1) Halo 4 - 343i (Xbox 360)
This game is one of the best to have ever launched on the Xbox. The story is thrilling and continues one of the best video game stories of all time. Action, lore and love are brought into the forefront of the best cut-scenes in video game history. This doesn't mean it's a sappy romantic game. It's filled with guns, guns, more guns, blood, death, bigger guns, spaceship guns, and a few tender moments between the main characters. If you don't understand why the tender moments are so important, go buy Halo: CE, Halo 2 and Halo 3. Play them first. The graphics blow other titles out of the water and the gameplay mechanics are smooth. 343i took over the reins from Bungie and have done nothing but great things for this series.
Multiplayer has been improved and balanced beyond recognition from the previous titles. It is a fast paced, crazy mess of fun. The weapons are equal to each other, providing much more competition and skill to be used. There are some downsides to the game however. One glitch relating to the Boltshot pistol is gamebreaking and the small amount of maps at launch was disappointing. Spartan Ops, which was promoted as being a campaign continuance, is merely a shoot this, move to the next room, touch a button and shoot some more. The Story Cut-scenes you get at the beginning are great, and the plot seems rather good, but the gameplay is dull and monotonous.
All in all, this is one of the best games you will experience this year.
2) Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 - Treyarch (Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii U)
The highly anticipated sequel of Black Ops (2010), and the ninth installment in the COD franchise, this game spans two timelines. The first in 1980, the second in 2025. 1980 takes you down the path of Alex Mason, fighting a proxy war in "Angola". Time period weapons are utilized for this part of the campaign and leads you to some interesting plot points, including chronicling the rise of Raul Menendez, the main antagonist of the war in 2025. In 2025, you play as David Mason, Alex Mason's son. The Chinese Economy is crippled by a cyberattack, leading to a financial meltdown. China then bans the exports of rare earth elements which inevitably sparks a second Cold War, this time between the United States and the People's Republic of China.
The multiplayer takes place in 2025 and has been changed to a 10-point system rather than the old create-a-class idea. You start with 10 points to use on weapons, attachments, and perks, each costing 1 point. You can also choose up to 3 'Wildcards' to more perks, weapon attachments, or higher damage grenades. These cost extra points however, so make sure you evaluate your character thoroughly.
If you liked previous COD titles, you will definitely enjoy this one.
3) Skyrim - Bethesda (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
Dragons have invaded the world of Tamriel. Swords and spells have always been a part of The Elder Scrolls series and this time they take the medieval Knight lore to the next level. Facing off against dragons armed with your sword and shield is a lot of fun, but terrifying as well. The story has you searching the realm of Skyrim to understand why the dragons have begun returning from the dead, and the task is yours alone as you are Dragonborn. The blood of dragons runs through your veins. There are many side-quests to complete, adding to the power your character can wield. There are a few glitches, as any open world games have them, and at times the NPC's can be really stupid. I mean abnormally stupid. "Oh I thought I heard something and then I took an arrow to the face, but I guess it was nothing after all." That kind of stupid.
All in all, it's a successful game with a great backstory and a very fluid combat system. The way you can build your character allows far more fluidity than simple pick and choose skill majors. I think fans of any hack n' slash game mixed with sorcery and arrows will love this game.
4) Borderlands 2 - Gearbox Software (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
To sum this game up in 4 words, it's best with friends. Borderlands 2 is a huge leap forward from the first. Imagine playing your favorite game, loving every bit of it, and then the sequel comes out and totally changes everything. You hate it right? What if they kept all the good stuff and made everything more awesome instead? That's Borderlands 2. My God is this game insane. The amount of guns in this game cannot even be counted. The Easter eggs appear to have no limits. The co-op aspect is one of the best features in this game and also probably executed the best for this medium. Enemies abound and they vary in type and shape. Most of the storyline can be handled by a lone Vault hunter, but for bigger badasses you need a full team of level 50 characters to stay alive. Hilarity ensues in this game with character quotes sometimes making you cry from laughing so hard, and trolling your friends by snatching up that bit of loot they worked so hard for is just too funny.
That's not to say the game is perfect. The mini-map throws you the wrong way more often than not, and it doesn't update until you are right at the point you are driving on. So that awesome jump you just found turns out to be a cliff and there goes your purple hot rod. Weapon pickups are annoying, since anything and everything requires a huge screen above it. If you want one item you need to pick up all 5 around it.
