Holiday Gift Guide 2022 — Best in gaming gadgets and games
Here’s a look at a few of the best and brightest gift ideas for gamers in the family.
Peripherals, gadgets and consoles
Let’s start with the equipment that will certainly help bring the gaming experience to life.
Xbox Series S (Microsoft, $239.99) — In an age where the latest pricey home entertainment consoles are more in demand than Gollum’s precious ring, Microsoft offers a readily available and much more affordable option for gamers.
Let’s call the Xbox Series S the little brother of the more robust Series X but certainly not to be overlooked this holiday season as it caters to the simplest of players’ desires to quickly dive into virtual worlds.
This compact and very portable entertainment solution comes shaped like a white landscaping brick, weighs around 4 pounds, has a black circular vent on top and a basic HDMI 2.1 output, three USB-A ports, an ethernet jack and storage expansion slot.
SEE ALSO: Blu-ray and DVD disk gift ideas for television show lovers
Under the hood features include an 8-core AMD Zen 2 processor at 3.6GHz (4 teraflops of processing power), a custom AMD RDNA 2 graphics processing unit, 10 gigabytes of GDDR6 RAM and a 512 gigabyte SSD storage drive.
That translates into enhanced tech such as DirectX raytracing to propel video graphic rendering and games running up to 1,440p resolution at 60 frames per second.
The package does include the latest and greatest Xbox controller. It’s white, wireless, Bluetooth-enabled and a very comfortable fit with a textured grip (for big-handed folks), a content share button, 3.5 mm headphone jacks and button mapping but, big boo, it still must get fed AA batteries.
Now, here’s the reason to close the gift deal with the Series S. Owners get a powerful gaming machine, and the cheapest out there, for the myriad of gaming possibilities including backward compatibility to most Xbox One and many 360 titles.
Give it to a college student (with a strong Internet connection), a traveler who loves playing on the road or young gamers in the making.
However, that considered, the Xbox Series S is by no means perfect.
In an age where 4K televisions are becoming commonplace, Series S is not 4K and will never be upgraded to compete with X Series or PS5. Let me rest fears aside, the difference to my peepers was marginal when comparing play with many a mid-range game. So, add 60-year-olds to the perfect gift fit.
Of course, the elephant in the box is a deceptive note that says owners have 512 gigabytes of storage. However, the actual system software takes up a chunk of space leaving a meager 364 gigabytes to store games.
That’s quite bizarre to me since great games are a weighty proposition such as the latest Call of Duty eating up around 130 gigabytes and Halo Guardians at more than 100 gigabytes — so basically, three or four epic-sized games stored.
An option exists to buy a proprietary Seagate expansion card for a head-shaking price (1 terabyte for $199.99) and nearly matching the price of the entire console.
And, with no onboard disk drive, that’s not good for the robust player, but Microsoft has come up with a compromise.
Players will want to purchase a subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, an easy way to play a collection of new and old games for a monthly fee.
A three-month subscription costs $40 and under (shop around, I’ve seen it even listed for around $10 a month) and allows the ability to either download games to the SSD drive or, a better option for the Series S owner, play them via a cloud computing option.
More than 100 titles are available ranging from Halo: The Master Chief Collection to Aliens Isolation, Doom, Far Cry 5, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, Gears of War and Madden 22.
EW3880R (BenQ, $1,049.99) — A critical component to any gamer immersing themselves in a new entertainment console is, of course, viewing the output of that console.
BenQ offers an ultrawide monitor that truly means “ultrawide” and mostly delivers the visual goods. It has a 37.5-inch curved screen size (34 inches wide by 14.5 inches tall) and a 21:9 aspect ratio (that’s wide folks) uses LED backlight technology and delivers 1.07 billion colors, a 3,840 by 1,800 resolution and a 60Hz refresh rate.
The result of the tech screen might be a wideness that takes some getting used to, especially in the middle of games while panning the peepers. However, the addition of low blue light and flicker-free technology and even an occasional message that can be set to let viewers know to take a break all help with eye strain.
A trio of high dynamic range options — Cinema HDRi, Game HDRi and a middle ground called HDR — as well as 13 overall color modes, including one tailored to racing video games, makes finding a vibrant sweet spot, with help from a handy remote, easy.
