The Game Boy: 2009 Holiday PC Games Guide

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PC gaming isn't dead, and you know it. Just take a look at the new games available on Steam or populating the shelves at Target. The sheer number of excellent PC games released this holiday season is a testament to the strength of the platform. From high-profile blockbusters like Batman: Arkham Asylum to critical darlings like Torchlight, there's no shortage of quality content to keep you gaming through the new year. We pick out 22 of the best PC games you can buy right now (many of them already discounted as a part of holiday deals), and spotlight several indie gems that cost under $10. We also name 8 highly-anticipated games coming out in the first part of 2010.

Read on for proof that PC gaming still has a lot of fight left in it. And be sure to let us know what your favorite PC games of 2009 have been, what you've bought this holiday season, and what you're looking forward to as well!

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Publisher: Eidos
Genre: Action-Adventure
Price: $49.99

Batman’s had a bit of a rocky relationship with videogames, but under the watchful eye of developer Rocksteady, the gadget-obsessed vigilante has finally come to grips with the tricky art of game development. In fact, for the first time ever, we’re hearing whispers on the wind of “Batman” and “Game of the Year.” And it’s not empty praise. Arkham Asylum deftly mixes one of the best combat systems we’ve seen in years with Batman’s trademark sleuthing to create what is – without a doubt – our favorite superhero game of all time. Even if the titular caped crusader wasn’t involved, this game would still be a must-buy. Yeah. It’s that good.

Red Faction: Guerrilla

Publisher: THQ
Genre: Open World
Price: $49.99

With games like Imagine: Interior Designer littering the shelves, it’s nice to see that someone remembered buildings aren’t just for decorating. See, they can also be smashed. In Red Faction: Guerrilla, every single structure – from the lowliest of shacks to the tallest of towers – is completely destructible. It helps, too, that your character happens to be pretty handy with a hammer. A giant, brick, steel, and concrete-smashing hammer, to be precise. Oh sure, there’s gunplay too, but destructibility and the combat strategies you can form around it are the real stars of the show. Also, you can hit things with an Ostrich. How can you say “no” to that?

Resident Evil 5

Publisher: Capcom
Genre: Survival Horror
Price: $49.99

Back in ye olde year of 2007, Capcom outsourced its PC port of Resident Evil 4 to a company by the name of SourceNext. The result? A game absolutely riddled with bugs – and we’re not just talking about the Plagas. If RE5 is any indication, though, Capcom has learned its lesson. As part of its renewed devotion to the PC as a gaming platform, the publisher’s released a picture perfect port of Resident Evil 5 – with PC-exclusive 3D support, no less. If you’re in the mood for some co-op friendly shooting and shouting, you can’t go wrong with RE5.

Risen

Publisher: Deep Silver
Genre: Massively Single-Player RPG (Think Oblivion)
Price: $49.99

For the longest time, developer Piranha Bites was known throughout a small sphere of the PC gaming sector for its high-quality line of free-roaming fantasy RPGs. Then Gothic 3 came along. After that glitch-ridden step off the developer’s beaten path – which subsequently continued right off a cliff – Piranha Bites is back with a new MSRPG called Risen. Unfortunately, though, early reports peg the game as suffering from many of the same rough edges that cut away at Gothic 3’s potential playerbase. Ugly graphics, janky combat, and a general lack of polish are usually reliable warning signs to heed, and we see no reason to break that general rule here. Stay away from this one unless you picked up a case of Stockholm Syndrome while playing Gothic 3. If that’s the case, you’re probably beyond our help anyway.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

Publisher: Codemasters
Genre: Open-World Shooter
Price: $49.99

Codemasters and original Operation Flashpoint developer Bohemia Interactive may have gone their separate ways, but according to early reviews, Dragon Rising is arguably better for it. Like its predecessor, Dragon Rising is a shooter’s shooter – a realistic military affair that drowns wannabe Rambos in gunfire and grenade shrapnel. This time around, though, Codemasters wisely chose to lay off the realism just a teensy bit, resulting in an ambitious open-world FPS that’s actually fun. Even better, if you enjoy your shooters with a heaping helping of military simulation, the game also includes a hardcore mode that harkens back to the first Operation Flashpoint. If you thought Arma II was a neat idea, but ran crying back to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare after failing the helicopter tutorial more times than you could count, Dragon Rising’s your game.

