X360A's 12 Games of Christmas 2012
Written Sunday, December 16, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
There are several unchanging cardinal truths about Christmas. The TV schedule will always suck, the turkey will always be dry and Christmas pudding will always taste like a dog's leavings (that's poo, in case you're wondering). But that's all just fine, because each and every year there's also a fantabulous cornucopia of games to catch up on, some of which we try to tenuously tie-in with the Season To Be Jolly (fa la la la la, lalalalaaaaaa), while providing the essential Chrimbo buyer's guide to swear by. Or shove in front of your loved one's faces to show them what they should have bought you instead of a pair of socks, a walnut and a satsuma. Wait, that's just us...
Again, like last year and the year before, this IS NOT our Game of the Year list. That comes at the end of the year, funnily enough. This is a list that consists of certain games that might have gone under your radar. Some titles that we may have rightfully lauded, only for them to be forgotten at the bottom of the pile. Obviously some are big titles that will likely also show up in our Game of the Year list, but by and large, this is all about the games that'll stoke your Christmas fire, give you plenty of festive joy and perhaps even go easy on the wallet to boot.
For this 12 Games of Christmas, we've got some mid-tier gems, some barnstorming instant classics, a few new IPs, and even a few resurrected franchises. There's something for everyone, whether you want a brightly-coloured candy confection, a few buckets of blood, a bit of stealth, brutal assassinations, some high-speed racing, stabby action with pointy things... It's not exactly what Christmas is about, but we still want them all anyway.
So goodwill to all men, women and animals. Tis the season, and these are the games you should be playing around a roaring log fire, switching off the boring period dramas, woeful movies and other bilge on TV, as well as avoiding the interminable games of charades or whatever with the family. Here they all are, in no particular order, The 12 Games of Christmas.
LEGO Lord of the Rings
Here's a good place to start. If you find yourself down in the dumps this Christmas, LEGO Lord of the Rings is video gaming prozac. Taking Tolkien's fiction and putting it through the LEGO grinder with the trademark tongue-in-cheek humour intact, LEGO LotR is a joy to play, with vast expanses of Middle-earth to explore, items to collect and construct, orcs and goblins to kill, and a plastic ring to melt in the fires of Mount Doom. During your epic journey to Mordor, you'll see all of the sights the movie trilogy has to offer, with the full cast of characters and accompanying voice acting, with that inimitable LEGO-brand charm.
Featuring giant spiders to slay, a duplicitous but hilarious Gollum, an Uruk-hai who's lost his chef's hat and those good old comedy cut-scenes, LEGO Lord of the Rings is the perfect antidote to the Christmas blues, assuming you get them of course. This Christmas, don't ask for jewelry. This is one ring to rule them all. And it costs less than most actual LEGO models these days... Why's it so bloody expensive?!
Without question, one of the year's biggest and best new IPs, Dishonored is a brutal, blood-drenched treat, giving you the most invaluable gift of all: choice. Will you assassinate your target with brazen, brute force or will you bide your time, seek out the optimum strategy and execute the perfect kill? Corvo has plenty of tools and abilities at his disposal, so whether it's the ability to teleport short distances using Blink, possess enemies and animals or freeze time, you can truly feel in control this Christmas, even when all else around you is going wrong. Say when you've unwrapped your twelfth knitted woolly jumper, for example.
Things might be going wrong during the holiday period and you may not get what you want, but you're the master of your own destiny in Dishonored. The city of Dunwall also has a Victorian, almost Dickensian-style too, with Viktor Antonov's art direction giving it an identity all of its own. The decadent, corrupt upper classes prosper while on the streets the citizens are left to the rats and plague, becoming Weepers lurking in the sewers. These corrupt ne'er-do-wells have made it onto Corvo's naughty list. Screw giving them lumps of coal, kill 'em dead, and do it in style.
In Hitman: Blood Money you could actually dress up as Santa, and while there are no such festive shenanigans in Hitman: Absolution, don't let that put you off this Christmas. There's still plenty of masterful assassination action to be had. With Contracts mode, it's a game that keeps on giving too, enabling you to create bespoke contracts for your friends to tackle. While it's not exactly brimming with Christmas spirit, there's plenty of competitive spirit to lap up, while there's a great deal of gratification to be had in orchestrating the perfect hit.
When you're down and dirty in some of Hitman's seediest underworld locations, just remember how lucky you are to not be amongst that lot at Christmas time. Unless you are... In which case, erm, sorry. Assuming you're not scrabbling around in dirt and squalor however, Hitman: Absolution stands up as a triumphant return for Agent 47 and deserving of a place under your Christmas tree, or more fittingly in your console disc tray. It's already half-price at most retailers too. Just buy it, for crying out loud.
