One of the more odious holiday-season tasks in the modern era might be having to buy video games for kids (or adults) when you're a grown-up who couldn't care less about the annoying things.
So, listen up: Here's a grab bag of PC and console titles, in no particular order, that have gamers abuzz and should be readily available on retail shelves this season. Note that some are more family-friendly than others.
Gun -- This Wild West adventure has been praised for its open-ended storytelling style, though faulted by some reviewers for being a bit too short. This title was made by the folks who practically created the extreme-sports genre with their hit line of Tony Hawk skateboarding games. PlayStation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360, PC
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories -- The notorious build-a-crime-empire series makes a debut on Sony's handheld gaming device. PlayStation Portable
Stubbs the Zombie -- Don't fight the undead, be the undead. Our hero here is a zombie, and the order of the day is to munch a lot of brains and build a zombie army. Gory, in a cartoonish way, this is mostly a spoof of '50s-era monster movies made by some of the original creators of the hit Halo franchise. Xbox
Shadow of the Colossus -- To solve the mystery at the center of this moody story, players have to figure out and exploit the weak points of a series of giants. A lot of games require quick reflexes to defeat hordes of dumb, human-sized monsters. This one asks for wits and patience to defeat a few massive ones. This title has been a sleeper hit among gamers, who rave about the game's originality. PlayStation 2
Star Wars Battlefront II -- "Star Wars" has launched a galaxy's worth of video games over the years. Most stink -- but this is one of the few that has scored enthusiastic reviews. Players in this one get to be foot soldiers in scenarios from the movies, ranging from the ice planet Hoth to the interior of the Death Star. PlayStation 2, Xbox
Civilization IV -- This strategy game, made by famous local game designer Sid Meier, lets players manage a budding society from the prehistoric era into the near future. This series is known for hooking fans into playing long game sessions stretching to the wee hours. PC
The Movies -- What would you do about TomKat or Brangelina? In this movie studio simulation game, you're a powerful movie mogul who gets to micromanage everything, from which projects get the green light to how to handle the latest scandal. PC
City of Villains -- Doesn't everybody want a lair to call his own? This online role-playing game, a sequel title to the superhero game City of Heroes, lets players take on the role of supervillains with powers and costumes designed from scratch. PC
Quake IV -- Space marines! Monsters! An ever-escalating armory of weapons! You know the drill. From the same company that made Doom. PC, Xbox 360
Perfect Dark Zero -- This first-person shooter game, about a secret agent named Joanna Dark, is an exclusive Xbox 360 title and one of the most anticipated games for the new console. Xbox 360
Project Gotham Racing 3 -- The buzz on this racing game for the Xbox 360 is that it's so graphically advanced that its digitized version of Brooklyn Bridge contains as much detail as the entire city of New York did in the previous installment. Xbox 360
FAMILY FRIENDLY TITLES:
Ultimate Spider-Man -- This game takes its appearance from the comic books, not the recent movies. When not swinging around on the buildings in this game's vast metropolis, players also get to play Venom, a villain from the Spider-Man world. PlayStation 2, Xbox.
The Sims 2 -- The hit sequel to the hit computer game, in which players get to micromanage the day-to-day lives of virtual people, is now available on game console. PlayStation 2, Xbox GameCube
We Love Katamari -- This Japanese cult hit, with its Hello Kitty aesthetic, is so weird that it's a little tough to explain. Basically, you're a little cartoon guy rolling up increasingly huge balls of junk that the King of Cosmos is using to. . . oh, forget it. Whatever, it's fun. PlayStation 2
Nintendogs -- This virtual pet program features everything but kennel fees. Pet your virtual doggie, walk it, buy it toys -- all that's missing is a trip to the Adams Morgan dog park. Thanks to the Nintendo DS's wireless connectivity features, players can have their virtual animals play with each other. Nintendo DS.
Guitar Hero -- It's "School of Rock" for the PlayStation 2. Designed with the air guitar master in the family in mind, this title comes with a guitar/game controller that plugs into the game console. Hit the right "notes" as you rock along with '70s-era tunes and you will climb your way to rock-god status. In your living room, anyway. PlayStation 2
The Atari Flashback 2 -- Modern games and game machines can be expensive, intimidating and a little too complex. This $30 device, designed as a smaller replica of the 1970s-era Atari 2600 console, is perfect for folks looking for a quick fix of classic games like Asteroids or Missile Command. If you didn't finish Adventure back in 1982, here's your chance.