Christmas 2006: Castles, guns, swords and Wii...

the best excuses yet to escape your nagging family this Christmas

Feature by Craig Wilson | 12 Dec 2006
It's cold, it's dark and there's far too much Noddy Holder for anyone to take, but at least the festive season brings one benefit with it - presents. So, just in case you're still considering just what to hint for from loved ones, the Skinny has a few suggestions for you…

1.) Medieval 2: Total War (PC): What better way to spend yuletide than ruling Europe (and more) with an iron gauntlet? This is the newest incarnation in the critically acclaimed Total War series. With more factions than ever before, the largest campaign map yet, the resurrection of Shoguns, plus often hilarious assassination movies, Medieval II is the culmination of each previous game's successes, but also has a few new features. Armies no longer look like a collection of clones, with each soldier now having been individually modelled, giving armies a colourful, lively appearance. The epic main campaign will also soak up those dark and dreary winter days. It also comes with the best excuses yet to escape your nagging family this Christmas: what do they matter when you have an aging daughter to marry off to some dying emperor? Fun with the folks is one thing, but inheriting half of Germany… Well, it's obvious isn't it?

2.) Gears of War (Xbox 360): Its official, there's too much forced good will at Christmas, so what could be more than enjoyable than unleashing disgraced soldier Marcus Fenix, and your own growing frustration, upon the Locust Hoard that is (in a shocking new plan) trying to wipe out mankind? But it's not the story that's important here, it's the bone shattering combat that'll see you constantly diving for cover to save your suitably chiselled face from some impromptu surgery. It's also the first game to use the frankly arousing new Unreal 3 engine which truly makes this feel next generation and reminds us that the 360 is more than up to fighting the good fight with the new consoles out this Christmas.

3.) Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Gamecube/Wii): After over a year's worth of delays Link's back, having shed himself of his cutesy cell shading. for the first time since 1998 fans are getting what they want: an older Link who actually looks up to taking on the scourge of Hyrule. Promising to be the most epic Zelda game yet, Twilight Princess will see Link gain the ability to transform into a wolf, engage in horseback combat and, as usual, save Hyrule from a mysterious darkness. An interesting new feature sees you gain the ability to transform into a wolf while being ridden in a most undignified manner by a strange looking top-heavy eunuch. While it will also be released on Gamecube, it is, more importantly, the key launch title for Wii and merges the revolutionary motion-sensing, nunchuck controller with a world of swordfights, archery and good old fashioned platforming. Nearly a decade on, Twilight Princess is set to capture the throne of the Ocarina of Time as the best game in the series so far..

4.) Hardware: It's a difficult decision. On one hand we have the powerhouse that is the PS3 with its next generation cell processor and blu-ray technology. On the other we have the Wii, Nintendo's homage to the simple fun of gaming with the most revolutionary control system since they plonked an analogue stick back onto their N64 controller over a decade ago. The PS3 does have the technical age, destroying what the Wii can produce graphically as effectively as Goya would a 4 year-olds self-portrait, but what it's lacking is innovation, a killer line-up, a price tag that won't require a mortgage, and common sense. Sony's marketing for the PS3 has been dripping with the kind of arrogance and contempt for your regular gamer that's just begging for poetic justice in sales terms. Also, with a tiny number of consoles actually being shipped for sale (not that it will even reach here till March, unless you're willing to import) and reports that its backwards compatibility is far from perfect, things don't look too rosy. Also, when it's coming out at a price tag greater than both the 360 and Wii combined, it won't matter whether you've been naughty or nice, you just have to be stinking rich. Comparatively, Nintendo's little white box is ignoring the trappings of multi-media (who actually needs another DVD player in their house anyway?) to focus on taking gaming to a wider audience while evolving it for hardcore oldies. Its brand new motion sensing controller plans to make gaming more fun for all the family - it is Christmas after all, and Nintendo should be applauded for finally letting us gamers exercise more than our thumbs.

To be honest, it doesn't matter what you ask for, Santa's not going to have time to deliver much this year with so much gaming action to be had.,,