The EW3880R’s onboard connections include two HDMI (v2.0) ports, one DisplayPort (v1.4) one USB C (PowerDelivery 60W, DisplayPort Alt Mode, Data), two USB 3.0 (Downstream) and a headphone jack.
The stand offers a 15-degree swivel, a 15-degree backward tilt and 5-degree forward tilt, and an almost 5-inch height adjustment.
The EW3880R does its best with handling a variety of video game scenarios. Diving into any standard and methodical role-playing game now becomes being wrapped in a visually enveloping experience.
Although, that underwhelming refresh rate will not keep up with the frantic ferocity of the current generation of first-person shooter games.
Of course, the monitor excels for multitaskers in the family covering the ability to cram many windows across the screen for spreadsheet analysis or one heck of a long timeline for video editing.
Those watching movies will be equally pleased with the clarity and vibrant color (including HDR10 on board for 4K films and a P3 color space for wider hue variation) with options to quickly refine the imagery but expect black bars on most of the media dues to the non-standard aspect ratio.
The surprisingly impressive speakers help close the deal. The 2.1 channel system uses two, 3W speakers and one 8W subwoofer with Digital Signal Processor (DSP) powers and five audio scenarios (Live, Cinema, Dialog, Game and Rock/Party) that across the board give an aural punch with clear speech, instrumentation and some weighty bass.
What’s not to like is the weight of the monitor when setting up on a desk, clocking in at almost 30 pounds, some slightly distorted gameplay visuals due to the aspect ratio and the price.
Average gamers receiving the EW3880R as a gift will be generally pleased by its performance and giggling by its size, but gift purchasers might frown at the price.
H3Pro Hybrid (EPOS, $199.99) — Give the gift of an enveloping, aural experience for gamers immersed in their latest virtual adventures with a versatile and lightweight premium pair of wireless, over-the-ear headphones.
Featuring memory foam earpads, an adjustable, metal faux-soft leather-covered headband and a pair of microphones (onboard and detachable boom), the H3Pro offers comfort and cord-free connectivity through both an included lag-free dongle and Bluetooth 5.2 as well as more standard corded options.
Dual connectivity adds to the functionality (for example, with a Bluetooth smartphone connection) for chat and game audio that allows a balance of low latency multitasking productivity.
Gamers can expect roughly 19 to over 30 hours’ worth of wireless gaming on a single, two-hour charge (depending on the sound connection option).
Weighing less than a pound, the headset offers mainly hard plastic construction and onboard controls such as a large volume wheel on the right earcup, a smart button (for everything from turning on the device to making calls) and an active noise cancellation switch (ANC).
When the enhanced ANC gets activated, the muffle of annoying background noises really is at a minimum, and the function is one of the key highlights of the headset, but it will suck battery life for the convenience.
For the PS4 and PS5, a player uses the included dongle to plug right into the entertainment console or can opt for the included 6-foot-long USB cable. Stick with the dongle.
For the Xbox and Switch consoles, a player uses the included roughly 5-foot-long, 3.5 mm cable — more than adequate for plugging into a controller’s port.
For the computer gamer, use either the dongle, an included USB cable (also simultaneously charging) or 3.5 mm cable.
While on the topic of playing on PCs, EPOS Gaming Suite for Windows 10 delivers a surround sound experience with a range of preset audio profiles to enhance gaming genres or custom controls to equalize sound and make microphone adjustments.
The headset comes in three colors — Sebring Black, Ghost White or Racing Green — and excels at distortion-free sound, clear communication, and a mix less on bass, and truer to the mids and highs.
Gifters looking to satisfy the on-the-go gamer might instead look toward EPOS’ GTW 270 ($149.99) hybrid wireless earbuds for a less bulky option but as potent.
The pair of compact black buds securely fit in each ear to provide an acoustic seal to deliver a clear and powerful sound experience for just under five hours with a single charge.
Gamers use the USB-C, aptX low-latency dongle to plug into immediate play with the Nintendo Switch and attach the dongle to an included USB-A extension cord to plug into a PC or PlayStation 4 or 5. Unfortunately, the earbuds are not Xbox compatible.
Equally tech cool, owners get a magnetically clasped anodized black aluminum case to place the earbuds for protection and charging.
Charge the case in under two hours via the included USB-C to USB-A cable that will then charge the earbuds in 1.5 hours. The case offers an additional three charges for the earbuds. A quick charge can offer roughly 60 minutes of additional use after 15 minutes in the case.
