VGB 2007 Holiday Gift Guide: PC

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For as much as many people keep saying that PC gaming is on the decline, you wouldn’t know it looking at the Games for Windows lineup this year. In fact, the broad range of top quality PC titles is unmatched by any other platform, and virtually all of the multi-platform releases look and play better on a Windows system, should you have the properly equipped rig of course. As you can see in these top game gift picks, 2007 has definitely been an exciting year to be a PC gamer.

CallOfDuty4.jpgCall of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (M) – The single-player campaign goes by in a flash, but while it lasts Call of Duty 4 is the most action-packed thrillride of the year. From start to finish, the pacing is heart-pounding and diverse, whether you’re sneaking behind enemy lines in a Ghillie suit, fleeing the scene of a sniper assassination with an army of soldiers in hot pursuit, rescuing a downed pilot as enemies swarm the crash site or engaging in full-on urban warfare in cramped Middle Eastern towns. On top of that, the game is an audiovisual showpiece with online multiplayer action to die for. The team at Infinity Ward really did go deep and hard with this one…

TheWitcher.jpgThe Witcher (M) – CD Projekt’s debut is nothing short of remarkable. Every aspect of The Witcher, from the incredibly in-depth skill trees and alchemy system to the acrobatic, timing-based combat and stunning production values, is so superb that RPG fans are sure to be creaming in their pants from the beginning to the end of this 80+ hour epic. RPG of the year all the way and a pure modern-day classic for me. Be sure to have an up-to-date rig, though, as this Aurora engine-powered title definitely requires some high specs to run it in its full beauty. Oh yeah, and don’t let the kiddies near this one either, as it’s chock full of blood, strong language and even some partial nude and sex scenes.

HellgateLondon.jpgHellgate: London (M) – Although it didn’t quite live up to all expectations due to a half-baked storyline and an overall feeling that more dev time was needed to iron out all the bugs, Hellgate still delivers a finely crafted dungeon crawl that is insanely addictive and packed with character customization options, whether you choose to play offline by yourself or team up with some friends and other players online.

STALKER.jpgS.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (M) – After something like six years of development, countless delays and an overall sense that it’d never be completed, GSC Game World’s ultra-ambitious FPS FINALLY came out this year, and though the finished project showed some bugs and shaky performance expected from a title with such a troubled, drawn-out development, the game as a whole did in fact live up to all the hype. With its phenomenally dark and gritty atmosphere, intense shooting model and open-world style, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. feels like a combination of Half-Life 2 and Oblivion, and for the most part it’s every bit as compelling as both of those classic titles. A must-have for the PC gaming enthusiast, I say.

EQIIRiseOfKunark.jpgEverQuest II: Rise of Kunark (T) – EverQuest II’s fourth expansion pack has everything the “EverCrack” addict on your shopping list could ask for. New dragon-like Sarnak player race, increased level caps to 80, new quests, equipment, deities and mounts, and the return of the continent of Kunark bringing with it a mix of old and new lands to explore, dungeons to conquer and monsters to slay. Better yet, SOE has once again made it super easy and affordable for newcomers to join the MMORPG goodness with an all-in-one pack that includes the base game, all four expansions and the three adventure packs for a mere 40 bucks!

EQSecretsOfFaydwer.jpgEverQuest: Secrets of Faydwer (T) – While EQII is only up to its fourth expansion, SOE’s original source of virtual MMORPG addiction is now up to an astounding 14th expansion pack with this year’s launch of Secrets of Faydwer. Long time EQ addicts and “old-school” MMORPGers are in for a treat too, or a number of treats I should say. The level cap has been bumped up to 80, there’s a new set of Alternate Advancement ability lines for further character growth and development, nearly 30 new high-level raids, 15 new zones and a ton of other high-numbered quest, item and content additions. Like with Rise of Kunark, SOE also has Secrets of Faydwer available in a value-packed $40 bundle containing the base EQ game and all 14 expansion packs. If the newfangled MMORPGs of the world don’t float your boat and you’re looking for a truly tight knit community to adventure with, EQ Classic is the way to go.

Loki.jpgLoki: Heroes of Mythology (M) – The team at Cyanide Studio had been working away at this one for quite a while, but the wait was well worth it. Loki very much carries on the legacy laid down by the Diablo series, consisting of lengthy dungeon crawls and a click fest of hack-n-slash RPG action. With a robust skill tree system, four playable heroes, three difficulty settings, solo, co-op and PvP play and a level cap of 200, Loki is sure to please the hardcore PC gamer on your list.

