It's September, and the last of what Brits pitifully like to call summer is, most likely, over. You get home from work, and collapse on the sofa, trying to ignore EastEnders by playing Fallout Shelter on your phone before The Great British Bake Off begins. (Editor's note: You are British in this scenario, just go with it.) Your partner turns to you, puckers up, and presents you with the impossible question: "So, what game do you want for Christmas?"
Game. Singular. One game. A shelf of software hangs imposingly in the room, with the complete collection of every limited-edition release of the Halo franchise, the last three FIFAs (because they're worth nothing in trade-in value) and a Kinect game you brought once for a party... You no longer have parties. "You can't do this," says the part of your brain completely disassociated from your credit card. "There are so many games between now and then," it protests. "How do you just choose one? Let alone wait until the end of December for it?"
Nutshell: This is the busiest time to be a gamer for years. There is a big, triple-A game released pretty much every week between now and the end of 2015. I count at least 18 of them, and these aren't exactly small, easily consumed games either. You're looking at some that are already out, like the weeks-consuming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and expansive open-world of Mad Max. And on the horizon, just so many titles to lose yourself in: Fallout 4, Halo 5: Guardians, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, and Star Wars: Battlefront, to name but four. That's not counting the upcoming remasters, backwards-compatible games, or the excellent batch of indie games like Volume and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture that are already out but you can be forgiven for missing (but, really, you should play them, eventually).
Again: how do you just choose one? This is impossible. And now your partner is freaking out because you've given them a potential shopping list running to hundreds of pounds and they're more confused than you are over what's needed right now and what can wait until the January sales and oh just stop it already, here's Mary Berry.
Look, you're never going to get through all of these games. Not between now and Christmas—not between kids, in-laws, work, inevitable car repairs come the cold weather, energy bills, the world's economy exploding, and Jeremy Corbyn seemingly about to fire us into the sun if he wins the Labour leadership—and that's assuming you could afford them all, anyway. As for picking just one, well, it's one that you're at least guaranteed to be enjoying, albeit after the flurry of hype for it has dissipated somewhat. But that's OK. Seriously, it's OK.
You don't actually have to get every game. The current marketing machine around video games is very good and, yes, journalists like me are a part of it, but the truth is that nobody expects you to buy every game. Well, maybe Activision does, and perhaps EA, too. But apart from those two companies, nobody else expects you buy All The Games.
This may seem blatantly obvious, but in our socially interconnected world you'd be forgiven for feeling like you have some contractual obligation as a gamer to play everything. You might well feel the fear that if you don't keep up, you'll be left behind. As a gamer hurtling towards middle age, I'm becoming increasingly aware of the generation below me being vastly knowledgeable about a lot of different games, and that's even before you look at the generation of YouTube viewers living vicariously through their subscriptions—I mean, who even needs to play the games when your favorite Let's Player is doing it for you? But if you do prefer to be hands-on, what you need is a system, a way to prioritize what to buy and what to dedicate your valuable free time to while everyone else is watching Strictly or The X Factor this autumn. So I've broken it all down for you, so you don't have to do any of that thinking rubbish. Whatever your immediate desire is, or your personal circumstances are, here's the game to match it.
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You might be ready for a bit of closure this year. Preparing for the end of something close to your heart. While the real world squeezes itself into a ball of post-capitalist destruction, you might need to console yourself with the big, the bombastic, the outrageous, and the cardboard boxes that natively inhabit the Afghan desert in the mid-1980s. If so, then Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is for you. Hideo Kojima's last stand is already being heralded as not only his best, but also one of the greatest stealth games ever made.
Every winter, the blues about how great things used to be haunt us, whatever our age. Thankfully, gaming has you covered with a slew of HD remasters, or as I like to call them: games I'd forgotten about or didn't get around to playing the first time. It's been a big year already for such releases, but you can pick up Gears of War: Ultimate Edition if you're an Xbox owner right now, or Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection in October if you prefer the PS4. But the smartest purchase might be Dishonored: Definitive Edition, which takes Bethesda's excellent steampunk stealth adventure of 2012 and retunes everything for today's more-powerful consoles. If you missed it before, don't in 2015.
