VGB 2007 Holiday Gift Guide: PlayStation 3

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Coming into its first holiday shopping season at full capacity without all the shortages and other nagging issues that muck up every console launch, the PS3 has a lot to prove to potential buyers and a lot of ground to make up against the strong Nintendo and Microsoft competition. The console’s steep initial price and post-launch software shortage have been well documented and loudly criticized, but now coming into the final months of the year Sony, with boosted third-party support, is pumped and primed to begin delivering the quality content that’s been expected and craved for from the sleek piano-black powerhouse of home entertainment technology. Now available in multiple cut-priced configurations, from the new 40GB starter model at $399.99 up to the higher-end $499.99 80GB bundle, the PS3 is finally a reasonably affordable option, and the timing couldn’t be any better with this impressive lineup of games waiting to be played.

MotorStorm.jpgMotorStorm (T) – Being relegated to pack-in status at one point earlier this year hasn’t stopped this from being a off-road racing great game as well as a purely insane gaming experience over the PlayStation Network. Out of the box, the single player mode is brief, but hard as hell, making it a game new players won’t complete in a good long time. Evolution Studios was one of a few developers to show how powerful the console is, so getting this now as a showcase game is a no-brainer. New download content also buffs up the lifespan significantly, so grab a copy and a pair of goggles so you don’t get mud in your eye.

EyeOfJudgment.jpgEye of Judgment (T) – If you own a PS3 and you’re into card battle games, this is a must buy, period. A mere $70 gets you a PlayStation Eye USB camera, a camera stand, deck of EOJ cards, and a play mat. If you don’t own a PS3, welllll, consider getting one and picking up some of the other cool 1st party fantasy games such as Lair, Folklore and Heavenly Sword. While the single player mode is somewhat slim, grab some friends and teach them the rules to extend the fun exponentially. The game is simple enough to pick up within a few minutes, but complex enough that only the truly dedicated players out there will survive against other skilled opponents.

THPG.jpgTony Hawk’s Proving Ground (T) – Even with EA’s surprising hit Skate breathing down its neck as some fierce competition, this latest installment in Activision’s skate series ends up just as good and in a few areas, even better. Tweaked controls allow you to carve your own path through oversized levels, photo and video creation lets you share your best rides and bails online, while the roster of pro skaters gets even edgier. Both games excel at what they do, but Proving Ground is where you’ll want to go if you’re a diehard fan of the Birdman and his more fanciful freeform style of skating bliss.

Skate.jpgSkate (T) – EA’s commitment to creating better games pays off big with what’s hopefully the start of a great new franchise. The focus on realism and innovative controls take a bit of getting used to, but with a bit of practice, you’ll be hooked into the game long past the holidays. Toss in a phenomenal movie and photo editor that allows you to share your best rides online along with a stellar soundtrack and you’ve got a no-brainer buy no extreme sports fan should be without. Heck, you might even need a helmet and pads when you playing in case you ollie right off your couch!

TheOrangeBox.jpgThe Orange Box (T-M) – 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 expansion 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 game will get major mileage from.

Conan.jpgConan (M) – Surprised to see Conan on the list? Don’t worry, I’m right there with you. I hadn’t originally planned on including it, but after getting my hands on a copy I’m quite shocked at how viciously fun it’s turned out to be. Sure, it mimics God of War in more ways than you can count, but it does so better and with more finesse than any of the many other copycats, and pulls no punches when it comes to violence, gore and other mature content (and yes, that includes some virtual babe booby shots too). In fact, this is probably the most blood-thirsty game going on the PS3 right now, with liberal amounts of claret and dismembered heads, torsos, arms and legs flailing from Conan’s blades at every turn – the game keeps track of how many limbs you sever in each stage for crying out loud!

VF5.jpgVirtua Fighter 5 (T) – Although the new Xbox 360 version got all the love with online play and downloadable content (among other additions), VF5 got its console start on the PS3 early this year, and even without the online support it’s far and away the platform’s champion fighter. The graphics are stunning, the animations and controls are as smooth as a baby’s bottom and the fighting engine is finely-tuned and perfectly balanced, featuring all the depth and complexity the hardcore brawlers desire while being equally accessible to Virtua Fighter newcomers. Best of all, at $39.99 it’s now a full 20 bucks cheaper than the original launch price. Talk about bang for the buck…

VT3.jpgVirtua Tennis 3 (E) – Despite once again getting the short end of the stick compared to the Xbox 360 version in terms of online support, Virtua Tennis 3 on the PS3 smashes home another up-the-line winner in Sega’s proud and illustrious tennis franchise. Not much has changed in the gameplay department – meaning it’s still as fast, fluid and intuitive as always – but what you do get are crisp 1080p HD visuals and the most realistic player models and animations ever produced in a tennis videogame, which actually give the gameplay an even smoother feel. A definite must-have for any tennis fan.

