Five games ideal for escaping the Christmas madness
As you'll no doubt be aware if you've walked down the high street recently, Christmas is coming. The season of hearty cheer, peace and goodwill to all. Except it never really works out like that, does it? Christmas can also be a hellish scrum of last-minute present shopping, fraught family get-togethers and children driven to insanity by toxic levels of sugar and chocolate.
But don't fret! As gamers we have the perfect escape route at our fingertips. Fire up your console or computer, wedge a chair under the door handle and lose yourself in a game immersive enough to blot out the Yuletide yahoos outside. Thankfully, this season's blockbuster crop offers plenty of games with the sort of long term gameplay and enduring appeal needed to keep you sane until January kicks the door in. Here's our pick of the top five festive gaming getaways.
Formats: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U
Out: Now (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360), November 24th (PC), November 30th (Wii U)
It's hard to believe the Assassin's Creed series has only been around for five years but it's quickly grown into a gaming giant, in gameplay as well as sales. This year's trilogy-capping epic promises to the be the biggest yet, an open-world romp through the American War of Independence that also brings to a close the modern day story of history-hopping hero Desmond Miles and his battle to escape the clutches of the Templars. With a vibrant rural community to build and upgrade, not to mention the prospect of commanding your own frigate in naval battles, this is a game with far more to do than just hiding in haystacks and stabbing people. And once you polish off the single-player story, there's the fantastic multiplayer modes - now so large they demand their own disc. Whether you want to roam the forests or battle online, this is a game that will keep you busy well into 2013.
Formats: PC, Mac
Sports Interactive's evergreen soccer simulation has long been the gaming getaway of choice for footy fans everywhere. With its deep, intricate systems and canny knack for capturing the highs and lows, ebbs and flows of the beautiful game, it not only offers months of brilliant gameplay but also creates a compelling alternate reality where your sofa-bound frustration at real-world performance can be transformed into a vindicating "this is how you should do it!" sandbox, as you kick out the manager whose decisions cause you so much anguish and see if you can do a better job. This year's edition is even more detailed, but also comes with the much-praised Classic Mode, stripping the game down to the absolute basics and letting you power through a season in a few days. Perfect for some special alone-time while you wait for that turkey to digest.
Format: Xbox 360
Out: November 6th
We haven't been starved of Halo games, what with Halo: Reach in 2010 and the remastered Halo: Anniversary Edition last year, but the encroaching dark winter nights just haven't been the same without Master Chief, last seen drifting off into deep space at the end of Halo 3 in 2007. Well, he's back, and bigger and better than ever. Halo 4 marks the start of a new story arc - the Reclaimer Trilogy - and it offers multiple ways to spend those awkward hours between opening presents and trudging to bed full of pudding and sweets. A robust single-player campaign is also playable in four-player co-op, and the new Spartan Ops offers even more co-operative goodness, offering regular downloadable spin-off missions in a TV box-set style. And, of course, there's the multiplayer - one of the most rewarding and balanced online games around, now perfected and polished to keep pace with modern multiplayer expectations. This won't just keep you playing over Christmas, it'll keep you playing until Halo 5.
Format: Wii U
Out: November 30th
There's something grimly ironic about the fact that Nintendo's latest console is launching with a gruelling survival horror game alongside the expected cheery and colourful fare. After so many years of the Wii being the default family gaming system, fiendish souls looking to clear the lounge will certainly appreciate the ominous tone and brutal violence that ZombiU offers. Set in London after an undead apocalypse, the game uses the Wii U's tablet controller as a handheld inventory and survival kit, your only lifeline against the shambling, flesh-eating horde. The sight of brain-chomping British bobbies outside Buckingham Palace will scare grandparents away nice and quickly, but gory-minded youngsters may prove harder to shake off. The game's unforgiving difficulty - which includes permanent character death and the need to return to the scene of your demise and battle your zombified body to retrieve your backpack - should send them scurrying for something less taxing, leaving you free to endure the end of the world in blissful peace and quiet.
Formats: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii U
Out: November 13th (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC), November 30th (Wii U)
November is Call of Duty month in the gaming calendar, and this year's offering isn't short of new ideas. The single-player campaign is split between flashback missions set in the 1980s, and stages set in the technologically advanced combat zones of 2025. In these futuristic sections, you'll undertake Strike Force missions which will impact the direction of the story. The horrific co-operative Zombies mode now has its own campaign and supports eight players rather than four. It's in multiplayer where COD has earned its stripes, however, and Black Ops II promises to shake up the enormously popular formula more than any previous game in the series. In come multi-team matches, pitting three or four forces against each other rather than the traditional two-sided battles. Combat classes have been made more fluid, allowing you to pick and choose the abilities and loadouts that suit your play style, while the scoring system has been tweaked to encourage more teamwork and objective-based success, rather than lone wolf soldiers and constant headshots. It's shaping up to be the pinnacle of an already enormously successful series, and if you're planning on sneaking away for a few hours of digital carnage on Christmas Day, you certainly won't be alone.