Pity the gamers: Between retail and downloadable outings, social games and virtual worlds, there’ve never been so many ways to spend those quarters. Party-night favorites like Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock and Rock Band 3 are now joined by 500-plus new iPhone apps a week, hundreds of trailblazing independent releases and — here’s an upside — thousands of free Web titles.
Thankfully, for those who appreciate blockbusters and know that “1080p” isn’t some tax form, disc-based, HDTV-ready games soldier on. Consider the following your cheat sheet to 2010’s top titles.
Dance Central (MTV Games, Xbox 360)
A hip-shaking simulation that delivers highly lifelike play by eliminating clunky dance pads and handheld accessories. The best use of motion control yet, it’s the perfect club night warm-up. You might just throw out your coffee table.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (UbiSoft, PC/PlayStation 3/Xbox 360)
Explore scenic Rome as a medieval hitman, shadowing targets, using poison darts and retractable blades to strike fatal blows, then escaping into swirling crowds or clambering up rooftops for an acrobatic getaway. New class-based online multiplayer options let you literally stab friends and loved ones in the back.
Gran Turismo 5 (Sony, PlayStation 3)
Five years in the making, the only racing game detail-oriented grease monkeys will ever need offers over 1,000 cars, photorealistic visuals and extensive Internet multiplayer support. Note: Sunday drivers and fans of Hollywood chase scenes should stick with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, lest they spend hours helplessly doing doughnuts.
Call of Duty: Black Ops (Activision, DS/PC/PlayStation 3/Wii/Xbox 360)
Visceral firefights, stunning pyrotechnics and Hollywood-grade production values define this Cold War-set military blaster, which puts explosive crossbow bolts and flaming rounds in your hands. With 5.6 million copies sold on day one and extensive online options built in, you’ll find no shortage of victims to empty banana clips into for months to come.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (Blizzard Entertainment, PC)
This edition ups hero-level limits, adds new races and introduces fresh areas for exploration to the leading massively-multiplayer fantasy dungeon hack, which lets thousands adventure together online. Those who prefer not to sacrifice lives and relationships on the altar of geekdom should stick with solo-oriented, post-apocalyptic Western Fallout: New Vegas, which, while sprawling, involves less online socialization.