There sure were a lot of fantastic Xbox 360 games in 2010. But these 10 are the ones you or your grandma should be buying for people they love this holiday season.

Apologies to three prominent games that feature the letter "B" in their title for leaving you off this list. The competition was just too fierce.

Without fear and without distraction for Kinect — that new Xbox 360 sensor that has yet to connect to a must-own video game — here are the 10 must-buy games (two of 'em downloadable only — which you can "gift" by buying a card for Microsoft Points, just as you'd buy someone an iTunes gift card.)


Alan Wake

Rating: T
Genre: Spooky thriller mixed with third-person shooting

Ideal Player: Players who want something unnerving, if not scary, reminiscent of the classic TV show Twin Peaks, which was set in a similar are of the American northwest.


What's It About?
Alan Wake is a video game Stephen King who goes to a small town in the Pacific Northwest with his wife to escape the stress of writer's block, but discovers the stress of having his wife go missing and a nightmare of shadowy traumas that ensues. Smartly parceled in chapters that feel like episodes of a fine TV show. The storytelling is superb; the gameplay, be warned, is mostly shooting.

Bang For Your Buck:
A solid single-player game, though a brief one that lasts several hours, making this a tougher sell at its launch price of $60 but a better one now that it goes for about half of that.

Read Kotaku's review of Alan Wake

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

Rating: M
Genre: Mostly assassination action, mixed with some Lost-style confusion.

Ideal Player: Those who would deligiht in a virtual trip to Renaissiance Italy where the buildings of Rome are waiting to be scaled, bad nobles are waiting to be murdered and Leonardo Da Vinci and Machiavelli are your helpful buddies. Plus, those who like mysteries and hidden connections.

What's It About? You're Ezio, an exceptional assassin in the Italian Renaissance in an adventure that's a narrative follow-up to last year's Assassin's Creed II, complete with momentary playable sequences set in 2012 where the "real" parts of the series-long conspiracy of civilizations is coming to a head. You must kill your targets with skill, while training a guild of assassins and liberating/renovating Rome.

Bang For Your Buck:
The single-player part of the game is packed with at least 20 hours' worth of main story, interesting side missions and special virtual-reality gameplay trials. The series-first online multiplayer has Call-of-Duty style ranking and leveling systems. Plenty of game here.

Read Kotaku's review of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Halo Reach

Rating: M
Genre: Sci-fi first-person shooter

Ideal Player: Halo fans and fans of superb first-person shooter design.
What's It About?
A prequel to all of the other Halo shooters, Reach's storyline puts the player in the boots of Noble 6, one of the members of a team of Master-Chief-like Spartan soldiers who valiantly fought the evil Covenant aliens on the planet Reach, as it fell. Multiplayer, lacking a storyline, is mostly about shooting other people in their virtual face, or grenading them, or punching them.
Bang For Your Buck:
The campaign is under 10 hours, just as it has been for previous installments, but is satisfying and rewards return visits. Multiplayer, including online-supported co-op against waves of enemies, is theoretically infinite.

Read Kotaku's review of Halo: Reach


Rating: T
Genre: Thinking-person's side-scrolling platformer.

Ideal Player: People who will think it's a plus, not a minus, to play a brain twisting game that could be described as an Ingmar Bergman take on Super Mario Bros.
What's It About?
A boy has to run from the left of the screen to the right side of the screen, but isn't that how it always goes? His adventure is full of treachery, big spiders and mean kids, most of them spookily silent and that require brains to defeat.
Bang For Your Buck:
Some complained that this downloadable-only game was too short, even for its $15 price, but its gameplay is nearly perfect. It's a gem.