Tropico 3

Publisher: Kalypso Media
Genre: City Builder
Price: $39.99

The people have spoken! They loved Tropico 1, but Tropico 2? Not so much. And unlike the sleazy banana republic which the series depicts, here, the common man’s voice actually matters! So this time around, we’re getting Tropico 1, but better. Or at least, that’s the idea. New features include customizeable avatars, a timeline editor, and a robust election system that’s just asking to be rigged by a creative dictator. Still not sold? Then try before you buy with this demo !

Next: Yoda's worst nightmare, a frenzied co-op FPS, and the best Diablo game that isn't Diablo.

Star Wars Force Unleashed: Ultimate Sith Edition

Publisher: LucasArts
Genre: Action
Price: $39.99

PC gamers were stuck on the sidelines last time the dark and light sides duked it out, but now we’re getting the “Ultimate” edition of Force Unleashed, so everything’s peachy. Along with the original Star Wars canon-friendly adventure, the Ultimate edition includes two new levels – both parts of a “what-if?” storyline that sees your character killing Darth Vader and becoming the Emperor’s apprentice. From there, you’ll journey across the galaxy, using characters like Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Luke Skywalker as stepping stones. And while it’s a shame Jar-Jar’s not on that hit list of who’s-who’s, Force Unleashed is still a pretty decent game. If the idea of creating human-chains of terrified Stormtroopers puts a devilish grin on your face, give Force Unleashed a try.

Borderlands

Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: Shooter-RPG
Price: $49.99

“Diablo with guns.” How’s that sound to you? Because – while a bit simplified – it’s a pretty apt description of Borderlands. The game’s a polished, incredibly stylish shoot ‘n’ loot that’s neither RPG nor shooter, but rather, a perfect balance between the two. Even better, Borderlands’ “zillion guns” are generated by an algorithm that’d make even the Manhattan Project blush. Rocket-shotguns, shotgun-SMGs, and pistols that make people catch on fire are all par for the course here. The only downside? Borderlands becomes a truly magical experience only in multiplayer. If you can’t scrounge up a co-op buddy or two, you might want to sit this one out.

Torchlight

Publisher: Encore, Inc.
Genre: Diablo
Price: $19.99

If you’re convinced that Diablo by any other name would not smell as sweet, Torchlight’s going to be a bit of a rude wakeup call. But in a good way! For all intents and purposes, Torchlight is Diablo. Click-tacular sword-slashing and spell-slinging? Check. Enemies that function as glorified loot piñatas? Check. Hell, Torchlight’s music was even composed by the same guy who gave Diablo its ominous tunes. Granted, developer Runic Games is owned and operated by some of Blizzard North’s best and brightest, so this isn’t too much of a surprise. Also unsurprising is the game’s level of quality, which is quite high. We fell in love with Torchlight after only a few minutes of play, and imagine that you will too. The lack of multiplayer is a bit of a bummer, but overall, Torchlight’s an addictive good time.

Dreamkiller

Publisher: Mindware Studios
Genre: FPS
Price: $39.99

From the fine folks who brought you Painkiller: Overdose comes Dreamkiller, the Costco of shooters. The game’s price may be budget-level, but with Dreamkiller, you’re buying enemies in bulk. Like Painkiller, Dreamkiller focuses on shooting first, and everything else second. The game’s sadly lacking in guns that fire shurikens and lightning, but it makes up for that with a trippy, Psychonauts-esque mind-entering gimmick, which sees you leaping into people’s brains and shooting their phobias in the face. Unfortunately, while there are some creative levels in the bunch, by and large, Dreamkiller is a fairly rote experience. Enemy attack patterns lack in variation, and level design is sloppy overall. Unless you’re on a shoestring budget, you should probably just go ahead and skip this one.