Overall the game is great and if you want a fun game that lasts a while and will keep you and your friends excited the whole time, get Borderlands 2.
5) Assassin's Creed III - Ubisoft (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, PC)
Ubisoft has proven time and time again that their attention to historical detail is unmatched in the video game world. Developers have spent months visiting sites in Europe to make the Assassin's Creed series as accurate as possible, even getting the assassinated targets place and time of death correct. They follow up the long running series with a move to the States.
Take the place of a Native American/English man as he steps into the shoes of his Assassin heritage. Fight Redcoats and countrymen alike as you further your goal of eliminating the Templar from history. The mechanics are very sharp, even compared to the progression the past games have had, and the combat has been tweaked to allow for many more options and abilities. I can't really get into the story aspect without spoiling a lot of the campaign, especially if you're an American History buff. Let's just say George didn't win by luck alone.
6) Dishonored - Arkane Studios (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
What do you get when you mix stealth, magic and steam punk? Dishonored stretches the conventional idea of an RPG game. You take the role of Corvo Attano, a royal bodyguard turned assassin. Corvo's only goal now is to find those who framed him for a murder he didn't commit, and commit some murders of his own for revenge. Each individual mission can be changed by exploring the environment, previous violent/non-violent choices, which also reflect on the storyline as well.
Magic becomes a part of your arsenal and can be combined with your equipment to make you a master of death. See through walls, possess another being, turn your dead victims to ash to eliminate evidence... All of these powers are at your beck and call, and even more powerful ones can be earned, such as distorting time itself. The AI in this game is not quite as ridiculous as players have seen before. Suspicious or alarmed enemies will speak to their allies to inform them of a possible intruder, which heightens the threat level of being discovered. Once their suspicion is triggered, it will never revert to a normal setting, so stealth is usually your best option. Get in, get out, get as little blood on your hands as possible. Definitely a good game to have this season. I mean who wants to spend time with family when there are people to assassinate?
7) Batman Arkham Asylum/Arkham City - Rocksteady Studios (Xbox 360, PC, Mac OS X, PS3)
If you have ever wondered what it would be like to be Batman, these are definitely the games for you. These games put every superhero game to shame. You actually feel like Batman. Obviously there is combat and gadgets, as well as a spectacular amount of characters from the comics. What is the best part is that Rocksteady got the original main character voice actors from DC Animated Universe, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin reprising their roles as Batman, the Joker, and Harley Quinn, respectively. The story was written by Paul Dini (Batman: The Animated Series) and it is done beautifully.
The combat of the game is extremely fluid, as Batman bounces back and forth between enemies, handling 30 just as easy as 2. You get access to some of Batman's coolest gadgets as well as some new ones. The story is the best part so I won't spoil any of it. The first game is set inside Arkham Asylum, while the second takes place inside Arkham City. Arkham City is basically the island around Arkham has been turned into a gigantic prison for all the baddies. People go in. No one comes out. If they want to be killers, better to let them kill each other, right?
If you can spare a little extra cash, get both. Right now the two should cost a little less than a new release, but they are probably the best action games I've ever played.
8) Bioshock - 2K Boston ( Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Mac OS X)
If you are in the market for something a little more creepy, this game is for you. It's an older title, but if you've never played it, welcome to the world of Rapture. The game begins with your plane crashing in the middle of the ocean. Right next to you is a lighthouse. Now, a lighthouse isn't exactly common in the middle of the ocean, especially since there isn't an island. But you're drowning, so who really cares? There isn't anyone home, but there is a submarine. Obviously you are supposed to take it to find some help.
Help isn't exactly what you find, as the citizens of Rapture are twisted, creepy, homicidal maniacs with paranormal abilities. You aren't exactly defenseless since you get to pick up a wrench. Wrench? These freaks of nature are shooting fire from their hands and we get a wrench? Oh well, it's effective until you get to pick up a gun and then get superpowers of your own. Shoot fire, ice, lightning bolts.... all from your fingertips. While the inside of the city is creepy and everything is falling apart, the outside view is magnificent. You are sitting on the bottom of the ocean, surrounded by sheer wonder. It would be heaven to live there. Which was the point, originally. Now it's a living Hell. Getting to hear the rest of the story will require you to buy it. But it's a great game. You won't be disappointed.
So those are my top picks for full titles this Christmas season. I will have my top picks for XBL Arcade titles for those with MSP to burn. Look for it in a few days.