Overlord.jpgOverlord (T) – Being evil has never been more fun than the dastardly delicious Overlord from Triumph Studios. As the Overlord, you take control of an army of impish minions that obey your every command, be it to slaughter sheep for their souls, ransack farms or sacrifice their own lives to increase your power. Brooding as the game may look, it’s laced with a heavy dose of dark humor and an air of evil comedy that is actually the key component that makes the whole experience sing.

TwoWorlds.jpgTwo Worlds (M) – This is definitely a title only for the forgiving gamer who can look past a ton of blemishes in order to find the sparkling gem hidden underneath. Two Worlds is an Oblvion-style open-world RPG with design ambitions that were clearly set too high to be fully achieved. Bugs and framerate hitches are in abundance (though a recent game patch did help boost the performance, thankfully), but if you dig past the glitches there is a deep, wondrous RPG world waiting to be discovered and enjoyed. PC owners also get the best version of the two, with its more reliable performance and smoother online.

SoldierOfFortune.jpgSoldier of Fortune: Payback (M) – If you’re searching for a true gaming guilty pleasure, look no further than Soldier of Fortune: Payback to get your death-dealing rocks off with. Level, story and gameplay design really doesn’t get any more simple and linear than this, but the straightforward run-and-gun action is what makes the game such a gore-filled blast. The weapon load out is about as diverse and satisfying to fire as any FPS out there and the level of violence is unmatched, with more blood splattering and limbs flying than you can shake a stick at. And you know what, all that digital violence looks amazing too!

TheOrangeBox.jpgThe Orange Box (M) – Of course, PC owners get the best version of Valve’s five game deal, particularly since a few interesting mods have popped up such as the ability to use the Portal gun throughout the Half-Life games. If you can only buy one game this year and it happens to be on the list of someone who’s never played Valve’s instant classic, this collection is hands down, the gaming Value of the Year, period. The fact that Valve was able to get the always awesome Half-Life 2, its two expansions Episodes 1 & 2, The innovative puzzle/action hybrid Portal and the multiplayer focused Team Fortress 2 on one disc is mind boggling enough, but wait, there’s more! Excellent developer commentary for four of the five games, awesome achievements to tackle (some of which are optional and super tough) and probably the greatest ending theme you’ll hear this year make this one title your favorite gamer will get major mileage from time and time again.

BioShock.jpgBioshock (M) – Brilliantly conceived, sprinkled with cerebral imagery, text and dialog, and possibly the best use of the Unreal 3 engine to date, this constantly creepy, yet deeply moving FPS will force you to consider the weight of your actions at key moments. Those moral choices have an effect on the overall outcome and yes, it’s worth playing the game though twice or more just to see how it still scares you each time in the same spots. Where most shooters have you mowing down countless enemies with little regard to emotional involvement, here, you’ll really feel as if you’re defending yourself from the drug-crazed inhabitants of Rapture while attempting to quite literally get to the bottom of a deep mystery. When you finally take down a Big Daddy and grab that Little Sister, if you’re not feeling a bit queasy at the choice you have to make, you’re probably in need of a conscience transplant.

LordOfTheRingsOnline.jpgThe Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar (T) – Leading up to its launch, hopes were always extremely high for Lord of the Rings Online. I mean come on, J.R.R. Tolkien’s timeless fantasy realm of Middle-Earth is the perfect setting to base an MMORPG around. Thankfully, the team at Turbine did an award-winning job capturing the very essence of Tolkien’s literary masterpiece. Any diehard Lord of the Rings fan will drop their jaw and stare at their monitor in awe at how closely this game’s virtual world recreates the sweeping landscapes of Middle-Earth – as a reader of the books myself I am still completely blown away that every inch of the game world comes to life pretty much exactly as I had envisioned it from Tolkien’s text. Even sweeter is how exceptional the gameplay design is, from the much-appreciated focus on narrative quests that parallel the Fellowship’s journey to the streamlined interface to the fast, action-packed combat. Lord of the Rings Online is hands-down the top MMORPG on the market and the best place to invest a $15 monthly subscription if you can only afford one.

SupremeCommander.jpgSupreme Commander (E 10+) – Surely not everyone’s cup of tea, Chris Taylor’s Supreme Commander is an ultra-sized, uber-deep RTS that is clearly only for the most hardcore of hardcore strategy gamer – if you fall under that classification, you’ll absolutely love what this game has to offer. Strategy games really don’t get any larger or more complex than this, and even though the interface is incredibly user-friendly, the sheer scale and depth of everything can be extremely daunting if you aren’t a veteran of the genre. For a double-dose of Supreme Commander tactical action, don’t forget to pick up Forged Alliance as well, the follow-up standalone expansion pack that introduces even more depth and story to sink into.

