2011 was an odd year for gaming. Many will argue it was one of the best if not the best, and while I understand that argument, I disagree. For me, in order to call a year the best in gaming, it has to have good games releasing consistently throughout the year, and 2011 just had too many lulls where there were no good games coming out. The last few moths of the year were chocked full of great games, but because they all released in such a short time period, it took some time to get enough time into the big games for me to determine which ones were my favorite.
So here we are. It’s the second month of 2012, and I finally feel I am ready to weigh in on the games I would consider to be my top ten of 2011. As I list each game, I will also list the moment or moments which grabbed my attention, helping each game make its way onto the list.
Shall we get this party started?
10. Two Worlds II
The first Two Worlds game was pretty much panned universally by critics. It was not that it showed no promise; many reviewers said there was some substance there, but the game was just too clunky to really enjoy. Many people were surprised when a sequel was announced, and many reviewers once again did not like it. Some of us really did enjoy it, however.
The Moment: After getting off the island in the early part, my character soon learned to use alchemy. Finding the various ingredients for potions, whether they be plants or parts of the various beats I killed, became a bit of an obsession, and many times the potions I made turned the tide in battle.
9. Lord of the Rings: War in the North
This game kind of snuck up on me. I had not heard a lot about it, but with the coupons I had earned at Kmart, I was in a position to get this game on the cheap, and that was when I started to research it. Three player coop in a story which runs parallel to the quest to destroy The One Ring? Count me in. Snowblind has created a great game in War in the North which, while it has its faults, manages to bring players into the realms of Middle Earth unlike just about any which have come before it.
The Moment: In the midst of the first battle, I achieved what the game calls hero mode, allowing my character to move faster and do more damage. It was then Eradan, the Ranger I was controlling, shouted “You face a Dunedian now!” That was all it took for the Lord of the Rings fan in me to be hooked.
8. Runespell: Overture
The first indie game to make my list, Runespell attempted to do something which I always find intriguing: meld two completely separate genres into one. Puzzle Quest did that with match three puzzle and RPG. Runespell blends a poker-like game with role playing. The better the poker hands you can create, the more damage you do to your opponent.
The Moment: From the very beginning, it is clear this is not some slapped together game. The graphics and sound started to grab me initially, but it was easy to learn but difficult to master strategy of building and playing your hands at the right time while using the various allies and spells you quire to gain the upper hand which has kept me coming back for more.
7. Saints Row the Third
The first Saints Row tried a little too hard to be like Grand Theft Auto. The second got a little further away from that formula, trading in the realism for over the top obnoxiousness. Saints Row the Third throws all sense of realism out the window, and it will have you doing everything from using airborne drones to attack the National Guard to using the Sonic Hammer to destroy everything in your path. Then there is the “Whored Mode” (their name for it, not mine), a round by round battle mode where each round will give you something different to deal with, from being drunk to being about half the size of your opponents.
The Moment: The Bank robbery in the beginning was crazy. The battle on the cargo jet was ridiculous. Jumping out of the plane, shooting enemies in the air as you drop down to rescue your fellow Saint, cutting your parachute, flying all the way back through said cargo plane, grabbing another chute and shooting enemies while you rescue said Saint a second time? That’s what I call over the top. Oh, and did I mention that’s the game’s INTRO?
6. Beat Hazard Ultra
Those of you who have been listening to the podcast for a while know many of us have a special place in our hearts for Beat Hazard. When Cold Beam Games announced the new Ultra expansion for the game, my first thought was it would be good to see a little more added to the it, as the first version did get old after a while. Little did I know that the perks and new modes of Ultra were going to breathe more than just new life into an old game; they were going to make Beat Hazard even more addicting than it already was.
The Moment: Like many games, Beat Hazard Ultra has leaderboards. You can sort these leaderboards so they only show your Steam friends. The competition among a few of us from this site, Fellowship of Gamers and Just Press Start got so intense, we were creating folders and moving music into it to try and outdo each others Boss Rush scores. I’m still upset that John holds that record, but I am closing in on some of his others.
