10 Best Video Games for Holiday 2011

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- If you're looking for a last-minute stocking stuffer this holiday season, video games are a great gift idea, especially for the male demographic. Picking one from hundreds of titles on the shelf can be a daunting task, though, which is why I've crafted this list of the 10 best video games.

More than 200 video games have been released in 2011 across all platforms, from Microsoft's ( MSFT) Xbox 360 to Sony's ( SNE) PlayStation 3 to Nintendo's ( NTDOY.PK) Wii home console and 3DS portable device. While Black Friday was a boon for retailers, video-game sales haven't perked up, though. Research firm NPD Group said overall U.S. video-game sales were up only 0.4% in November as hardware sales lagged.

While most next-generation video games run $60, plenty of deals can be had in the week leading up to the Christmas holiday. Many software titles are on sale at $50 or less at major retailers this week; Even hardware like Microsoft's Kinect motion controller are selling at 33% off the normal retail price.

For my list, I looked at games released from September until now because it's likely that your beloved gamer already owns the older games. The 10 games that make the cut are arranged below and on the following pages in reverse order.

10. Saints Row: The Third

Release Date: Nov. 15

Publisher: THQ ( THQI)

Open-world sandbox action games have been extremely popular since the emergence of the Grand Theft Auto series in the late 1990s. Several open world games captivated gamers recently, like Take-Two's L.A. Noire in 2011 and Red Dead Redemption last year. The Saints Row series is certainly a clone of the Grand Theft Auto genre, but the game takes gang warfare to a whole new height of absurdity -- and that's a good thing.

What makes this title stand out from the rest is the sense of humor the developers brought to the game. While L.A. Noire will undoubtedly make critics' lists as one of the top games of 2011, it suffers under the weight of its own seriousness. Saints Row: The Third, on the other hand, understands the game genre and gleefully mocks it. It's like a Michael Bay film in that the storyline suffers but the action is over the top and fun.

The Saints Row series doesn't get the same acclaim as other titles, and as such retailers haven't been offering great deals on the game. That said, Amazon.com ( AMZN) is currently giving a discount of a few dollars off the $60 retail price.

9. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

Release Date: Nov. 15

Publisher: Microsoft ( MSFT)

It may seem odd that a game released a decade ago can become one of the best games to buy in 2011. However, the anniversary edition of Halo: Combat Evolved is completely overhauled from its original Xbox version with new graphics, achievements and other goodies.

The Xbox 360 console has been one of the hottest selling game machines even as hardware sales slump, so there is a good chance that these newer gamers never had the opportunity to play the original Halo released in 2001. With new graphics and support for the Kinect device, this anniversary edition brings Halo to a whole new generation. The replayability may not be high, though, as the game retains the same story, environments and challenges.

One of the reasons this is a solid gift idea for this holiday season is the low price. This Microsoft Xbox exclusive title retails at $40 new, well below the usual price of $60 for new game releases. Retail deals this week, though, have the price as low as $30. With the next true Halo sequel not expected until late next year at the earliest, this could hold your Halo fan over for a while.

8. Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster

Release Date: Oct. 11

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive

I'm sure hardcore gamers are rolling their eyes at this selection, but please hear me out. Parents out there have little kids who want to get in on the video game fun. And truth be told, most of the interactive titles for the Kinect device have been very lackluster. This Sesame Street title changes that, albeit only slightly.

Little kids love Elmo and Cookie Monster, and using both characters is the top reason why this game succeeds. I don't love that my young daughter parks herself on the couch to watch Elmo on TV, but I love that this game gets her singing, dancing and jumping around. The game does a fine job of getting the little ones involved, although Elmo's voice will probably have the adults longing for the sweet soothing sounds of a car alarm.

The retail price of Once Upon a Monster is $50 at most spots, although great deals can be had this week at several retailers. If that still isn't cheap enough, you could also nab Disneyland Adventures for the Kinect for only $25, although I'd still stick to Elmo if you can. Compared to the other Kinect-enabled games on the market, this is certainly the best offering for young children. Hey, they deserve to play games just as much as Halo fans.

7. Gears of War 3

Release Date: Sept. 20

Publisher: Microsoft ( MSFT) Studios

The third and final installment of the Gears of War series doesn't introduce gamers to anything new, but that's not the point. Like previous games in the series, this title has players sawing demons in half with a chainsaw gun. How much more action could a bloodthirsty player want?

Even if your gamer hasn't played the previous Gears of War games, this works as a standalone game and it's arguably the best of all three Gears titles. The graphics are beautiful, the action is fast-paced, and the violence comes in heaps. The multiplayer portion of Gears of War 3 is more polished than previous titles, which is great for replayability. For those who are already fans of the series, it helps tie up some of the big questions in the storyline of the Gears games.

The price headed into the holidays is another great reason to pick this one up as a gift. Having sold for $60 at launch in late September, Gears of War 3 can now be had at some retailers for $40 or less.

6. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Release Date: Nov. 20

Publisher: Nintendo ( NTDOY.PK)

Nintendo has churned out quality first-party titles for years, but 2011 was a bit of an anomaly for the company. The catalog of games created by Nintendo this year was skimpy as the company launched its 3DS handheld gaming unit and continued to prep is Wii-U console, which will probably not reach store shelves until late 2012.

Nintendo fanboys have stuck with the company through thick and thin, and their reward for a very thin 2011 is the latest in the extremely popular Zelda series. The game doesn't disappoint, delivering all the dungeons and puzzles and action that fans of the series have come to love.