NBA2K8.jpgNBA 2K8 (E) – As much as EA and SCEA fought back with the latest season’s in their respective NBA Live and NBA basketball franchises, the reliable sports powerhouse that is 2K Sports has once again dominated the virtual hardwood with this season’s NBA 2K outing. Equipped with a fully-loaded roster of new features, such as the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, expanded offensive and defensive controls, completely revamped player models and even greater focus on recreating each player’s “signature style,” NBA 2K8 captures the flow and essence of basketball with even more realism and authenticity than ever before. Whether you want to soar above the rim as King James, dominate the paint as Shaq or rain down jumpers as Kobe, NBA 2K8 is the definitive b-ball game of the year.

Warhawk.jpgWarhawk (T) – Equal parts Battlefield and Crimson Skies, Warhawk is an epic-sized multiplayer-exclusive fragfest combining frenetic aerial dogfights with intense on-foot warfare. Smooth, lag-free gameplay, tight controls, sweeping draw distances, massive maps and robust stat-tracking and reward systems are but a few of this game’s winning qualities, all adding up to form the best PS3 multiplayer experience money can buy. Get the $60 bluetooth headset bundle and it’ll be like two gifts in one. Or you can always get the game separately at retail or via the PlayStation Store for an even friendlier $39.99. Either way it’s a hell of a bargain.

Lair.jpgLair (T) – I don’t think there’s been a game in recent memory that has been more unfairly ridiculed than Lair. Factor 5’s gorgeous dragon-riding flight combat title has been under heavy fire since release for its supposedly shoddy Sixaxis tilt controls, but clearly critics were quick to rush to judgment and too lazy to put the effort into mastering what truly is a slick and engaging control scheme once you get your bearings straight. Sure, an optional analog stick setup would’ve gone a long way towards creating a more accessible gameplay environment, but for anyone with an open mind and willingness to work through a learning curve, Lair delivers the goods.

HeavenlySword.jpgHeavenly Sword (T) – While games like God of War and Conan bring a high level of brutality to the action/adventure genre, Ninja Theory’s Heavenly Sword presents its hacking and slashing with a certain elegance and sexiness that is simply impossible to not be in awe of and too captivating to put down until the end credits roll. With help from the man behind Gollum himself, Andy Serkis, storytelling and motion-capture have never been pulled off this masterfully in a videogame production before, nor have game characters felt so full of life and emotion. Heavenly sword is cinematic gaming at its finest, even if it only lasts a few hours…

NinjaGaidenSigma.jpgNinja Gaiden Sigma (M) – Hailed by many as an all-time classic on the original Xbox, Ninja Gaiden arrives on PS3 with a boosted graphics engine and a kimono-full of new content additions, such as added chapters staring the monstrous-breasted fiend hunter Rachel, a dual-wielding pair of swords, special downloadable content packs and an added variety of enemies and bosses to slay. Running at a full 60 frames per second, the acrobatic sword-slashing gameplay is even more fast and furious too, though the controller-smashing difficulty is still very much in effect. Sigma is for the hardcore mature gamer; the faint of heart need not apply.

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…

UnchartedDrakesFortune.jpgUncharted: Drake’s Fortune (T) – It doesn’t come out until next week, but if the recent PSN demo is any indication, Naughty Dog’s debut PS3 project is poised to take up shop as the platform’s top Game of the Year candidate. With a Gears of War-meets-Tomb Raider-meets-Indiana Jones-meets-Pitfall style and lush, jaw-dropping scenery, Uncharted may very well revolutionize the third-person action genre as we currently know it. Expectations are immense indeed, but given Naughty Dog’s proven track record I have no doubt they’ll deliver yet another classic for another PlayStation console.

