It had been a rough few years for gamers, as people slowly upgraded to the new-gen consoles and developers finally got a handle on what's under the hood of these new machines. Now that we're entering our third holiday season with the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Wii U, all their promises are finally being fulfilled.
So for the gamers on your list, rest assured there is considerable bounty to choose from regardless of their genre tastes. For those who prefer more light-hearted games, at the bottom of this article you'll find a gaming gift guide for kids and teens that should appeal to most adults, too. But this list is primarily for the games that are rated mature for 18 and over.
So here are your best bets to buy for your loved ones who love to game.
"Fallout 4" Bethesda PS4, XB1, PC
"Fallout 4" has been widely declared the game of the year, and with good reason. As you can see in the trailer, the creativity and art direction on display is astounding, and it's a living breathing world that really feels like it.
The retro-futuristic and post-apocalyptic scenario is that the world turned out how they imagined it in the Atomic Age 1950s -- robots, fusion, etc. -- but then there was a nuclear war. Your character survived by being cryogenically frozen in a fallout shelter for 200 years, which is where the story begins. From there, the game is so vast and unique that almost nobody will share the same experience over their 100+ hours of playtime.
For any fan of the Bethesda's unique brand of open-world building -- including their "Elder Scrolls" series -- this is a must buy.
"Xenoblade Chronicles X" Wii U
Nintendo’s console has suffered from a lack of support by third-party developers, which is why “Xenoblade Chronicles X” is such a godsend for Wii U-owning sci-fi fans.
The set-up may be boilerplate – aliens attack earth, survivors flee in a space ark and crash land on far-off planet – but once you start exploring beyond the New Los Angeles settlement, the game is all about creativity and scale.
The landscapes and creature design is eye-popping, the combat is gratifyingly complex, the massive open world feels fresh and, well, your customizable character will eventually get a mech robot suit. That last one may be enough. Monolith Soft really did a solid for Nintendo with this game, so why don’t you do the same for your loved one.
"The Witcher 3" PS4, XB1, PC
This is a must-get for any fantasy fan on your list. While the medieval-inspired open world may seem familiar to “Lord of the Rings” fans, Polish video game developer CD Projeckt has pulled off a unique role-playing game experience that will enthrall for countless hours.
It’s not only operating at a very high quality level, it’s also much more narrative based than its game-of-the-year competitor Fallout 4, further developing the story of Geralt of Rivia that has been unspooling across a host of past games and novels. Oh, and it isn’t kidding about its mature rating – this is very much a game made by adults for adults.
"Rise of the Tomb Raider" PS4, XB1, XB360, PC
Lara Croft, the first lady of gaming, continues to excel in Crystal Dynamics’ reboot series. This post-origin story has the badass British tomb raider much better at her job while also keeping her remarkably relatable because she she doesn’t shut off her emotions like a traditional action hero.
The graphics are great and the levels cleverly designed, whether she’s searching for clues in Syria or hunting down a lost city in Siberia, and it takes a wonderfully long time before she resorts to gunplay.
Fans of past Tomb Raiders or Indiana Jones should love this latest Lara adventure.
“Call of Duty: Black Ops III” PS4, PS3, XB1, XB360, PC
Dare we say that “Call of Duty” got progressive in its 12th go-round? Treyarch's latest first-person shooter is set in 2065, four decades after “Black Ops II,” in a world under siege from climate change. You can even play as a female or person of colour for the first time. But the bigger pull is probably the game getting away from feels-too-real modern warfare to instead feature the futuristic fighting of cyborg soldiers and robotic drones.
The game boasts big budget voice-actors like Christopher Meloni and "Battlestar Galactica’s" Katee Sackhoff in its story campaign, which also now features up to four-person co-op. But most game time will no doubt be spent fighting over the maps in competitive online multiplayer. Oh, and as a bonus there is a Nightmares mode that turns it into a zombie game. Yes, really.
“Halo 5: Guardians” XB1, PC
The Xbox’s signature series finally makes it to Microsoft’s new console. Though it’s prettier than ever, the futuristic first-person shooter franchise now helmed by 343 Industries delivers what fans have loved about “Halo” since day one, including an action-packed, if totally confusing, single-player story campaign and plentiful multiplayer modes that extends the game’s lifespan.
The biggest difference this time is that you not only play the series star Master Chief, but also Jameson Locke, a soldier chasing down Master Chief, who has gone AWOL. Both leads are backed by teams controlled either by the AI or additional online co-op players.
“Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate” PS4, XB1, PC
Don't worry, after last year's "Unity" misstep, the Quebec-made franchise is back on its feet. This latest in a long-line of parkour-friendly historical adventures sets its new open-world down in London, England at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution.
The series meta story about a centuries-spanning war between the Assassins Guild and the Knights Templar continues unabated, as twins Evie and Jacob Fry try and take down their antagonists by uniting the city's criminal gangs.
You can usually switch between the leads at will, a first for the series, and will meet the period-appropriate characters like Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale, Charles Darwin, Alexander Graham Bell and Karl Marx.
