Gears of War 3 (360) - With intense language and over-the-top gore (a chainsaw to the clavicle will do that), this game shouldn't be bought for young children. With a Mature rating, 17 and up is recommended, but try to find a high schooler that hasn't played this game.
Battlefield 3 (360 / PS3 / PC) - Once again, this is an M-rated shooter, with adult language and realistic violence. If an amazing online-shooter experience with destructible environments is what you're seeking, look no further. On PC, the game looks beautiful. That said, the Battlefield 3 community is a hardcore one. Make sure you're ready for this type of team-based shooter.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (360 / PS3 / PC) - Odds are if you wanted this game then you already have it. However, if you or your loved one hasn't gotten the best-selling medium ever, now could be the perfect opportunity. Yes, the community can be immature, and the story is laden with cool knife-kills and f-bombs, so if you're sheltering a child from that kind of material then definitely stay away from this title. If you are going to get them this wildly popular shooter, there is the previously mentioned 360 Console MW3 bundle, or just the game itself is a great gift.
Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition (360)- If you're fine with shooting violence but not okay with adult language, then this Halo game is a great gift. It is an HD version of the first entry in the Halo series from 10 years ago. The graphics are updated, there are new features, and the entire story mode is able to be played by two players. Is the person you're buying for a fan of every other Halo game? Then for $40 you really can't go wrong with this game.
Sports / Racing / Fighting
FIFA 12 (360 / PS3 / PC)- This is easily the best sports game of the year. It's the world's sport and EA nails soccer/futbol every year. As far as presentation and gameplay, this is the game to beat. If anyone you are buying for this holiday season is a soccer fan and a gamer, look no further. Buy this game or get a Red Card.
NBA 2K12 (360 / PS3) - So there's probably not going to be an NBA season, so if anyone you knows need their NBA fix, or needs to get their yearly dose of Lebron complaining about fan reactions and him choking in the playoffs (I kid, I kid! I'm a Miami fan so I'm allowed to say that). In all seriousness, this is the best basketball game of the past few years and the only other must-buy sports game of 2011.
Forza Motorsport 4 (360)- This is an amazing racing game with absolutely gorgeous car models, environments, and visuals. It can have a really steep learning curve, but luckily there's plenty of tutorials and difficulty settings that help you get used to the car handling.
Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 (360 / PS3)- For $40, you essentially get a 10 month old game with an updated roster of fun and exciting characters and balance fixes, all with fun and frantic action with stylish graphics. If you're a fan of super combo-based fighting action and enjoy swapping fighters in and out at perfectly timed moments, then this is a game you must own. Plus, anime lawyer Phoenix Wright versus Wolverine is a sight to behold.
Mario Kart 7 (3DS) - This game releases in early December for the 3D Nintendo handheld and has done nothing but impress everyone who's played it. Odds are that if you own a Nintendo Wii you own Mario Kart. If you also have a 3DS then this kart racer is everything great about Mario Kart, and it fits in your pocket!
Games the whole family can enjoy
Dance Central 2 (360 with Kinect) - In my opinion this is the best motion-based dance game on the market. With an average score of 8.7/10 on Metacritic, this dance game provides the best list of songs to dance to and the best gameplay. It's a dance game that the whole family can get into.
Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster (360 with Kinect) - This is one of those rare games that’s supposed to be kids-oriented, but actually has something to offer for everyone. Young ones will enjoy the tone and mini-games, and adults will feel all nostalgic watching Cookie Monster do his thing. This game will have parents and children coming together in creative and fun adventures with two of your favorite Muppets.
Kinect Disneyland Adventures (360 with Kinect) - My son is 2 1/2, and while he couldn't play the game, he loved watching me walk around Disneyland and interact with all of his favorite Disney characters. The minigames are actually really fun with an array of different activities to partake in. For kids 4 and up, this will be the perfect game for them this holiday season. Parents, believe me, you'll like it just as much.
Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) - If you have a 3DS, you should pick this up immediately. Super Mario 3D Land captures the classic essence that has worked so well in previous Mario game, from the sound effects that many grew up with to the retro-flavored design that will be a recognizable sight to anyone who’s ever owned a Nintendo console. And yet, thanks to the Nintendo 3DS, there’s a fresh new perspective that actually makes use of the dimension, rather than tacking everything on like a gimmick. As a result, the game turns out to be quite fun.
