This has been a great year for video games. Whether you prefer to play on your beefy PC, relax on the couch with a controller in hand, or tap your way to victory on a smartphone during your daily commute, 2011 has produced a bumper crop of great games and gaming accessories to satisfy your needs this holiday season. If you or someone you know loves games, check out our guide to finding the perfect gift.
Manufacturer: ION Audio
For: Nostalgia gaming buffs who own iPads.
The iCade turns your iPad into an old-school gaming device--no quarters necessary. After you assemble the cabinet, simply mount an iPad inside, download an iCade-compatible app such as Atari's Greatest Hits or Super Mega Worm, and then pair it with the iPad via Bluetooth to start playing.
The iCade is a little gimmicky, and it won't stand up to serious arcade play, but it looks great on a desk or countertop and it makes a great gift for any gamer who prizes the portability of an iPad but yearns for the classic arcade cabinets of the past.
For tech bonus points, consider jailbreaking an iPad and installing the iMAME4All arcade game emulator; that way, you'll be able to play arcade classics that you legally own.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
For: Role-playing game fans with a penchant for epic fantasy.
No developer trumps Bethesda Softworks when it comes to crafting expansive virtual worlds filled with hours of adventure. PCWorld's gaming blogger Matt Peckham spent some time with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim after its release in early November and thoroughly enjoyed it. For latest word on gaming, visit our Game On blog.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
For: Gamers who like to cooperate more than they like to fight.
If you're in the market for a multiplayer game that's more about cooperation than about combat, consider picking up Star Wars: The Old Republic, a massively multiplayer online RPG that debuts this month. You'll have to pay a monthly fee (in addition to the initial cost of the game) for the privilege of playing a character in the persistent world of The Old Republic. But in return you get to experience a fresh take on the Star Wars franchise from Bioware, a critically acclaimed game developer company that has a history of making games with great stories.
For: Children (and parents who may swipe some time with the cubes just for fun).
Sifteo Cubes are tiny, motion-sensitive wireless computers with full-color screens that double as giant buttons. The starter pack contains three 1.5-inch-wide cubes that weigh just over an ounce each and can be used to play simple games when paired with your computer via a USB wireless link (included in the package). Three games come in the pack, too, and you can purchase more from the Siftrunner store for $1 to $5 apiece.
The hardware's steep price and the relatively simple games currently available make Sifteo Cubes less than ideal for mature players, but they're a great gift for young children and for students looking for a novel way to learn and play.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
For: Gamers who like to have their skills pushed to the limit.
If most multiplayer PC games are just too easy for you, pick up a copy of Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty for a bout of classic real-time strategizing that will push your mind, mouse, and multitasking skills to the limit. Jump online via Blizzard's Battle.net service to take part in one of the most competitive multiplayer strategy games in the world, or take a break and play through the campy single-player campaign as you guide Jim Raynor and his motley crew of freedom fighters to battle against the double threat of an autocratic Terran regime and the alien Zerg invasion. Though released in 2010, Starcraft II remains a top-of-the-line game in 2011.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Developer: Naughty Dog
For: PS3 owners who like globe-trotting games.
If you own a PlayStation 3 console, you owe it to yourself to pick up Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, a globe-trotting adventure game that plays like a fast-paced action movie. Though players will benefit from having played the previous two Uncharted games, Uncharted 3 is good enough to stand alone as an enjoyable and well-written action game. Players can expect to shoot, shimmy, and leap from the forests of France to the Arabian desert as they guide protagonist Nathan Drake on his quest to locate a legendary lost city: Iram of the Pillars.
Cyborg R.A.T. 7 Gaming Mouse
Manufacturer: Cyborg Inc.
For: Customization fanatics.
The Cyborg R.A.T. 7 may look a little odd, but don't be put off by that. The various exposed dials and adjustable plates permit unparalleled customization to ensure that the mouse fits your hand perfectly. The R.A.T. 7 lets users swap out pinkie grips, palm rests, and even weights. It comes with five programmable buttons and a rocker switch so that users can rapidly switch between four custom DPI settings for rapid response during intense game-play sessions.
Super Mario 3D Land
Developer: Nintendo Entertainment
For: Nintendo 3DS owners who love Mario.
