There has been some debate on just how good of a year 2011 was for game releases. Opinions have ranged everywhere between the mild to wild for last year. Personally, I lean more to the wild side and say it was a fantastic year for gamers. There seemed to be great games for anyone and everyone including AAA to Indie titles.
For me, I try to look at several different factors when judging games. I usually tend to ask myself four questions:
1) How fun is it?
2) How often do I think about the game when I’m not playing it?
3) Does the game make me want to come back and play it?
4) How innovative is it?
To be honest, selecting the top 5 games wasn’t too hard for me since there were a few games that clearly stood above the others. It was trying to select the other 5 from a large list of worthy titles and selecting just a few. There were so many “must play” games from 2011 that are worth noting. But every time I thought I had my top 10 selected, I’d usually find another game that made me reevaluate my list. Finally, after 8 or 9 revisions, I think I have my Top 10 for 2011.
When I first heard about Terraria, I really had no interest in it. A 2D mining/crafting game sounded too much like Minecraft (no offense to Minecraft. By no means is it a bad game, just not my cup of tea). While I thought this game would lack any objectives or real purpose, I was wrong. Summoning bosses to battle and random occurring events keep you on your toes as you explore the world as you try to craft bigger and better items. Adding a friend only makes the exploration that much more fun.
9. Beat Hazard Ultra
If Eric and Chris already have rationalized this game into their top ten, why can’t I? All kidding aside, the addition of the Ultra version turns this game into a personal music player/shooter. The core gameplay is solid and extremely addicting. It wasn’t until I imported my own music that this game really took off for me. Playing to my own beat really connected me to my music and changed how I experienced my own songs. Plus, having a Leaderboard to show all your friends your awesome #1 skills is a really nice perk too!
8. Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
After Nintendo’s 2011 E3 Press Conference, it was pretty clear Nintendo was wanting to turn its focus from the Wii and look more toward the 3DS and the WiiU. It is very possible we’re looking at the twilight of Wii games. If that is the case, then LoZ:SS is not a bad note to end on. This game certainly won’t be winning any awards graphic wise, but it makes great use of the Wii Motion Plus. Watching Link mirror my own actions as I sliced and diced with the Wii controller was an awesome experience. Plus, there all the things that make a Zelda game iconic that is sure to please anyone who’s played other Zelda titles. It only took Nintendo 5 years to release a Wii exclusive Zelda title, but it certainly was worth the wait.
For being just an Indie game, Bastion certainly has gotten a lot of attention and has been the focus of much praise and adoration. All of it rightfully deserved. The gameplay is solid and flows beautifully, as does the story; but what really makes this game stand out is in its presentation, both visually and audibly. The world is broken, disheveled, and falling apart around you. Dark colors and tones paint the landscapes adding to the atmosphere as you explore this fallen world. All the while, a single narrator invisibly watches and paints the same world but with dialogue. It was easy for me to get lost in this voice and just want to push on in the game for the mere fact of hearing what he may say next. All things combined, Bastion made for a unique and charming experience.
6. Batman: Arkham City
Despite Batman: Arkham Asylum leaving a slightly bitter taste in my mouth with that last boss battle, Rocksteady did a fantastic job putting you into the shoes of the world’s greatest detective. How could you say “no” to a sequel that takes you out of the Asylum and into the City? Almost every aspect of the game is improved from its predecessor. From the fluid combat system to the many many character cameos, flying around Gotham as the Dark Knight is definitely a top moment for 2011.
5. Gears of War 3
To be honest, I had never been a big Gears fan (emphasis on the had), but after getting access to the GoW3 Beta I began having second thoughts. Epic made such a great beta that I picked up the game. I’m very glad I did. Not only does this game deliver with its 3rd Person shooting mechanics and cover system, but it surprisingly has a very touching story line. An additional fun multiplayer makes it a well rounded game and a fantastic close to the Gears of War chapter.
4. Elders Scroll V: Skyrim
Some may find it surprising that this game is a little low on the Top 10 list. I actually debated whether or not to even include this in my top 5, let alone my top 10. Not that it isn’t a fantastic game mind you! This huge, open RPG is very immersive making it easy to sink hours upon hours just exploring the land of Skyrim. The one major factor that had me debating was the sheer number of bugs and glitches in the game after its launch on every platform. I’m not talking about little bugs or glitches…I’m talking problems that make it impossible to progress through the main story or made the game unplayable (On my first play through, I encountered a bug less than 5 minutes in that made it impossible to progress. It was easily fixed, but still). However, the total of the game is greater than the sum of its parts. The sheer size of the world, an improved leveling mechanic, and the fact you go head to head with a dragon is simply epic.
No, you didn’t read that wrong nor did I forget how to count. It’s a tie with two fantastic games that I couldn’t decide which was the better.
Catherine is very much the most bizarre and twisted game I played in 2011. It’s also one of the most unique. Just to give you a quick idea of what I thought, there are 8 different endings you can get in the game and I went back and made sure to get all 8. The bizarre nature in Catherine is not something new to Japan (where its developer is based), but very few of those games make it across the sea to Western cultures. Despite the provocative cover art and ads for Catherine, this game has little to do with sex but focuses heavily on internal struggles and conflict with the main character and his friends. The parallelism and duality of certain themes and concepts is extremely well done and woven into everything in this game showing that much thought was put into it. The mixing of RPG by day and Climbing Block Puzzles by night (think Qbert-like) blend wonderfully and kept me always wanting to push through to the next chapter all the way to the end. While everything about this game is great, it is ironically the commonness of the characters that made me love this game. The main protagonist is no super hero or mighty warrior who fate has selected. He and his friends are merely ordinary people struggling with everyday relationship issues making it easy to relate with them and surprisingly entertaining. While strange and bizarre, Catherine delivered some of the most fun and unique experiences in 2011 for me.
2. Portal 2
I was hesitant at first if Valve would be able to pull off a full sequel to the original Portal and make it worth $60. Silly me for doubting Valve! Portal 2 is everything I loved about Portal and more. Its writing and voice acting delivers a witty and comical experience throughout the whole game. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself laughing out loud while playing. The single player campaign alone is well worth the $60 admission ticket but Valve also threw in a multiplayer mode with it. Both single player and multiplayer puzzles are awesome at making you think outside the box and left me coming away feeling like a genius after solving a room. Every level (and pretty much everything else) is so well designed that it makes Portal 2 one of the best games of 2011.
1. Game of the Year: Dark Souls
Easily the most under played game of 2011. Dark Souls is the game that inspired our “Crotch-Punch Rating Scale” which indicates how much punishment you are willing to take in playing a game (I give this one about a 9). This game is brutal and unforgiving and to be honest, gave me nightmares after playing it. From the very start, Dark Souls throws you to the wolves…giant wolves…and doesn’t stop. You must make your way through armies of undead soldiers, skeleton warriors, walking trees, giant stone knights, and larger than life bosses that eat the dragons from Skyrim for breakfast. In a time where many games seem to hold your hand and guide you from start to finish, Dark Souls is refreshing and a reminder of a time when everything you did was a learning experience and how you’d go to your friends the next day to share what you learned the night before. The unique and interactive online aspect of the game is the cherry on top. When passing by ghosts (other players) I felt an odd connection with them, as if we were brothers/sisters in arms. My stomach would literally drop when the words “You’re Being Invaded” flashed on the screen, indicating that another player was about to come and clash swords with me. While it may be brutal and unforgiving, it is equally rewarding and everything you accomplish is made from the sweat of your brow. Dark Souls gave me the highest highs and lowest lows of my 2011 gaming, and I loved every minute of it. There is no other game that I could think of worthy of my Game of the Year title.