The cream of the 4th quarter gaming crop

Merry morning after, one and all. I hope those of you who celebrate Christmas had a wonderful day, and I hope everyone else had a nice relaxing weekend.

The winter holidays mark more than just the end of the year for gamers; they mark the end of the 4th quarter game release extravaganza, too. Every year game publishers pack the last months of the year with more releases than the average gamer has time to play (or money to buy, for that matter).

But maybe you've got some time off this week, and maybe you've got a handful of gift cards from relatives who know you're a gamer but don't know enough to risk buying a particular title. So what should you pick up? With the wisdom of 20-20 hindsight I wanted to highlight some of the best games of the quarter.

Let's start with the Nintendo Wii. This one is easy: the Wii had one huge holiday release: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. When game design legend Shigeru Miyamoto first did a demo of Skyward Sword at E3 2010, it didn't go so well. The controls weren't responsive and even though Miyamoto reassured the audience that there was some kind of interference on stage, the game existed under a stigma from that moment pretty much up to release. The good news is that Skyward Sword does control nicely and it provides an epic adventure for Zelda lovers. If you're a Wii owner, this is the must-have title to get.

Next up let's talk about shooters. FPS fans probably already know what I'm going to say; this fall was all about the fight between Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. I'm not going to pick a 'winner' between these two: honestly I'm not a big fan of online shooters. I have friends who are, though, and they tell me that Battlefield 3 is the game to get if you're into team-based mulitplayer shooters that are a bit slower and more strategic, and MW3 is the way to go for a single player campaign full of over-the-top set-piece moments, and/or fast paced frantic multi-player matches. Both these games are cross-platform, so take your pick of PC, Xbox 360 or PS3.

One of my favorite games from this season is a Playstation 3 exclusive: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Developer Naughty Dog's goal with the Uncharted series is to bring back the days of Saturday afternoon adventure matinees. These games mix combat and puzzle solving into a story-driven adventure with a cast of characters that I, at least, have really come to care about. I was sure that Drake's Deception was going to be my personal game of the year.

And then The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim arrived. Developer Bethesda has been making Elder Scrolls games since 1994 and Skyrim is the best one yet. It's an epic adventure in a Norse-inspired world bedeviled by dragons. This is an RPG that you can play pretty much any way you want to. I've known people that focused on the main quest line and got through the game in about 30 hours, and I know people who've crossed the 100 hour mark and are still going strong. There's a huge world full of side quests and quest lines, lore to uncover and secrets to explore. You can enjoy Skyrim on the PC, Xbox 360 or PS3.

The last big release of the season was Bioware's Star Wars: The Old Republic. This one is PC only, and it's an Massively Multiplayer Online game with a monthly subscription fee of $13-$15/month, depending on how many months you pay for up-front. SW:TOR was hyped like mad in the run-up to release, and it turns out the hype was, in my opinion, justified. If you've never played an MMO SW:TOR is a great place to start, assuming you're a fan of Star Wars in general. If you're an old hand at the genre you'll find yet another well-thought out world to explore. Bioware didn't redefine the genre; many of the mechanics will feel very familiar. But they did manage to accomplish their goal of adding a compelling story (a bunch of them, actually) to an MMO. SW:TOR manages to be solo-friendly while still providing great multiplayer challenges as early as level 10.

So that's my list of the cream of the gaming crop from the fourth quarter 2011. Any of these games are worth spending a gift certificate or two on. But did I miss your favorite? Let's use the comments to keep the list going.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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