If someone you know owns a Nintendo 3DS, you need to add Super Mario 3D Land to your holiday shopping list. It's the first Mario game created for a 3D system, and Nintendo kept both old-school fans and newcomers in mind while designing this excellent side-scrolling adventure. Portable game systems shine during the holiday travel season, and Super Mario 3D Land is an excellent investment for anyone seeking a classic gaming experience for the road.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Developer: Nintendo Entertainment
For: Nintendo Wii owners who never quit when gaming.
The first Zelda game released exclusively for the Nintendo Wii is earning a ton of critical acclaim this year, and for good reason: The game is fantastic. Skyward Sword takes advantage of the Nintendo Wii's unique motion controller to create an interactive experience that (according to our friends at GamePro) makes other games feel primitive by comparison. Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto claims that Skyward Sword represents a new genre of game. It's certainly one of the biggest games that Nintendo has ever worked on, with enough content to keep the average player occupied for 50 to 60 hours.
Batman: Arkham City
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
For: Xbox or PS3 owners who love the Dark Knight.
For people who love comics and own an Xbox or a PS3, a copy of Batman: Arkham City makes an excellent gift. It's one of the best Batman games ever made, affording players the opportunity to battle a rogue's gallery of infamous Batman villains in a well-crafted virtual simulacrum of DC Comics' iconic Gotham City. You need no more than a passing familiarity with the Caped Crusader to enjoy this game, though the story will make a little more sense if you've played the previous game in the series, Batman: Arkham Asylum. Both games are great; but of the two, Arkham City is the one to buy this holiday season.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
For: Gamers who like sci-fi or historical fiction games.
The Assassin's Creed games get better every year, and Assasin's Creed: Revelations continues this admirable pattern. It's the fourth game in a series of sci-fi/historical-fiction games, which together tell the story of a parallel world in which the Knights Templar and the Assassins have been waging a secret war for societal influence since the Middle Ages. Players control the Italian assassin Ezio as he runs, leaps, and climbs across the rooftops of Constantinople during the height of the Ottoman Empire. And to supplement the many hours of engaging single-player gameplay, Ubisoft provides a unique online multiplayer mode that pits players against each other as rival assassins in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
SteelSeries Sensei Gaming Mouse
For: Hardcore gamers who want the best hardware for their gaming PCs.
Premium hardware is crucial for optimum peformance when you play challenging games on a PC, and the SteelSeries Sensei Gaming Mouse is a great gift for any gamer who longs for a little extra speed and precision. The Sensei is an expensive but very well made mouse that's made to last, with a 32-bit ARM processor and LCD built into the device.
The mouse works with the Sensei's custom software to enable users to tweak the DPI (dots-per-inch) sensitivity of the sensor to their personal preference. You can adjust the mouse to be as precise as you want it to be, or even switch between preset precision levels on the fly; and you can save each custom profile to the mouse's onboard memory and take your custom profiles with you wherever you go.
Mad Catz Marvel vs. Capcom 3 FightStick Tournament Edition
Manufacturer: Mad Catz Interactive
For: Old-school gaming-accessory fiends.
The Marvel vs. Capcom 3 FightStick Tournament Edition is an excellent accessory if you're a fighting game fanatic looking for an arcade stick to step up your game. It may seem silly to shell out $160 for a controller--but for some players, owning a high-quality arcade stick with premium Sanwa components that match the hardware you'd find in an official Japanese Capcom arcade cabinet justifies the price.
Mad Catz builds a few nifty features into this piece of premium hardware, including a lock switch to prevent you from accidentally hitting the Pause button during a hectic match and a recessed cable storage cavity to keep your premium cable safe from playful houseguests or housecats. For old-school gaming fans who appreciate premium hardware, the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 FightStick TE is an excellent controller with some very thoughtful features.
Developer: Electronic Arts
For: Competitive online gamers who like first-person shooters.
Players of the modern combat game Battlefield 3 strap on the combat boots of a modern infantryman, take control of a tank, or go airborne in a fighter jet in this fantastic first-person shooter. Available for PCs as well as for home consoles, the game really shines on the PC, taking advantage of the gaming desktop's beefier components to deliver beautiful graphics and sprawling 64-player multiplayer matches.
Razer BlackWidow Ultimate Gaming Keyboard
Manufacturer: Razer USA
For: Multitasking PC gamers.
The BlackWidow Ultimate is a fully programmable, backlit mechanical keyboard that's perfect for PC gamers who find themselves frequently switching between multiple games on short notice. The mechanical keys feel great during long sessions, and on-the-fly macro recording lets you save common key combos easily for high-level play.
