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A Wish List for Gamers

By Mike Musgrove
Saturday, November 29, 2008 9:40 PM

"We really wanted to drive home that if you want to stretch your $60 out, this is the best way to do it," said Ryan Schneider as he shot saw blades through an aggressive bunch of zombie monsters on the TV screen during a recent visit to Washington.

The action video game Resistance 2 was in the works well before the current economic troubles, and Schneider's employer, Insomniac Games, is hoping that the title will find its way onto the wish lists of a few million or so gamers this holiday season. Like many new action titles, the game has a single-player storyline, but also features modes that let fans play with or against their friends online. You could spend a lot of time with this title, in other words.

Consumer electronics sales have been down this season, yet the video game industry has been relatively stable. Sony, for example, recently slashed expectations for holiday sales of flat panel TVs and digital cameras, but then nudged up its projection for the PlayStation Portable for this quarter by a million units.

Industry analyst Michael Pachter said video games are "very recession resistant." Maybe the typical Xbox-owning family isn't going on the ski vacation this year, he said, but they'll still pick up a video game or two.

For those of you not taking the ski vacation, here's a guide to what video game titles are available at your neighborhood electronics store. For a longer listing, check online at http://www.washingtonpost.com.

Multiple platform games

· Call of Duty: World at War -- The popular shoot-em-up series returns to World War II, this time, in part, to the Pacific theater. Some gamers grumbled that they didn't want to go back to the Second World War after last year's installment of this series incorporated modern scenarios and modern weapons. But World at War, which features the voice of "24" star Kiefer Sutherland, has been getting a thumbs-up from fans. The graphics in this game are very impressive and also very intense. (Rated M. Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, Wii, DS, PC. $40-$80.)

· Dead Space -- How come nobody ever designs a spaceship with adequate lighting? This space horror game draws on influences like the Alien flicks and video games like Doom 3. The storyline: A mining ship has stopped communicating with the rest of the fleet. You're sent to investigate -- a task that, it turns out, involves blasting away at a lot of scary monsters. (Rated M. Xbox 360, PS3, PC. $60.)

· Fallout 3 -- This game, developed by a local studio, stars a bombed-out version of our hometown. Players take control of a protagonist who has grown up in a radiation-proof bunker in the suburbs of Washington as he (or she) tries to track down a father who has suddenly gone missing. Though the game is set hundreds of years in the future after a nuclear war with China, it's an alternate world featuring what had been a 1950's-style "world of tomorrow" -- before the bombs fell, anyway. (Rated M. Xbox 360, PS3, PC. $50-$130)

· Guitar Hero World Tour -- The latest version of the popular rock game, which had a billion dollars in sales last year, incorporates a few extra instrument-like game controllers so that players can fill out the band. The deluxe version comes with a microphone and drum kit. One innovative feature lets players record and upload their own music for download by other players. (Rated T. Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, Wii. $50-$190.)

· Rock Band 2 -- This sequel to last year's band-simulator game doesn't introduce any radical changes except for a fresh song list, but the title's many fans don't seem to be complaining. Unusual gift opportunity alert: If your loved ones already have this game, you can go online and order merchandise for their virtual band. Items from T-shirts to posters featuring your giftee's avatars are available at http://www.rockband.com/merch. (Rated T. Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, Wii. $60-$190.)

Wii

This game console was in short supply for two holiday seasons in a row, and its appeal to everyone from kids to bar-goers to retirees is well-documented. Some analysts think it will be in short supply again this holiday season, so consider yourself warned.

· Wii Fit -- One of the year's ongoing bestsellers, this title comes with a balance board that wirelessly connects to the Wii console. The offerings on the game disc include everything from yoga and strength-building exercises to simple balance-your-body games. There's already been a shortage of this title at sites like Amazon.com, so don't get stuck in a last-minute rush. (Rated E. $90.)

PlayStation 3

One selling point for Sony's game console is that the system also lets users play movies in the high definition Blu-ray format.

· LittleBigPlanet -- Players control a whimsical character who hops and climbs his way through a series of obstacle courses in a mostly two-dimensional world. But the really interesting part about this game is how it lets players build and upload their own levels. Some folks are buying the PlayStation 3 just to check out this title this season. (Rated E. $60.)

Xbox 360

Microsoft's console has some nifty features and some hot games not available elsewhere. A recent revamp of the system's software interface means that Netflix subscribers can use the system to stream a selection of video content instantly.

· Fable II -- As players explore a mythical kingdom called Albion, they have a lot of freedom to choose whether their characters are good guys or bad guys as they go on quests, take jobs, start a family. While the list of possibilities in this game is long, the control scheme is simple enough to not frustrate the casual player. This title looks a little cheerier than the other titles on the blockbuster list, but don't let that fool you. There are adult themes aplenty. (Rated M. $60-$70.)

· Gears of War 2 -- Most action games encourage a run-and-gun approach, but this game emphasizes that players find a place to duck behind as they take on the role of a warrior named Marcus Fenix. The settings in this game are beautiful, though a video game where the trademark weapon is a machine gun melded to a chainsaw probably shouldn't be described as subtle. (Rated M. $60-$80.)

Computer games

Macs have sometimes been left out of the fun when it comes to new releases, but both of these popular releases are designed to run on both Windows and Mac systems.

· Spore -- The guy who created The Sims was at the helm of this Pixar-looking game, which lets users take control of a species from the cellular level all the way up to the era when they develop space-travel technology, venture forth and travel into the universe. This game has been knocked by some users for its copy control scheme, designed to limit the number of computers on which it can be installed. ($50-$80.)

· World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King -- If someone on your gift list wants this title, they will have already told you. With 11 million subscribers, the online sword-and-sorcery title World of Warcraft is a phenomenon unto itself. This add-on to the popular game opens up new quests and realms to the WoW fan. (Rated T. $40-$100, Internet connection and $15 monthly subscription fee required.)

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