"Star Wars: Battlefront" PS4, XB1, PC
Hey, did you hear there’s a new "Star Wars" film coming out? Rather than an adaptation of the latest chapter, this "Battlefront" reboot of the early 2000s shooter series sticks mostly to the original trilogy, albeit with a just-released free download featuring the planet Jakku set right before the new movie. Otherwise it drops you into the battles you and your kids know and love -- Endor, Hoth, Tatooine – with up to 40 gamers in a series of multiplayer modes, both on land and in the air, and even opportunities to play as film faves like Darth Vader, Han Solo and Princess Leia.
But be warned, aside from a few solo missions, there is no single-player story campaign, so make sure the person on your list plays well with others.
“Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below” PS4, PS3, PC
It's almost worth buying Omega Force's "Dragon Quest" spinoff for the name alone, but luckily this game is as fun as the title.
It's a hack'n'slash game rooted in the carefully honed controls of the developer's popular "Dynasty Warriors" series. This makes it a little less to take on than your typical Japanese role-playing game, though it still boasts crafting, leveling and narrative to keep "Dragon Quest" acolytes happy.
And even for those unfamiliar with either side of this mash-up, it's a good gift if they have shown interest in Japanese video games or even fantasy anime and manga.
“Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection” (PS4)
“Uncharted” has always been built for grown-up fans of “Indiana Jones” and “Tomb Raider,” and if that matches someone on your list, and they haven’t played Naughty Dog's past games yet, then this is a great opportunity to catch up before “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” comes out next year. (In fact, you’ll also get access to a beta test of that game’s multiplayer.)
All three “Uncharted” games, originally released between 2007 and 2001, hop around the globe from South America to the Himalayas, and are renowned for their cinematic set-pieces with a touch of the old ultra-violence.
“Batman: Arkham Knight” PS4, XB1, PC, OS X, Linux
If your beloved family member or friend is a Batman fan, and hasn't yet put their hands on Rocksteady's trilogy-closing sequel, then "Arkham Knight" is an easy purchase and you can call it a day. But make sure, because this one has moved over 5 million units since its summer release.
The Scarecrow is the initial villain, but Batman's full Rogue's Gallery comes out to play in Gotham while the titular big bad remains a mystery unless you yourself are a dark knight detective (or comic book nerd).
“Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” PS4, PS3, XB1, XB360, PC
This is likely Hideo Kojima's final chapter in the "Metal Gear" franchise, which he first launched for the original Nintendo NES console back in 1987. But it's a big, bold and bizarre as you could hope.
The storyline is confusing, yes, but that's because it places emotion over coherency. The gameplay itself is spectacular with flexible missions and a well-designed open-world, even if it's eerie spending so much time fighting in Afghanistan. Oh, except you're actually fighting the Soviets, not the Mujaheddin, and this war game is also profoundly anti-war.
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"Splatoon" Wii U
Rated E10+ for Everybody 10 and Up
So your kid wants to play a shooting game and you're opposed to guns, well here's a potentially viable option. "Splatoon" is a third-person paint-splatter game that takes the essence of an online multiplayer shooter and Nintendo-izes is.
It's a team-based game where you play as kids who can transform into squids, and you're armed with ink guns.
The goal is not to shoot the other players, but to paint as much ink as possible on floors, walls and assorted objects on the game map (you can also swim though your own ink when in squid form). There are multiple modes, but the basics are that to win your side has the most things your colour when the time runs out.
"Splatoon" also lacks voice chat, which some have complained about but it means you don't have to worry about multiplayer bullying. And if you don't want your kid playing online, there's also a single-player campaign that delves deeper into the mythology of Inkopolis.
Oh, and it won best game at the British Academy Children's Awards, best Nintendo game at the Golden Joystick Awards and both best multiplayer game and best shooter at The Game Awards 2015.
“Lego Dimensions” PS4, XB1, Wii U
Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Up
First off, this is going to be an expensive proposition in the long run, but this is nothing new to parents of Lego-addicted kids. “Dimensions” is the iconic Danish brick toy’s incursion into the “toys to life” genre.
The premise is to combine children’s love of collectable action figures with their love of videogames. While “Skylanders” was an original property, “Disney Infinity” upped the ante with their vast array of characters to draw from.
Now Lego is following their lead, though it doesn’t feel like a copycat move given that they’ve been brickifying other entertainment properties in physical sets and video games ever since “Lego Star Wars” exploded over a decade ago.
The base set is like a tasting menu. While it includes minifigs of DC superhero Batman, “Lego Movie” star Wyldstyle and “Lord of the Rings” wizard “Gandalf,” the trio get to explore a whole range of worlds, from “Wizard of Oz” and “The Simpsons” to “Ghostbusters” and “Back to the Future.” As you can tell, they are clearly aiming at nostalgic parents as much as their kids, making this co-op adventure an ideal game to play together.
Many of the worlds need additional characters or playsets to open up beyond the base game, which increases playablity and decreases affordability. But at least you get a fair amount of Lego that you have to put down the controller and actually build in real life.
