Who's coming for Christmas?
If you don't know them now, you soon will. They're the stars of the season's hit games
Traditionally, Christmas is a time of goodwill.
Yet should you have a PlayStation, Xbox or Nintendo in your house there's every chance that instead of carols your festive season will reverberate to the lilt of explosions, attack helicopters, 150mph hand-brake turns and the screeching of a mortally wounded dragon – a noisy illustration of the fact that the UK video games industry was worth more than either its film or music businesses last year.
But, unless you're a gamer, it may all merely be digital sound and fury – so, who are the virtual characters that your children and gaming relations will be spending Christmas with? And what are they trying to achieve in their imaginary worlds? Here is your guide to the stars of this season's biggest video games.
Master Chief John-117
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (17+)
What's he like: Just about the toughest man in the universe. Born in the year 2510, John was secretly "conscripted" into an elite military unit called Spartan-II at the age of six.
Mission: To protect Earth and its colonies from a ferocious alien empire known as The Covenant.
Do say: "Don't overheat your plasma gun or you'll have to throw it away."
Don't say: "Why are they still fighting with pistols in the 26th century?"
Game history: This is an enhanced remake celebrating the 10th anniversary of the classic first-person shooter released in 2001.
Price: £34.99 (Xbox)
Professor Hershel Layton
Professor Layton and the Spectre's Call (7+)
What's he like: An archeology don from Gressenheller University, London with perfect manners and an unquenchable thirst for tea.
Mission: To unlock a series of riddles and solve the mystery of a ghostly spectre that's been attacking the village of Misthallery.
Do say: "If you push the 'hint' button it'll help you to solve the puzzles."
Don't say: "There's only two answers to choose from so you might as well just guess."
Game history: The puzzle-solving game is a prequel to the first three episodes of Professor Layton's adventures. It features 130 separate puzzles.
Price: £34.99 (Nintendo DS)
Staff Sergeant Henry 'Black' Blackburn
Battlefield 3 (16+)
What's he like: A battle-hardened US Marine.
Mission: To take the fight to the People's Liberation and Resistance (PLR) army in Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan and New York during a war set in 2014.
Do say: "Take out the sniper with a bazooka then mop up with your assault rifle."
Don't say: "Can you change his accent to a British one?"
Game history: The 11th version of this third-person, multi-player shooter.
Price: £49.99 (Xbox, PS3, PC)
Batman: Arkham City (15)
What's he like: Forget Adam West and his "shark repellant spray" – this is the hard-as-tungsten Batman from the Christian Bale movies.
Mission: To save a crumbling Gotham City from The Joker and a flood of dangerous psychiatric patients escaping from a vast super-prison .
Do say: "Use your explosive gel to blast a hole through a structural weakness in the wall."
Don't say: "Not exactly 'care in the community' is it?"
Game history: A sequel to the award-winning 2009 Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Price: £49.99 (Xbox, PS3, PC)
Captain John Price
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (17+)
What's he like: A mustachioed, beret-wearing ex-SAS officer who is apparently indestructible.
Mission: To stop a Russian terrorist from unleashing chemical weapons amid a global war fought in 2016.
Do say: "Don't try to copy Price – he's the Nureyev of death! Just shoot at anything that moves until he leads you to the enemy hideout."
Don't say: "Did you have to stab that man in the throat?"
Game history: The eighth in the record-breaking series.
Price: £54.99 (Xbox, PS3, Wii, PC, DS)
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (12)
What's she like: A wise, forgiving and benevolent ruler of the mystical land of Hyrule.
Mission: To defeat a mystery evil force by harnessing powers hidden in the mystical Goddess Sword.
Do say: "If you use your telepathy skills you'll be able to read the minds of your enemies."
Don't say: "Is she old enough to be playing with a bow and arrow?"
Game history: Fifteen versions have been released since 1986, selling more than 62 million copies globally.
Price: £49.99 (Wii)
Need for Speed: The Run (16)
What's he like: A maverick racing driver with implausible driving skills who owes a vast sum of money to the Mafia.
Mission: To pay his debts by out-running the mob, police and 150 drivers in a race from San Francisco to New York and bagging the $25m prize.
Do say: "Undertake him on the blind bend and use your handbrake to make the corner."
Don't say: "Don't climb into the Lamborghini, there's a nice Renault Megane over there."
Game history: The franchise has sold 100 million copies.
Price: £49.99 (Xbox, PS3, Wii, PC)
Ezio Auditore da Firenze
Assassin's Creed: Revelations (15)
What's he like: A Renaissance nobleman who leads an ancient society of assassins. Highly skilled in every form of murder.
Mission: To stop his sworn enemies, the Templar Knights, by killing anyone who supports them in 16th-century Constantinople.
Do say: "Use Ezio's 'hookblade' to zipwire across the rooftops and slyly drop bombs on people."
Don't say: "Won't he get bored of slaughtering people one day?"
Game history: The gameplay has previously produced meticulously rendered historical views of Jerusalem, Florence and Rome.
Price: £32 (Xbox, PS3 PC)
Drake's Deception: Uncharted 3 (15)
What's he like: Indiana Jones gone mad.
Mission: To save his "family" treasures from the clutches of Kate Marlowe, the sinister leader of a secret order formed by Queen Elizabeth I.
Do say: "The library has a book by Lawrence of Arabia that will help you find the lost city of Rub' al Khali."
Don't say: "Why are you aimlessly wandering around the desert for hours on end?"
Game history: Two previous episodes have pitched Drake into the Amazon, Tibet, Borneo, Colombia and France.
Price: £49.99 (PS3)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (15)
What's he like: A Norse warrior who has The Voice – the ability to speak to dragons.
Mission: To save the mythical land of Tamriel from an army of fire-breathing dragons by using an array of weapons and magic spells.
Do say: "If you travel to the top of Throat of the World mountain, the Greybeards will help you to perfect The Voice."
Don't say: "The chickens are sacred? Are you insane?"
Game history: The 14th incarnation since 1994.
Price: £54.99 (Xbox, PS3, PC)
Life & Style blogs
Guest post by Richard Sexton, business development director of e.surv chartered surveyors
Plus lateral thinking and living on London's waterways
Other popular areas include Didsbury, Clifton in Bristol, central Cambridge and West Bridgford
Living with Google Glass: what are they actually like to wear?
Microsoft's Xbox One: Have the price (£399) and release date (30 November) been leaked by online retailer Zavvi?
Splint made by 3D printer used to save baby’s life
The 10 Best road-trip gadgets
Google Glass: First images taken on Google's new glasses appear on Twitter
- 1 Woolwich attack exclusive: Man in bloody video - named 'Mujahid' - was known to Anjem Choudary's banned Islamist group Al Muhajiroun
- 2 'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
- 3 Grace Dent: I’m not sure how these people can avoid being called ‘bigots’. And the more ‘civilised’, the worse they are
- 4 Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, the mother-of-two hailed as a hero for confronting Woolwich attackers, thought: 'better me than a child'
- 5 Woolwich attack: The EDL will seek to exploit this evil crime for their own evil ends
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.