GOTY 2011 WARNING: I like liking things.

I'm reading more and more lists/discussions around the web, and it almost seems like the cool thing to do is dismiss 2011 when it comes to gaming. I don't get it. Maybe I just like liking things, but this year really feels like a crowning achievement of gaming to me. There have been so many games I've been excited for (seriously, just ask my fiance Stephanie, she deserves a medal for giving me minimal shit for the countless games I was stoked for day 1) and to be honest, I've had very few disappointments.

Maybe Dead Island, but that was disappointing later on, I liked it the first few days but then I got stuck in a bathroom one too many times, and my buddies who I was playing coop with all sold/traded/returned to Gamefly and it's really a shitty single player game.

To be fair, I spent a lot of 2011 mopping up games left over from previous years. Mass Effect 1 & 2, Assassin's Creed II (barely touched Brotherhood, so far so good), Borderlands, Gear of War 2, Heavy Rain. Also, there's a handful of games that could be on this list, but I didn't play nearly enough to make it qualify in my mind, inFamous 2 I'm looking right at you...Orcs Must Die and Trine 2 kind of limp on as well. Orcs Must Die I was really stoked for after playing it at PAX, but it's timing was shit in my mind. It was downloaded right before Forza 4 came out, so I was pushing hard in Forza 3 to get my profile high enough so I got some great cars when I imported. From there it only got worse (actually it got better...my available play time became more sparse is what I man). Trine 2 has been fun, I played through it with a buddy, though I'd really like to try it with two buddies. That'll be clincher on whether or not I would consider it a top game and that's not gonna happen to this year.

Also, a few games that have been thrown around I haven't touched, primarily Uncharted 3. And that's mostly because I haven't played Uncharted 2 ( I know, get the torches!). I beat Uncharted, and it was a great play experience, except when I thought about it, it was a fine play experience. I've heard the second is substantially better than the first, and I'm sure at some point the stack of games I already have to play will dwindle and I'll start looking at buying more games, but an improved sequel to a game I'm a little more than lukewarm about isn't exactly high on the list.

Arkham City is very similar to Uncharted 3 for me. I played Arkham Asylum, I like Arkham Asylum, though I feel like I finished it more out of obligation to finish than I actually wanted to. I'll be picking up Arkham City probably next, I'm sure some time in Q1 2012. Raynman Origin's too. Not so much because I've played the precursors (I know, torches!), but I've heard so much good stuff I feel like I'm missing out if I don't. Assassin's Creed Revelations is way down on the list, and definitely not until I finish Brotherhood. Dark Souls might happen, but probably not.

And now my list.

10. Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon - It's not so much that this was that good of a game, but it was definitely that fun of a game, if that makes any sense. I played through it multiple time (with increasing difficulty) with 2 or 3 friends, and it was a lot of fun. Mindless fun, brainless fun, shooting the living fuck out of bugs and blowing up buildings kind of fun. Do I want more? Not really. I had my fill. Maybe if a better version were to come out in 2013 or later I'd be game, but for now I've had my fill. A few of us had delusions of grinding and leveling all the armor sets all the way up...that quickly disintegrated. I don't blame us.

10.2 (Tie) Stacking - Hilarious game. I played through the vast majority of it with a buddy of mine, couch coop style. Great game to talk through with a buddy, and the final boss fight is perfect. Kinda weird, since almost none of the game had dexterity requirements, then all the sudden you need to have decent timing to pull off a rock/paper/scissors win. But very cool package, very unique, and a great game. And yes, that makes it my top 11 list. Deal with it.

9. Battlefield 3 - Probably the game I've spent the least with on this list, mostly because I've yet to buy into the single player (heard too many bad things about it, and if I was single player there's better ways to go), and I've yet to meet up with any buddies online to play this, either co-op or multiplayer. All my multiplayer experience has been just me, and that's not a great way to go. I've learned this is a gorgeous game, I love the leveling up in it (long time reformed WoW player...leveling up is ingrained to be a good thing), and I pretty much suck at it. But BF3 shouldn't suffer from my lack of participation in online FPS's over the last 5 years, it's fantastic.

8. Gears of War 3 - Far and away the Best GoW. I finished GoW2 the day after I bought Gow3 (I had been slacking) and it was night and day how much more I enjoyed 3 over 2. I never went multiplayer in any form in 2, I've done a fair bit of Horde and ...? Bad guy mode? in 3, and both are a blast. Great way to kill a few hours with three friends, and the single player was fantastic. Sure, some plot holes if you look for them, but the Dom stuff was heartbreaking, and the inclusion of Mad World was phenomenal. It worked so insanely well. I think a few of us are gonna fire it up soon, rock the arcade mode, so I doubt there will be Mad World again, and that's a bummer.

