It is now dark when we walk home and birds are either dropping out of trees in frozen lumps or going somewhere much nicer for their holidays. And, as always happens, the shops are hoisting their Christmas decorations up and getting us all worried about buying presents because we never know what they want is it socks or aftershave. So, we thought we would join in.
Our mission is to sort through this enormous pile of Xbox 360 games that have been released between late August and December and tell you what is the most worthy or promising match for your money. It is not as easy as it sounds, either, as this has been - without doubt - the strongest line-up of games on the console since launch. Except that time we stacked our DS ones on top.
Unfortunately, there will be those that do not make final cut, too. We also have to push Live Arcade releases to one side, despite very strong contenders like Puzzle Quest and love-it-or-hate-it Space Giraffe. But not Battlestar Galactica (frak no). What remains, then, is a list of games that will make you as happy as having a belly full of mince pies and mulled wine - something to beat away the winter blues.
Assassin's Creed promised the world with its concept of an environment where you could climb anywhere and bound around rooftops mercilessly carrying out assassinations. It also introduced us to new and more believable crowd behaviour where you interact realistically by nudging or shoving idlers from your path. The gorgeous graphics obviously helped, too, as did having the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time team behind it.
Now, just weeks from release, the promise looks like it might be coming true. Those who have seen it are all giddy with excitement, heaping praise on its simple and stylish combat system and balletic manoeuvring. We've yet to see all its tricks, but the fact it has us hungry for more after so long in the limelight is hopefully a testament to its quality. It does make us wonder what that twist will be, too. Maybe Altair's a hamster.
Bonus fact: Assassin's Creed takes place during the Third Crusade, but also takes a few liberties with the truth. For example, you can't swan dive off a building into hay and live.
Millions of pounds may buy you tip-top production values and a good game, but the creative drive and writing talent of Ken Levine proved to be a treasure with few equals, and also gave us one of the best narrative twists in gaming history.
It was his vision that brought this dark and disturbing game to life countless fathoms under the sea, where you are forced to do the bidding of desperate strangers as you explore the leaking dream of Rapture, ever at risk from the blades of its deranged former inhabitants, driven wild by the chemicals their society was so proud of. The same chemicals you will need to survive. The result is spellbinding and captivating, evolving your perception of what a first-person shooter can offer.
Water developer: Fort Frolic is one of the besterest bits of BioShock, but then you'd probably expect that given that it was designed by the person who did Thief: Deadly Shadows' much lauded Cradle level.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Call of Duty 2 used cinematic set-pieces where artillery spat mud in your eyes and filled your ears with deafening explosions and rolling out the barrel [is this right? -Ed]. Crucially Infinity Ward showed us that we were not bored with World War II, simply how it was portrayed. Now its attention is on the present day and on recreating a world as seen through distant news bulletins, cleverly employing a limited palette of colours and fluid animations to transport you there as convincingly as modern gaming hardware has managed.
The developer has shown us inside its compelling multiplayer mode, and driven us purposefully around the campaign, once again proving that perhaps we are not as bored of the modern battlefield as we had first thought. Although Tom still prefers watering plants and making hippos scissor.
Guns don't kill people: But Hank Keirsey, one of Activision's military advisors, probably did, and has given his input to Call of Duty 2 as well as this one.
Microsoft is not a name synonymous with Japanese role-playing games, and has already reinforced this once in 2007 as big white hope Blue Dragon flopped to the ground under the weight of its own regressiveness. But where it wilted, Eternal Sonata flourished, as it whisked us off to the unusual and inventive dream world of composer Frederic Chopin as he drifted off for one final adventure moments before he died of tuberculosis.
Where Blue Dragon was laborious and steeped in familiar and traditional gameplay, Eternal Sonata was fresh, bright and unique; a sumptuously realised cartoon dream world punctuated with an extravagant score and unique combat system that is worth escaping to time and time again.
Requiem: Chopin died in Paris in the early hours of 17th October. Eternal Sonata was released here on 19th October. They couldn't make that synch up?
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
The instant joy of picking up a replica guitar and playing along to your favourite rock songs is like being given a very fancy remote-controlled car as a child. Journeys home suddenly become anxious torture, and peeling yourself away to eat, sleep and do waste-disposal duties seems a pointless frustration. Not very rawk, either. Guitar Hero and its perfect blend of rhythm-action earned itself our 2005 Game of the Year award because of it, and very rightly so. (Actually, let's not get into that again.)
But this year is a bit different. Original developer Harmonix hopped in the back of EA and MTV's tour bus to go and make Rock Band, so Activision called on Tony Hawk creator Neversoft to make the third game in the series. We are offered more than ever before and online battles for the first time, and already know there is a juicy track listing on its way. And this year Activision has something to prove. It still has the winning recipe, and will make damn sure its new chef brings out the best cake it has ever baked.
Tra la la: Eurogamer designer Martin Taylor was in an actual proper actual band for ages. upcdowncleftcrightcabc+start are bloody good, too, even if they did reject my idea of calling their first album "Sonic Adventure".
Living up to expectations is an incredible challenge, but like Michael Johnson setting a world record in golden spikes, so too did Bungie deliver. They even gave us an oddly sized hat.
The dramatic finale to the most iconic series on Xbox was always going to be a massive event for Microsoft, and it threw every marketing strategy at us it could muster. But underneath the hyperbole and flattery was the reason it was so well regarded to begin with: well thought out fun.