GRAW2.jpgGhost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 (T) – With the PS3 still being prepped for launch, the original GRAW was left to wow the socks off of Xbox 360 owners, and it certainly did that as one of the console’s first truly “next-gen” caliber games. Thankfully, the PS3 made it out in time to land a version of the sequel, giving Sony fans a chance to experience the brilliance of Ubisoft’s immersive, multiplayer-rich tactical shooter. It may be a bit too complex and challenging for the action junkie used to running and gunning in their shooters, but as a thinking man’s shooter GRAW 2 is without rival.

SegaRallyRevo.jpgSega Rally Revo (E) – This reinvention of Sega’s classic coin-op rally racer is simply remarkable – though be cautious, as it can cause an aneurism or two with its stiff difficulty. Powered by unparalleled track deformation technology and one of the smoothest racing models in the business, Sega Rally Revo is the ultimate arcade rally experience for those willing to step up to the challenge (and the best looking racing game on the market, period). Thankfully, Sega halted its run of gypping PS3 owners of online support too, and with a limited lineup of play modes the online multiplayer is a key perk.

R&CFuture.jpgRatchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (E 10+) – After the still awesome Resistance: Fall of Man, Insomniac went back to their award winning multimillion selling franchise, creating an absolutely fantastic new entry that shows off a developer at the top of its form. Phenomenal graphics, animation, sound, voice acting and insanely fun non-stop gameplay keeps you playing until you need to prop your eyes open with toothpicks. Plenty of eye-popping and jaw dropping moments riddled with fun gaming and often funny cinemas that give the whole thing the look and feel of a feature film. Of course, movies aren’t playable, so thank the cosmos for Insomniac’s mad programming and artistic geniuses.

Folklore.jpgFolklore (T) – A gorgeous, deliberately paced trip into a lush fantasy dream world, Folklore doesn’t “feel” like a Japanese developed game at all. In fact it both looks and feels like something Neil Gaiman would have thought up with artists Charles Vess and Dave McKean along for the ride. The game mines elements of RPGs with a slew of bizarrely cute European fantasy characters while the “normal” world sequences are lit and colored very much like a Wyeth painting. Gameplay is a mix of monster bashing Sixaxis shaking goodness with the ability to use defeated creatures’ attacks on your enemies and certain objects in the environments. The plot also has you doing a bit of PC-style adventuring and a bit of detective work as it winds its way along two different character paths. Downloadable quests and some wild costumes to collect are fun diversions, but the main story will keep you hooked in for as long as it lasts.

GuitarHero3.jpgGuitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (T) – You knew it was coming back after the monster hit both GH and GH II turned out to be, but Neversoft and Activision have really whipped out the big guns for this year’s installment. Featuring an even more killer track list, guest star axe-slingers to get beat soundly by and tough, tough online play. Guitar Hero III is the wannabe rocker’s dream and worst nightmare all rolled up into one total killer blast of feedback. Taking it to 11 has never been so damn good and with the tons of new songs that are sure to be made available during 2007 and beyond, this is one game that just may never go out of style.

RockBand.jpgRock Band (T) – As great as Guitar Hero is, EA, Harmonix and MTV just about triple team it out of the ring with this all-new IP. The $169.99 set gets you a guitar, drum set, microphone and the game (of course), and once you call up a few friends, expect all sorts of fun hell to break loose. As in you’re up all night rockin’ too loudly, the neighbors call the cops and the officers that show up end up taking turns playing the game. Um, that hasn’t happened here (yet), but between the stellar track listing (which will be boosted by tons of downloads) and supremely addictive gameplay, you’ll be building a garage on the roof or in a closet just so you and your “bandmates” have a place to jam.

AssassinsCreed.jpgAssassin’s Creed (M) – Long awaited and well worth said wait, Ubisoft’s instant classic is both denser and more thrilling than the Prince of Persia games, showing off fantastic looking open world levels and tense combat situations that require actual skill to take down your targets. There are a few tiny flaws in the ointment, but in terms of immersion and overall sense of scale, the game is simply majestic on all fronts. One of those ‘gamers games” that’s a must for your list, but don’t forget to snag one for yourself…

Oblivion.jpgThe Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: Game of the Year Edition/The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles (M) – Want to spend a few weeks or months (or more) playing a single, great game? Pick up Oblivion GOTY and you can pretty much call in dead from work or wherever else your attendance will be missed. The award-winning RPG experience makes for a grand epic time no matter how you play, and the translation to the PS3 is superb overall. In my opinion, this is THE game to get if you’re finally making the move up to a PS3. If you’ve already got a copy of Oblivion’s standard edition for your PS3, grab the just-released Shivering Isles expansion and you’ll be getting what GOTY delivers and not have to trade in your copy of TES IV.  Bethsoft’s dedication to to TES fans continues to shine and now that the company is taking the leap into the MMO pool, it’ll be really intriguing to see what’s next on their console plate for the always awesome RPG franchise.