Read Kotaku's review of Limbo

Mass Effect 2

Rating: M
Genre: Sci-fi role-playing game that could be mistaken for a third-person shooter

Ideal Player: Anyone who gets excited about exploring strange new worlds, talking to aliens and deciding when is a good time to point a pistol in their chest.
What's It About?
A direct sequel to the first Mass Effect and one that will carry over a player's character from the Xbox 360 version of that game, this is a sequel that puts Commander Shepard (male or female, nice person or jerk, depending on how you've played the character) on a quest to recruit an eclectic group of warriors to go on a nearly impossible mission.
Bang For Your Buck:
The Mass Effect games may be single-player only but they have lots of content and are malleable enough that it's fun to run through them again to see what a differently-played Shepard will do. Plus, the game was supported with a lot of free and paid downloadable expansions.

Read Kotaku's review of Mass Effect 2

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

Rating: E10+
Genre: Cops vs. robbers racing

Ideal Player: Those who fantasize about being the law; those who fantasize about out-racing the law; those that don't mind their racing games to be fast and beautiful, but a tad unrealistic.
What's It About?
Driving faster than everyone else, with an emphasis on high-speed police chases. As a racer, you want to come in first. As a cop, you want to stop the racers, calling in roadbloack assists to help. The game is improved for those with online connections who can enjoy Autolog, a system that networks player's races and challenges to each other using a Facebook-style interface.
Bang For Your Buck:
Beyond the standard racing offered with many unlockable cars, the strong socially-networked multiplayer gives the game lengthy staying power. Be warned that if you buy the game used you won't get the online, unless you pay extra for the access that is free to consumers of new copies.

Read Kotaku's review of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit

NBA 2K11

Rating: E
Genre: Basketball/Michael-Jordan simulator

Ideal Player: Basketball fans
What's It About?
The NBA, plus Jordan for the first time in a basketball game in ages. A special mode lets you play through moments in the career of the Chicago Bulls legend, but the game got high marks because of its overall polish, quality that allowed it to be the only simulation basketball game on the market in 2010.
Bang For Your Buck:
As long as you want to play video game basketball, this is your game.

Read Kotaku's review of NBA 2K11

Red Dead Redemption

Rating: M
Genre: Western

Ideal Player: Those who want to play a great cowboy game and those who crave a game with big sky and a pace that can be slowed to a trot on horseback if the lovely scenery demands it.
What's It About?
John Marston is a possibly reformed outlaw sent to the wild west by the government at a time when the American West is about to be contaminated with cars and federal authority. This is an adventure that has been over-simplified as Grand Theft Horse, but is nevertheless an action-packed, well-written journey through the American southwest and Mexico, culminating in a stirring final few hours unmatched in any other 2010 game.

Bang For Your Buck:
The long single-player game is extended further with support for online multiplayer that can be played competitively or in a more free-ranging free-roam mode, plus the game has been supported with numerous free and paid downloadable expansions, the most recent one featuring a several- hour tale of zombies.

Read Kotaku's review of Red Dead Redemption

Rock Band 3

Rating: E10+
Genre: Music game, band simulator, with keyboards added

Ideal Player: Fans of rock music and music games who want the best.
What's It About?
Once there was a gamer who had a guitar game. They could play along to all sorts of rock-n-roll songs and feel like a guitar hero. Then Rock Band let them also play the drums and sing. This year, Rock Band 3 lets them also use keyboard or play "pro guitar" or "pro drums," the latter options involving instruments that have strings and fake cymbals, respectively.
Bang For Your Buck:
The game supports older Rock Band and Rock Band 2 downloaded songs and is compatible with the steady flow of new tracks released for download from the game's creators each week. It supports at least four players in one room, up to seven if you have all the instruments, and has online play. Easy to keep playing this one for a while.

Kotaku's review for Rock Band 3

Toy Soldiers

Rating: T
Genre: World War I tower defense, sorta

Ideal Player: Fans of strategy, fans of playing with toys
What's It About?
Amid a battlefield of tower defense games, Toy Soldiers stands out both for re-creating battles of World War I, a conflict seldom depicted in games and rendered in this one as a simulation not of real war but of the kinds of games a little boy might play with a bunch of toys. You control the tanks, the plans and the turrets that make loud noises.
Bang For Your Buck:
The downloadable-only game has a fun, lengthy campaign that's been extended with an extra paid mission pack.

Read Kotaku's review for Toy Soldiers