Despite housing the bulk of the holiday shopping season, December is typically the calm after the storm for game releases--by that point, most notable titles for the year are already out and fending for themselves on store shelves or their digital equivalents. But while the schedule is notably thinner, the final month of 2012 still has some spice thanks to anticipated releases like Far Cry 3, Hawken, and the Dragonborn add-on for Skyrim. Of course, it's also a great time to play catch-up on the barrage of recent releases in other months, and be sure to consult our ever-updated reviews listing for our takes on the latest and greatest.
Xbox 360, PS3
The month's most notable release is also one of the year's most anticipated shooters, as Far Cry 3 delivers something quite different from the average military murder-fest. We've already put the game through its paces, and we came away in awe of the ample single-player quest, which lets you tear up a pair of open islands as a twentysomething bro in search of his kidnapped pals. As he finds purpose in killing and battling the intense antagonist, Vaas, the campaign hits a fever pitch that's only amplified by crazed wildlife and enemy gangs. Multiplayer and co-op may not hit nearly the same heights, but unlike many modern FPS favorites, this is a shooter that thrives because of its killer campaign. Get lost in it.
PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade (12/5)
EU: December 4 (XBLA: 12/5)
Before ducking into a theater later this month for Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, revisit the universe via Guardians of Middle-Earth, a downloadable console take on the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre. Monolith's second XBLA/PSN release this year (following Gotham City Impostors), Guardians takes after genre hits like League of Legends and DotA, letting players team up for five-on-five arena battles using a wide array of fighters from the Middle-Earth universe. We thought it likely to be "an inexpensive game whose complexity far overshadows many full-retail titles on the market," which bodes well for keeping players entertained throughout the long winter.
EU: December 4
By all accounts, the third add-on for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – titled Dragonborn – will be the largest to date, delivering what fans hope will be a vast addition on par with that of Shivering Isles from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Priced at 1600 Microsoft Points ($20) and initially exclusive to Xbox 360, Dragonborn takes players back to Solstheim, the island seen in the Bloodmoon expansion for Morrowind, letting them explore that familiar terrain as they tame dragons, learn dark powers, and wield new armor and weapons against fresh foes. We suspect a PC release will follow early next year, with a PlayStation 3 debut… sometime, maybe.
EU: December 7
Last month, the Xbox 360 and PC versions of Mass Effect Trilogy launched, delivering a fantastic value to anyone who hadn't kept up with the series over the past few years. But it's this month's PlayStation 3 version that's most notable, as it marks the debut of the 2007 original on the platform, finally allowing Sony die-hards to experience the trilogy from the beginning. And if you don't want to shell out for the whole set, the original Mass Effect will also be sold separately for just $14.99 on PlayStation Network on the same date.
Platform: Wii U
Now here's an interesting transition. Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth launched a few weeks back on Xbox 360, using Kinect to let you unleash super-powered moves in a framework carried over from last year's PowerUp Heroes. Now, the Wii U release essentially adapts the Kinect commands for the GamePad touchscreen, allowing you to draw gestures with your finger or stylus to execute the same moves. Aside from the input change – which includes the option to use a Wii Remote and Nunchuk – the overall experience looks very similar, serving up a comic-inspired tag-team fighter that emphasizes those flashy maneuvers over simple attacks.
Platform: Wii U
Hot on the heels of its release on other platforms comes a Wii U version of Cabela's Dangerous Hunts 2013, the latest entry in the hunting brand's amped-up series – but we haven't seen or heard anything about what this specific release has to offer. What we do know is that Dangerous Hunts 2013 is not sold with the optional Top Shot Fearmaster peripheral on other platforms, which reads your heart rate and feeds that information into the game. We're curious to see whether the Wii U release puts the GamePad screen to great use, or if it'll be a pretty straight port from the Wii. Guess we'll have to wait and see when it drops, though.
Platform: Wii U
Every new platform needs a mini-game collection, right? The Wii U has Nintendo Land--and Rabbids Land. Need another? D3Publisher's Family Party: 30 Great Games Obstacle Arcade looks to fill that spot, and if the series' history is any indication, it'll be another quantity-over-quality proposition that's hardly in line with the boastful title. Serving up 1-on-3 experiences with one player on the GamePad and all others using Wii Remotes, Obstacle Arcade collects an array of bite-sized play experiences that include skydiving and soccer-themed activities, as well as taunting alligators on dangling ropes. Hey, it's $30. Set expectations accordingly.