Which are the best games for Christmas 2013? Find out in our countdown of the 12 best games (and gaming buys) of 2013.
The Christmas shopping seasons is almost on us. If you're looking to buy for a gamer (or if you're a gamer yourself, and want ideas for games to ask for), you'll want to know the best games of the year. Here's our list of the 12 best games for Christmas 2013:
1, 2 & 3: Microsoft Xbox One (£429), Sony PS4 (£349) and Nintendo Wii U (£249) consoles
Obviously you need something to play games on, and the past 12 months have seen all three major console franchises renew themselves. But (assuming you've got the cash to spare), which one should you pick?
First up, if you're buying for someone else, be warned that there's a good chance that they will have already taken sides in the console war - arguments between Sony and Microsoft fans in particularly can get endearingly angry - so check if they have a preference.
In any case, a console purchase is a major commitment, both in terms of sheer cash value and in the games you (or the lucky gift recipient) will be able to play. Exclusives seem like an outdated concept, but sadly they're not, and all three consoles sell themselves on the back of games that only they can run: Nintendo has the wonderful Mario and Zelda titles, while Microsoft and Sony have Halo and the God of War series respectively, plus various others that may or may not make a difference to your buying decision. That's your next consideration - check the exclusives.
The Wii U comes with one controller that has a screen
As in the previous generation, the PS4 and Xbox One are different sorts of console to the Nintendo rival, going for raw processor power and comparatively adult-focused games. The Wii U will get some mature content (mature meaning aimed at ages 15 and above, not anything sleazy) but its strength will lie in fun family games, kid-friendly titles and innovative controls that open up new possibilities - although unlike the original Wii, the Wii U's controller/screen hasn't won over too many rave reviews.
The range of games for PS4 and Xbox One will be fairly limited this Christmas - you should be able to get a starting bundle including something decent - but many of the following games will come out in some form on those platforms in the future. The Wii U has been around for almost a year so has a pretty decent set of titles already. As for PC games - there's usually a wait before console games get ported across, but GTA 5 (for instance) will be along eventually.
4. Grand Theft Auto V (from £43; currently available for Xbox 360 and PS3)
The biggest game of the year, indisputably and deservedly, GTA 5 is exactly the blend of juvenile humour, questionable sexual politics and complex, violent sandbox gaming that we've come to expect from Rockstar.
They've created a world in which you can do pretty much whatever you want, provided you're willing to accept the (frequently police-brutality-based) consequences of your actions. Features three playable characters for the first time and lots of shops with Scottish obscenities hidden in their names.
5. Bioshock Infinite (from £16; Xbox 360, PS3 and PC)
This visually stunning shooter was 2013's other mammoth blockbuster. Set in a gorgeous but racially intolerant city in the sky in 1912, and boasting more historical-political depth than most of its rivals combined, Infinite is an ambitious creation that achieves many of its aims in grand style.
6. Pikmin 3 (£30, Wii U)
This super-cute strategy game has you controlling an army of tiny aliens who are racing against time to collect enough fruit for the journey back to their home planet. (Partly this involves mugging and slaying the invertebrates you encounter.) Fast and frenetic, but also a bit tactical, and as cheerily family-friendly as you'd expect from a Nintendo title.
7. The Last Of Us (£28, PS3)
Our reviewer Alec calls The Last Of Us "hide and seek at the end of the world". It's survival horror, but with an emotional depth you might not associate with that genre. You have to use stealth and resource management to stay alive in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, being drawn in all the time by the growing relationship between the characters. Critically adored and the recipient of numerous awards.
8. Injustice: Gods Among Us (from £15; Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U)
If the gamer in your life loves one-on-one fighting games, Injustice is worth a look. It's the follow-up to Mortal Kombat 9 (the graphical style is similar, and Scorpion even appears as a DLC character), but the combatants are various DC superheroes and villains: Batman, Wonder Woman, General Zod.
The single-player campaign, as in MK9, has decent little stories to carry it along, but Injustice was always going to live or die by its fighting mechanics, and these are sound. The graphics are pretty spectacular too - plenty of scenery gets smashed up, as you'd hope, and Lex Luthor has a sweet robot fighting suit.
9. Gone Home (£15; PC)
From brawling superheroes to this quiet tale of suburban nostalgia: let's take it down a gear, shall we? Gone Home is a story about a family, retold through the letters, video tapes and other objects you pick up as you explore their mysteriously empty home. Our reviewer Alec insists that this unthrilling premise conceals a game of tremendous tension, atmosphere and emotion, but refuses to say much more since it will spoil the story.
Bear in mind that this is a Steam download rather than a boxed game, so buying it as a gift may be a little more complicated than the other games in this list. Still, at least you won't have to go out into the cold. We also have advice on buying (and gifting) games on Steam.
10. FIFA '14 (from £30; Xbox 360, PS3, PS4 pre-order, Wii, PC)
Okay, that's enough subtlety. If the gamer in your life likes football, chances are the latest FIFA will press all the right buttons. Hey, we're not into this sort of thing ourselves, but the football fan in our office insists that FIFA '14 is the one to go for (well, this or Football Manager 2014 if they prefer the management side of things).
FIFA '14, we are reliably informed, offers a slower but more strategically rewarding take on the nation's favourite pastime, along with various tweaks to ball control. Apparently it's easier than ever to do those annoying tricks as well.
11. Spelunky (various prices, including a free version; Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, PC)
Almost the exact opposite of FIFA '14, Spelunky is the indie 2D platformer that exploded.
The original is still available for free on PC, but it was promptly smartened up and ported to various consoles. You're a little archaeologist/adventurer chap exploring randomly generated underground tombs and temples, doing your best to avoid the wide array of instant-death traps and enemies. A cult hit, and a classic combination of cute graphics with brutal gameplay. It's a download, so once again you may have to work some clever trickery on the PlayStation Store or Xbox Live Arcade.
12. XCOM: Enemy Unknown (from £12.99; iOS, Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Aliens have landed, and they're proper gits. Your job, in this turn-based strategic shooter, is to defend the Earth from hostile extraterrestrials with a squad of initially callow soldiers, spending time between skirmishes husbanding your organisation's resources and deciding what technologies to research.
You'll be amazed how attached you grow to each of your gallant jarheads, each of which has an editable name and a set of skills that grows as you progress through the game - losing a soldier hurts, with the result that the fighting sequences become deliciously tense. We've been enjoying the iPad version of XCOM (which is currently half-price) - for more info on gifting apps, see How to send an app as a gift.