Reflex FPS (Scuf Gaming, starting at $249.99) — The company known for giving a competitive edge to professional and casual gamers around the world for more than a decade through its lineup of high-performance, wireless controllers now offers owners of the illusive PlayStation 5 its latest creation.
Built to order by Scuf technicians, this meaty Bluetooth-connected Reflex FPS arrives nearly mirroring the PlayStation’s DualSense controller but packs in the customizable bells and whistles that caters to the first-person shooter fanatic in the family.
Specifically, limited motion, instant triggers on the front of the unit deliver a hair-trigger response to get shots off quicker while four removable and remappable paddles under the controller, perfectly and ergonomically positioned, allow middle fingers to take control of the primary button actions or configured to a gamer’s choosing.
By the way, the Reflex comes with three already configured paddle profiles, the FPS for the shooters, and ones more aligned with sports and racing games. Each can be quickly engaged with the press of the rear profile button and glow blue, red or green to designate the profile chosen.
The design layout includes on the face a loud built-in speaker, large touchpad, directional pad, four action buttons, a pair of interchangeable thumbsticks and a PS, mute, create and option button.
Also, the standard two bumpers and two triggers, a 3.5 mm port for wired headsets, and a USB-C port for wired play and charging (controller includes a 6-foot-long cable) round out its DualSense core arrangement.
With help from non-slip, rubberized textured grips, the controller offers a very comfortable experience for any extended gaming session.
As far as the style, and it can drip with saturated style for a price, players can choose from more than 41 faceplate designs ranging from Iridescent (oil slick colors) to Cherry Blossom (white with branches of the famed flower) and Conjure (an Easter egg swirl of hues) and up to nine colors in four-action buttons; two bumpers; two triggers, translucent directional pad and thumbsticks.
A perfect eclectic example is Respawn ($359.19). The controller offers a purple-and-pink faceplate with a “Terminator”-style skull on the left handle; red action and directional buttons; steel-grey top bumpers and thumbsticks; and black rubberized grips.
Scuf has even commissioned artists to offer their own inspired designs that are available through the end of the year. Take the example from Thurb, an illustrator from Caen, France, delivering a very pop art, graffiti style for a faceplate.
Suffice it to report, this pricy piece of tech for the PlayStation 5 makes for a perfect gift and will stun any gamer, no matter their proficiency.
Gift givers should not forget to add the Reflex Player Pack ($35 with controller purchase), which comes with a hard case to protect that investment, Gamer Grip, 10-foot USB-C Cable and four extra thumbsticks.
PL4800 (Vertagear, $479.99) — Most gamers should realize by now that playing their favorite virtual adventures for long hours slumped on a couch is not the optimal position for the human body.
A welcomed solution is a rugged, high-back, four-wheeled chair for gamers (up to 6-foot-6 and 360 pounds) packed with features for maximum ergonomic comfort and spotlighted by two major technology enhancements.
Start with the patent-pending ContourMax Lumbar that uses a layer of memory foam to adjust specifically to the curves and angles of a player’s body.
Four Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) modules, consisting of 64 individual responsive branches, are beneath the foam and shift according to the shape and movement of the sitter’s back.
Next, the VertaAir seat system uses eight hexagonal air pillars that host air tunnels with four-way air emission, pushing air in and out, to provide pressure relief and generate aerodynamic lift to negate gravitational pressure evenly across a player’s back and butt.
That certainly pays off during prolonged gaming sessions with the PL4800 that also incorporates a waterfall seat design to prevent blockage of blood circulation to the lower extremities,
Also, keeping on the topic of sitting way too long, and especially sweating way too long during a fierce session, is Vertagear’s HygennX technology.
It uses nano-sized coffee granules weaved into quick-drying, breathable cloth for natural odor control and silver-coated embroidery to neutralize bacteria growth.
Standard controls for the four-wheeled chair include levers to adjust the recline angle, seat height and tilt, a switch to adjust the armrest height, buttons to adjust armrest angles (in and out, back and forth and directional) and an adjustable memory foam headrest cushion.
I’ll admit the cushioning is a bit stiff and frankly takes some time to get used to (always chanting the mantra of back pain relief) but after being seated for some time, owners will feel like they are in the cockpit of a sports car.