Dragon Age: Origins

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: RPG
Price: $49.99

BioWare: “We’re making Neverwinter Nights.” Fans: “Yeah, but when are you making a new Baldur’s Gate?” BioWare: “We’re making Star Wars: KOTOR.” Fans: “Yeah, but when are you making a new Baldur’s Gate?” BioWare: “We’re making Mass Effect.” Fans: “Yeah, but when…” Well, you get the idea. In a nutshell, Dragon Age: Origins is that long-awaited Baldur’s Gate sequel. It’s a classic fantasy RPG to the core, with difficulty to match. Fittingly enough, then, the game’s also chock full of BioWare’s trademark magic, resulting in a cast that puts 99% of other videogame characters to shame, and a story with more twists and turns than an M. Night Shyamalan film. Well, ok, not quite that many, but you get the idea.

Next:  Shooting zombies, punching Nazis, and launching nukes.

Modern Warfare 2

Publisher: Activision Blizzard
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Price: $59.99

Short of throwing in a good ol’ fashioned Rickroll, Infinity Ward’s committed just about every cardinal sin against PC gaming in the book. Dedicated servers? Dead and buried. Multiplayer match count? Lowered to match consoles. Hell, they’ve even removed our ability to lean around corners! But guess what: You’ll still probably buy Modern Warfare 2 anyway. At first glance, the game’s resemblance to Modern Warfare 1 is uncanny, but look a little closer and you’ll realize that everything about the game’s been dialed up to 11. Single-player set pieces are perfectly orchestrated ballets of explosive violence, and multiplayer’s full of new perks and weapons – including the ability to drop tactical nukes! Gosh darnit, Infinity Ward, try as we might, you know we could never stay mad at you.

Left 4 Dead 2

Publisher: Valve
Genre: Co-op First Person Shooter
Price: $49.99

What’s the only thing more frightening to gamers than a nigh-inescapable zombie apocalypse? A one year turnaround time for a Valve sequel. However, after trying out the Left 4 Dead 2 demo, we think we’ll give Valve the benefit of the doubt on this one. For those still firmly in the “doubter” category, though, here’s the tale of the tape: Five new campaigns, melee weapons, more new Infected types than you can count on one green, decaying, thumbless hand, an ultra-hard “realism mode,” a revamped A.I. Director – all serving as a cherry atop the deliciously violent action that characterized the original Left 4 Dead. Yes indeedy, undead blood will flow. Unless you live in Australia.

Everquest: Underfoot

Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Genre: MMORPG
Price: $39.99

You read that correctly. The original Everquest – which was released a few weeks before the beginning of recorded time – is coming up on its 16th expansion. So, what’s the Methuselah of the MMO world in for this time? You’d better sit down, because this one’s a list for the ages: 12 new zones, new weapons and armor, an achievement system, master tradeskilling, alternate advancement abilities, and a slew of in-game events leading up to the expansions launch. Pretty spry for a supposed MMO “relic,” eh?

Dirt 2

Publisher: Codemasters
Genre: Racing
Price: $49.99

If you were hoping Dirt 2 might finally correct the “damage” done when the Colin McRae franchise veered off the hardcore track and onto a more arcadey side road, prepare to be sorely disappointed. For everyone else, though, Dirt 2 is the rally racer to beat. In addition to being chock full of all the multi-disciplined racing action that made the original Dirt such a hit, the game’s got a new “flashback” option that allows you to rewind time and correct mistakes without even glancing at the dreaded restart button. And, of course, let’s not forget the much improved presentation – or all the new tracks and cars, for that matter. No offense to EA’s Need for Speed franchise, but for gamers who feel the need for speed, Dirt 2’s the obvious choice.

