Holiday Guide 2008: The game room

Fantastic new releases for computers and consoles
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culture@sfbg.com

The holidays have always been a time for toys. Back in the day, it was board games, baby dolls, and Rubik's cubes. Then came Nintendo, Dance Dance Revolution, and The Sims. And now? The world of gaming is exploding, with something for everyone — from sci-fi-loving kids to sports-fanatic adults. Here are a few of our favorite new releases, which are sure to please everyone on your list (except maybe Grandpa):

Spore

Maxis (EA Sports); PC/Mac

"Playing God" just took on a whole new meaning. From Maxis, the people who brought you The Sims, comes the genre-defying Spore, a game designed for people who are tired of creating boring ol' humans. In its captivating metaverse, gamers create a unicellular organism which must evolve into a social, cognizant creature. Explore the game's expansive, interstellar landscape while developing a whole new species that can live and thrive in a brave new world. If that isn't enough, it features ambient soundscapes by avant-garde composer and producer Brian Eno.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2009

Konami; PS3, Xbox 360, PSP, PS2, Wii, PC

The Pro Evolution Soccer series, also known as Winning Eleven, has long been the "Beautiful Games" best-kept gaming secret. While enjoying rampant global popularity, stateside it has long been the Don Swayze to Electronic Arts' FIFA series' Patrick Swayze. Its underwhelming sales in the United States are due to EA's publicity machine and its name recognition. But PES 2009's staggering fluidity, graphics, and realism leaves FIFA's in the dust. While it features the international and club matches we expect, this year's version exclusively features UEFA Champion's League mode, which allows you to navigate through soccer's preeminent club competition that decides the best team in Europe. A majestic sport demands a majestic game, and Pro Evolution Soccer '09 best captures the nuances and gravity of the world's most beloved sport.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

Blizzard Entertainment; PC/ Mac OS X

If you can control an insatiable appetite for the destruction of your social life during the 42 days between its release and St. Nick's World Tour, No. 1 on your shopping list should be the latest installment of the soul-sucking, hypnotic genius of Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft. While its global fans' limitless dedication risks the ire of parents, teachers, and psychologists (read: party poopers), who confuse persistence and attention to detail with addictive behaviors, Blizzard has simply achieved every video game maker's wet dream. It's crafted a game intriguing and enjoyable enough that both hardcore and weekend warriors want to get in on the action.

Shaun White Snowboarding

Ubisoft; PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS, PSP, PS2, PC

Not since Tony Hawk has an athlete been able to seamlessly transition from extreme sports star to bona fide sports hero and A-list celebrity like Shaun "the Flying Tomato" White has. He's appeared on countless magazines and talk shows, and is now pulling his own "Tony Hawk" by fronting a big-budget, mainstream video game franchise. While time will tell if Shaun White Snowboarding will be as successful as the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series, but early returns have been overwhelmingly positive. The game features four mountain settings — Alaska, the Alps, Japan, and Park City, Utah — with seemingly endless runs and backcountry trails to get lost on. The game flows well, and there are countless opportunities to do hair-raising tricks and twists.

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