There were some really, really great games in 2011. Here are a bunch of my favorites, followed by others that I also liked, just not quite as much as these top ten.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
I want to be mad at Ubisoft for annualizing Assassin’s Creed and simply tweaking and enhancing the previous game, but it’s hard to get upset when I like the core game and its storyline so much. Revelations is, for all intents and purposes, more of the same. They’ve added a couple of things like bombs and the tower defense-style ‘den defense’, but really you’re mainly getting a new city to scamper around in and the continuation of the modern-day saga of Desmond. As the title implies, things are revealed, so if you’re a fan of the series you should definitely get caught up and play this latest iteration through to the end.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
I came to Human Revolution as a complete Deus Ex virgin. Luckily for me, it’s a prequel, so it doesn’t really require any prior knowledge of the series in order to enjoy the game. I loved the futuristic setting, the political intrigue, and the controversy over physical augmentations. The progression system worked wonders to encourage exploration and I really poured over the skill tree, obsessing over where I should spend my praxis points on upgrades. Finally perfecting a stealthy route through a room without being detected was easily one of the gameplay highlights of the year for me.
Resistance 3 is the closest thing to a Half-Life game I’ve played since Half-Life 2. Or perhaps, more accurately, it expertly combines the engrossing in-game storytelling of Half-Life with some explosive action sequences reminiscent of the type we’ve come to expect from the Modern Warfare series. Tonally, Insomniac nailed the feeling of desperation that I’d imagine comes from fighting the losing end of a war against invading alien forces.
Batman: Arkham City
Rocksteady created what is arguably the best superhero game of all time with Batman: Arkham Asylum, so expectations were high for its sequel, to say the least. The foundation of Arkham City stays true to the original, though the larger and more-expansive city replaces the asylum as the setting. Gliding around the city skyline and zipping from ledge to ledge made for an entertaining means of transportation. The combat is as satisfying as ever, though the ability to integrate gadgets into combos was a nice addition, even if I found myself rarely making use of them. Perhaps it’s not quite as strong as the original, but I still had one hell of a good time with this latest Batman endeavour.
Saints Row: The Third
Purple dildo bat. Need I say more? I love a game that embraces its absurdity and Saints Row: The Third is the reining king of absurdity. While other open-world games have taken a turn toward a more serious tone, Volition made a mad dash in the opposite direction and I love them for it. (Not to say I don’t enjoy those other, more serious games – there’s plenty of room for both.) Absurdity aside, there’s a tangible amount of plain ‘ol good decision-making that went into the design of this game. Your time is not squandered – It sets out to make sure you’re having fun and then just gets out of the way and lets you enjoy yourself.
With so many high-profile games these days revolving around saving the world or saving the universe, I always find it refreshing when I see a big-budget title that deals with a story that’s on a smaller scale and more personal in nature. While L.A. Noire is far from perfect, I loved the late ‘40s-era Los Angeles setting and found the noir-style narrative to be compelling and the central interrogation mechanic to be novel. The use of highly-detailed facial capture technology certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Dead Space 2
Few games approach Dead Space 2’s ability to express the feeling that the proverbial shit has hit the fan. It all begins with one insane, in-your-face, gory bang and it pretty much doesn’t let up until it’s over. Sure, there are moments of quiet between fights, but even these fill the player with a feeling of paranoia about what’s to be found around the next corner. A chilling orchestral score helps to heighten tension throughout as the situation spirals further and further out of control. Oh, and the Severed DLC was really good too, especially if you’ve played Dead Space: Extraction.
Bastion is a shining example of what can be done by a small team of passionate people. Solid mechanics, a compelling spoken narration, beautifully drawn artwork, and an amazing soundtrack all came together in a cohesive way to form what was easily my favorite downloadable game of last year.
Put simply, the third entry in the Uncharted series is bombast at its best. The sheer amount of technical proficiency on display in this game could probably power a small nation. Sure, it has some incredibly well-acted characters, an interesting exploration of Drake and Sully’s history, and a sprinkling of “are they/aren’t they?” romance between Drake and Elena, but the set pieces….. my god, those set pieces…..
Portal 2 made the original look like a mere appetizer to a much heartier main course, which is saying quite a bit considering how highly I regard the first game. Everything about it, from its writing to its difficulty curve was spot-on. No other titles this year (trivia games notwithstanding) were even in the same comedic ballpark as Portal 2, thanks to Stephen Merchant’s delightful performance as Wheatley and the talented scribes at Valve behind the lovable robot’s words. I hear the co-op is fantastic, but I haven’t even touched it yet. The fact that I still put it at the top without having done so just goes to show how much I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Tweetable Mentions – Honorable mentions, in 140 characters or less. A bunch of other games I enjoyed, just not quite as much as my top-ten picks.
Battlefield 3 – The campaign is not good, but multiplayer is awesome! I haven’t put nearly as much time into it as I’d like to.
Gears of War 3 – Chunky firefights and great pacing. More successfully in its attempts to convey emotion than the first or second ones.
LittleBigPlanet 2 – Everything I loved about the first one, plus TONS more stuff. LBP.me website is brilliant and I really liked the Move add-on pack too.
Crysis 2 – The nanosuit makes everything better. I really liked the multiplayer too.
You Don’t Know Jack – The best trivia game there is or ever will be.
Infamous 2 – More of the same, plus ice/fire. …But it’s still fun!
Killzone 3 – It controls way better than I thought the second one did and it’s so damned pretty looking.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet – The best Metroidvania-style game that isn’t really a platformer.
Rochard – Take the Portal gun and the zero-G parts of Dead Space and put them in a pun-heavy 2D platformer and you’ll wind up with this. (oh, or just read my review!)
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken – A solid 2D platformer about a Rambo-esque chicken taking out revenge on a totalitarian penguin dictator.
Jetpack Joyride – Single-button, high-score chasing fun.
Superbrothers Sword and Sworcery EP – Awesome retro graphics, amazing soundtrack.
DNF – Finally, here’s a list of games that were ineligible from making my list, simply because I did not finish them (or didn’t play them at all). Hopefully I’ll get to them this year!
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Shadows of the Damned
Warhammer 40k: Space Marine
Phew…. that’s a ton of games! Hope you enjoyed the list. 2011 was indeed a fantastic year, but hey, 2010 wasn’t too shabby either.