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Handicapping the Holidays

We narrow the field for the gamer on your gift list

By James Renovitch, December 9, 2011, Screens

Batman: Arkham City

PS3 & Xbox 360
Warner Bros. Interactive
$60

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

PS3 & Xbox 360
Bethesda Softworks
$60

In the battle for open-world supremacy, it's hard to beat the Elder Scrolls series. They've been doing the epic landscape thing for a while, whereas the previous Batman game was well-received partly for its claustrophobic atmosphere. The newest Caped Crusader installment escapes the asylum and expands to an entire city filled with a few allies and many, many more bad guys. The swords and spells of Skyrim might seem a bit tired if the series weren't so good at hitting all the role-playing bases, including a depth of play that will confound the uninitiated player. Arkham City's rhythmic fighting style keeps up with the quickened pace appropriate for the fast-paced brawling game. The clunky battles of Skyrim serve largely to remind the player that preparation is paramount. Both releases have side missions and distractions to keep players parked in front of their screens for countless hours, but Skyrim's scope is incomparable – even if the missions often boil down to a cycle of conquer, retrieve, and repeat. And while swinging around with a grappling gun through decaying urban landscapes offers a certain amount of wish-fulfillment, coming over a hill on horseback to be greeted by a beckoning mountain landscape in the distance is pretty effective as well.

The winner: Batman's balletic punches and kicks can't compare to the eye-widening snowy vistas littered throughout Skyrim. Plus, it's hard to trump fire-breathing dragons in the awesomeness department.

Other contenders: Assassin's Creed: Revelations, L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition

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