5. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future - DS
Since its start two years ago, the Professor Layton series has entertained us, beguiled us, and kept our brains on their toes (so to speak). Unwound Future breaks new ground in the series, becoming the most expansive and cinematic title yet released. Building on previous titles' adventure/puzzle formula, the game takes you through time, to the London of ten years in the future. Aided by old friends and quirky new acquaintances, you and your assistant Luke work tirelessly to determine the origin of a baffling letter and to unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of the Prime Minister. Unwound Future offers hours of brain-teasing fun as well as an amazingly well-crafted story that may make this the first puzzle game that gets to you emotionally. And the best thing about it? It's on DS, so you don't even have to get out of bed to play it.
4. Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare Pack
Western action RPG Red Dead Redemption walked away with this year's Video Game of the Year award, and its Undead Nightmare Pack once again lets us jump back in the saddle. Gunslingers are one of our favorite things and Redemption let us feel like we were really a part of the old West, becoming the cold-as-ice desperado we always wanted to be. After making one of the best western-themed shooters on the market, how do you make it better? Well, by adding another of our favorite things—zombies. Using the same open-world style gameplay, the game makes you into a zombie hunter, taking down not only human undead, but animal versions as well in exciting co-op and competitive modes. Shoot to kill as Big Foot gets in your way and even tame the fiery mounts of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. With its humorous take on zombie killing and multiplayer Undead Overrun mode, the Undead Nightmare Pack is a great value and a must-play for dedicated Red Dead fans.
3. Fable III – Xbox 360
Over time, the Fable franchise just keeps getting better. Previous titles in the series let us explore the land of Albion, gambling, fighting, getting married, chatting up the villagers or becoming a slumlord, all while wearing a handlebar moustache and short-shorts. Fable III takes the series even further by making you the catalyst for revolution. Starting as a regular guy, you glad-hand the natives until they think you're the best thing since sliced bread and then stage a coup against the reigning king. Once on the throne, you become the source of nationwide happiness or misery, depending on the actions you take. With its broadened scope, Fable III is easily the best of the three Fable games. And why wouldn't it be? After all, it's not bad being a local big shot but it's even better to be king.
2. Fallout: New Vegas - Xbox360/PS3/PC
With its lengthy playthrough (and considerable bugginess), the perfect time to play New Vegas is when you have a free couple of weeks. Despite having some AI and stability issues, the game offers one of the most exciting and deep RPG experiences on the market. Playing a post-apocalyptic delivery boy, you get sucked into a complex faction war over control of the water and power supplied by Hoover Dam and spend the next umpteen hours trying to figure out who deserves to win it. Offering a compelling storyline, tons of exploration, and a surprising number of distractingly addictive side quests, don't be surprised if New Vegas makes you miss Christmas dinner.
1. Assassin's Creed Brotherhood – Xbox 360/PS3
People may think the holidays are all about snow, sweets, and Santa Claus but for our money, nothing's more festive than joining an elite brotherhood of assassins. Brotherhood takes everything that's cool about the first two Assassin's Creeds and turns it up to eleven. Following the adventures of professional hit man Ezio Auditore, you get to leap from tall buildings, start your own gang of ruthless assassins, and be the first to try out da Vinci's futuristic inventions. On top of that, for the first time in the series the game offers a dynamic multiplayer mode where you get to creep through the streets of Rome, Siena, or Castel Gandalfo, hunting down your closest friends like the shady, sneaking rats they are.
By Neilie Johnson
CCC Freelance Writer