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My name is Wayne Chamberlain and I'm a geek daddy who is into Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, books, movies, video games and talking to creative people about their work in these mediums. And that's what you'll find here, along with news, previews and reviews. I'm a journalist, an editor and co-host of the Star Wars Book Report podcast. So come on in and feel free to geek out in a fun, friendly environment.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A dozen ways to beat the post-Christmas gaming drought

Well, time to shake off the gaming dust and get back at it after a short break from my weekly console gaming column. 
This is, as gaming fans well understand, the worst time of the year as far as a new release drought. That's because of the deluge of titles released in the three months before Christmas. (And for those of you who don't have a PC strong enough to run Star Wars: The Old Republic.)
But rather than lament the lack of fresh gaming meat, why not take a breath, sit back and delve a little deeper into some of the great 2011 titles that maybe you didn't spend enough time with because of the Christmas rush. You know, savour these virtual meals a little more.
With that in mind, here are my picks for a dozen ways to beat the post-Christmas blues:

12. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (360, PS3; Namco Bandai Games): When it comes to aerial combat, there is no better console franchise, in my opinion, than the Ace Combat franchise. And Assault Horizon will blow you away with an awesome lineup of fighter jets and military attack helicopters that let you take to the skies and live out your Top Gun fantasies in stunning HD. Throw in a solid story, which is a little less cheesy than some of the previous Japan-centric anime-inspired plots that featured mind-numbing dialogue, and you've got a great reason to turn and burn. Features a solo campaign, as well as online co-op for 2-3 players and online multiplayer battles with up to 16 people. Rated T.

11. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (360, PS3; Eidos and Square Enix): I am a huge fan of single-player, story-driven games and one of the best of the past year was this highly anticipated entry in the Deus Ex franchise. You play as Adam Jensen, a man who augments his body with cybernetics in order to help him unravel a conspiracy that threatens humanity itself. Featuring open-ended gameplay in which your decisions actually do matter and help the story evolve, you will be challenged to figure out the best way to attack the various problems and enemies you'll come across. A great mix of role-playing and action that packs a real story-driven punch. Rated M.

10. Lord of the Rings: War in the North (360, PS3; Warner Bros. Games): As you can tell from my blogger alias, I'm a big LOTR fan and so it shouldn't really be a surprise that this game cracks this list. War in the North is an action role-playing game in which you play as one of three characters ... a ranger, an elf or a dwarf. The game unfolds at the same time as the epic events of the LOTR story, so you are tasked with helping to create a diversion in the North country that will help divert Sauron's attention, as well as defeating another threat to Middle-earth - the evil Agandaur. The combat isn't the strongest element of the game, but I absolutely loved the storyline, the fact you get to visit key locations and meet LOTR characters, as well as build your chosen fighter via a branching skill tree. And the story is the real reason to delve into the title and get lost in a gaming expansion of J.R.R. Tolkien's world. You can play solo or co-op, either online or off. Rated M. 

9. Gears of War 3 (360; Microsoft): The epic conclusion to Marcus Fenix's saga, this third Gears game delivers a good storyline, strong gameplay mechanics and memorable characters who have carved out a niche in gaming history with their chainsaw bayonettes. There's a great solo campaign here, which is longer than the other two, as well as strong co-op gameplay both online and off. And when you're done playing the story, you can dive into the multiplayer modes, including 10-player battles and five-player co-op. The Horde and Beast modes give you some great options when it comes to burning away the hours in this unique world. Rated M.

8. Saints Row: The Third (360, PS3; THQ): The story is ridiculous, let's get that out of the way off the top. The Third Street Saints have dominated Stillwater and for years, becoming part of the mainstream culture. Now, a group called the Syndicate is challenging them and demanding they bow down, so to speak. The Saints decide to take the battle to the Syndicate, invading the city of Steelport, determined to topple this Vegas-esque burgh. The true genius of this game is its over-the-top action, which can be played either solo or in an online co-op mode. The goal is to take over the sex, drug and gun rackets and the emphasis is on crazy weapons, costumes and antics. It's a circus freakshow, but it's also a lot of fun. Rated M.

7. Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection (360, PS3; Konami): The Metal Gear Solid HD Collection bundles together three MGS titles - Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Besides upgrading them with high-def graphics, this set also offers Xbox users their first chance to tackle the adventures of Snake. Of course, the original PlayStation game and MGS4 are still out of reach to Xbox users, but this is a good way for those gamers to finally experience this iconic franchise. The storylines are the coolest things about these three games, as the actual gameplay mechanics are frustrating when you compare them to current day action shooters. But it's still well worth the effort.

