Purchasing a video game that celebrates a gamer's handiness with firearms may not capture the holiday spirit, but Winter is a long season.
"Half-Life 2" (PC). Evil alien technology once again falls victim to a scientist (Gordon Freeman) handy with a crowbar. The 1998 original wowed audiences with a conspiracy-laden storyline and muscular action. The sequel won't disappoint the tinfoil hat contingent -- conspiracies abound. And the graphics are spectacular (provided you have a decent graphics card). Rated "M" for Mature. $54.99.
"Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" (PlayStation 2). From the barrios of Los Santos to hilly climbs of San Fierro, this game is like Disney's California Adventure but with AK-47s. If the epic storyline won't draw you in, the soundtrack culled from the best of early West Coast rap and funk will. The best "GTA" ever. Rated "M" for Mature. $49.99.
"Halo 2" (Xbox): After all the hype, is there anything left to say about this game? Well, yes. The online multiplayer component insures that "Halo 2" will be a gift that keeps on giving. Great game physics, graphics, etc., and the story is solid too. Rated "M" for Mature. $49.99.
"Call of Duty: Finest Hour" (GameCube/PlayStation 2/Xbox) and "Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault (PC). When will World War II games reach a saturation point? Not this year, obviously. "Call of Duty" makes the jump from the PC to the console and loses a little in the graphics and Artificial Intelligence department. But the game's core asset -- allowing players to view the war through Soviet, British and American eyes -- remains true. The PC version of "Medal of Honor" is set in the Pacific, a relative rarity for World War II games, and worth a play from WWII game aficionados. $49.99 each. Rated "T" for Teen.
Recommended gifts for the control-freaks on your list. You know, the ones who volunteer to run the holiday office party.
"The Urbz: Sims in the City" (GameCube/PlayStation 2/Xbox). The "Sims" go to the city and the result is a colorful, crazy and hilarious sim where the object is to become the coolest person downtown. That’s right, city life is the same as high school but with cosmopolitans and sushi-bars and post-post-post modern artists. $49.99. Rated "T" for Teen.
"Sims 2" (PC). Don't care whether you see an acquaintance for the next couple months? Give them "The Sims 2." For the first time the Sims age, they breed, they pass down genetics and ... (gasp) ... they die. Larger and more complex than the original, yet at the same time much more playable, "The Sims 2" may redefine the way players interact with the virtual world. Sure the original "Sims" played like a "digital dollhouse," but "The Sims 2" represents a revolutionary advance in play and technology. If only other sequels were this good. $49.99. Rated "T" for Teen.
"Roller Coaster Tycoon 3" (PC). The popular theme-park sim undergoes some improvements in the graphics, especially the lighting department. The rules, particularly that one about not putting the concession stand too close to the 5-G roller coaster, stay the same. Rated "E" for Everyone. $34.99.