7. Trenched/Iron Brigade - I only wrapped it up a few weeks ago, but this was the game that got me to flip flop back over the 360 from the PS3. A new group of friends (fiance's best friend's husband, and all of his friends) are primary 360 guys, and unlike my longstanding group of friends (who are ps3 guys) actually play a fuckload of video games, so it's nice seeing a friends list populated. Anyway, they went to town on this, and it sounded great, so I dusted off my old 360, crossed my fingers that it wouldn't RROD me too soon, and off I went. This is all early July, and it held out until my fiance surprised me with a new 360 for my September birthday. Anyway, fast forward to a few weekends ago and playing through Iron Brigade the rest of the way. I wouldn't say it's lousy single player, but by comparison to multiplayer it kind of is. Multiplayer is just that good, though now that my trench is a badass I may go through the single player and give it another go. Essentially achievement whore it up. When the DLC comes I'm sure we'll be back. Martian Bears? Fuck yes.

6. L.A. Noire - A few weeks ago I would've said there's no way this game ends up on this list, but then I spent some time thinking about the game, and less time thinking about what I thought about the game. If that makes sense. Let me explain. When I was playing LA Noire I loved LA Noire. I'm a TV/Movie fan, with a decent memory for faces/voices, so I was constantly recognizing people, which was cool, but I loved the story. I loved the delivery. I loved that my parents (who don't actively hate video games have at least some level of disdain for them) loved the game. Dad asked me to play it in front of him for a few hours on Father's Day. He was hooked. The tech was cool, the world was open (my grandparents lived in LA at this time in history, Dad enjoyed the scenery almost as much as the story, I don't blame him a bit), the characters were fantastic. I don't necessarily love how it ended, but all in all it ended pretty well. Kind of ended the only way it could. The DLC was great as well, each of the missions felt right in line with everything else, with the exception of the Nicholson Electroplating case (I think that's what it was called), the one with the dirty bomb. Since I played it long after I finished the game, I had a great feel for what the city was, and then in an instant it changed. Very unique. Months after the game came out all sorts of shit came out about Team Bondi and it made me think less of the game, but in all honesty it's a cool gaming experience.

5. Saints Row 3 - What a pure video game. So over the top in a great way, and really fun to play. I also like that I've finished the game (both endings) and now that I'm invincible with unlimited ammo I can just power my way through to finish the stuff I didn't necessarily love. The skydiving in/raid set to Kanye West's Power was another really cool moment in video games. Looking forward to doing that again when I finish act 1 the other way (gonna S Rank this one I think). Also, I essentially have a speeder from Star Wars (only it can hover too) and that's just fucking cool. Plus beating someone to death with a 3 foot long dildo is funny, I don't care who you are.

4. Bastion - The game play was great. The music was phenomenal. The narration was amazing. And yet the story was the best part. I loved the ending, both of 'em, and my only complaint was it took too long for me to get into it. I went into it wanting to like it, and I spent the first few hours thinking "Ok, it's good but it's not good, so what am I missing?" until suddenly I got it. I think Zia's song was the first of it. For what it's worth, when I played through the second time I still couldn't leaf Zulf's body there. I'm assuming you've gotta clear out all the dicks with the battering ram, but I'll never know. I purchased the soundtrack at PAX (complete with signatures) and it still lives in my car's CD player. There's a number of good tracks, and a couple fantastic ones. In rarefied air with the ending of Red Dead Redemption as games that made it get a little dusty, if you catch my drift. RIP John Marsten. :~(

3. Forza 4 - Such a great racing game. Gorgeous visuals, so much to do (almost to a fault, I know I'll be playing this well into 2013 if I want to S rank it), music was so so but the game play is great. Beyond that, the car club, and more specifically the Giant Bomb Car Club, makes this game top 3 for me. Having 99 other duders to compete with in Rivals, Thursday Night Racing, and weekly timed challenges means this game will be around for a very long time. I know that sounds like I'm saying the longer you play it the better it is, but it isn't a value comparison. I learned long ago with WoW when a game stops being fun, it's no longer a game and now it's an obligation, and fuck that. That being said, I don't see this not being fun for a very long time.

2. Portal 2 - This is a game that had very high expectations, and blew every one of 'em away. The first was so insanely good, and the second is purely better. And more. And multiplayer. And funny. And so many moments that were just awesome. I feel like I laughed constantly, when I wasn't trying to figure out some great puzzles. If it wasn't for Cave Johnson I think the coop would be better than the single player. A buddy of mine and I ran through the coop couch style one afternoon while his wife and my fiance did girl stuff, it was awesome. He kept reminding me if a plan requires that precise of timing that we can probably come up with a better plan, which is completely true. And completely taught me apparently I want to be a member of the A Team.

