VGB 2007 Holiday Gift Guide: Xbox 360

Xbox 360 Arcade Box Angle.jpgHi-Res Elite Console and Controller.JPG

With Microsoft sitting in the catbird seat this holiday season, it’s impossible to not be impressed at how well the Xbox 360 has done, despite some interesting issues in 2007. Red Rings of Death and confusing to the non-gamer multiple SKU’s aside, the library is full of powerhouse exclusives and a number of third-party titles that are better than their PS3 counterparts. Xbox Live is always popping and as Microsoft is smart enough to make game demos available online and off (through the Official Xbox Magazine), gamer interest in even weaker performing titles can be satiated whether one has broadband access or not. 2008 is looking up as well for the system, but it’s also the year where Sony looks to provide some stiff competition while Nintendo continues to dominate in the all-ages market. Before getting to next year’s phase of the console war, though, here are the top 360 games to consider for your holiday gift-giving needs.

MassEffect.jpgMass Effect (M) – Absolutely worth buying a system for and hands-down one of the best games I’ve ever played. Bioware has never done a bad game and they really knock it out of the park and into a whole new universe with this excellent, excellent role-playing experience. Between the player customization, art direction, sound and most importantly, story and character interaction, there’s nothing to complain about here at all. No matter what type of game you like, this one will make you fall to your knees and kiss your 360 each time you turn it on. If you thought Knights of the Old Republic was deep, Mass Effect is a big, honkin’ black hole of perfect. Truly amazing, and raises the bar so high that other developers will just bump their heads on it for years. Definitely a Game of the Year contender (and probably the winner, in my book).

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.

Halo3.jpgHalo 3 (M) – What else is there to be said about the FPS series that helped put the Xbox on the map other than the third time’s the charm? Master Chief still needs a run button and the AI drives like a drunken sailor on a Big Wheel, but everything else soars. The solid single player wraps up the loose ends rather nicely with some surprises (pay attention to the plot, please!) and one could write a book about the insane multiplayer modes. You’ll get years of thrills out of Xbox Live play (knuckleheads aside) thanks to the awesomeness of Forge, the object editor that basically turns level editing into the Garry’s Mod of console games.

OrangeBox.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 gamer will get major mileage from time and time again.

Forza2.jpgForza Motorsport 2 (E) -Microsoft’s second best racing series (or third, if you count the missing in action on the 360 Rallisport Challenge series) is a pretty sweet ride for auto enthusiasts and creative types who know their way around a paint program. The staggering amount of custom paint jobs you’ll see online turns normal races into rolling art galleries with some of the best-looking art belonging to some of the best drivers you’ll ever play against. Don’t let the game’s recent downgrade to pack-in status (on a single disc with Marvel Ultimate Alliance) stop you from enjoying this solid effort, especially as it’s the closest thing to a Gran Turismo game you’re going to see until the real thing hits the PS3. But of course, if you’re only a single console household proudly flying the 360 flag, you could probably care less, right?

PGR4.jpgProject Gotham Racing 4 (E) – With the addition of less claustrophobic tracks, motorbikes, stunning weather effects and assorted tweaks to the already winning formula, Bizarre Creations has outdone itself once again. Oddly enough, the game may be too good for its own good, as it’s more fun than Forza 2, but it’s definitely challenging enough for both simulation and arcade fans. All Microsoft needs to do now is find some way to combine the best elements of both PGR and Forza into one massively all-out racing experience and they’ll have possibly the best racing series you’ll ever see on a console.

DiRT.jpgDiRT (E) – Codemasters’ Colin McRae series goes next-gen with this newest installment that’s one of the best racing games to date by the company. 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.

FlatOut.jpgFlatOut Ultimate Carnage (T) – Definitely NOT a Burnout clone, Bugbear’s all out insane damage-heavy racer will test your driving skills and tickle (or break) your funny bone simultaneously. Those awfully nasty wrecks that send your poor driver sailing through windshields and crunching painfully into breakable objects (or solid stuff, ouch) are only part of the charm here. The visuals are outstanding, the physics outrageous and the new multiplayer mini-games will have you and your friends rolling on the floor like helium sucking hyenas. Just invest in an extra controller, as the single player mode can be a wee bit frustrating if you can’t nail the slippery handling within a few tracks.

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.

TonyHawk.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!

Naruto.jpgNaruto: Rise of a Ninja (T) – Even if you HATE Naruto to the core, this game will change your mind faster than a hundred hand slap. Combining familiar RPG elements, a vast open world to explore, quests galore and a dynamic fighting engine, there’s something surprising happening in just about every corner of the game world. The rich anime-quality visuals really put you into the show’s environments and yes, the kids will be glued to the tube until they fall over. You might be buying this for them based on the Naruto name alone, but you’ll absolutely get just as much playtime out of it, if not more when they’re asleep or trying to get some homework done as you’re bashing baddies in the next room.