PainkillerOverdose.jpgPainkiller: Overdose (M) – Originally conceived as somewhat of an amateur mod project, Overdose got the backing to become a full-blown standalone expansion pack/sequel to the original Painkiller, and thank goodness for that! Like the first game, Overdose is a straightforward run-and-gun FPS that is heavy on gory, high-speed shooting thrills against waves of wacky enemies and gargantuan bosses. Any new content here is purely superficial, so don’t expect any advances from the original. In the end it doesn’t matter though. Painkiller is the ultimate no-frills action experience, and Overdose only continues that tradition.

WarFront.jpgWar Front: Turning Point (T) – Alternate future RTS features a cool “what if” scenario that combines mechs with WWII era technology to surprisingly cool results. Excellent graphics, tight gameplay and a lengthy campaign highlight this “shoulda been a bigger hit” game from CDV, a publisher that’s pumping out more and better titles each time we see them. This one is perfect for the WWII buff looking for something different or that RTS fan who wants a great game with a compelling single player and challenging multiplayer modes. Too bad this one didn’t make it to consoles, as it might have done well enough on the 360 with tweaked controls.

Crysis.jpgCrysis (M) – Wow…just wow. After Far Cry turned the FPS world on its head with mind-blowing visuals and excellent AI, this long in the making follow up absolutely raises the bar for the genre in terms of visuals and overall immersion factor. Definitely not a sequel at all, this is an entirely new experience that requires a monster of a system to run smoothly. In a nutshell, it’s 2019 and you’re dropped into a secret Asian war zone in a high-tech combat suit that gives you temporary superhuman speed, strength and other skills. Hell, you’ll need all the help you can get here – while the game is great on the easier modes, cranking up the difficulty changes more than the enemy count as language becomes a factor and tactical thought is an absolute must. The game is just about flawless and so damn gorgeous that you’ll probably die a few times while distracted by the scenery. If you’ve got the horsepower, this is a must-buy, period. Shell out the extra scratch for the Special Edition, as it comes bundled with a snazzy art book, a “making of” feature and more goodies.

TabulaRasa.jpgTabula Rasa (T) – Richard Garriot (aka Lord British) has been off the scene for quite some time helping hone this intriguing sci-fi MMO by NC Soft to a sharp edge and the results are innovative indeed, adding a much needed kick in the pants to a far too crowded online field. As an AFS soldier, you’ll set out on some amazingly busy battlefields that makes sessions feel like a fast-paced action game more than a level grinder. Combat is fluid and relies on your stance and skills as much as your current level and the class system is brilliant. Although I’ve only played a short time, there’s rarely been a dull moment and despite a few of the usual MMO issues here and there (being ironed out as we speak), this one looks as if it’ll be around for a good long time.

avencast.JPGAvencast: Rise of the Mage (T) – A total out of the woods surprise, this Action RPG from ClockStone and Lighthouse Interactive is a surprisingly deep, very fun game. There’s a bit of cliché here and there and the game is a bit slow to start, but about an hour or so into this tale of an up and coming magic student, you’ll be hooked. Beautiful 3D graphics abound and the cut scenes are excellently produced, giving the game the feel of a great console RPG. Some mior camera and control issues aside, this is one of those games that will eat away many hours of your free time as it transports you to its rich fantasy world.

Silverfall.JPGSilverfall (T) – If you love loads of customization in your hack ‘n slash, Silverfall has your name stitched into it in big neon script letters, that’s for damn sure. This Action/RPG features an absolutely staggering array of gear that shows up on your avatar in real time, making offline and online play part fashion show. Par for the course in the chase & chop genre, you get solid graphics and tons of beasties to bash. If that’s your cup of tea and you’re a Diablo II/Titan Quest/Dungeon Siege fanatic, you’ll like this sleeper quite a lot.

unreal tournament III.JPGUnreal Tournament 3 (M) – Of course you KNEW Epic would knock this one out of the park and the absolutely didn’t disappoint for the most part. If you’ve got the system powerful enough to handle this one, drop everything and whip out that wallet. Killer graphics, killer gameplay and despite the single player campaign’s overblown Sci-Fi Channel vibe, it’s hard to put this down once you start playing. Multiplayer modes are simply staggering and often overwhelming on the larger maps, but the game is always jumping and that match announcer is a total hoot. Of course, the included Unreal editor will be the big deal to modders, so expect this to be one of those games with endless replay value as the months roll on.