One of the great things about indie developers is they are willing to try things big companies would never consider, like building an RPG around Poker or developing a twin-stick shooter which creates its levels based on your music. Of all the indie games I played this year, however, none of them did anything quite as revolutionary as Achron. A realtime strategy game with a time travel mechanic seems insane, but Hazardous Software was able to do just that through the creation of its Resequence engine. This game really does have a serious barrier of entry, but if you stick with it, it will stick with you.
The Moment: I was playing through the campaign, and the story seemed a little ho-hum to me. At the same time, I was really struggling with the time travel mechanic. I spent some time in the forums, figured out what I needed to do for one particular mission, and then suddenly found myself wanting more. Both the story and the game had me hooked.
4. Battlefield 3
This game had me excited from the first time I saw the previews. While there is no doubt the single player game is lackluster at best, DICE has built such a strong multiplayer experience that Battlefield 3 still makes it into my top games of the year. There is nothing like joining a squad of your friends and running roughshod over your opponents using team tactics, specialist and whatever vehicles you can grab. This game has managed to just about perfect the modern warfare style multiplayer shooter, so much so that when asked if I could only have picked up one game from last year, I chose this one.
The Moment: Okay, I was already hooked by this time, but two events really stand out in the games I have played: John crashing his jet into a tank and Dez jumping out of his helicopter cause someone yelled “C4!” Dez, you are NEVER going to live that one down.
3. Gears of War 3
Those of you who listened to our Top 5 of 2011 Podcast have probably already realized Beat Hazard Ultra, Achron and Battlefield 3 have all been pushed back one spot on this list. Now you know why. Having finally had a chance to play through the campaign in Gears of War 3 I found myself in a bit of a quandary; I was not sure where to list it. After all, I had really enjoyed playing Battlefield 3 online, but this game not only continued the tradition of great coop play, it added improved multiplayer, Beats Mode and a story that wrapped up things up rather nicely. There were even some very touching emotional scenes in the story, one in particular which took me totally by surprise. In the end, I had to rate Gears of War 3 higher as it is a complete game.
The Moment: I was already getting hooked, but the end of Chapter 3 was when I knew Epic had really put some time and thought into the story. I will not tell you what happens as I do not want to spoil anything, other than to say that is where the slower instrumental version of “Mad World” used in the first Gears trailer makes its return. The moment is powerful.
2. Portal 2
You would think by now I would know better than to doubt Valve. When they announced Portal 2 was going to be a full $60 dollar title, I remember being very skeptical this was going to work. After playing about half-way through the campaign, my skepticism was replaced by shear delight as I realized the masters had done it again. Portal 2 is quite honestly the most polished experience I have played all year, and playing through the coop with John is a multiplayer experience which was only topped by Battlefield 3. Add to all of that the humor that Valve seems to be able to interject so naturally, and you have easily one of the best games of the year, and one that was worth every penny.
The Moment: While I was enjoying the first half of the campaign, it was staring to feel a little bit like I had done all of this before. A major event occurs about half way through, however, and everything changed. I once again found that sense of wonder which had been so evident in the first Portal.
1. Game of the Year 2011 – Batman: Arkham City
No one is more surprised by this than I am. Though I liked Arkham Asylum, I did not think quite as highly of it as many people did, due at least in part to the horrible boss battle with the Joker. I was not even originally planning on picking up Arkham City on release week till Kmart offered a deal I could not pass up. Heck, when I tried to start playing it, the Catwoman DLC did not install properly, so I did not even necessarily start the game the way the Rocksteady had intended. Maybe that was for the best, as it did not take long for me to get hooked, and I found the Catwoman segments to be less than stellar. I remember people stating Arkham Asylum really made them feel like they were Batman. Arkham City felt so much more so to me. You really could come up with multiple ways to deal with enemies, and there was not a single bad boss battle in the entire game. A fantastic storyline, a fighting system that allows you to deal fluidly with multiple enemies and an ending that left my jaw on the floor made Batman Arkham City the most memorable experience I had gaming last year.
The Moment: You start the game off as Bruce Wayne, having to fight your way out of captivity and escape to the rooftops of Arkham City before you even first get the Batsuit. That alone grabbed me, and the game never let go.
While 2011 may not have been the best overall year for gaming, there were many very strong titles, especially towards the end of the year. There is very little time to sit back and reminisce, however, as the first big titles of 2012 are already starting to drop. As we have said many times on the podcast, it is a great time to be a gamer.