You could spend the next few long, cold winter months taking advantage of the mountains of snow that dump on Cleveland this time of year. You could spend thousands of dollars on skis, skates, passes and hospital bills.
Or you could just stay in, buy some Cheetos and beer (or maybe something less legal — toke, toke, cough, cough), plop your ass in front of a big-screen TV and spend the next three months playing all the cool new videogames that are conveniently coming out just in time for holiday gift-giving. Trust me, it's a hell of a lot more fun than trying to navigate down a hill with ginormous slats tied to your feet.
Videogame publishers always save their biggest and best releases for the final months of the year. This year's bounty of time-suckers is no exception. Everything from shooting games and RPGs to sports- and music-related outings will be on the shelves in time for you to put them on your gift list. Best of all, most of them will keep you busy all winter long, so you won't have time to even think about shoveling the driveway.
There are few things in life I enjoy as much as picking up a virtual weapon and blowing the hell out of Nazis, zombies or Nazi zombies. The premise of Borderlands (2K; PS3 and Xbox 360) is basically to kill anything that moves in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But it features one of the largest arsenals I've ever seen. Like most shooters, it works best as a multiplayer. Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles (Capcom; Wii) moves the venerable zombie-slaughtering game to the Wii, where good shooters are scarce. This one is actually fun and isn't a pain in the ass to figure out. Even better is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Activision; PS3 and Xbox 360), the sequel to one of the greatest videogames of all time. Set in war-torn Afghanistan, the single-person campaign is every bit as thrilling as its predecessor. But Modern Warfare became one of the most popular games ever because of its online multiplayer action, and 2 delivers tons of new maps, perks and weapons. Another sequel, Nerf "N-Strike" Elite (EA; Wii), takes a less bloody approach to the shooter: Armed with a Nerf blaster that houses a Wii Remote, you fire virtual foam bullets at various onscreen targets. It's not as awesome as taking the head off a giant alien bug, but still way fun.
Fighting games are always better with a pal. Most include online multiplayer modes, but nothing beats delivering a major ass-kicking to the person sitting next to you on the couch. One of the best-ever fighting series returns with Tekken 6 (Namco Bandai; PS3 and Xbox 360), which includes more than three dozen playable characters. You haven't lived 'til you've received a beatdown from a giant panda.
I have a troubled history with role-playing games. I get frustrated over the numerous choices I'm offered, I lose sight of the overall objective and I've never actually finished one. But I don't plan to leave the house until I complete Dragon Age: Origins (EA; PS3 and Xbox 360), a totally engrossing medieval fantasy complete with knights, demons and winged dragons. There are literally dozens of ways to play this game, so every decision you make along the way counts. I'll see you sometime in 2012.
Is Guitar Hero all played out? Publishers seem to be divided on the issue. They're still releasing a flurry of music-related games, but many of them are moving beyond the guitar-based setup. The best is DJ Hero (Activision; PS3, Wii and Xbox 360), which comes with a turntable controller and more than 100 songs to mash-up. Ever wanted to rock the party with an awesome Eminem/Beck hybrid? Here's your chance. And you might even pick up some new mad skills you can show off in the real world when you emerge from your cave in the spring. Band Hero (Activision; PS3, Wii and Xbox 360) is basically Guitar Hero for people who find Metallica too threatening. But it's still loads of fun, especially if you're a super-huge Taylor Swift fan like me. Disney Sing It: Pop Hits (Disney; PS3, Wii and PS2) and Lips: Number One Hits (Microsoft; Xbox 360) take a similar, less-rock-more-pop approach. You wield fake plastic microphones instead of fake plastic guitars. Plus, you get to live out your American Idol fantasies with songs by Miley Cyrus (Sing It) and Lady Gaga (Lips). If you prefer your rock stars block-shaped, Lego Rock Band (Warner Bros. Interactive; PS3, Wii, Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS) has got you covered. It's aimed at kids, but who are they kidding? This is way more fun to play than the last few Rock Band and Guitar Hero games. Besides, David Bowie and Iggy Pop have never looked better.
Next to RPGs, action games take up the biggest chunk of a gamer's life. You can't just go in, play for an hour or two and be done with it. It takes commitment. I plan to spend much of the winter exploring the mean streets of Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City (Rockstar; Xbox 360), the latest chapter in the hit series. There are two games here — The Lost and Damned (which was originally available as a download) and The Ballad of Gay Tony — and both are packed with the cool weapons, rich characters and extensive gameplay that have made GTA one of the all-time best. Plus, it's kinda hard to resist a game called Gay Tony. The God of War Collection (Sony; PS3) gathers two of the greatest PS2 games on a single disc. Now the Spartan warrior slays foes, demolishes cities and gets busy with the ladies in glorious HD. Another classic goes next-gen in New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Nintendo; Wii), which also gets a new multiplayer mode. The basic gameplay doesn't change much; it's just way more interactive (and fun) with the Wii Remote. Be sure to test out the new propeller suit — it ranks right up there with Mario's best accessories. An old-school platform game at heart, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time (Sony; PS3) may be the best showing in the popular series. It includes some of the most inventive weapons around (the Dynamo of Doom is way cool), as well as some great mini-games. Its levity is a nice break from the heavier games of the season. I'm a sucker for Star Wars videogames, especially the Battlefront series, which pretty much dispenses with narrative and plops you in the middle of epic space and planet combat. The latest entry, Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron (LucasArts; PSP and Nintendo DS), is more of the same, with some new settings and situations taken from all six movies. It's not groundbreaking gameplay, but you'll totally geek out after you blow up a Star Destroyer in your X-Wing. Another fanboy favorite returns in Lego Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues (LucasArts; PS3, Wii, Xbox 360, PSP and Nintendo DS), where Indy and pals become adorable little blocky figures ... who get smashed to bits by tiny guns that pack a surprising amount of power. I spent a good chunk of 2008 playing the original; this one should keep me busy through March.
I totally suck at sports. Which kinda explains why I'll be spending all winter on the couch playing videogames instead of hitting the slopes or doing anything particularly active. But I love sports games, especially ones that allow me to immerse in an entire season (or better yet, a franchise) and lose seven or eight months of my life. I give myself extra credit for playing games that are actually in season. My two current favorites are NHL 2K10 (2K Sports; PS3, Wii, Xbox 360, PSP and PS2) and NBA 2K10 (2K Sports; PS3, Wii, Xbox 360, PSP and PS2), which are as close to the real thing that I'm ever gonna get. NBA's cool My Player mode even lets you create a baller from scratch and guide him from undrafted rookie to hoops star. Multiplayer action will give you a much-needed social life (relatively speaking, of course), but I prefer playing a game like Baseball Blast! (2K Sports; Wii) with friends who are in the same room. It scores bonus points for getting me off the couch to swing the Wii Remote like a bat. Best of all, the addictive mini-games reward winners with strategy cards that can be used against opponents. Technically a racing game — after all, racing is the only sport in some parts of the country — Forza Motorsport 3 (Microsoft; Xbox 360) might be the most realistic car sim out there. It's certainly one of the best racing games you'll ever play. And with 400 cars and a great (and totally absorbing) Season Play mode to keep you busy for a long time, there really isn't any reason for you to get off the couch this winter. Unless you run out of Cheetos and beer.