12 games you must play this Christmas

For most of the world, it's the festive season. For the games industry, it's silly season; all the big releases that have been hyped throughout the year released in one huge, bewildering rush. Only millionaires and madmen can afford all of this Winter's most notable titles, especially as they're splintered across competing platforms.

On the plus side, it means there's almost enough gaming fuel to last until next Chrimbo – it really has been a spectacular time for games. So, to help narrow down what you're going to stick on your prezzie list, here's our guide to 12 of the best games available right now.

1. World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
Formats – PC, Mac
This second expansion for the omnipresent online roleplaying game isn't just new monsters to kill and hats to wear – it also re-establishes WoW as an explorer's paradise. Full of inventive quests and spectacular sights, this is WoW as it always should have been.

2. Gears of War 2
Formats – Xbox 360
This big-shouldered shooter almost eclipses traditional Xbox golden boy Halo these days, and will inevitably be the best-selling console game of the season. It's macho men vs macho aliens in an epic war, both singleplayer and online. If nothing else, buy it so you can join in with the endless conversations about it.

3. Left 4 Dead
Formats – PC, Xbox 360
The ultimate zombie apocalypse game. It's four players against an undead horde, with teamwork and communication absolutely vital for survival. Especially in the optional eight player game – where other folk control the murderous zombies… Fresh, funny, brutal and hugely cinematic.

4. World of Goo
Formats – Wii, PC, Mac
This two-man indie might just be the game of the year. It's a gorgeous, hilarious psychics puzzler in which you build elaborate constructions out of stretchy , living Goo balls. Except that's not the half of it. Each level does something entirely new with the concept: this is a game that'll surprise and charm you anew every ten minutes.

5. Far Cry 2
Formats – PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3
This shooter is almost entirely unrelated to the original Far Cry, but no matter: it's set in a huge, open-world slice of Africa, with you as a roaming gun for hire. It's a bit of a divisive game, not quite meeting its own ambition, but the size and freedom of the thing more than makes up for its shortcomings.

6. Fallout 3
Formats – PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Another free-roaming epic, though this one's a roleplaying game set in post-nuclear Washington DC. With a 50s-meets-steampunk style all of its own and an unbelievable amount of quests, characters and sights to dig up at your leisure, it's the perfect Chrimbo timesink.

7. Little Big Planet
Formats – PlayStation 3
The most important game on PlayStation 3 thus far – Sony's troubled console finally earns its keep. The base platforming game is so-so, but that's only an entrée – the meat of LBP is a powerful but joyously simple game-building tool. Folk have already recreated the likes of Tetris and Mario with it., but that's likely just the tip of the iceberg.

8. Fable 2
Formats – Xbox 360
A sort of opposite to Fallout 3 – this laid-back RPG dials back the violence and griminess in favour of very British comedy and establishing your place in the world. Whether that's by settling down with (or divorcing) the girl/boy of your dreams, earning a fortune from property development or farting in people's faces.

9. King's Bounty: The Legend
Formats – PC
This Russian-made strategy-roleplaying game is a mad as a pig in a hat. Really, properly mad. As you'll discover when you're caught in a love triangle with a zombie and a frog, performing amateur dentistry on dragons and leading an army comprising bears, vampires, giant snakes, fairies and pirates.

10. Guitar Hero World Tour
Formats – Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii
The rock-centric rhythm action series escapes its traditional guitar confines for a full band setup – drums and vocals now join the strumming. It's Guitar Hero's response to Rock Band, essentially. An alternative to this is Rock Band 2, which has arguably a better track-lising but is 360 only.

11. Lego Batman
Platforms – Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, PC
Despite the presence of ol'Bats, this is about as far from The Dark Knight as you can get. It's puzzle-platforming for kids and adults like, duffing up plastic supervillains while constructing escape routes and traps from nearby Legos. At its best in two-player, both of you working together to beat the levels.

12. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
Platforms – PC, Xbox 360
Base-building, tank-smashing real-time strategy with its tongue firmly in its cheek. Set in an alternate timeline where World War II never happened, and instead the Allieds wage war against a Tesla-powered Soviet Empire and a robot-powered Japanese legion. Fortunately it's as inventive as it is silly – its crazed alterna-tech units are a joy to play with.