The Saboteur

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Open-World Stealth-Action
Price: $49.99

Gamers have spent so much of their time in World War II’s dreary trenches that we’d wager they’re even giving actual veterans a run for their money when it comes to WWII fatigue. The Saboteur, though, is poised to bring some color back to one of videogaming’s grayest settings – literally! The game sees you take on the role of Sean Devlin, an Irishman living in Paris during a Nazi occupation. With a bit of assistance from British and French resistance groups, you embark upon a mission to be a general pain in the Reich’s collective rear, slowly liberating France. Your actions feed directly into the citizenry’s “Will to Fight”, which is represented by an area’s amount of color, or lack thereof. As cities shed their gray coats in favor of something with a bit more personality, citizens’ morale increases, and they begin to fight alongside you. So basically, the game’s like Mercenaries, but with a few strokes from Okami’s magic brush. There’s almost no way this can be a bad thing.

Cities XL

Publisher: Monte Cristo
Genre: City Builder
Price: $39.99

We can’t imagine that managing an actual city would be easy. Or fun, for that matter. But Cities XL – like Maxis’ Sim City series, though minus a llama or two – attempts to turn city-building into a viable pastime. And for the most part, it succeeds. Between the game’s deliberate pace, which smoothes over some of the more complex bumps in the road to becoming a master of the trade, and revamped construction tools, XL’s core game is undeniably solid. Take a field trip outside your cozy little ‘burb, though, and you might be disappointed. XL’s MMO mode, which carries a fairly hefty $9.20 monthly subscription fee, is buried under a mountain of clumsy menus and poorly implemented features.

Next: The best games for under $10

Sims 3 World Adventures

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: The Sims
Price: $39.99

Your crippling Sims 3 addiction may have you trapped inside a tiny, badly-lit room, lackadaisically clicking away your job, friends, and family, but at least with Sims 3 World Adventures, your Sims can step out for some fun in the sun. Unlike series relative Sims 2: Bon Voyage, however, World Adventures makes its vacations memorable. Whether you’re robbing tombs in Egypt or mastering martial arts in China, a weekend-long stay at Grandma’s house this is not. Also of note: playable mummies! Your job, friends, and family won’t mind waiting a little bit longer, right?

Lucidity

Publisher: LucasArts
Genre: Platformer/Puzzler
Price: $9.99

Let’s get this out of the way up front: Lucidity looks amazing. Its art style is like something out a gothic storybook, and we could watch little Sofi search for her grandmother all day. But honestly, we probably wouldn’t want to play the game nearly so long. Indirect control of Sofi using random objects (trampolines, stairs, etc.) that fall from the sky sounds interesting, sure, but ultimately, its execution leaves something to be desired. Still though, for $10, Lucidity’s worth a shot, if only to support further creative, indie-ish efforts from LucasArts.

Fatale

Publisher: Tale of Tales
Genre: We’re Not Even Sure if It’s a Videogame
Price: $7.00

Described as an “interactive vignette” by its creators, Fatale’s not just an odd duck among videogames. It’s the feral human child who was raised by ducks, and who now has grown into a big, hairy, naked man who still thinks he’s a duck. It’d be a stretch to call Fatale a game, but it’d be an even bigger stretch to call it anything else. The whole thing was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s play “Salome,” and sees you take on the role of… someone? Who exists? Maybe? It’s kind of unclear. Fatale’s an incredibly fascinating, deeply unsettling aural/visual experience, though, so we recommend it. Just don’t go in expecting to headshot some aliens or anything like that.