The Walking Dead
We've extolled the many virtues of Telltale Games' The Walking Dead before, but really, we can't recommend it enough. It's one of the most memorable and deeply involving stories we've played in quite some time, not to mention one of the most moving and heart-wrenching. A nigh-on essential purchase, whether you choose to purchase each episode via the Xbox Live Arcade/PlayStation Network or on disc, The Walking Dead will take you on a rollercoaster of emotions and throw the fact that you didn't get that GI Joe, Action Man or Barbie doll that you really wanted right into perspective.
Set before the events of The Walking Dead comic books, the five episode narrative arc tells the story of Lee Everett and Clementine, as they meet up with a ragtag bunch of survivors, forming a dysfunctional family of sorts. When you're carving up the Christmas turkey, goose, fish or kangaroo, perhaps you could mull over your decisions or reflect on the decisions you made with your own dysfunctional family? Did you do the right thing? Whatever the case, The Walking Dead will leave an impression on you this holiday season. Or whenever.
What could be more fitting this Christmas than the brightly-coloured sugar-coated killing spree that is Lollipop Chainsaw? Like an explosion in a toy factory, with legions of zombies thrown in for good measure, Lollipop Chainsaw is bat-shit mental in the best possible sense. Knowingly cheesy and stupid, it's a game that blends pop culture references with daft, OTT violence and glorious button-bashing gameplay.
It's perhaps not an obvious choice to include on a list of essential games for Christmas, but it's Lollipop Chainsaw's playful nature and the fact that it doesn't take itself at all seriously that'll raise a smile during your Yuletide festivities. Forget the rubbish about the game being misogynistic and sexist too. Lollipop Chainsaw is entirely self-aware of its own innate silliness, which is where all the bubble gum pink love hearts and rainbows come in. Yes, you can look up cheerleading heroine Juliet Starling's skirt, but you don't have to, despite getting an achievement/trophy for it. Ahem. Oh, and you can saw zombies heads off and churn them into pulp with a combine harvester. Seriously, what more do you want?
If you've got a good few days off work, you could do a lot worse than fully immersing yourself in Sleeping Dogs' fictionalised open-world version of Hong Kong. Filled with martial arts mayhem and gangsters doing a bunch of gangster shit, Sleeping Dogs is fun on a bun. Featuring plenty of opportunity to kick and punch your way through rival Triad gangs, Wei Shen is a one-man fighting machine, an undercover cop infiltrating the vicious Sun On Yee to bring them down from the inside. It's a bit Infernal Affairs, a bit Police Story, all good.
Possibly the least festive game on the list, Sleeping Dogs nonetheless gives you plenty of bang for your buck, as well as the ability to throw anyone into the trunk of your car, drive them out to the coast and throw them into the sea. Or you can drive at breakneck speed, hang out of a car door or stand on the back of a motorcycle and leap from vehicle to vehicle. Sleeping Dogs is almost certainly better than any action movie you'll watch this Christmas. Except for Die Hard, of course. Best Christmas movie ever. FACT.
Dance Central 3
It just wouldn't be Christmas without the opportunity to bust a move, get on down, tear up the carpet, boogie, dance and that. For the third year running we've shoved a Dance Central title on this here list, simply, because it gets everyone involved, fighting in front of Kinect in your chosen space, while your undigested Christmas dinner swirls around your stomach amid the activity. Filled with retro tunes and more contemporary stuff, there's dancing frolics for everyone.
As ever, it's a good excuse to burn off the chocolate, Yule log, Christmas meats and other crap too. But really, it's your best bet for convincing the rest of the family that games are really a good thing, and not as they may believe, forged in the fires of Hell by Lucifer himself. Look mum! They're harmless! Warning: do not use Dance Central 3 as a gateway game to Call of Duty: Black Ops II. It just doesn't work.
A slightly left field choice here we'll admit, but really, we can't quite fathom why more people didn't hook up Binary Domain. A new IP with a few clever ideas up its robotic sleeve, Yakuza Studio's foray into cyber sci-fi might look like a vanilla third-person shooter with more shades of grey than a politician's wardrobe (and their policies, right? Satire! Side-note: we have no idea what we're talking about), but scratch beneath that surface and you'll find a game that asks some chin-stroking existential questions, before stomping on you with a gargantuan screen-filling robo-boss.