Color designs for the chair range from carbon black to midnight purple and burgundy red, and the chair assembles in under 30 minutes with help from slide-in hardware and minimal pieces. Vertagear throws in a 10-year warranty on the metal frame.
The price might be a bit daunting, but the sturdiness and style of the design that should take care of the human body make for one impressive gift for the serious gamer in the family.
For the ultimate chair experience, gift givers can toss in the RGB LED Top kit ($299.00) that adds lighting blocks, controlled wirelessly during PC gameplay, to illuminate the back of the chair in a variety of colors and effects synced to the visuals and audio.
Now, let’s add some gifting examples of traditional and immersive virtual experiences.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (Activision and Infinity Ward, rated M, reviewed with PS4, $59.99) — The reboot of the mega-popular, first-person shooting Modern Warfare series continues and mixes sticking a solo player in another roughly eight-hour-long interactive, blockbuster action film with teams of up to 32 players each battling in the nearly limitless firefights.
Let’s start by sticking gamers in the middle of another terrorist plot to destroy the planet, a plot that’s spread out over 17 missions.
This campaign follows multinational special operations unit Task Force 141 and Mexican Special Forces unit Los Vaqueros as they pursue the evil Maj. Hassan Zyani, who has gained possession of several American-made ballistic missiles.
The team chases him from Al Mazrah to Amsterdam to Mexico to Chicago, attempting to figure out when and where he plans to launch deadly strikes.
A player gets to control fan favorites John “Soap” MacTavish and Kyle “Gaz” Garrick of Task Force 141 on missions ranging from night-vision-goggle raids to helicopter rescues and controlling an aircraft to decimate a cartel-infected town.
Next, the meat of the game, multiplayer, has customizable characters from the game packed with firepower and battling across 16 maps within a choice of a dozen modes.
Those who finish the campaign will have access to Special-Ops missions, as close as one gets to working cooperatively with another player in campaign-style gameplay.
Next, players can dive into multiplayer modes such as a free-for-all deathmatch, Ground War (32-player teams), Search and Destroy (plant a bomb or defuse it) and Hardpoint (extreme king of the hill).
New this year is Prisoner Rescue (a team liberates individuals or defends against it) and Knock Out (6 versus 6 rounds to protect a sack of cash and earn points for the effort).
The multiplayer maps between the categories of game modes are organized into three categories: Al Mazrah (demolished buildings in arid deserts in the Republic of Adal); Las Almas (Mexican Mexico and markets and cartel facilities); and the Rest of the World (such as a hotel in Amsterdam).
Features worth noting in multiplayer include swimming through sewers and tunnels, hanging off ledges to check corners, a third-person perspective option and the controversial ranking system to unlock weapons.
Pentiment (Xbox Game Studios, Obsidian Entertainment, rated M, $19.99) — From the folks who built open-world universes such as Fall Out: Las Vegas and Dungeon Siege III comes a more subdued offering, a medieval narrative murder mystery set in a small town in Bavaria.
For solo players who love the fine art of text conversation, they will not be disappointed by a story starring a feisty journeyman Andreas Maler working as an illuminator of manuscripts at a fictional Abbey in Tassing.
On a visit from rich Baron Lorenz Rothvogel to check out progress on a commissioned work, Andreas finds kinship with him, only to learn the powerful lord has been murdered on the Abbey grounds and Andreas now looks to solve the crime.
The game demands a player converse with a range of characters with answers guiding the narrative and quests.
He must even decide some of Andreas’ background, down to what he studied at school (say the occult and Catholic theology script), all of which will also shape a selection of possible answers and characters’ reactions.
The gorgeous, slightly animated art style pays tribute to late medieval manuscripts, woodcuttings, engravings and early prints including reading some very stylistic font choices (depending on the individual who is talking) for the time period that can be turned off for those who have a hard time deciphering them
Moments include walking into the illustrated poem of the Aeneid, as a nun talks to Andreas about its male-centric themes, or learning the 15th-century Italian chivalric romance of Wretched Guerrin while in a book’s illustration.
Best of all, players can get a deep dive into 16th century art, history and culture greatly helped by an encyclopedia that continually fills with terms after conversations.
