To help you prepare for the holidays, here’s part two of this year’s Holiday Gift Guide, with some suggestions for two of the hottest games, plus a pile of the best Blu-ray movies and boxed sets we’ve seen all year.
Gamers might be shocked to realize that Halo, and their beloved Master Chief, have been around since 2001, making Halo 4 something of a celebration for the decade-old Xbox franchise that essentially brought the first-person shooter to the console.
In the new game, which was developed by 343 (a new company handling the title), Master Chief wakes up to find himself on the verge of a new life-defying battle to save mankind from an ancient evil that has returned. Waking up within the damaged remains of the UNSC’s Forward Unto Dawn vessel, Master Chief and his virtual companion Cortana discover a horde of Covenant forces attacking the ship as they’re drawn into a battle that leads them to new, strange enemies.
While the main storyline for the campaign mode is inventive and fresh, the story between Master Chief and Cortana is the real highlight, going more in-depth with both characters than we’ve seen before.
Mixing the traditional gameplay fans of the franchise will expect, with challenging sequences involving new vehicles, enemies, and environments, the game will feel both familiar, fresh, and addictive. On top of that, the online multiplayer component for Halo 4 is intense, whether you want to go in with friends or fight it out with gamers from all over. 343 has also managed to improve on the multiplayer component, expanding it to make the Forge even more interesting than before.
If you have a gaming fan in your life, this one is a must-buy if they don’t already own it.
Assassin’s Creed III (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows)
Rated M for Mature
Ubisoft Montreal has outdone themselves with the latest in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, which might just be one of the most historically educational games I have ever played.
Delving into the history of the United States, during the American Revolution betwen 1753 and 1783, Assassin’s Creed III once again follows Desmond Miles as he attempts to unearth details from his past by reliving the life of one of his ancestors–this time, a nobleman named Haytham Kenway–all as part of a goal to prevent the 2012 Apocalypse.
Featuring stealth quests, all-out battle sequences, and even missions fighting with ships on the open sea, Assassin’s Creed III offers a huge, open world of experiences for the player that is actually rooted in a fantastic story with rich characters and a brilliantly historically accurate story.
Outside of the plot itself, it is easy to spend hours hunting across rooftops–or hunting animals within the wilds of the world–or discovering some of the game’s hidden treasures. The gameplay is smart and the visuals pop off of the screen, delivering an experience that will almost reach out and grab you, especially if you have a 3D television since the game supports stereoscopic play on the PlayStation 3.
MOVIES & BOXED SETS
Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Limited Collector’s Edition [Blu-ray] – Price: $64.99
Singin’ In The Rain: 60th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray] – Price: $84.99
Two classic films got the big-box Blu-ray treatment this year, the 70th Anniversary Limited Collector’s Edition of Casablanca, and the 60th Anniversary Edition of Singin’ In The Rain. The two films look absolutely beautiful on Blu-ray, with perfect sound and video thanks to careful work and restoration, and beyond that, the packages come with piles of memorabilia and features.
Casablanca, considered one of the greatest films ever made, has an introduction by Lauren Bacall, 10 minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes, audio with the stars of the film, plus lots of other extras.
Meanwhile, Singin’ In The Rain, one of the greatest musicals ever made, includes an audio commentary with Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Kathleen Freeman, co-director Stanley Donen, screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, plus Baz Luhrmann, and Rudy Behlmer. There are also features on the making of the magical film, not to mention the score, and outtakes and photos. The boxed set even comes with a promotional umbrella!
Forever Marilyn [Blu-ray] – Price: $99.34
For the Marilyn Monroe fans in your life, who may not own every film, the Forever Marilyn collection is the perfect gift, bringing together seven of Monroe’s most famous films in one Blu-ray package.
Included in the set is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How To Marry A Millionaire, River of No Return, There’s No Business Like Show Business, The Seven Year Itch, Some Like It Hot, and The Misfits. There are no features with this collection, but the films look and sound fantastic.
Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures [Blu-ray] – Price: $105.00
Together in one Blu-ray boxed set at last, Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures is the definitive collection for Indy fans, and it includes seven hours of special features. Beyond watching all of the features, the films themselves have been restored and make this classic hero look almost young again.
Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season [Blu-ray] – Price: $74.98
In terms of great television, it doesn’t get much better than HBO’s Game of Thrones–one of the bloodiest, most exhilarating dramas from the last few years, and a testament to the genius of author George R. R. Martin. The episodes look stunning, and the features add a lot of detail for fans who need to know all they can about the show, how it was made, and even the history of the characters. The commentaries by the show’s creators, plus the features on the making of the series, will no doubt leave fans glued to the television.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 1 [Blu-ray] & Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 2 [Blu-ray] – Price: $119.99 each
Star Trek: The Next Generation defined science fiction for a whole generation of people, and now Paramount has put in the incredible effort of restoring the original episodes to a whole new level for the Blu-ray releases. The first season came out earlier this year, with Season 2 arriving on December 4, and they are worth every penny. In restoring the episodes, Paramount had to recreate special effects and recombine those shots with original footage, that also had to be scanned and edited. On their own, the episodes look fantastic, but the features on the restoration process, and the discussions with cast and crew about the making of the series, make these two seasons worth watching from beginning to end all over again.
The Dark Knight Trilogy [Blu-ray] – Price: $45.99
Although I have not had the opportunity to review this collection yet, I am still recommending it for the holidays based on the fact that it brings all three of Christopher Nolan‘s Batman films together into one boxed set.
From Batman Begins to The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan’s trilogy has made Batman iconic once again, and superhero fans won’t be disappointed with the result. The three films are easily three of the best superhero films ever made.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol [Blu-ray] – Price: $29.99
Out of all the action films I’ve seen on Blu-ray this year, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is one of my favorites, and by far one of my favorite action films starring Tom Cruise as well. While the story draws you in from the start, the stunts, performed by Cruise himself, are absolutely mind-blowing and make the crazy spy story all the more believable. Once you see Cruise dangling from the side of one of the tallest buildings in the world, it’s hard not to appreciate the guy. Recommended for the action junkie in your life.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray] – Price: $29.98
Director Steven Spielberg’s classic E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial has withstood the test of time for both young fans, and for old ones, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year in style on Blu-ray. The sweet and clever film is 100% pure 80s nostalgia in a package that includes a number of extras that look back on the things that made this film so special.
Pick this classic kids film up for your young ones, or the kids who grew up with the film back in 1982.
The Muppet Christmas Carol: 20th Anniversary [Blu-ray] – Price: $26.50
Last, but not least, Disney celebrates the 20th anniversary of The Muppet Christmas Carol–one of my favorite retellings of A Christmas Carol–with this sweet and funny 2-disc collection that includes a commentary track with the Muppets, behind-the-scenes video, bloopers, and other goodies.
A REMINDER ON CHARITIES: This year, The GATE has selected Plan Canada as our feature charity for the 2012 Holiday Gift Guide, and we purchased the Motorcycle ambulance gift from their Gifts of Hope program. We are encouraging anyone, especially publications and bloggers across Canada, to make a similar donation and we will list everyone who meets or exceeds our donation. To participate in the challenge, click here.