dawn of magic.JPGDawn of Magic (T) – That Atari/1C partnership pays of with this well-made Action/RPG. Sure, it doesn’t have state of the art super-mapped visuals and the click-click-click combat gameplay isn’t anything new at all. However, there’s plenty of cool stuff here starting off with the emphasis on magic users as the main characters. Just try to play this as a tank and you’ll be stomping on your mouse in about ten minutes. But if you’re a fan of spells galore and some fine innovations here and there, you’ll find plenty of hours of immersion in this rich fantasy world.

sam & max season 1.JPGSam & Max Season 1 (T) – If you thought humor was dead in games, well, let Sam and Max tickle your funny bone in this point & click adventure series. Actually, Sam will probably tickle it with a bullet while Max will want to poke it with a hammer a few times. Initially a Gametap exclusive or direct from Telltale purchase, you can now grab Season 1 from Valve’s Steam service or as a boxed retail product from The Adventure Company. Anyway, the first season’ six episodes go from outrageous to insanely funny with the cheap detectives tackling everything from a big-haired cult leader to a talk show host gone nutso to the always deadly stock found at Bosco’s Inconvienence Store. Not to give anything away, but someone short furry and sporting razor-sharp teeth actually becomes President in the last episode… but don’t tell anyone I said this, OK?

sam & max episode 2.jpgSam & Max Season 2: Ice Station Santa (T) – Telltale gets the holiday season off to a bang with possibly the funniest game you’ll play all year. The boys are back and this time, they’ve got an aggro giant robot that sounds like Ah-nuld after them, sent by an even madder Santa! Yes, it’s weird, but the game yanks you in by the collar for a few hours with some great brain-twisters and scripting that’s fall over hilarious at times. Top this off with the greatest setup screen ever and a new hint mode that’s great for new players and you have the making of yet another season of point & click wackiness, bouts of mindless gunplay and more puzzles than you can shake a brick at!

tomb raider anniversary PC.JPGTomb Raider Anniversary (T) – Don’t call this a remake as much as a reinterpretation of the seminal action/adventure classic. Crystal Dynamics builds upon the awesomeness of Tomb Raider: Legend’s gameplay while addressing that game’s length issues with this excellent entry. While the basic storyline and some gameplay aspects will be familiar to longtime fans, the gorgeous polish of high end PC graphics, redesigned puzzles and tough enemies will give you and your controller a run for your money. It’s too bad Eidos isn’t making movies, as both this game and Legend are a hell of a lot better than what Hollywood did with Lara Croft. My question is, will we see Tomb Raider II remade this way in the near future?

command & conquer saga.JPGThe Command & Conquer Saga (T) – EA continues to bust down the doors with great games new and old and this updated collection of C & C classics will take you back to the great old days and keep you inside for a good long time. A dozen games PLUS expansions up to C & C 3: Tiberium Wars is a boatload of content for that $50, but if you’re already sitting on the C & C; The first Decade box, you might want to pick this up anyway to convert a friend into a GUI grunt or NOD nut almost as soon as he or she opens the package. Now, if they’d only do this set up for the consoles, THAT, dear reader would be extremely awesome…

the chosen.JPGThe Chosen: Well of Souls (T) – Meridian4 has made a name for itself with some really cool top-down RPG, adventure (Space Hack, Daemonica) and other gems (Shadowgrounds, Dark Matter, RIP) that are a total blast to play and The Chosen continues this welcome trend. A horror-themed RPG that plays like a mix of Diablo II and Dungeon Siege, the game adds a few unique twists to the familiar chase ‘n chop gameplay. The Eastern European setting that adds firearms to the usual swords and spells found in the genre is a welcome touch and unlike more processor intensive games, the amount of onscreen monsters can be surprisingly overwhelming. Speaking of monsters, werewolves, zombies and vampires (oh my!) are just the start of your troubles as you make your way through this sleeper.

shadowgrounds survivor.JPGShadowGrounds Survivor (M) – Like arcade-style shooting action? Love great graphics and tight gameplay? Well, step right up then! Frozenbyte and Meridian4 are back with another awesome run ‘n gun! This gorgeously gory, often scary alien blasting hit is one of those games that you’d wish would turn up on consoles just because there’s more thrills per square foot than some over-hyped “A” titles. But that seems to be Meridian4’s strong point: bringing gamers the games they really want to play, not the ones they’re told to play. One caveat: this sequel’s new engine requires a beefier system, so it might be update time for those of you holding out. Get it from Amazon or get it from Steam – just get it and hang on to your seat folks, this one’s a wild ride.

