Parkour, Apocalypse, and Downloads 

The holiday shopping season brings out the most interesting video games of the year.

Mirror's Edge

For PC, Sony PS3 and Microsoft Xbox 360

Rating: Teen. MSRP: PC, $49.99; PS3 and Xbox 360, $59.99

It's about time somebody made a good free running game. Actually, we should say parkour instead of free running, because "free running" implies you're doing it for fun and not because you're being shot at. Mirror's Edge is a near-future sprint across the tops of skyscrapers while fleeing from deadly police forces. Everything might be a road, from crane booms to wires to the glass slopes of buildings. If running isn't enough, you also get to disarm the occasional fascist enforcer and maybe even shoot him with his own gun. But this isn't a shooting game — for the most part, fighting back doesn't work. Fleeing is usually best. The visuals are really great in this game, with a stark-white-and-glass city that's downright sinister in its cleanliness. (EA)

Guitar Hero: World Tour

For Sony PS2, Sony PS3, Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox 360

Rating: Teen. MSRP: Game only, $49.99-$59.99; with guitar, $99.99; with all instruments, $299.79

Not to be outdone by Rock Band, the Guitar Hero franchise has entered the multi-instrument genre with Guitar Hero: World Tour. This is really good news, because the controllers for Guitar Hero have always been better than those for Rock Band. Up to two would-be guitarists, a drummer and a singer can join together with the band and rock out. This time, all the songs in the game are actual master tracks of the real bands instead of covers. The songs include tunes by Coldplay, Oasis, Steely Dan, R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins, and Metallica. With this game you can create your own rockers, your own guitars, and, much more amazing, your own songs. Online capability lets you share songs with others. (Activision)

Fallout 3

For PC, Sony PS3 and Microsoft Xbox 360

Rating: Mature. MSRP: PC, $49.99; PS3 and Xbox 360, $59.99

At the other end of the cleanliness spectrum is Fallout 3, a game featuring a post-apocalyptic Washington, DC that's horrifying in its ruination. The Washington Monument on the verge of collapse is quite tragic. As a nuclear war survivor, you emerge from the oppressive Vault 101 and begin a long and dangerous search for your father. This may be our pick for game of the year — nearly everything here is incredible. First, Fallout 3 is amazingly flexible in playing the way you want it to. You can run around and kill things as if it were a first-person shooter, meet and talk to countless characters and take on missions for them as in a traditional role-playing game, or find a happy medium. This even extends to the combat — you can fight in first-person mode like Doom, third-person mode like Resident Evil, or even a menu-driven mode in which you enter your attacks with button presses like Final Fantasy. Secondly, the art direction and dialogue are astounding. Third, in this game, you can be a hero or a jerk. Help people, or instead help other people who want to kill the first people for no good reason. It's up to you. (Bethesda Softworks)

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe

For Sony PS3 and Microsoft Xbox 360

Rating: Teen. MSRP: $59.99

Mortal Kombat is dumb. Really dumb. We know this. But it's like The Three Stooges: really dumb and still really fun. The newest game in the series is a quantum leap beyond the others, mostly because it contains Batman. Oh, Superman, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, the Joker, and others are here, too. But come on. Batman. Beating up Sub-Zero and Scorpion with Batman is amazing. There are some new tricks here, including fighting in mid-air for a while when you knock someone off of a stage, but for the most part, this game is really about the DC Comics characters being present. By the way, you may wonder, how can some dumb ninja fight Superman? Magic. That's how. (Midway)

Animal Crossing: City Folk

For Nintendo Wii

Rating: Everyone. MSRP: Game only, $49.99; bundled with Wii Speak microphone, $69.99

Animal Crossing is the perfect game for people who hate video games. This game is about living in a village filled with anthropomorphic animals. How do you win? You can't win. There's no object! You just do whatever you want. You can do favors for the animals, look for buried fossils, go fishing, clean up the town, buy and sell furniture and clothes, redecorate your house, help a museum find rare bugs, and on and on. If you have a friend playing the game on another Wii, and you're both online, you can visit your friend's town and talk via Wii Speak. Write each other letters and give each other stuff that you found! It's the most benevolent video game you can imagine. (Nintendo)


For Sony PS3, Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox 360

Rating: Various. MSRP: As low as $5

Downloadable content is just about the hottest thing going right now. If your newest-generation console is connected to the Internet, there are countless awesome games that you can get, and for much cheaper than the games in the store. The best offerings are every bit as fun, or even more fun, than your big-budget games that are only available conventionally. Mega Man 9 is a brand-new 8-bit game, if you can believe it, which looks just like it came off the old Nintendo Entertainment System and is available for all three major consoles. Castle Crashers is amazing four-player mayhem for the Xbox 360. "Braid," another Xbox 360 game, is a deservedly lauded 2-D platform game that features time travel. Terrific vintage titles also are available. Now, you might ask yourself, how in the world do I buy a downloadable game for someone else's console? The answer is gift cards. All three systems feature prepaid point cards that can be purchased where you buy video games. The console owner can then redeem the card online and download a favorite title. (Various publishers)


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