They can access short definitions of historical figures such as the Perchta, pagan goddess of the Alps, controversial theologian Martin Luthur and Greek philosopher Aristotle or the Corpus Hermeticum writings while interacting in locations from countryside towns to the scriptorium.
Gamers exhausted by shooting, jumping and blowing things up will thoroughly love this roughly 15-hour-long cerebral history lesson delightfully overshadowed by murder.
By the way, it’s ready to download on the Microsoft Xbox Series S as part of the game pass.
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga — Galactic Edition (Warner Bros. Interactive and TT Games, rated E 10+, reviewed with Xbox Series S, $79.99) — The ultimate immersion into George Lucas’ epic space fantasy comes to life through an action-adventure game drenched in familiar mythology and realized using those crazy Danish toy bricks.
Gamers can now conquer 45 missions, solve over 700 puzzles and accomplish more than 150 side quests as they work through all nine of the Star Wars movies featuring over 400 playable characters.
That means a narrative drenched with the unrelenting but loving mocking of the source material to relive key scenes tied to visiting iconic locations such as Tatooine, Coruscant, Kamino, Geonosis, Kashyyyk, Utapau, Mustafar, Hoth, Jakku and Dagobah.
Up to a pair of players can appreciate via split screen a variety of game mechanics such as a tower defense battle of Naboo, a blaster firefight on Princess Leia’s ship Tantive IV or controlling X-Wings on trench runs as they also cause as much destructive chaos as possible, rebuild items and collect valuable studs to find hidden goodies and unlock more characters and content.
A new over-the-shoulder perspective for character control makes the action much more personal and allows the chance to admire the fantastic glossy plastic characters’ designs,
The Galactic Edition even includes all of the character packs that had been sold separately over the year (13 in total) including mini Lego figures plucked from shows and movies such as “The Mandalorian: Season 1,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” “Rogue One,” “The Mandalorian: Season 2,” “The Bad Batch, “The Trooper,” “The Clone Wars,” “Rebels,” “Andor,” “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” “The Book of Boba Fett” and compilations such as “Classic Characters” and “Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation.” Yes, that’s Emperor Palpatine in classic, striped beachwear.
It’s worth noting that Lego Star Wars games have also always been built with cooperative action in mind, and the Saga falls a bit short this time out, devolving to an unappreciated split-screen format rather than both players viewing the same wide space.
Still, with gobs of irresistible charm, a cavalcade of film memories and backed by a booming, always-present orchestral score from John Williams, “Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga” offers universal appeal to anyone in love with a galaxy far, far away.
Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed (IllFonic, rated E10+, reviewed with PlayStation 4, $39.99) — This cooperative, as well as uncooperative, asymmetrical, online multiplayer-shooting game will have fans of the paranormal comedy franchise quickly fall in love with its devotion to expanding the canon and delivering highly colorful shenanigans.
Set after the events of the movie “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” this ultimate game of hide and seek has a team of rookie Ghostbusters visiting the famed New York firehouse headquarters to learn from legends Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) and Ray Stantz (the Dan Ackroyd).
That translates into up to four players customizing avatars and wielding a PKE meter, Proton Pack and Ghost Trap to eventually find, wrangle and capture a rampaging spirit (the fifth player in the matches) in five different locations.
As they roam the Whitestone Museum, Hudson Canyon Lodge, Rock Island Prison, Clock Tower Brewery & Pub and the ocean liner RMS Artemisia, the team must close rifts (destroy artifacts), calm down humans and avoid getting slimed as well as not get outstrategized by the ghost.
As much as the game offers a blast for the Ghostbusters, with a character design that reminded me of the 1980s cartoon, the action excels for the lucky fifth player of matches tasked with becoming a spirit to thwart his opponents.
Five different classes of ghosts are available including the infamous ectoplast Slimer, and each ghost has multiple abilities in its arsenal.
They include flying, moving through walls, temporarily possessing objects, using minions, stealing ghost traps, unlimited respawning through rifts and, of course, sliming, with a slime tornado eventually possible — all with the ultimate goal of scaring all of the non-playable characters enough to make a place officially haunted and uninhabitable.
If that sounds like the apparitions have the advantage, you are correct, but that makes the game even more fun and challenging as the Ghostbusters must communicate and truly work as a team to succeed.
Parents will certainly appreciate sharing the legacy with their offspring as well as the lessons in cooperation learned.