With the holiday season comes the annual deluge of new video games -- and if
you have younger gamers in your household, some of them are bound to be
turning up on seasonal wish-lists. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) gives all games a helpful letter grade for age-appropriateness,
but what else should parents know before buying video games as gifts?
Get informed with this family-friendly breakdown of the year's hottest
Call of Duty: Black Ops (ESRB: M)
COD: Black Ops It might be topping the charts with consumers and critics, but parents
should take care with the latest in the Call of Duty series. Set in a
comparatively realistic Cold War-era world, it's definitely among the
year's most violent games, and its real-world setting may make it of
higher concern than more fantastical games. Its story mode includes
scenes of torture and brutal hand-to-hand violence, but online gameplay
-- which is where most long-term Call of Duty fans wind up -- carries
about the same exposure to unpleasant behavior from other players as any
other online shooter.
Halo: Reach (ESRB: M)
Halo Reach Sci-fi violence is the name of the game in Halo Reach. It's not as explicit as Black Ops, although its protagonists are prone to get themselves impaled on large alien swords from time to time. There's blood and gunfire, but the fictional setting will make it an easier pill for many parents to swallow -- and once you take it online, as most players will want to, there's little practical difference between it and any other
multiplayer combat game.
Metroid: Other M (ESRB: T)
Metroid: Other M A solid choice for teen gamers, Wii adventure/shooter Metroid: Other M is a good alternative to Reach or Black Ops. It's nowhere near as violent as most games in its genre, and you're usually tackling alien monsters rather than anything recognizably human. Although it's an update of a decades-old Nintendo franchise, there's no need to have played (or even heard of) the earlier titles; it tells the story of series heroine Samus
Aran, one of gaming's strongest female characters.
Fable III (ESRB: M)
Fable III Cartoony and light-hearted, Fable III's role-playing adventures are punctuated with adult content, but they're typically played for laughs rather than titillation. That said, their mere presence will be enough to put off more sensitive parents, even though Fable's violent content is mild compared to the season's other M-rated hits. There's also no shortage of bad language, sexual situations (you can bed a spouse and can choose to
go 'unprotected' to have a child) and depictions of alcohol use.
Rock Band 3 (ESRB: T)
Rock Band 3 Aside from a few lyrical references to drug use or sexual situations and the odd bit of skimpy clothing, there's little for parents to fear from Rock Band 3. Indeed, if you're looking to turn your kids' Rock Band
addiction into something a little more productive, this year's Pro mode
(paired with the right controller) will actually give them a solid grounding in how to play a real guitar.
Fallout: New Vegas (ESRB: M)
Fallout: New Vegas With writing and characterizations that are a cut above the games industry's usual standard, this role-playing/shooter hybrid plays out in a violent, post-apocalyptic sci-fi world. Though it's apparently possible
to finish the game without killing a single living thing,
that's far from typical of most play experiences. Severed limbs and
battered corpses are an everyday sight in Fallout's world, and the
game's warlike setting is emphasized by a huge variety of weaponry --
from the highly realistic to the completely imaginary -- which players
can toy with at will. There's no sexual content as such, but there's
certainly plenty of innuendo-laden situations.
Kinect (ESRB: various)
Microsoft Kinect Kinect is Microsoft's new motion-control system, which requires no physical controller; instead, a high-tech camera monitors your body and translates your movements into on-screen actions. It's a good choice for younger kids -- virtual pet game Kinectimals comes highly recommended -- but does require a largish living room to play. Apartment-dwellers (or those with coffee tables) may want to think carefully before taking
the plunge, and as with any new system its selection of games isn't as large as it could be.
Playstation Move (ESRB: various)
Playstation Move Meanwhile, Playstation 3 owners get the Move, which also uses a camera, but still has ice-cream-cone-like controllers. It's a touch cheaper than Kinect, but, if anything, the software selection is a little worse. Still, bundled Sports Champions is a solid Wii Sports clone, and like Kinectimals, Eyepet will put a smile on any sufficiently small faces for a while.