Thursday, February 2, 2012

My personal top 10 games of 2011


The end of the year is always a hard time for a videogame journalist. Not only do we have to recall every experience we've had over the course of the year, but we then need to match each title up against one another, like some kind of digital Mortal Kombat tournament, in order to find that elusive 'game of the year.'

Keep in mind that this list is my personal favorite games of the year, not a list of the 'best' or most popular out there. That means some of the more abstract titles out there might take the place of the greater ones. Let's start things off with a game that was neglected, but is great in its own way.

10: Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine


Space Marine is a third-person action shooter with combat mechanics similar to Rocksteady's recent Batman titles. It is Relic's first attempt at approaching the franchise using this genre and they did a fantastic job. The detail was extraordinary and, whilst the campaign was pretty short, the multiplayer served as a fun distraction with its competitive and co-operative elements. 

It drops in at number ten for numerous reasons. Whilst it did the 40k universe justice, I felt that the campaign could have had more combat variety. The weapons, despite being brutally satisfying, were very limited, as were the combat moves. The multiplayer also lifted many of its features from games like Call of Duty and Gears of War's Horde mode (Exterminatus). Despite those shortcomings, Space Marine successfully tied together satisfying mêlée combat with solid shooting mechanics. Couple that with jaw-dropping executions and beautiful environments, and you have a sleeper hit on your hands. I can't wait to see what Relic does with this franchise. 

9: Bulletstorm


Bullestorm is a unique first-person shooter that focuses on killing with skill. Generically shooting enemies to progress is out, and performing perpetually-interesting moves to decapitate, obliterate, incinerate or otherwise maim your opponents is in. Also, dick jokes. 
Bulletstorm received massive criticism due to its humor and absurd format of first-person shooting. Sure, the funny bits were pretty dry, but think of it like the movie Snakes on a Plane; the whole thing is one big joke. The shooting is also rather great, but you can't play it like a conventional shooter where you shoot a target dude until the life bar depletes. Bulletstorm doesn't work like that, and if you play it as such, you'll despise it. For me, Epic's extremely under-appreciated title pleased me with its style and surprisingly funny dialogue. Never did I think a FPS could change the formula into such a winning concoction. Using the environment to manipulate and slaughter your opponents? It might not be for everyone, but you'll never know whether you love it unless you give it a spin.

8: Orcs Must Die!


Robot Entertainment's Orcs Must Die! is a third-person tower-defense-esque game in which you control a Warmage. A really stupid Warmage. Your master slipped and fell on the steps, thus leaving you to fend off the relentless assault of Orcs who are seemingly allergic to fire. Seriously. I heard one of them say it. 

Whilst tower-defense games are literally a dime a dozen, Orcs Must Die! provides an excellent variation on the genre. By utilizing traps instead of towers and allowing you to fully control a character who can use various talent trees and engage in either physical or magical combat, this game stays fresh for its duration. Throw in extra levels, traps and monsters via DLC, and you have a game that you'll be playing for hours upon hours, and for a ridiculously low-price too. Trust me when I say that Orcs Must Die! is one of the best in the genre.

7: Dark Souls


From Software returns with the brutal successor to the PlayStation exclusive, Demon's Souls, 2011's Dark Souls. Bordering on ridiculous as far as difficulty goes, Dark Souls takes you into a unique world where you must combat demons and all other forms of monstrosity with very little assistance. Survive long enough and you might just become stronger to journey into the next room. What's that you say; you died at the hand of a skeleton? You're screwed. 

Next to Bioshock, the Souls titles are the most atmospheric games I've ever played. The art design, the ambiance; everything about these games screams style, and it works. Dark Souls is terrifying and that's mostly because it's a game that embraces a lost style: discovery. As you continue to discover more and more about a certain region, you begin to understand the game itself better, as well as your limits. Never have I felt so rewarded for defeating a tough monster, and so betrayed in dying to a standard enemy. Although the multiplayer was broken at release, Dark Souls is such a unique experience that you do yourself a disservice if you miss out.

6: Dynasty Warriors 7


Have you ever laughed out loud at a game on the brink of release? I certainly did with Dynasty Warriors 7. A notorious joke within the industry, countless Warriors titles have released, and hardly any have been in any way worth praising. Surprising as it may seem, Dynasty Warriors 7 is the exception, and has unbelievably steered a sinking ship in a respectful direction. Yes, it's still a hack-and-slash game and, yes, it still has some pretty bad voice acting, but I'll be damned if I don't say that Koei did an outstanding job with this one. 