RIP trilogy.JPGR.I.P. Trilogy (M) – Another sleeper from Meridian4, this trio of indie-developed shooters will provide hours and hours of challenging arcade style shooting fun. Imagine all your favorite top down run ‘n gun games and add a gallon of nitroglycerin, then shake well. When you wake up from that coma, you’ll be surrounded by waves of enemies that take skill and strategy to take down. 200+ levels, vehicles galore, and even a blood-free Kids Mode are all packed onto this release, available from Steam only for the moment or in demo form over at Meridian4’s website should you not want a Steam account.

FEAR Perseus Mandate.JPGF.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate (M) – This standalone expansion pack follow up to the smash FPS that combined horror, sci-fi and stellar AI, Perseus mandate does a great job of continuing the “bang, you’re dead” and “bump in the night” stuff that made the first game so cool. There’s not a huge leap in terms of storyline or gameplay, but it does what it does well enough and often enough to warrant a purchase. Of course, now with the series split into two different franchises (don’t ask), it’ll be really interesting to see which one comes out on top in 2008. For now, get this and prepare to play part way under the couch if you’re the jumpy sort.

stranglehold.JPGJohn Woo Presents Stranglehold (M) – Chow Yun Fat reprises his role as Inspector Tequila in this game that’s just as explosive and dynamic as a John Woo film. While you can whip through the main game in a few hours, the assorted firefights set in some ridiculously destructible set pieces have to be seen to be believed. Yes, the controls can be a wee bit too responsive as Tequila butt slides, rail runs and stunt flops more than Mario, Sonic and Crash combined. Nevertheless, there’s a certain beauty to the bullet ballet that’s compelling. PC owners get the best-looking version, but you’d better have a game pad handy for best results.

BlackSiteArea51.jpgBlackSite Area 51 (M) – While not as thrilling on PC thanks to a ton of better shooters, if you’re looking for arcade-style thrills, this one’s for you. Midway’s Unreal 3-powered sequel to the hit Xbox and PS2 shooter (itself an excellent update to the old arcade smash) adds basic squad commands and even more ugly, angry extraterrestrials out for your blood to the mix. The visuals are amazing, featuring destructible environments and plenty of carnage, while the gameplay roars along with loads of atmosphere, crazy sized bosses and even a few genuinely scary moments as you make your way through the game’s decently lengthy campaign mode. Multiplayer modes are great fun as well, and although the game doesn’t reinvent the FPS wheel, it sure gets a lot of traction out of its thematic elements.

timeshift PC.JPGTimeShift (M) – Saber Interactive’s long-delayed FPS is worth the wait for its great use of time controls and intense set pieces that keep you using your powered up time suit in order to survive packs of enemies. The plot never reaches above a Sci-Fi Channel melodrama, but that’s actually a compliment, as with a bit of tweaking this might make a fun movie sometime down the road. Multiplayer ditches the time suits for innovative time grenades that turn the usual ho-hum deathmatch modes into stop, rewind and fast forward run ‘n gun fests that are often as hilarious to watch as they are to participate in. Like BlackSite: Area 51, this feels more at home on a console, but if you don’t compare this pont by point to something as stellar as Crysis, you’ll have a blast.

GearsOfWar.jpgGears of War (M) – Gears’ new Games for Windows port packs on five additional chapters to the solo campaign (a much-needed extra hour or so of play to an already brief game), new multiplayer content, the Unreal game editor sure to give the title even more life once some cool maps and mods start rolling in, and enhanced DX10 graphics (if you have a system that can handle it). Xbox 360 owners should be furious having what is now basically an incomplete version of a game that was (and may still be to some) the console’s top dog. The new PC version isn’t vastly superior, but all the added content (especially the expanded story) make it feel like the TRUE Gears of War experience Epic wanted to deliver from the beginning.

QuakeWars.jpgEnemy Territory: Quake Wars (T) – id and Splash Damage come together for one hell of a thrilling, tactically-rich multiplayer shooter with Quake Wars. Suit up as either the human Global Defense Force or the alien Strogg and go at it in intense team-oriented, mission-based online warfare that looks great, runs smooth and plays as solidly as id shooters always do. And if you’re feeling in a generous mood for the holidays, pick up the Collector’s Edition if you can. For $10 more you get 10 beautiful collectible artwork cards and a bonus CD loaded with behind the scenes footage and other goodies.

– Guide co-written by Matt Litten and Greg Wilcox

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!