"Yoshi’s Wooly World" Wii U
Rated E for Everyone
This is just about the most adorable game ever made, and that's saying a lot for a Nintendo product.
Created by Good-Feel, the appropriately named studio behind another lesser-known Mario spinoff, “Kirby’s Epic Yarn,” the game once again applies a crafts aesthetic to the digital artform.
Everything in the game is made of yarn or felt, including Yoshi the dinosaur, who now spits out weaponized yarn balls rather than eggs.
It’s a traditional Nintendo side-scrolling platformer using cleverly designed that won’t make you miss the third dimension. It’s also got a two-player co-op mode that will allow parents or older siblings to help the little one make it through each level, as well as no time limit and a “mellow” mode that allows Yoshi to practically fly.
It’s a perfect entry point into the medium for young kids.
“Transformers: Devastation” (Multiplatform)
Rated T for Teen
Tired of telling your kids that the old ‘80s cartoon is so much better than the soulless Transformers movies? Just get them PlatinumGames’ genius adaptation of the franchise. It’s an arcade-style hack’n’slash action game that lets you fight as a robot that transforms into a vehicle. It’s also manageable for younger gamers based on your comfort-level with the cartoonish violence.
And I mean cartoonish literally. It’s basically an interactive version of the beloved animated series -- Soundwave is even the old-school version with a cassette deck on his chest.
In fact, the original voice actors of Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Grimlock, Megatron and Soundwave all reprised their roles for the game.
But don’t worry, the nostalgia may be aimed at you but it’s plenty fun enough for kids born long after the show went off the air.
“Yo-kai Watch" 3DS
Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Up
You’ve probably never heard of “Yo-kai Watch.” But you will. The franchise has become the new Pokémon over in Japan. If history is anything to go on, now that the anime has started airing on Disney XD over here, this evolution of the “collectible creature” genre will also soon become ubiquitous among our elementary school set, too.
It’s an open-world role-playing game made by one the genre’s greatest studios, Level-5, famed for the “Dragon Quest” and “Professor Layton” franchises as well as working with filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli on my favourite modern-era Japanese RPG, “Ni No Kuni.”
Despite being about a kid with a really cool watch, “Yo-Kai” is rooted in Japanese spirituality. Pretty much everything and everyone in the game world is haunted by invisible spirits -- ones that only you can see, thanks to said watch -- and the game play involves finding good ones, evolving them and pitting them in battle against the bad ones.
The whole thing is absurdly impenetrable to parents, but that’s probably why it’s so popular with kids.
"Guitar Hero Live" Multiplatform
Rated T for Teen
Remember when plastic instrument music games were all the rage? Well, they’re baaaaack!
"Guitar Hero Live," the first entry in the series since 2010, keeps its focus on its titular instrument, but upgrades the plastic ax with a new configuration that has two rows of three buttons. It is considerably more complicated than the original in an attempt to add more realism, so definitely for older offspring. It also replaces the cartoonish approach of the older games with first-person “live” video footage of crowds reacting to your efforts.
The game comes with a set of songs by acts ranging from Black Keys and Green Day to Rolling Stones Pearl Jam to Skrillex and Ed Sheeran as well as a microtransaction-fueled GHTV feature that replaces downloadable songs with rotating playlists of over 200 more tracks.
"Rock Band 4" PS4, XB1
Rated T for Teen
Harmonix’s "Rock Band 4" has all new instruments, too, though the old ones can still be used with the purchase of a third-party. And unlike GHL, any DLC songs purchased from the 1,500 available on the three previous iterations can be re-downloaded for free. The game also comes with 65 songs packed-in, including St Vincent, The Cure, U2, Elvis and Queens of the Stone Age.
Admittedly, the game hasn’t changed a lot in the in between years, but it's still a great for a big family and for teens to enjoy multiplayer gaming together on the same couch rather than with headsets from their own homes.
"Tearaway Unfolded" PS4
Rated E for Everybody
Media Molecule is the British studio who made the amazing textile-inspired side-scroller "LittleBigPlanet" and "Tearaway" was their paper-craft-based platformer follow-up.
It originally came out on Sony's handleld PS Vita, but given that device's low uptake, they thankfully reformatted the gameplay and control scheme for the much more popular PS4.
The storybook basics are the same, though, as you play a god-like character known as "The You," controlling the in-game character Atoi who wanders about fighting off evil Scraps, going on quests and saving the wonderfully whimsical paper world.
"Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash" 3Ds
Rated E for Everyone
The latest entry in the cult series starring a three-inch tall helper robot eschews the GameCube original’s open-world household for a 2D side-scrolling platformer that travels the world.
Aliens have invaded and they are stealing snacks (No, not Pocky!) and leaving behind garbage. It’s up to you to stop the thieving extraterrestrial litterbugs.
The robot’s power cord, which must be periodically plugged in to recharge, also functions as the titular zip lash, allowing it to be both a weapon and a mode of transport. For kids who like collecting real toys, there’s also a Nintendo amiibo that you can buy which unlocks new gameplay.