Boasting some natty voice recognition technology that enables you to interact with your AI squad members, as well as an action-packed story that takes you to some weird and wonderful parts of Tokyo circa 2080, Binary Domain is one of this year's most criminally overlooked games, and one that you should at least consider taking a chance on this Christmas. Likely to be a one-off, it's sad to think that Binary Domain will probably never get a sequel. It's available at most games emporiums for less than the price of a tasteless Christmas jumper too. Which would you rather have? Don't say the Christmas jumper...
Well, this one's a total no-brainer. I mean, look at it! It's full of snow! Or 'powder' as the people in the know like to call it. SSX is a comeback for EA's snowboarding franchise having been in the wilderness, last seen on the Wii. And while we wouldn't exactly call it a barnstorming return, SSX is a solid chunk of entertainment that's now available on the cheap, making it a sound purchase this Christmas. A spiritual successor to SSX Tricky, EA Canada's sort of reboot certainly does big tricks and snowboard-cross mania with a certain degree of panache.
Dropping from a helicopter onto the white stuff, you'll be popping 1080s, grabbing big air and rocking out to a remix of Run DMC's “Tricky” in no time, exploring the slopes and enjoying the OTT stylings on show. Did we mention it's got lots of snow in it? Granted it's not as good as SSX Tricky was, but SSX still provides hours of snowy joy that you simply can't put a price on this holiday season. Oh, wait a minute, you can. It's about 15 quid.
Street Fighter X Tekken
It's Christmas, so the rules dictate that you have to have a fighting game on standby to settle any disputes that may break out without warning. Usually we shove a Capcom fighter on the list, and this year is no different, with Street Fighter X Tekken edging out Dead or Alive 5, Soul Calibur V and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 by a hair's breadth. Fight fans have been spoilt for choice in 2012, but for our money, SFxTK is pound for pound this year's versus fighting champion. No doubt many will disagree, especially in light of Capcom's miserly, Scrooge-esque approach to its DLC. Free colour packs? Meh.
Still, the disc alone packs in enough content to keep all but the most demanding Street Fighter fan satisfied, although you'll have to pay for more characters if you want 'em. Bah humbug. Nonetheless, Street Fighter X Tekken is one of the year's finest fighting games, which for that extra festive factor you can play on one of the game's wintry snowy stages. When you feel an argument about to erupt this Christmas, don't throw a mince pie in your antagonist's face (it's a waste). Chuck a fireball at them instead.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
If aliens take over the world, there'll be no more Christmas joy and merriment to be had. To prevent this horrible scenario from ever occurring, you'll need to assemble your own crack team of Earth defending agents, researching extra-terrestrial technology, building your secret underground HQ and venturing out into the field to give ET a good old-fashioned ass-whupping. Preferably with his own cutting-edge weaponry. In your face, ET!
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is one to add to the top of your Christmas gift list – the one you write to Santy Claus each year (shut up! He's real!) - offering a full-fat turn-based strategy that works properly on consoles. XCOM: EU has very real consequences too, wherein any squad member can bite the dust for good, never to return, meaning you'll really need to flex your tactical muscle and get your synapses snapping into action. Feel like you can't relax this Christmas? Why not unwind with some brain-taxing strategy?
What better way to spend this Christmas than shooting Bullymongs while exploring the icy wastes of Pandora? Borderlands 2 is every bit the sequel fans were hoping for and more. Sure, it's had its fair share of post-launch issues, but there's no denying that Gearbox's latest dose of shoot 'n' loot action is pretty much indispensable. Rope in some friends during the holidays and you have a surefire recipe for copious merriment, with a rich vein of silly humour and more weaponry than you can shake a candy cane at.
Furthermore, what could be more like Christmas than opening hundreds, nay thousands of loot boxes? You never know what presents might be waiting within... Will it be a super-rare gun, artifact, grenade or shield, or will it just be more ammo, cash or a nasty Loot Midget? Whatever the case, Borderlands 2 is always good, clean (or rather dirty) fun. A must this Christmas.
That's it for another year then. 12 games for your delectation, all decent value for money, all giving you some last minute ideas ahead of the big day itself. Here's hoping that Santa brings you everything you ask for and more. If he doesn't, be sure to kick up a stink won't you? How will the Christmas gods know what to bring you next year otherwise?
You've still got our Game of the Year awards to look out for too, as well as a bunch of other Xmas articles that'll be winging their way towards you in the coming days leading up to Christmas Day and the New Year. Hopefully, you got something out of our 12 Games of Christmas list, and if not, make sure you have the merriest Christmas possible, regardless. Merry Christmas, one and all!