Action-Adventure / Stealth / Sandbox
Batman: Arkham City (360 / PS3 / PC) - In case you haven't heard, Batman is a pretty big deal. This is the sequel to the popular Arkham City game. In this game, you go around Arkham City as Batman and Catwoman, and you fight almost every villain that Batman has ever faced. The action and fighting is a blast, and you can go anywhere in the city, choosing which missions to do when. It is one of the best sandbox / open-world games of the year.
Assassin's Creed Revelations (360 / PS3 / PC) - This game is a must-buy if you've played the other Assassin's Creed games. It answers so many of the questions left from the previous AC games. With some new weapons and gameplay elements, this game features all of the Assassin's Creed goodness that fans are used to. I wouldn't recommend this game to anyone that's not in high shcool, due to violence, some language, and sexual themes, but this is a great game if you need some more Ezio in your life.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii) - If you play video games I shouldn't really have to explain this game, but for the parents out there that might not know: this game is amazing. It's an amazing adventure experience, it is appropriate for all ages, and it's a game that will provide some memorable gaming adventures.
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (PS3) - This is a great collection of action / stealth gameplay of one of the greatest series of all time. Granted, it is missing a few key games, but you get Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. The HD Collection offers old and new fans a chance to experience the epic game play, design and storytelling of the MGS franchise. It is rated T - M, but I played this throughout middle and high school--it's fine for anyone older than elementary school ages.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS) - Once again, we have a Zelda game. You can get this game in a 3DS bundle for $199.99. It is perhaps the best Zelda game of all time, and it is now in 3D and able to be played on the go. Ocarina of Time is a memorable game and a gift that every gamer would love to get.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3) - Listen here, there is no reason to own a Playstation 3 if you aren't going to play Uncharted 3. It is the best exclusive title that Sony has, and is one of the most cinematic experiences in gaming--ever! With storytelling on par with Indiana Jones, loveable characters, and great action (including some pretty cool multiplayer), if you are shopping for someone that owns a PS3, get this game. 'Nuff said.
Saints Row: the Third (360 / PS3 / PC) - Okay, this is a great game. It really is. The action is over-the-top, it's fun, and it's an experience like no other. But it is so inappropriate that it's ridiculous. If you have a mature high schooler or older, then this game is a riot that he/she will enjoy. Any younger and I think you should really think hard about it. You are beating up people with phallic objects, so... yea. Think about that. Like I said though, it's a really fun game in a huge open-world sandbox that you can pretty much do whatever you want in.
Minecraft (PC) - Does the person you're buying for like Legos? Do they have a computer? Do you not want to spend tons of money? Are they creative? Then get Minecraft! It is a great game by a small developer and let's you build whatever you can imagine. Just YouTube some Minecraft creations and you'll see what I'm talking about. It's Legos for adults.
RPGs (Role-playing Games)
Skyrim (360 / PS3 / PC) - This game has violence, blood, alcohol, and sexual themes, but it's one of the best RPGs you can find. The game's world is beautiful and massive, the action and fighting has tons of possibilities, and it's a strong role-playing experience. Did I mention that there's so much to do in this game that it can take around 300 hours to do everything?
Dark Souls (360 / PS3) - This is a really hard game. It requires a lot of patience and is very unforgiving if you mess up, but everyone that plays it loves it. With lots of violence, high school and older are recommended for this game, as younger gamers will become frustrated. If you beat it, though, there's not a more satisfying feeling in the world. Plus, you get really cool-looking weapons and fight awesome bosses. Gamers love cool bosses.
Star Wars: the Old Republic (PC) - This game is a little different than the other RPGs because it is a MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). You play online with thousands of people in the Star Wars universe, create your own character (Jedi, Bounty Hunter, Sith, Smuggler), and brave the war between the Republic and the Sith Empire. You have to have a good enough computer rig to run it, so make sure it meets the system requirements. If you love Star Wars, or any MMORPG like World of Warcraft that you play with tons of other players, then this is the next big game to get.
Gamer, Disney enthusiast, opinionated sports fan, movie buff, and a father of two. You can follow Lance on Twitter @Lance_GZ.