It is a first-person shooter that you can play with or against your friends while you enjoy a lavish, delightfully overstated storyline. It has enormous production values, lets you drive around in lots of vehicles, and has been tested and revised umpteen times so that the finished version is polished, crisp and fluid. Fun is the reason Halo 3 was awarded top marks by us.
Finish the sentence: There aren't actually any angels in Halo. Or are there? I can't remember.
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
Kane & Lynch underpins everything we love about life: backstabbing, hate, and a good old punch-up. You see, these two protagonists - a flawed mercenary and psychopathic schizophrenic - share one wonderful quality in common: they absolutely despise each other, which makes co-operating to shoot the baddies kick up all sorts of mistrust and emotional issues, a bit like those explored on Neighbours.
It is a bizarre concept that slightly bonkers but brilliant Hitman developer IO Interactive is seasoning with some of the most compelling multiplayer modes we have heard about, albeit only with local co-operative play.
Aaaand: Kane and Lynch are enemies. On a related note, the Eurogamer content management system hates ampersands. What did they ever do? And why is that interesting?
When a great storyteller sits you down and begins a tale, you would be silly to look the other way. BioWare began its console foray by reinventing Star Wars in Knights of the Old Republic, before recreating ancient and magical China in Jade Empire. It is now taking us back to space, but in its own world where humans are newcomers to the galactic mix, helping the governing body combat an ancient threat unearthed by one of its own elite agents.
You are Commander Shepard and you will build a crew around you as you explore the far reaches of space, building relationships as you watch your and their powers grow after countless battles and encounters. Cinematic immersion in a sprawling setting from stunning visuals and lavish audio is a given, as is the deepest and most accomplished dialogue response system a role-playing game has ever seen.
Expect to be transported into your own science-fiction world, then, as you uncover a story that will likely stay with you for a very long time.
Science bit: "Mass Effect" is the real-life name for dark energy.
Project Gotham Racing 4
Bizarre Creations was quite open when it admitted it rushed PGR3 so that it could be a launch title for the Xbox 360, even though it produced a solid and well received racer. This time it had no such restraints and was adamant that it would take as long as it needed to produce the best game it could.
And so it tweaked the Kudos system, adjusted the handling, and improved its track design methods, giving the game greater balance than any previous instalment. Subtle points, perhaps, but vital foundations for the exemplary racing game assembled upon them. Also noteworthy for being the first racing game with fog you actually appreciate. In Macau anyway.
High there: Each of PGR4's cities is based on tens of thousands of recon photos and takes bloody ages to make, as roads and street layouts are painstakingly mapped. But for some reason they guestimate all the heights.
The Orange Box
Any one of the games contained in this box would have come highly recommended, but instead you get five. It's the first time you will be able to play Half-Life 2 on your 360, for starters, before you can continue the adventure with Episode One and Episode Two, both acclaimed instalments in their own rights.
It also finally delivers the most refreshing multiplayer experience in years in the long-awaited Team Fortress 2, which combines cartoon visuals with an intricately balanced selection of classes to bring about enough tactical flexibility to last you a lifetime.
Then there is the enormously charming Portal, a puzzle game where you have to use a portal gun to solve problems, altering your perception of up and down and left and right and leaving you thoroughly confused but satisfied at every turn. Given that Valve doesn't believe in charging for downloadable content, there's every chance you'll be serenaded again in the months to come.
Anyway, each game is fantastic, and this is simply unmissable.
Interesting fact! You can actually do the final bit of Portal in around a minute. Well, you can't, but someone can. Don't click on that if you haven't finished it, obviously.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary
Lara Croft is a pin-up of the gaming industry. She has had her own troop of models to replicate her in real life, and has been recreated on film by rubber-lipped pouter Angelina Jolie. We have also been bombarded with countless games over the years, but none have lived up to the one that started it all.
Thankfully, then, Crystal Dynamics and Eidos decided to remake the original and bring it into the 21st Century using the Tomb Raider: Legend engine. Much like dabbing away at the layers of make-up on Lara Croft, the result is a fresh-faced and beautiful game that encapsulates all the things we fell in love with originally.
Your grace: Apparently Lara Croft is the 11th Countess of Abbingdon. So be polite when she won't swim properly.
Virtua Fighter 5
Virtua Fighter is a series long held aloft by fighting aficionados as the most balanced and competitive game in the genre. It is unashamedly hardcore, but makes no apologies for it [which is what "unashamed" means -Ed].
The fifth instalment is no different, and provided PS3 owners months ago with the best Virtua Fighter game so far. But it had its flaws. It had no analogue control support, was left out of date by changes made to the arcade version, and famously featured no online head-to-head mode.
So while the Xbox 360 version may be late to the party, its prolonged arrival has allowed it to incorporate all of the above while preserving everything that made it so good in the first place.
Please don't sue us. Legend - and I stress legend - has it that a rival beat-'em-up designer once got drunk with Yu Suzuki and asked what the secret to VF's success was. Having found out, he made his own game. Suzuki reputedly now tells people that he left out the most important part, and that's why the other game's rubbish.
Had enough? Tough! Join us again soon for the 12 PlayStation 3 games you ought to consider in the run-up to Christmas.