Just 'Fallout 4,' Please
Speaking of Bethesda, Fallout 4 is the game that's almost certainly sure to steal the year, and it comes with a cool Pip Boy app for your smartphone. It's not out until November though, and it's going to be massive, so even if you've plenty of holiday owed, you still might want to arrange some gardening leave to fully enjoy the wastelands of Massachusetts.
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If you really insist, then I'm sure you can find more room on your own shelf of untradeable games. EA Sports are bringing you the usual trio of its FIFA, Madden NFL, and NHL iterations, while 2K is going full on Hollywood with Spike Lee's involvement in NBA 2K16 and Arnold Schwarzenegger delivering a T-800 turn in WWE 2K16 (which is shaping up pretty well). But if you want to look outside of the box a little, Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 is looking like it really can deliver this year, and Tony Hawk is due to make a return with late-September's Pro Skater 5, which, at my age anyway, is much more appealing than actually skating.
Pew Pew Pew
This year hasn't been a great year for shooters, but there are a few options imminent. You have your upcoming Call of Duty release with Black Ops 3, and Halo 5: Guardians is evidently trying to push that franchise forward. But if you're doing any shooting this year, you should be doing it in Star Wars: Battlefront. Even if you don't like Star Wars, the new movie will be in the cinema and you won't be able to escape it, so you might as well embrace its video game side. The DICE production could well set the highest bar yet for Star Wars-based games.
Or, you may be interested in Rainbow Six: Siege, assuming it stays on schedule, as a good story-based alternative to the current glut of multiplayer shooter options. Plus, Xbox owners can get the two Rainbow Six: Vegas games on backward compatibility, which technically represents three games for the price of one.
I Need Something the Kids Can Play While I Cry In the Corner
Oh, come on now. What you really mean is a game that's supposedly for children, but that you secretly want to play, but having sprogs provides justification for the purchase, yes? Well, Disney Infinity 3.0 can have you covered with its Star Wars crossover (see, you really can't escape it), but the fun money is definitely on LEGO Dimensions, especially if you haven't already plunged unseemly amounts of cash into Skylanders or Infinity. It certainly feels like an entertaining game with the ability to give each kid (you) a level pack of their own (they're all for you), to keep everyone (you) happy, and they double up as actual usable LEGO. But the retro kid in you might just fall in love with Transformers: Devastation, the 1980s cartoon-inspired fighting game that could turn out great simply by being everything that Michael Bay's interpretations are not.
Is There Anything Else, Though?
Just Cause 3 is there for big open-world explosion fun, Destiny has its The Taken King expansion, there's a new Need for Speed, and if you're an Xbox One owner you've both Forza Motorsport 6 and Rise of the Tomb Raider as exclusives to look forward to. On a multi-format front there's also a new Hitman game, if you aren't already bored to tears with stealth games, and an Assassin's Creed set in London, Syndicate. Mad Max is an Ubisoft title in disguise, doing all of those unlocking of new challenges and character upgrade things that you expect from the Creed series, but setting its action amongst surprisingly beautiful wastelands and borrowing some combat mechanics from Rocksteady's Arkham games. It's a lot better than it perhaps sounds on paper, and is out now.
But if you want to alleviate some of the familiarity, head to the digital stores. Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is the standout PS4 game of the summer, closely followed by Volume, made by Thomas Was Alone designer Mike Bithell. And the Xbox One should have Frontier's Elite: Dangerous coming out of its preview program shortly, which will take years off your life with its incredibly vast scope. Until Dawn is a PS4-exclusive that's a must for horror fans, and already out.
Is There Anything Really NEW, Though?
Unless No Man's Sky gets a release date, nothing that's not already listed up there.
But I Haven't Got Any Money
Then you should be playing Hearthstone already. Why aren't you playing Hearthstone?
And that's your lot—and yes, I know what I've done here. I've told you that you don't need to buy every game, before highlighting more than 30 of them. But prioritizing is the key here, along with some savvy shopping. The retail space is dangerous, and one-click purchases can destroy your finances long before Black Friday. But while the choices before you may be vast, there's never been a better time to be a gamer. So a final piece of advice: just go with what you like. It's easy to forget your own tastes amongst so much pressure from advertising and sites like this one to get involved with a wealth of new video games. Ultimately, much like any entertainment, you'll tell your friends about what games you enjoyed the most, and you'll be smiling because that's the confirmation that you've chosen what you like, and that's all anyone can ask for.
Follow Sean Cleaver on Twitter.