It's a beautiful game with cool motion controls. For Wii console owners, this is probably one of only a handful of games that are worthwhile purchases this year.

Some critics have called it the best Zelda game ever, although I have to admit that I didn't find anything revolutionary about the title that makes it stand out from other Zelda games. Some of the quests the game drops on you are boring and tedious, but you tend to forget that as you traverse the massive map.

Unfortunately, I'm hard pressed to find a retailer selling the game at a discount price this week, so you'll be stuck shelling out $50 for the title if you want to surprise your own Zelda fan.

5. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Release Date: Nov. 8

Publisher: Activision-Blizzard ( ATVI)

This is the first title on this list that was released on all consoles, from the Wii to the Xbox 360 to the PS3. That's one of the reasons the game has become the best-selling video game of all time, raking in a whopping $400 million in the first 24 hours on sale.

If this game is the biggest entertainment release of all time, why doesn't it rate higher on this list? For one, there is a strong likelihood the gamer you're considering buying this for already owns it. This was one of the most hyped launches in video-game history, with people lining up for midnight sales at retailers to be among the first to play the game online. Chances are the stranger sitting next to you on the train home is an owner of this game.

But more importantly, I can't rank Modern Warfare 3 much higher because there haven't been any big fundamental changes to the game. The single-player mode has a good story and great graphics, and the multiplayer mode has nice tweaks and adjustments. But if you've played one Call of Duty game in the past three years, you've essentially played this one too. It's a lot like buying Madden NFL games every year, which the gameplay is virtually identical and only the names have changed. I say reluctantly that as a Call of Duty addict myself.

The good news, though, is that you can get some savings on Modern Warfare 3 this week, with several retailers offering $10 off the original $60 price tag.

4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Release Date: Nov. 11

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Role-playing games, or RPGs, have their own unique audience. That is, not every gamer out there enjoys software titles with big ambitions of story-telling and innumerable quests like the Final Fantasy series of games.Bethesda Softworks, though, has been delivering quality title after quality title, the latest of which is Skyrim, which continues the Elder Scrolls series.

I'll admit it, I'm not a very big RPG fan. Most of those games, like Final Fantasy, have a heavy Japanese influence to design, which is a turnoff to lots of gamers. But Bethesda gives gamers more of a Western flavor in their RPGs. It doesn't hurt that you start this beautiful game by fighting a dragon almost immediately. Many new releases have such an emphasis on multiplayer capabilities that it's great to have a wonderful single-player game with a terrific narrative and massive world to explore.

During this holiday week, shoppers can nab a copy of Skyrim for $50 at several retailers, a slight discount to the normal retail price of $60.

3. Batman: Arkham City

Release Date: Oct. 18

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive

Batman: Arkham Asylum was such an amazing surprise for gamers that the anticipation was high for this sequel. Thankfully, Batman: Arkham City lives up to those lofty expectations. I would probably say this is the best comic book hero video game I've ever played

The dialog may have you rolling your eyes at times, but this Batman game is gorgeous, the controls are awesome, and the story is top-notch. Roaming around the Arkham City police state as Batman is a truly fun experience, and the developers have included tons of cool gadgets to help the player solve interesting puzzles and fight inmates.

Better yet, the price is low this week headed into the holiday. Instead of shelling out $60 like gamers had to at release, you can pick up this title for $40 at several retailers now.

2. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Release Date: Nov. 1

Publisher: Sony ( SNE) Computer Entertainment

This PlayStation-only title is one of the highest-reviewed games this year and with good reason. The entire Uncharted trilogy has been based on great narratives, lush worlds, fast-paced gunfights and tough puzzles to crack. Rarely have action games combined all four aspects so well, and yet the developers of the Uncharted games (the Naughty Dog game studio) have done so and improved them as the series has gone on.

Players once again take the role of Nathan Drake, a fictional treasure hunter who is seeking to reclaim the ring of his descendent, Sir Francis Drake. Just like previous games in the series, Drake has to solve puzzles in the game to progress in his hunt. This epic game came extremely close to nabbing the top spot on this list this year, although the game suffers only slightly from high expectations. The second game in this series set the bar so high for Uncharted 3 that, without any revolutionary additions to the gameplay or storyline, this installment only barely passes that high hurdle.

Buyers of the third Uncharted game can get deals this week at several retailers, where the game is marked down from its original $60 price to below $50.

1. Battlefield 3

Release Date: Oct. 25

Publisher: Electronic Arts ( ERTS)

Despite a rocky launch, as is typical with Electronic Arts war games as of late, Battlefield 3 is the unsurpassable first-person shooter game and most immersive title of the year. I've played my fair share of war games, so I feel comfortable saying this is probably the most graphically impressive and realistic game of all.

Gamers who bought this game at launch (like myself) were irritated that EA's servers couldn't handle the rush to play the game online. However, nearly two months later, all of those issues are ironed out. Unlike Call of Duty games, there is a greater emphasis on teamwork in some of the game's multiplayer modes. I wish I could say more about the single-player mode of Battlefield 3, but truthfully the multiplayer experience is so satisfying that I have yet to fully explore the rest of what the game has to offer.

Call of Duty fans may balk at buying this title, which makes it a good gift idea for your first-person-shooter fan. If you really want to impress your gamer, try to find the Limited Edition version of this game, which entitles the player to download four multiplayer maps completely free.

Regular editions of Battlefield 3 can be had at retailers for only $50 this week, while the Limited Edition runs closer to $70 on Internet sites like Amazon.com ( AMZN).

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston.

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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