Holiday Video Game Guide

Just in time for Black Friday: Our favorite new ways to play

Left 4 Dead

Think Dawn of the Dead gone interactive--courtesy of Valve, makers of Half-Life and Counter-Strike. Controlling hapless human survivors or a quartet of undead monstrosities, you wield assault rifle or shotgun, prehensile tongue or jagged-edged claw, to be the last living bull's-eye. You join in a four-person team alongside fellow human players or with up to three computer-generated comrades to annihilate hordes of fast- and slow-moving zombies. But harrowing as B-movie themed solo encounters and online head-to-head team multiplayer match-ups prove, the most notable tech advancement is an artificially intelligent "Director" that inserts chilling sound effects and sudden surprise attacks to heighten tension, ensuring no two games play alike.
** $50 (PC), $60 (Xbox 360)**
IGN.com

Call of Duty: World at War

Grittier than its best-selling predecessors, the latest edition of this ultra visceral first-person military blaster breathes new life into World War II's Pacific and Eastern European theaters. Despite using predecessor Modern Warfare's software engine, this high-def presentation features a few new technologies. Bullets can punch holes in walls, and dozens of individual audio channels were recorded for each battle's enhanced 5.1 surround sound acoustics. Listen closely and you'll enjoy every snap, crackle and pop-pop-pop as Nazis eat lead or roast beneath the heat of flamethrowers that set flammable surroundings ablaze.
** $50 (PC, Wii), $60 (PS3, 360)
IGN.com

Guitar Hero: World Tour

Countless rivals from Rock Band 2 to Karaoke Revolution, Wii Music to Ultimate Band have come along. But if you want to create custom songs and share them with friends, there's no match for the ProTools-like music studio toolkit in World Tour. And GHTunes, an obvious nod to Apple's iTunes, even allows peers to download and rate others' chord-shredding creations. (Sorry, no vocals or obvious covers allowed--publisher Activision is policing all uploads.) Over 25,000 user-composed ditties exist though, ensuring that the game's guitar-, bass-, microphone- and drum-rocking thrills can still party hard for months to come.
** PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii
$50-60 (game only), $190 (with instruments)
Times Online

Resistance 2

Like several titles on our list, this futuristic run-n-gun romp builds upon its predecessor's accomplishments as an early PS3 standout by adding expanded multiplayer options and unparalleled scale. Eight-man online teams and 60-player Internet dustups produce the most crowded trigger-mashing encounters ever seen. Oh, and fighting monsters the size of buildings who can hurl you through shattering glass windows? That's kind of cool too.
** $60 (PlayStation 3 only)
Playstation

Gears of War 2

OK, you caught us red-handed. (Literally… space marine Marcus Fenix and his ammo-spewing allies take great pride in painting battlefields with alien adversaries' innards.) There are no earth-shattering tech innovations here, unless you count game developer Epic's ability to harness pure testosterone with, for example, whir-r-r-ring chainsaw duels against subterranean humanoids. For mature adults sick of visiting in-laws, this guilty pleasure's an endless source of stress relief.
** $60 (Xbox 360 only)** _Get Rich Playing Games (getrichgaming.com) author and TV/radio host Scott Steinberg has covered technology for 300+ outlets from CNN to Rolling Stone. For more of his insights, visit scottsteinberg.com. _
media.teamxbox.com