Though the loud clickety-clack sounds of typing on a mechanical keyboard may take some getting used to, such keyboards make a great gift for any PC gamer who is looking to upgrade.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Developer: CD Projekt RED
For: Monster-hunter gamers who like a challenge.
If you're looking for a great PC RPG or just a grim and gritty game about hunting monsters in the hinterlands, pick up The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. A medieval role-playing game based on a popular series of Polish fantasy novels, The Witcher 2 recounts the continuing adventures of Gerault, a supernatural monster hunter who travels from town to town battling evil creatures and protecting the local populaces.
Don't let the seemingly stereotypical plot deter you from picking up one of the greatest role-playing games released this year. The Witcher 2 presents players with challenging combat encounters and a very mature storyline full of tough choices and difficult diplomatic options.
Developer: From Software
For: Gamers who love a difficult challenge.
Dark Souls is one of the most arduous games ever made--and that's a great thing for players seeking a hardcore challenge. The story of Dark Souls is vague and nearly incomprehensible, but that's almost beside the point; the reason to play Dark Souls is to experience having to approach every dangerous situation as though it may be your last.
Players must battle their way through a dystopian medieval world, slaying legions of undead in an attempt to cleanse the world of a horrible curse known as the Darksign. Even though you play as an immortal Undead warrior, every battle in Dark Souls requires your full attention. You can lose hours of progress if you mistime a hammer swing or fail to dodge an enemy arrow, making this the perfect game for anyone who loves the thrill of overcoming the odds in an unforgiving environment.
Astro A40 Wireless Audio System
Manufacturer: Astro Video Gaming Equipment
For: Gamers who use multiple devices and want a headset that works with all of them.
An excellent Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound headset, the Astro A40 works well with any device that has a headphone jack. Pick it up in a bundle with the Mixamp Pro, and you can use the A40 to voice-chat with friends on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, or even your PC.
Though it's a bit pricey, this headset makes a great gift for anyone who plays games on multiple devices and appreciates the convenience of using a single headset for everything.
Astro AStar Earbuds
Manufacturer: Astro Gaming
For: Great for gamers on the go.
These svelte earbuds are designed specifically for mobile gamers, and they work well with such portable gaming systems as the Nintendo 3DS and the Sony PlayStation Vita. Music sounds great on them, too, and you can even use the wind-shielded microphone for hands-free calling on your smartphone of choice. PCWorld Senior Editor Jason Cross purchased a pair of Astro AStar earbuds for his own personal use, and found them to be quite comfortable for daily wear--with great sound quality for the price.
Developer: Supergiant Games
For: Supporters of indie games.
Bastion is a downloadable action role-playing game with lush graphics and sound, challenging enemies, and a dynamic deep-voiced narrator who reacts to the player's actions. Originally released as a downloadable game on the Xbox Live Arcade service, Bastion is now available for purchase as a PC game through Steam.
This excellent indie game delivers hours of great gaming, as players use 10+ upgradable weapons to explore a weird, wonderfully illustrated floating world that has been devastated by a catastrophic Calamity.
Manufacturer: V3 Gaming PC
Price: Starts at $1500
For: PC gamers who want an attractively priced, customizable gaming system.
The V3 Convoy earned a high ranking on our Top 10 Performance Desktop PCs when we tested it earlier this year, and for good reason: It's one of the fastest systems we've ever seen that doesn't cost an arm and/or a leg to acquire. Since V3 is a boutique PC vendor, you can customize your Convoy as much as you like, but even at the starting price of $1500 you get a pair of GeForce graphics cards running in tandem via SLI, an Intel Core i5 CPU, and a pair of 500GB hard drives running in RAID 0 configuration.
If you're looking for the fastest PC you can buy without destroying your bank account, add the V3 Convoy to your short list. It packs plenty of power into a wicked-looking, eye-catching, upgrade-friendly chassis.
Digital Storm Enix
Manufacturer: Digital Storm Customized Systems
Price: Starts at $1500
For: PC gamers who want a gaming PC with good performance and a quirky case.
Digital Storm is a boutique PC vendor that sells custom-built gaming computers. All of its products are powerful (and tend to be pricey), but we fell in love with the oddly shaped Enix. The Enix's selling point is its alluring chassis, but the system also delivers great performance for a (relatively) good price. Though the oddly shaped case makes upgrading difficult and could cause friends and family to mistake your gaming PC for a mini-fridge, the design helps keep the system's high-performance components cool during intense bouts of gameplay.