6. GoldenEye 007: Reloaded (360, PS3; Activision): This classic title rocked the Nintendo 64 back in the day and it got a Wii update, but now 360 and PS3 gamers get a chance to drive one of the best 007 games ever made. The update features Daniel Craig's likeness replacing Pierce Brosnan, as well as high-def graphics and an upgraded set of gameplay and story mechanics. The result is one of the most addictive and entertaining James Bond games ever. You can play up to four players offline, or go online and take part in 16-person multiplayer battles. Overall, this one is a no-brainer if you love a good shooter or are a fan of James Bond. It's well worth diving into an update of a classic title. Rated T.

5. Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary (360; Microsoft): Sensing a trend? Like Hollywood, the gaming industry is maturing enough that we're starting to see developers revisit old titles and try to put a new spin on them, much the same way studios do with film franchises. I think that part of the reason for this game's release, besides the obvious economic and anniversary reasons, is to show gamers that 343 Industries can do Halo the way Bungie did. Now, that may not be true since this game is essentially a shot-for-shot remake of the original. It's just been given a high-def makeover and updated skins. The story and the action is still classic tried-and-true Bungie. But with 343 Industries taking control of the franchise as Halo 4 starts to appear on the horizon, I don't think it was a bad idea for the studio to get something out there in the Halo universe with its name on it, even if it is to allay even slightly any trepidation franchise fans might have about a post-Bungie experience. No matter, this game still holds up remarkably well 10 years after its release and there is no doubt that the new Firefight mission, an enhanced story, offline and online co-op and 16-person multiplayer battles will keep Halo fans quite entertained in the months to come. Rated M.

4. Battlefield 3 (360, PS3; Electronic Arts): Bringing Battlefield into the modern era showcases the amazing talents who work at DICE and this title builds on the success of the franchise and shines brightly, both in terms of its single player and multiplayer experiences. The single-player story, which puts you in the boots of a U.S. Marine tasked with stopping a terrorist, is spellbinding. Some of the missions had me gripping the controller so tightly that my fingers ached ... and that's a good thing because that means the game is incredibly engaging. And while long-time readers know I'm not a big multiplayer fan, this game certainly provides those who love the experience with great options and top-notch thrills and challenges that will keep them busy for weeks and months on end. The 24-multiplayer battles are epic. I only wish there had been offline and online co-op options as that would have added to the epic mix already assembled. Rated M.

3. Batman: Arkham City (360, PS3; Warner Bros. Games): The first Batman game rocked. This one is downright awesome. Rocksteady studio has crafted one of the truly great superhero games of all time on any console or gaming device. Arkham City is a walled-off area of Gotham City, in which the criminals and the insane masterminds of the comic world run riot. Batman does battle with all comers, using a combination of stealth and speed and brains to outwit and overcome all of the assembled baddies. Throw in the ability to play as the super sexy Catwoman, as well as the iconic collection of villains, like Joker, Harley Quinn, The Riddler and more, and you've got a dark world with a compelling story that offers a true must-play experience. Rated T.

2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (360, PS3; Activision): With its awesome mix of single-player, story-driven gameplay, offline co-op, four-player offline battles, as well as 18-person multiplayer mayhem, there's not much more I can say about one of the greatest action shooters ever made. It shines in all departments and I really enjoyed the co-op special ops missions, with the much tougher (and obviously frustrating) survival mode which can be brutally unforgiving. That said, that's what war is all about. Overall, MW3 rocks, giving you a good single-player experience. And the multiplayer modes remain as addictive as ever for fans who are into that kind of thing. For me, I still enjoy diving back into the story and reliving some of the intense action sequences that this is the hallmark of this series. Rated M.

1.  The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (360, PS3; Bethesda): Let's be honest, if you're going to invest hundreds of hours into a game, story and experience are keys and this role-playing game delivers on both fronts. Skyrim adds another great chapter to The Elder Scrolls franchise and builds nicely off of the Oblivion experience. You dive into a post-Oblivion world, where dragons now roam the skies and you must find your place among them since you the Dragonborn, a prophesized hero whose decisions help determine the type of world you'll help forge. The character choices are impressive and the game simply hums along. What I particularly enjoy are the greater options and the increased number of vocal performances you'll find in Skyrim. Oblivion was an amazing game, but hearing the same people over and over got tiresome after the first 60 hours or so. Now, you'll find a larger array of characters with a larger cast bringing them to life, which helps to create a bigger, more immersive experience in what is truly an amazing world to explore. And when you're done one game, you can create an entirely new character with different skill sets and venture forth to play the game in an entirely different way, making different story choices and experiencing Skyrim in a new way. You could literally spend most of 2012 chewing your way through this game over and over and experiencing it from different perspectives until the virtual dragons come home to roost. It's a beauty. Rated M.

Wayne Chamberlain is an editor at The Sudbury Star, who has covered the gaming industry and reviewed games since 2003. You can follow him on Twitter.com @ChamberlainW or @JediAragorn. Join his blog at jediaragorn.blogspot.com.

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