As detailed in my review, one of the biggest selling points for me was online play, a first for the series. Even better, Koei actually took the time to refine the gameplay and eliminate the fluff that the series was known for. The story mode for each kingdom was confusingly addictive and the cut-scenes were crafted in a delightful way. With hours upon hours of relatively simple gameplay, Dynasty Warriors 7 was probably the biggest surprise of the year. It also contains the best capes in gaming. Seriously, take a look.

5: Gears of War 3


Having composed the final entry in the Marcus Fenix story-arc, Gears of War 3 is the end of the story that all Gears fans know. Until this point, Gears had its highs and lows, but this game truly delivers on all fronts. As emotional as it is fulfilling, this is the definitive example of how a series should wrap things up. 

It's hard to think that the third entry is Epic's swansong for the series. Whilst it most definitely won't be the last game we see in the Gears universe, Epic has done a fantastic job of sending it off. Four player co-op? A refined multiplayer experience with dedicated servers? A skilled author composing the story? Everything Gears of War 3 brings is the best of the series, and the only way you'll know is to play it yourself.

4: Dead Space 2


Renowned engineer Isaac Clark and the very angry Necromorphs both return in the much anticipated Dead Space 2. Having lost seemingly everything in the Ishimura incident, Clark wakes to find his nightmare renewed and, of course, he's the only one with the knowledge to stop the growing threat. Scary, atmospheric, technologically superior and, most of all, fun, Dead Space 2 is a worthy installment to one of the better third-person titles available to gamers

To this day, Visceral's creation is yet to be matched by an equally-fun and jump-worthy third-person shooter. The first Dead Space took many of its cues from the superb Resident Evil 4, but while that series has somewhat lost its course, Dead Space has evolved with the rest of the gaming industry and put out an incredible sequel. Although its multiplayer is forgettable beyond measure, the single-player experience never wavered in quality, and that's what really matters.

3: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim


Every Elder Scrolls game is huge, and Skyrim is no exception. Taking cues from the ways that games have changed, Bethesda has streamlined their seminal franchise to cater to all types of play-style and gamer. Couple that with an intriguing story, beautiful technology, and discovery elements that have been lost since Morrowind, and you get Skyrim, one of the best games of the year. 

I have yet to finish an Elder Scrolls game, but Skyrim might just be the first game to break that mold. It certainly has its faults and glitches, but even those are not enough to sway my recommendation. You can play this game however you want, and with the death of the awful, awful level-scaling system present in Oblivion, even I can enjoy this game. 

 2: Mortal Kombat


You're reading the words of the most loyal Mortal Kombat fans out there. Yet, I never thought that Mortal Kombat could drag itself out of the abysmal hole that it dug itself into. But I was wrong. If you know nothing about Mortal Kombat - and if that's the situation, shame on you - understand that this game's accessibility is unparalleled and contains everything that made the old games memorable and great. Which largely means that Liu Kang isn't a zombie this time. 

Foregoing the 3D style and retracing its steps back to the original days, Mortal Kombat is a masterclass in what a fighter should be. Not only does it give you the best story that any fighting game has ever seen (no, seriously, play it), but it is also loaded with unlockables, challenges and DLC that doesn't suck. The only thing holding this game back from perfection was its rather awful online component. Constant disconnection is enough to dissuade anyone from trying to compete online, but if they can get this right next time, then I can't wait. 

1: Bastion


You might laugh, but my number one game this year is a downloadable title that will take you less than ten hours to play through. Regardless of its duration, you cannot measure the importance of quality in a game, and Bastion achieves that quality to the highest degree. Supergiant Games hasn't created a great title, they've created an incredible one

Akin to some of my old favorites, such as The Secret of Mana, Bastion is an action-RPG that knows the ropes. Everything from the music to the combat feels right, and the story is mysterious enough to make you want to continue on your adventure to discover more about its surreal environment. Whilst it isn't the longest, deepest, most addictive or largest game out there, Bastion is composed so professionally that anyone can get into it. Saying that, if you've yet to skim the surface of this exceptional game then please, do so. Now.

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