2011 Holiday Season Preview

The 2011 holiday season is shaping up to be the greatest one yet for gaming. Not since 2007 has there been such an absolute deluge of quality titles released in the later half of the year. What sets 2011 apart from all the other contenders though, is the astounding variety found across all genres on each platform. Additionally, with the downloadable platforms now just as solid and diverse as the retail ones, the amount of options one has at their disposal is staggering.

If you choose to view the annual holiday gaming rush beginning in August or September, there have already been multiple stellar games released. “Deus Ex,” “Dead Island,” “Gears of War 3,” the Team Ico collection, “Dark Souls,” “Rage,” “Forza 4” and “Batman: Arkham City” are just a few of the great titles that kicked off this year’s releases. Still, some of the most exciting games are just around the corner.

Now that “Gears 3” is out for the Xbox, the big exclusives to watch are definitely “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” and “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.” The multiplayer beta already reveals how “Uncharted 3” offers significant improvements over the second game. The gameplay has been further refined; the maps are more dynamic; and the addition of two-player split-screen for online Team Deathmatch results in spectacular fun. The main event for “Uncharted” games is the single player, but the multiplayer is now equally strong.

The new “Zelda” for Wii is one of the most exciting games this year, thanks to its utilization of Wii Motion Plus for 1:1 swordplay. “Skyward Sword” was built from the ground up for Wii, so expect some interesting puzzles built around motion control. According to Nintendo, the game will be roughly 50-100 hours long and there is even a second quest of some kind to look forward to.

Outside of the two biggest exclusives, the lineup for the rest of this year does not disappoint. First, there are the huge open world games releasing this year. “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations,” and “Saints Row: The Third” are three very different interpretations of open world games, each with broad appeal. First-person shooter fans have a tough choice to make between “Battlefield 3” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” though both games will likely find huge success.

Fighting fans should consider checking out “Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3,” as it will feature 12 new combatants, including ace attorney Phoenix Wright and Frank West for a budget price. Wii owners and platformer fans shouldn’t miss out on “Kirby’s Return to Dreamland,” as it will offer four-player cooperative action similar to “New Super Mario Bros.”

The handheld lineup of games for this year is impressive too. The 3DS is about to obtain its first real game that isn’t a port or remake when “Super Mario 3D Land” launches in November. The system has been gaining momentum since its price dropped from $250 to $170, and games like this one and “Mario Kart 7” in December should kick off a steady stream of games planned for 2012.

While the 3DS has been out for seven months now, the original DS is still releasing quality titles with “Kirby: Mass Attack,” “Solatorobo” and “Professor Layton and the Last Specter,” all of which are available now. The PSP may be on its way out with the Vita coming in early 2012, but there is a cool downloadable text adventure horror game called “Corpse Party” to look forward to this year.

On the downloadable fronts, there are plenty of exciting releases this year in addition to the entire back catalogs. The most exciting downloadable content, though, is arriving through Sony’s new “Only on PlayStation Network” program that essentially mimics Xbox’s “Summer of Arcade.” The new PSN promotion, which is already underway, includes games such as “Infamous 2: Festival of Blood” and “PixelJunk SideScroller,” as well as downloadable PS2 games for the first time outside of HD remakes. There are currently five PS2 games available for download including my absolute favorite PS2 game, “Odin Sphere.”

With all of the awesome games coming out before the end of the year, it is easy to forget that there were amazing games released in the first half of the year as well. Game of the Year contenders like “Portal 2” and “Catherine” are just two of the many games that released in 2011 before the holiday rush. Now that time has passed, it is likely that these and other great games can be found readily available at lower prices.

While limited time and budgets may make it impossible to play every game released this year, the sheer quantity of AAA gaming experiences across all genres cements 2011 as one of the greatest years in gaming.