Elite
Produced by Razer. Review unit provided by producer.
If you’ve been a PC gamer for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of the Razer DeathAdder. First released in 2006, the mouse has been a stale of Razer’s lineup for a decade. It’s been changed and updated over the years, with the DeathAdder Elite being the newest, most advanced version yet.
The design of the mouse hasn’t changed much, so if you liked the feel of the DeathAdder in the past, it will feel just as good to your hand now as it did then. The changes have taken place under the hood, including a new sensor that offers up to 16,000 DPI. Razer says this is the “fastest sensor in the world.” Razer has also replaced the switches in the DeathAdder Elite, packing in new mechanical switches from Razer and Omron that are designed to last for up to 50 million clicks.
The one small design change that stands out is the addition of rubber grips on either side of the mouse, increasing control. You can program the lighting into any color or pattern you like, and all seven buttons are fully customizable. It’s everything you’d expect from a Razer gaming mouse.
Logitech Prodigy Series
Produced by Logitech. Review unit provided by producer.
Logitech is well-known as a company that produces quality gaming hardware, but for some gamers, the premium pricing can be prohibitive. That’s why Logitech launched the Prodigy line this year. The new line packs the high-end performance that you’d expect from Logitech into a much more affordable package. While you might not get every single high-end feature, there’s no skimping on performance.
The G231 Headset is lightweight and comfortable to wear, thanks to breathable cloth earcups. It offers quality sound, a good microphone, and compatibility with PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
The G403 Mouse is available in wired or wireless configurations, with wireless coming at a $30 premium. Its shape will be familiar to anyone who ever laid their hands on a Microsoft Intellimouse, as it recalls the lines of that classic mouse. With a rubberized scroll wheel, side buttons, and a DPI range from 200 to 12,000, the G403 will fill most every mouse need you have.
The G213 is a spill-resistant membrane keyboard that offers fully customizable RGB lighting. It’s spill resistant, includes an integrated palm rest, and dedicated media controls. With the response and performance of a high-end gaming keyboard in a sub $70 package, you really can’t go wrong.
Produced by PDP. Available at Gamestop on November 25, 2016. Review units provided by producer.
For the gamer that loves to show off their retro-gaming chops, PDP will be launching Pixel Pals, a new line of 8-bit figurines featuring some of the most iconic characters in the history of gaming.The options are extremely limited at the moment, with only three characters, but at least they picked the right characters to lead with.
For now, you can pick from Mario (Super Mario Bros 3 version), Mega Man, and Vault Boy (from the Fallout series), and the figures are higher quality than I’d expected from a novelty like this. I was skeptical of the light-up feature, but it’s a surprisingly subtle effect, and it actually does a lot for the look. It does eat batteries pretty quickly, though, so don’t forget to turn it off. Pixel Pals will release exclusively at GameStop on Black Friday for about $15.
Fallout Nuka Cola Machine Mini Refrigerator
Sold by ThinkGeek. Available in mid-December 2016.
If you’re like me, you love to have interesting things on and around your desk. There are few things more interesting than a Fallout-themed Nuka-Cola Mini Refrigerator. The retro-looking fridge is just under two feet tall, nine inches wide, and 10 1/2 inches deep. It’ll hold a twelve pack of 12 oz. soda cans, and features a five foot long power cord.
There are a couple of caveats. First, it’s somewhat heavy, weighing in at nine pounds. Second, it needs four inches of space behind it for ventilation. But if you can live with those, you can have yourself one of the coolest mini-fridges on the market today. Now if you could just find some Nuka-Cola to stock it with!
Created by Spriteborne.
Breaker Blocks is a 1v1 tabletop game that took me by complete surprise this year. It’s simple to learn – I have family members who think Clue is the beginning and end of tabletop gaming that were able to learn the basics within five minutes. Games themselves last between 10 and 20, and include you strategically battling against your opponent in order to control more circuits on the board. You can use power tiles from your own hand, or play action tiles that change the makeup of the game in different ways – from destroying a played tile from your opponent’s side of the board to nuking both of your hands and having to start over.
Every copy of the game is created by a one-man studio, and consists of 3D printed acrylic components that can be set up, and cleaned up, in seconds. Breaker Blocks was designed with the goal of being portable, approachable, and quick – making it one of the best tabletop games to play with your family over the holidays.
NES Light Gun Lamp
Created by 1upForge.
My best gaming memories oftentimes happen to be my earliest. The rush of beating a horrifically difficult game, only to be told the devil was screwing with me and I had to do the entire thing a second time. A stack of notebooks filled, front to back, with images of item-placement passwords because so many games came without the ability to just press “save.” And, of course, the first time I picked up a gun.
The NES Zapper Light Gun was one of those peripherals that always just felt right – as so few often do. Even before entering the console market and saving video games forever and ever amen, Nintendo was hard at work on physical light gun games. But the release of the NES brought with it the NES Zapper. Aside from its lack of shooting-the-stupid-dog-in-Duck-Hunt-in-its-stupid-face abilities, the NES Zapper remains the single most iconic weapon in gaming. So what is one to do when the thing has passed it’s prime? Turn it into a lamp, of course!
The Etsy Store for 1upForge is filled with reimagined consoles and controllers, with lamps, key holders, hooks, and more. But the NES Zapper Desk Lamp steals the show. It’s sleek, it looks pretty sturdy, and it channels nostalgia without being bulky or gaudy. Definitely the perfect gift for the retro gaming fan in your life. Or me. You can also get it for me.
NERF N-Strike MEGA Mastodon
Developed and produced by NERF
There’s a reason why shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield sell millions of copies every year: it’s fun to shoot things. Obviously, it’s rather frowned upon to shoot people in real life with real guns. NERF solves that dilemma by offering us a selection of fake foam dart launchers that allow us to shoot at our friends and family to our heart’s content. The big ticket NERF gun this year is the N-Strike MEGA Mastodon, which not only shoots the much larger MEGA NERF darts, but thanks to a battery powered chamber, has fully-automatic action. The perfect gift for the person who loves to annoy.