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…

BlueDragon.jpgBlue Dragon (T) – From the minds of creators Hironubu Sakaguchi, Akira Toriyama and a ton of other talents on the programming side of things comes Microsoft’s first JPRG. While the game rocks the main staples of the genre to a might T, the overall level of polish borders on the ridiculous at times. Between the stylized art, sweeping score and heavily customizable character skills, you’ll almost feel like you’re playing something from the glory days of 16-bit consoles. Of course, this means the game might not appeal to those looking for the next Oblivion, but it’s hard to find fault with a game that gives you 3 discs worth of epic goodness.

EternalSonata.jpgEternal Sonata (T) – Gorgeous and lyrical, Namco Bandai’s first RPG for the 360 is something you’ll remember for a long time after you’ve completed it. Featuring the final hours of Frederic Chopin as a backdrop for a lush dream world he eventually ends up in, the game manages to tug at the heartstrings as it tests you with tough bosses. Everywhere you go you’ll be amazed at the lush visuals and developer Tri-Crescendo has really done itself proud with the game’s great real time combat system that evolves as the game progresses. For the collector types out there, be sure to track down one or more of those lovely ES faceplates – your 360 will thank you for the makeover.

GuitarHeroIII.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 III 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.

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. While 360 owners don’t get the cool Collector’s Edition bonus Blu-Ray disc PS3 fans are grooving on, the 360 CE has a cool documentary that features a “making of,” deleted game scenes and other fun stuff that makes the game really feel like a film.

Crackdown.jpgCrackdown (M) – Open world super powered cop perfection, now with tons of extra content. Sure, a LOT of people ran out and snapped this up just to get in on that Halo 3 beta, but there’s a really solid sandbox game here that’s a hell of a lot of fun to play. Great 3D cel-style graphics, tons of upgrades, challenges, missions and just plain mad on the “one more hour” play scale. You can snap this one up new for about thirty clams or less these days and yup, it’s definitely money well spent.

TombRaider.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 next-gen polish, 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?

BeeMovieGame.jpgBee Movie Game (E) – While licensed games usually suffer from a big gameplay and visual downgrade from their source material (Happy Feet, anyone?), Bee Movie is jaw-dropping and mind-blowing at the same time because it nails nearly every aspect perfectly. The visuals look as good as the movie’s CG and the gameplay ranges from open world exploration to timed mini-games with some truly amazing camerawork that makes you feel as if you’re watching the film again. Considering Beenox’s previous work has been on a few lesser games, what’s here shows them to “bee” a developer to watch out for in the future.

VivaPinataPartyAnimals.jpgViva Piñata: Party Animals (E) – Krome Studios takes over from Rare for this set of party games and if you were expecting a drop in quality, you’d be quite mistaken. The game is consistently fun and funny with a selection of simple mini-games that range from racing to bomb tossing to burp-boating a paper raft. You’ll be as giddy as the kids when you pop this one into your 360 and don’t be surprised if it ends up in a few of your adult gaming get-togethers as a fun change of pace.

TheSimpsons.jpgThe Simpsons Game (T) – Simply the funniest game you’ll play all year, this wild romp through the Springfield universe features a Yeah, it’s a multiplatform release (Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, Wii, DS), and great no matter which one you get. However, I like the 360 version simply because of the crazy Achievements, some of which match the Comic Book Guy’s seemingly random game-related trivia bits that pop up whenever you do or see just about any of the traditional platform game standards. Make sure you’re not eating or drinking anything while playing, as you just might choke during some of the visual gags.

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.

FEARFiles.jpgF.E.A.R. Files (M) – Picking up where the original game ended, this 360 game combines the Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate expansions into one package that’s just as thrilling and creepy as the original game. By the way, while you don’t need the original F.E.A.R. to play this, it certainly helps to have a copy handy as it explains the wild situation you find yourself thrown into right at the beginning. Sharp as a box of Ginsus AI, a twisty, twisted story and gore galore are all packed into a solid chunk of FPS goodness.

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.

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.

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…

GRAW2.jpgGhost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 (T) – The original GRAW wowed the socks off of Xbox 360 owners as one of the console’s first truly “next-gen” caliber games. Not a whole lot has changed with the sequel (in fact it almost feels more like an expansion pack than a true sequel), so that awe-inspiring impression from the first game isn’t quite as prevalent, but all the same this is still one stellar bit of tactical third-person shooting. 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). The Xbox 360 version is probably a touch above its PS3 counterpart too. The content is the same overall, including the gorgeous visuals and intense online multiplayer, but thanks to the joys of rumble 360 owners get to feel every bump on the tracks their deforming.

