10 must-have video games

10 must-have video games this holiday season
Image source: Take-Two Interactive Software

With the launch of Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One this month, there's a lot of focus on next-generation games, but that shouldn't overshadow the fact that many of the year's best titles were made for current generation systems.

The end of a console cycle typically is a boom time for gamers as video-game developers take advantage of their knowledge of the systems and look to send them out with a final hurrah. In many cases, those same games help supplement the launch of new consoles as well.

Whether you're buying for the person on gaming's bleeding edge or who's happy with the game system that's already in their house, there are plenty of good choices.

Click ahead to see some hot titles that are sure to delight them this holiday season.

—By Chris Morris, special to CNBC.com
Posted 13 Nov. 2013

'Tomb Raider'
Tomb Raider from Square Enix
Image source: Square Enix

Publisher: Square Enix
Systems: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

It's kind of hard to recall these days, but when "Tomb Raider" was first released, it was the gameplay that stood out, not Lara Croft's measurements. This reboot takes things back to the beginning—and the results are incredible. Instead of an aristocratic Lara, this is a younger character who shows growth as she's forced to survive on an island after a shipwreck. It's a game that makes Lara (and the series) more relevant to today's audience. It's well-paced, well-acted and could be the most pleasantly surprising game of 2013.

'The Last of Us'
Image source: Sony

Publisher: Sony
Systems: PS3

Sony's PS3 Naughty Dog Studios has been responsible for some of the best games for the PlayStation 3, including the "Uncharted" series—but it outdid itself with this survival/horror/action game. It's well-paced and (at times) scary, but the real draw is the emotional bond you'll feel toward the characters. Two survivors—an adult and a 14-year-old girl—travel a post-apocalyptic United States, battling both zombie-like creatures and hostile survivors. The story never goes where you expect, keeping players enthralled.

'Bioshock Infinite'
Image source: Take-Two Interactive Software

Publisher: Take-Two
Systems: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

The true sequel to 2007's breakout hit (we'll ignore the sub-par 2010 effort by another developer) takes players into the clouds and switches up the narrative. The despotic background that incorporates real world elements including racism, religion and the role of government makes for a fascinating setting.

What's more, the game is a breakthrough in artificial intelligence. It pushes a bit too far at the end, but it's still a worthy experience.

'Grand Theft Auto V'
"Grand Theft Auto V" from Take-Two Interactive Software.
Source: Take-Two Interactive Software

Publisher: Take-Two
Systems: Xbox 360, PS3

Rockstar Games took the best elements of their previous titles and improved upon them with "Grand Theft Auto V," making an engaging title that will appeal even to people who have resisted Grand Theft Auto games in the past.

Added to that is a vibrant online world where players can do anything from hit a round of golf to investing in the game's stock market to running major criminal heists. It's addictive and diverse, and already has had massive sales.

'Super Mario 3D World'
Super Mario 3D world from Nintendo
Image source: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo
Systems: Wii U

Nintendo's Wii U hasn't had a great 2013. Sales have been lousy and the game selection—with the exception of "Pikmin 3"—has been just as bad. "Super Mario 3D World" could start to reverse things, though. It's an old school Mario game with some very new twists. Play as Luigi, Princess Peach or Toad, if you'd like. A cat suit lets you scamper up walls and pounce on enemies. And the Wii U's GamePad can be used to search for hidden bonuses.

'Call of Duty Ghosts'
Call of Duty: Ghosts from Activision-Blizzard
Image source: Activision-Blizzard

Publisher: Activision
Systems: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Xbox One, PS4

For the first time since 2008, Activision's massive action series isn't likely to be the best-selling game of the year, but it's still going to be huge.

Rather than taking the safe path and coming out with "Modern Warfare 4," developers opted for a new story and setting (and the inclusion of a dog in the squad, which proved to be a viral hit)—and shook up the multiplayer components somewhat. While the game will look better on next-generation systems, many players are likely to buy the current generation version, so they can keep playing with friends.

'Skylanders: Swap Force'
Image source: Activision Blizzard

Publisher: Activision
Systems: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Xbox One, PS4

The latest installment of "Skylanders," which blends real world toys with video games, introduces a batch of mix-and-match figurines—and has quickly become the highest-rated in the series to date.

There are a few new tricks—most notable of which is the ability to interchange the tops and bottoms of the physical Skylanders' toys, greatly increasing the potential number of characters in the game. There are 16 new Swap Force characters sold at stores, but the mix-and-match components of those toys presents 256 potential combinations.

'Killzone Shadow Fall'
Image source: Sony

Publisher: Sony
Systems: PS4

The "Killzone" series has long been a go-to franchise for Sony to show off the PlayStation's graphical prowess, so it was a no-brainer that "Shadow Fall" would launch with the PS4. The Helghast, the human descendants in the series, are as eerie as ever, and the destructible environments are sure to impress fans. This will be the action title of choice for PS4 owners.

(Note: If you're looking to buy for a younger gamer or the family, you might want to opt for the more charming "Knack.")

'Forza Motorsport 5'
Forza 5 from Microsoft
Image source: Microsoft

Publisher: Microsoft
Systems: Xbox One

While the PS3 has a new "Gran Turismo" available, those who want to see what the next-generation machines can do with a racing game are sure to enjoy "Forza 5." The game ships with 141 cars, including the McLaren M23 and the Ferrari 312T2. (And another 60 are coming in the next six months.) Fans will be able to race on tracks ranging from the U.K.'s Silverstone Circuit to California's Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

'Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag'
Assassin's Creed IV from Ubisoft
Image source: Ubisoft

Publisher: Ubisoft
Systems: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Xbox One, PS4

The latest installment in this popular series sails into a new setting—piracy on the high seas. While there's plenty of dry dock skulduggery to perform, roughly 40 percent of the game is set at sea. Set in the early 18th century, the game incorporates real world historical figures with the action. Among the pirates you'll run into are Blackbeard, Ben Hornigold, Charles Vance and Calico Jack. There's also more of an open-world feel this time—letting players explore islands at their leisure.