Machinarium

Publisher: Amanita Design
Genre: Point-And-Click Adventure/Puzzler
Price: $19.99

If you’re in the camp that loved Wall-E because – for half the movie – dialog took a backseat to the endearing actions of two lovestruck robots, you’ll probably dig Machinarium’s vibe. The game’s cast never utters a word, instead preferring to communicate through bleeps, bloops, and charmingly animated thought bubbles. This, when combined with the game’s hyper-detailed steampunk backdrop, creates a videogame world unlike any other. And that’s only part of the equation. The nuts and bolts of Machinarium lie in point-and-click puzzles, which demonstrate nearly as much thought and creativity as the game’s setting. This one’s a keeper, folks. Buy it and never look back.

Love (Alpha)

Publisher: None
Genre: MMORPG
Price: $4.50

Ok, so Love isn’t exactly out yet, but its incredibly ambitious one-man development team is asking aspiring testers to fork over $4.50 to help pay for servers, so here we are. With that out of the way, the game is an absolutely exquisite MMORPG that’d look more at home hanging in an art museum than sitting next to an open Firefox tab on your computer screen. But it’s also a bit FPS. And there’s some world-building in there, too. And the game world is procedurally generated – both by an ingenious algorithm, and further by players. Honestly, the whole production very nearly defies description. For less than a Lincoln, though, why not take a look-see for yourself?

Next: 2010's potential all-stars!

PC Games to Look Forward to in 2010

BioShock 2 (February 9, 2010)

Fontaine is fishfood, the Little Sisters are – one way or another – all gone, and the credits have rolled. All’s well in the underwater “utopia” of Rapture, right? Wrong. This time, a new diving suit-clad menace is running amok, and, as the original Big Daddy, it’s up to you to set things right. Or maniacally wrong, but on your terms – not hers.

Mass Effect 2 (January 26, 2010)

In what will surely go down as “The Empire Strikes Back” of the Mass Effect trilogy, Shepard’s turning the universe upside-down, searching for its roughest, toughest customers. Why? Because he/she’s been sent on a so-called “suicide mission,” and – according to BioWare – one wrong step can lead to Shepard’s untimely, story-concluding death.

Dark Void (January 12, 2010)

It’s the year 2009. Yet – because the scientific community has been too busy with so-called “productive” pursuits – jetpacks still aren’t our primary means of conveyance. Bummer. So for now, Dark Void, a third-person shooter that touts plentiful jetpack action, will just have to tide us over.

Splinter Cell: Conviction (February 23, 2010)

Sam Fisher’s been away for quite some time. And when you’ve clocked as many years as he has in the super-spy business, every second counts. Fortunately, Sam hasn’t succumbed to creaky old man syndrome just yet. In Conviction, he’s packing all kinds of spry spy chop-socky, as well as revamped stealth and shooting systems.

Assassin’s Creed II (Q1 2010)

Why’d Assassin’s Creed II’s PC outing get pushed into 2010? Beats us, but if the console versions are any indication, it’ll be worth the wait. Receiving nearly unanimous praise, Assassin’s Creed II takes the rough, repetitive promise that shone so dimly in the first game and polishes it to a blinding sheen.

Singularity (Q1 2010)

Getting old sucks. But if Singularity is anything to go on, reverse aging isn’t so great either. Using your time manipulation powers, this FPS allows you to reverse age enemy goons into fleshy enemy goop. And that’s only the beginning. (Or middle. Or end. We forget how it works with time travel.) Aging, stasis, and a plethora of other time manipulation powers await.

Mafia II (Q2 2010)

Mafia: The City of Lost Haven was an excellent crime caper, and Mafia II promises more of the same – with heavy emphasis on “more.” The game’s script is nearly double the size of the original’s, and its brand new 10 mile cityscape is completely open from the game’s outset.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (March 2, 2010)

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 represents a rare victory. For once, console gamers are getting the short end of the stick. Due to balancing issues, going prone isn’t even an option on PS3 or Xbox 360. Meanwhile, PC gamers can slither around on their bellies all day long. In general, DICE has really been stepping up its PC support on this one, culminating in dedicated server support, among many other much appreciated goodies.

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