Published November 15, 2011
Playing Madden, Mario, or Call of Duty is about as cool as owning a laptop -- each more a way of life than something to help you stand out. Whether shopping for a grandson or yourself, here are six status-enhancing games released this year that are also a lot of fun.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
As Vector from "Despicable Me" would say, here’s a game with both direction and magnitude. At 16 square miles of in-game terrain, Skyrim is massive. Of course, that would be meaningless if non-playable characters, missions, and battles repeated themselves, as they do in other games. But here they don’t. When traversing the massive world in search of dragons, chance encounters happen unexpectedly and often. Adventurous and delightful. Seemingly capable of holding your attention for as long as World of Warcraft, without the monthly subscription.
($60 for Xbox 360, PS3, PC; rated “Mature")
Like all popular forms of entertainment, video games are often critiqued for being too predictable. Play one genre, and you’ve played ‘em all, so to speak. Portal 2, on the other hand, shatters that critique. Not just for first-person games, but all of them. In a word, Portal 2 is mind-bending. Not only will make you rethink video game puzzles, it’s the most cleverly written game on my list. Despite being seven month’s old—an eternity for gaming nerds—it’s still dripping with style.
($30-40 for Xbox 360, PS3, PC; rated “Everyone 10 and older”)
Forza Motorsport 4
In the late '90s, Gran Turismo reinvented the racing simulator. But two years ago, Forza 3 passed the former as the best racing game on the planet. This year’s release—the fourth in the series—is just as hot, made better by improved driving physics, jaw-dropping graphics for your giant TV, and better menu handling (i.e. easier to get where you want to go.)
($60 for Xbox 360; rated “Everyone”)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
A lot of games promise players with “play it however you like” or “your in-game actions will affect the outcome,” but Deus Ex: Human Revolution actually delivers. In it, players control a cybernetic-enhanced ex-cop from Detroit. But instead of approaching the game with guns a blazing, stealth play is rewarded in a futuristic setting that would make Blade Runner fans proud. The enemies are a bit moronic. But the good far outweighs the bad.
($60 for Xbox 360, PS3, PC; rated “Mature”)
If you play games “for fun,” this is not the game for you. But that’s not to say this game isn’t worthwhile or rewarding. For die-harder gamers looking for the road less traveled (not to mention the least publicized), Dark Souls is commendable. You’ll die a thousand deaths (maybe tens of thousands). There’s only one save file. And you’ll want to throw your unresponsive controller in disgust at times. But if you stick with it, you’ll eventually want thank the gaming gods for giving us such memorable boss battles and an engrossing world.
($60 for Xbox 360, PS3; rated “Mature”)
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
How many other games are as relevant today as they were 25 years ago? I can count them on one hand. What’s more, how many games are as relevant today as they were 25 years ago, in spite of a whopping 15 sequels? The answer is one: Zelda. The reason: No other game recaptures the feeling of gaming for the first time like Zelda. Admittedly, the first hour of Skyward Sword is a little slow. But it’s all gravy for the other 49. Retro magic.
($50 for Wii; rated “Everyone 10 and older”)