Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Price: $29.99 Rating: Mature Another go-with-a-winner pick. If BioShock substitutes for Fallout 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare substitutes for this year's Call of Duty: World at War. And for some, 2007's top shooter surpasses this year's sequel, because it set an almost impossible standard to continue. If your gamer's shooter-inclined, maybe he has this one already, but if not - or if he's not much of a shooter - definitely make the introduction.
Essentials Left 4 Dead Price: $53.99 Rating: Mature Zombies might be a bit of an overdone meme for some games (ahem, Call of Duty: World at War) but by getting back to basics - zombies versus shotgun-packing pissed-off noninfected survivors in a darkened, quarantined city - shows strong potential this one is a winner. Plus it's Valve, and when they train their guns on something, they usually blow it right off the map. Braid Price: 1200 Xbox Live points (You can get 1600 for $17.99) Rating: Everyone 10+ Roundly hailed as the best downloadable game ever, Braid is a truly novel platformer with thought-provoking storytelling that puts its retail cousins to shame. If gaming, like film or theater, has a basic level of cultural relevance expected of those who enjoy it, Braid certainly became a part of that this year. The price might make it a value, but its experience makes it essential.
Dead Space Price: $56.99 Rating: Mature That's three mature titles, two of them survival horror. But this is a standard bearer not only in its genre, but for game development over all. The Electronic Arts team asked set out to make a game that they themselves would want to play. We want to play it too. Just with all the lights on. At high noon. With our backs to a wall.
Soulcalibur IV Price: $56.99 Rating: Teen Here's your choice in the fighter genre. Soulcalibur's fourth installment is the first on current-gen hardware, bringing along Yoda (as a standard character, you can download Vader if you want) into the lineup of SC faves. Rated for teens, but the jigglefest makes giving it to one who's particularly hormonal a smidge risky. Yes, Ivy, we're looking at you. Oh, yes, we're looking at you.
Burnout Paradise Price: $27.99 Rating: Everyone 10+ Every console owner needs a racer, and although this one has been out for quite sometime, it gets the nod as an essential for gameplay that isn't as intensely difficult as the later Midnight Club: Los Angeles. Need for Speed: Underground is too new, so the jury's still out on its essential-ness. If your friend is a racer, any of these three are a strong call, but Burnout takes the flag for the overall package. Socializers Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe Price: $56.99 Rating: Teen Just out as of Sunday. The characters involved make this the fighter choice among friends - who wouldn't want to line up and beat ass as The Joker, or the Flash? Plus Wonder Woman and Catwoman supply the requisite fighter eye candy.
Rock Band 2 Price: Game only $56.99. Instruments and game, $189.99 Rating: Teen This and Guitar Hero form the most social experience of any single game out there right now. With the instrument set, it's a party in a box, although you can say the same thing about the Wii for not much more in price (MSRP, anyway.) If you are buying instruments, weigh that choice very carefully. Rock Band, the originator of the four-instrument setup, gets the nod here for both set list and instrument reliability. Madden 09 Price: $56.99 Rating: Everyone Electronic Arts added in the Madden IQ feature to make its genre-defining sports simulation much more accessible to less sophisticated players. that feature's a work in progress, but when you're playing among friends, you're glitching and goofing and going for it on 4th and 40 anyway, so the lack of realism isn't really missed.
Lego Batman Price: $49.99 Rating:Everyone 10+ Legos and the holidays are a decades-old partnership. Lego Batman's cooperative gameplay, awesome minifigs and laugh-out loud cutscenes are lots of fun on your own, even better with a buddy.
Need for Speed: Undercover Price: $59.99 Rating: Teen The deep customization engine and fleet of real vehicles are well suited for online play. Nothing beats building your real car, or at least the one you wish you had, and dropping the hammer on your pals. NFSU features the standard online racing action as well as the "Cops and Robbers" mode, which are both cooperative and competitive.
Epics Grand Theft Auto IV Price: $37.99 Rating: Mature I forget what the final time figure was, to get to 100 percent completion, but regardless of that, you're going to want to see and experience everything in Rockstar's beautiful, grimy, jaded land of opportunity called Liberty City. The fact that Niko Bellic walks by default, instead of running, tells you that they wanted you to take your time with it.
Fallout 3 Price: $56.99 Rating: Mature Fallout is difficult to encapsulate in a few sentences, but it was an RPG phenomenon on PCs in the late 1990s, so this is the first introduction to it for many console players. The sprawling expanse of the annihilated wasteland presents an almost infinite set of outcomes, leaving you feeling like you completely hallucinated another life for yourself.
Fable II Price: $59.99 Rating: Mature The 360's definitive fantasy role playing game, Fable II presents Albion as an immense tapestry upon which to paint the story of your character's life. The consequence driven engine immerses a player in role playing like no other game can, while the action sequences are entertaining enough to keep a player going for hours.
Gears of War 2 Price: $56.99 Rating: Mature If any shooter deserves this much time and attention from a gamer, it's Gears 2, because Epic Games certainly poured more than its share of work into it. Gears 2 provides the expected ultra-level of action and carnage, but it also further develops its increasingly iconic characters, the human bulwarks against a world gone mad.
Prince of Persia Price: $59.99 Rating: Teen This won't be out for another two weeks (Dec. 2), but the franchise's history, plus what we've heard of the story, plus the unique cell-shaded graphic design of the game are enough get a bid in the epic department. The game introduces Elika, a supporting character who ensures the Prince never dies, meaning it shares more than just an engine in common with Assassin's Creed. Leave it to Ubisoft to come up with a new way to save yourself from yourself.