VF5.jpgVirtua Fighter 5 (T) – Starting console life as a thought-to-be PS3 exclusive, VF5 has recently moved over to the 360, and with it comes the exclusive introduction of full online play (and a few other enhancements). 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. The unequivocal #1 choice for any fighting game fan this holiday season.

VT3.jpgVirtua Tennis 3 (E) – With the inclusion of online play, Virtua Tennis 3 on the Xbox 360 steals the show away from the PS3 on the multi-platform front once again and smashes home yet 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.

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 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 Xbox 360 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!

SceneIt.jpgScene It? Lights, Camera, Action! (E) – Think you know your movies? Well, you’d best have one hell of a cinematic memory before you invite up to three other friends or family members over to play this instant hit. The massively popular DVD-based game comes to the 360 sporting over 1800 new questions and four BIG big button controllers, all for a paltry $60. The game’s selection of challenges mixes in recent films with plenty of classics and a few obscurities tossed in for good measure, so you definitely won’t be blowing through this in a weekend or two. The perfect party game or “gateway” game for those who normally avoid video games for some reason.

LostPlanet.jpgLost Planet: Extreme Condition (T) – With all the games that have bum rushed 2007, it feels like this sci-fi third-person beauty came out ages ago, when in actuality it just launched earlier this year. Since its January release, the 360 library has made tremendous strides and Lost Planet has been sort of lost in the shuffle of top games of the year as a result, and that’s a shame because this title, though not entirely groundbreaking, is amongst the 360’s elite ranks, in my opinion. Capcom’s traditional East-meets-West characters and story trappings merge with tough third-person shooting, mech combat and fun grapple-swinging exploration, all taking place on a frigid, desolate planet overrun with creepy alien bugs, all of which is epically scaled and absolutely jaw-dropping to look at. Add in the addictive multiplayer mode and you’ve got yourself a no-brainer of a purchase here.

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.

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!

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…

AceCombat6.jpgAce Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (T) – The acclaimed Ace Combat franchise has never looked any better than its latest Unreal Engine 3-powered sixth installment. Detailed, photorealistic plane models fill up the equally photorealistic airborne environments, dogfighting it out for air supremacy as a war of nations rages on. Sure, the gameplay hasn’t changed a lick from previous entries and the story is exceptionally weak, but in the end you’d still be hard pressed to find an arcade flight combat game as riveting as Fires of Liberation. Online play also makes a strong debut appearance for the series and gives fans something to do after the short campaign is long over. For the complete Ace Combat 6 experience, be sure to look into the Ace Edge flight stick bundle too. At $150 it’s certainly pricey, but well worth the investment for the flight combat enthusiast on your holiday shopping list.

BeautifulKatamari.jpgBeautiful Katamari (E) – As is customary for Namco Bandai’s wacky ball-rolling puzzle series, Beautiful Katamari is pure fun on a disc. You’ll find very few surprises compared to Katamaris prior, but the gameplay manages to keep its refreshing quirkiness and addictive charm fully intact while upping the ante with more modes, higher-res visuals and an offbeat soundtrack that’s so catchy you’ll both love and hate it at the same time. Combined with the new 360 Arcade model, BK would make for an excellent starter title for the novice gamer. Though have no fear, any gamer on your list would be just as happy to tear into it Christmas morning too.

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.

command & conquer 3 360.JPGCommand & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars (T) – EA busts out another great RTS translation for the 360 and from the great visuals to the lightning paced gameplay, 360 owners get a game that’s almost as superb as its PC counterpart. The game mines radioactive gold with plenty of live-action FMV that features all sorts of sci-fi stars past and present giving it their all. From Billy Dee Williams and Michael Ironside to Battlestar Galactica hotties intentionally campy acting galore between missions. Of course, the gameplay is where it’s at throughout, with both single and multiplayer modes chock full of strategic depth and a reactor full of replay value. Plus… Kane is back!

EDF 2017.JPGEarth Defense Force 2017 (M) – Simple arcade style action from start to finish, this 53 levels of run & gun action couldn’t be more of a crowd pleaser. Sure, it’s got nothing on the ton of “A” releases here, but you can see developer Sandlot’s love for giant bugs, rubber-suited monsters, UFO’s and great big robots in every second of this gem. In its crazier moments, EDF 2017 has more action per second than the best FPS on the 360 (although the game tends to chug mightily when things get really hyperactive). The game goes from insane to outrageously overwhelming with five different difficulty settings and a whopping selection of weapons that range from machine guns to lasers to real-estate clearing missiles. If you like your explosions Texas-sized and your alien bosses even bigger, put this one on your gift list and watch the eyes pop and the jaws drop.

– 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!