Grand Theft Auto V
While much of the focus on this holiday's game lineup is on titles for the latest consoles, the latest games for the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 certainly shouldn't be overlooked -- especially because they're still the primary consoles in most homes. "Grand Theft Auto V" shattered sales records when it was released in October, and for good reason: If you're a GTA fan, it's a heckuva lot of fun. The satirical bite that runs through all the games in this blockbuster series from Rockstar Games is evident in its latest installment, which is set in a fictional version of Los Angeles post-economic crisis and lets carjacking players soak up a setting where citizens are dealing with foreclosures, online privacy and affordable health care. Sound familiar?
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As always, this series isn't going to win any prizes for its fine role models or showcasing good values. While the game provides raucous -- and unabashedly violent -- fun, it's certainly not a title for all ages. Some of the scenes, particularly a controversial title depicting torture, can make even the most-hardened gamer a little uncomfortable to be holding the controller.
Get it: If you like your satire served raw
Skip it: If you're at all squeamish about digital violence
Price: $54.99, for Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3
Call of Duty: Ghosts
"Call of Duty" is one of the biggest franchises out there, which can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it puts pressure on developers to please a huge fan base game after game. On the other, it also means that relying on fan favorites can make each successive title feel a little warmed over. COD: G is largely successful in navigating between the two, by offering a game that's just familiar enough to please. The game play is fast, fluid and varied; players will find themselves in the air, underwater and up the side of a building nearly as often as they will land on a normal ground level. The graphics are impressive, as is the attention that has gone into setting the tone of the game. Danger feels real, even when your fully aware that you're really safe on the couch. Still, the game's story line -- while better than previous games -- feels a little stilted, which hurts the flow of the single player.
As with most "Call of Duty" games, COD: G finds its real stride in the multiplayer, where the game's designers have poured their efforts into making bigger maps and new multiplayer modes. These include Cranked, which pits teams against each other and makes players pick off opponents in rapid succession. Another, Grind, requires players to collect the dog tags of those they kill and deposit them in "banks." All in all, COD: G is a strong addition to the series, though those who like to see sequels get bigger to get better may see this as playing it a little too safe. In many ways, the title steps back from the blockbuster brink and opts for a simpler focus on the action.
Get it: If you love multiplayer games
Skip it: If you want the story to do the driving
Price: $59.99, for Microsoft Xbox 360 and Xbox One; Sony PlayStation 3 and 4; Nintendo Wii U; and PC
PlayStation 4 launch title Knack introduces players to a tiny titular protagonist that they'll love off the bat. But don't be deceived: He packs a significant punch. Knack is a robotlike creature powered by ancient relics that appear everywhere in this world; and the more relics you find, the bigger he gets. In a relic-heavy level, you may find that the adorable little guy you started off with has grown up quickly to punch through mountains. Part of Knack's charm -- and by Knack, we mean both the game and the character -- is that it's best for players to be big or small at different times. That disrupts the normal progression of games, in which players bulk up over time, but it also runs the risk of getting tedious as you wend your way through the plot.
And while Knack is fun, it's not terribly challenging. Even when going through levels where you have to jump on crumbling tiles or dodge traps, the game doesn't throw too many unexpected punches. Players do have the option to turn up the difficulty, but you're likely to fall into patterns easily even in those modes. For a game that provides consistent fun for every member of the family, Knack is a charming choice.
Get it: If you want a cute, fun game
Skip it: If you're looking for a real challenge
Price: $59.99, for Sony PlayStation 4
The Wii U, now a year old, isn't getting the billing that its competitors from Microsoft and Sony are -- and gamers have yet to fully embrace its two-screen style of play. "Wonderful 101," however, takes on the second screen with gusto. Players control an ever-expanding horde of tiny superheroes in this whimsical title, and players control the mob using the tablelike GamePad controller as a sort of central command. By drawing on the GamePad, users can fashion weapons out of the little heroes -- swords, axes, guns, etc. -- to fight enemies throughout the game. Special superheroes let you form special weapons, which can be useful against particular types of enemies.
While a little unwieldy in the beginning, patient "Wonderful 101" players may find themselves falling into a rhythm, ultimately getting a big kick out of their itty-bitty super army. And though it can be clunky to solve puzzles using both screens, or the picture-in picture mode that the game sometimes uses to get around the screen split, ultimately "Wonderful 101" shows how the Wii U's potential could grow.
Get it: If you want to see what the Wii U can do
Skip it: If you're not a fan of a learning curve
Price: $59.99, for Nintendo Wii U
Forza Motorsport 5
One of Microsoft's most-anticipated exclusives for the Xbox One, Forza brings in all the goodies that gear heads want from a racing game, with gorgeous graphics and a ton of lens flare. It's hard to make a truly innovative racing game; it's often best just to try and make the basics as fun as possible. To that aim, Forza is successful, upholding its reputation as more of simulation-style racer than one that feel like an arcade game. Users can shift among a few views -- behind the wheel, on the hood or over the car -- to suit their tastes. In the cockpit view, there's been plenty of attention to detail, and players can even check out the rearview mirror for a realistic touch that makes races that much more fun. Even the damage is a little bit real, though players do have the option to turn back the clock for really bad wrecks. But the cars do get dirty and dinged, so there is at least some reward in driving safely.
It's certainly the kind of title that will have users taking advantage of the recording features on the Xbox, which let you brag about -- er ... share -- clips of the previous 30 seconds of game play. Of course, if racing doesn't tickle your fancy, than there's not much else to "Forza Motorsport 5." It's all about beautiful cars, fast driving and burning rubber that you can almost smell.
Get it: If you're into high-octane fun
Skip it: If cars just aren't your thing
Price: $59.99, for Microsoft Xbox One
Honorable mention: Resogun
This is the surprise hit from the PlayStation 4 launch title list -- a shorter side-scrolling game that Sony's throwing in for the price of admission to its $5 per month PlayStation Plus network. But while it may be packaged as a free gift -- without the subscription it's $14.99 -- Resogun sure doesn't play like one. With vivid graphics that will remind players of the gritty, neon future depicted in '80s blockbusters, Resogun feels retro in all the right ways. But while the look feels old-school, the game play is anything but. Although the controls aren't hard to figure out, they're difficult to master, and success comes from being able to deftly juggle multiple controls to reach your goal. Players also have to be careful to prioritize their enemies, or they may feel overwhelmed by all the on-screen action. If you get strategic, however, Resogun is a joy to play and proves that simple doesn't mean easy.
Get it: If you like a challenge -- and pretty colors
Skip it: If you prefer long, complicated games
Price: Free for PlayStation Plus subscribers; $14.99 for Sony PlayStation 4