TimeShift.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.

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. PS3 owners get a great bonus with the Collector’s Edition of the game: paying $10 more than the regular version gets you Woo’s Hard Boiled on Blu-Ray, a must if you haven’t seen it yet.

TimeCrisis4.jpgTime Crisis 4 (T) – Beefed up for the PS3 with new ‘first-person’ stages and the all new redesigned Guncon 3 packed in, you can expect all the action from the arcade and then some. Blast baddies, big bugs and bigger, badder bosses in this high impact arcade shooter. If you’re more used to standard FPS antics, the game might seem too simple with it on rails approach to things. However, in terms of bang for the buck, you’re getting endless replay value and might even have to kick your friends out of your house after the become hooked on this bullet-fest.

BlacksiteArea51.jpgBlackSite: Area 51 (T) – 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.

DiRT.jpgDiRT (E) – Codemasters’ Colin McRae series goes next-gen with this newest installment that’s even better on the PS3 thanks to some new content that extends the fun even more. Hardcore, balls-out off-road and other rally styles are featured here with amazing visuals and an excellent damage system that can nock you out of a race in nothing flat. Travis Pastrana is also aboard as narrator to appeal to the X-Games crowd and it seems to have worked in bringing in the younger crowd to the great, great driving experience Codemasters is famous for. Sadly, McRae, his son and two others passed away in a tragic helicopter crash, possibly marking and end to the series that helped introduce western gamers to a fraction of the intensity of rally racing.

NeedForSpeed.jpgNeed for Speed ProStreet (E 10+) – EA’s Black Box Studio takes the series to some great new places in this newest entry that’s going to surprise longtime fans as it introduces new ones to the franchise. The damage model and handling are more realistic and feature damages that carries over into new events unless repaired and incredible crashes that can take you out of a race completely. This touch alone is worthy of commendation, but the drag, drift and speed tracks now feel like actual events while the tons of customization options will make car nuts drool. There’s also a great cinematic feel to the production that makes you feel as if you’re watching a weird mix of movie and live event as you blaze around the different courses inspired by real world locales.

TheDarkness.jpgThe Darkness (M) – Starbreeze Studios’ second licensed game isn’t quite as spectacular as The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, but there are enough rewarding moments to make the game worth a try. The dark and twisty storyline has its moments, as do many of the different gun battles you’ll be thrown into. However, it’s in the small details that the game really shows off some technical prowess as well as Starbreeze’s quirky sense of humor. Any game where you can watch a couple of full-length movies (The Man With the Golden Arm is a total hoot) or collect and call phone numbers to unlock some cool bonuses is worth exploring in my book. Multiplayer modes are an acquired taste, but feature some cool ideas that might be better implements should a sequel be made.

Jericho.jpgClive Barker’s Jericho (M) – Not for the faint of heart, overly religious or severely claustrophobic for that matter, this supremely gory FPS definitely squeezes every drop out of its Mature rating. The intriguing plot has some seat kicker moments and Mercury Steam sure can cook up some disturbingly amazing character graphics. Horrifically mutilated, nasty enemies that want to eat your face off every chance they get aside, the game has you hopping in and out of your squad mates’ bodies in rapid fire succession during some really tough missions. For jaded gamers, the scares will come not from the assorted enemies, but from being jumped by them and forced to slap out some context-sensitive commands to stave off certain death. Forget about multiplayer action here – it’s strictly a solo thrill ride from start to finish.

DynastyWarriorsGundam.jpgDynasty Warriors Gundam (T) – More of a great guilty pleasure than a truly great game, this mixing of Koei’s familiar hack & slash gameplay from Dynasty Warriors with a galaxy’s worth of playable characters from Bandai’s long-running Mobile Suit Gundam timeline is actually pretty cool. Dozens of hours of gameplay though multiple characters and scenarios, some nicely done special moves and a decent 2-player mode make the game a ton of fun no matter when you play. Like the first couple of Dynasty Warriors games, you’ll be up ’til the wee hours of the morning knowing you’ve got to get up and go to work or school, while still playing “one more level.” The you’re done and guess what, you decide to see if you can get another in because the last one was so much fun…

– 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!