A video game store can be daunting if you don't know what you're looking for. It's not easy to tell the winners from the losers, and sales clerks typically make the same salary whether they sell you a gem or a stinker. (“Farming Simulator,” anyone?)
So when you head to the mall, take this list. These are some of the best games of 2013, and any gamer on your holiday shopping list will be thrilled to see one of them under the tree.
Two important things to keep in mind:
Know what kind of game console the gift recipient owns. Maybe Santa's delivering a PlayStation 4? Make sure the game you buy says “PS4” on the box. Sony's PlayStation 4 won't play PlayStation 3 games, and if you stick an Xbox or Wii disc into it, you're just asking for trouble. Likewise, the new Xbox One from Microsoft won't play games for the older Xbox 360 console. Last year's Wii U from Nintendo can play games made for its predecessor, the Wii.
Games that have an “M” rating (for Mature) are not appropriate for kids. Games labeled “E” (Everyone) and “E10+” (Everyone 10 and older) are fun for the whole family.
“Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag” (Ubisoft, for the PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, $59.99): Jack Sparrow's got nothing on Edward Kenway, the swashbuckling hero of this pirate romp.
“Need for Speed: Rivals” (Electronic Arts, for the PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, $59.99): The latest edition of EA's street-racing franchise is packed with enough high-octane challenges to satisfy the most demanding speed freak.
“Grand Theft Auto V” (Rockstar, for the PS3, Xbox 360, $59.99): A gangbanger, a former bank robber and a psychopath cross paths in the new chapter of the blockbuster crime series.