1. Skyrim - Fus ro Duh. I mean really. This game is so deeply good I can't stop signing it's praises. I'm playing on 360, and have been insanely lucky with glitches or lack thereof, in 80+ hours of play I've had 3 lock ups and one minor side quest glitch, and that's it. Pretty light on the bugs, but I completely understand other people having major issues, and having that soil the experience. That being said, I'm a sneaky archer 1h shield smith who enchants, and I one shot a troll the other day. I'm the leader of the companions, barely into the DB or Thieves guild, I've finished the main quest, and only joined the College recently, though I've yet to decide where I stand on the Civil War. The quest that begins with a drinking contest took me by surprise as purely awesome. The first 10 times a dragon circled me it was legitimately an oh shit moment. Now I welcome it, just another chance to get another soul. I hate the Dwemer ruins, just because it's a great creepy environment, so that's just another good thing. There are so many things to do, that I've yet to, just keeps blowing me away.

My only gripe in Skyrim is Lydia. One day she disappeared (didn't die, I haven't been served her will type thing) and I've yet to find her. It's not so much I want to have her back (I've moved on you heartless bitch, and yeah, you ARE sworn to carry my burdens), but she had a lot of valuable stuff on her when she went AWOL, and that house in Solitude I wanna buy for my wife Ysolda doesn't come cheap. Luckily Steph isn't the jealous type.

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Am I biased as an AZ Cardinals fan or did we get hosed?

I'm curious if the outside world thinks the Cards got screwed by that "gives himself up" ruling in yesterdays game? Obviously not the end of the world, just seems a bit ridiculous, but I'm obviously on one side of the fence. Do neutral observers think the same thing or did he clearly "give himself up" instead of "stumbling".

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Biggest Loser Ultimate Work Out vs. Your Shape Fitness Evolved

Seems like these are the top two fitness games for Kinect, and I've got a fair bit of experience with both. I've owned YSFE for much longer, but I've now owned BLUW long enough to get a good feel for the game, here's my impression of both and how they actually operate in the game.

When I first picked up a Kinect around Christmas time I bought YS:FE at the same time, and honestly thought it was great. The menu system is VERY easy, and intuitive, and the training is great. It's got fitness games, fitness classes, then personal training, all based on different parts of the body that you want to target. There are several DLC programs, some free stuff you can grab by registering a U-play account as well. When you do a class or game the onscreen avatar is a decently high res image of you, with a color shading tint overlaid over ...you. When you do a personal training session you get the decently high res image of you, with natural coloring, kind of a trip watching yourself do stuff - ultimately a very cool demonstration of Kinect technology. My main gripe with the game, however, it repetitiveness I know, I know, it's a fitness game, of course it's repetitive...but not to this degree. When you start a personal training program you are supposed to do it 12 times, but it's the EXACT SAME PROGRAM EVERY TIME. No variation of exercises whatsoever, not even mixing up the order things are in, just the same thing time after time. As a result I'd never get past 6 or 7 "classes" before I'd move onto a different program. The programs are off all kinds of different lengths, but they are set in stone with what they are. If your normal class is 32 minutes and you want to do more, you can either do it twice, but there's no way to make that one longer.

I bought Biggest Loser a few months ago when I got fed up with doing the same exercises over and over. First impressions were not good, as good as the menu system is in YS:FE, the BL menus are a higher magnitude of suck. I've played more than a handful of Kinect games, I know how to keep my hand still, and yet the cursor dances around. Actually, there's SO many gripes I have about the menu system it literally almost ruins the game for me. That being said, once you are in the game and training I think it's a vastly superior fitness experience to its competition. First off, when you start a program you have options, 4, 8, or 12 weeks, then how many times a week, 2-6, and then how long you want each session to last from less than 20 minutes up to 60 minutes at 10 minute increments. Then you select what you want to focus on, weight loss, strength training, agilty, etc. as well as what part of the body you want to focus on. Lastly you pick the intensity level from beginning to intermediate to challenging to hard to instense. It also do a full body scan, which is a little reminiscent of the TSA's latest toy, it estimates your size, but is a little off. Not really pertinent to anything, but kind of a cool demonstration of Kinect tech. Once you get into the program my favorite part is that that it creates your schedule. A week at a time the game tells you what you'll be doing each day. For example right now I'm doing a 5 day a week program. Yesterday was cross training, so was today, but both workouts were completely different. Maybe 4 or 5 exercises overlapped between them, but out of ~40 or so that's not bad. Besides jumping jacks should be a regular thing :D . Anyway, tomorrow is boxing, Saturday is off, then Sunday is a challenge and a weigh in (it is the Biggest Loser after all, you have to beat random named computer opponents to stay in). Yoga gets in the mix usually about once a week so it's a pretty complete regimen. I've only done weight loss stuff, so I can't speak to weight training, but I know you can tell it what fitness equipment you have (balance ball, resistance bands, etc) and it will incorporate it into your routines. It also does a lot of ground work, push ups, planks, leg lifts, stuff like that, I ended up buying a yoga mat because I'm spending so much time on the ground. There are also occasional video diaries it asks you to record, kind of self motivational stuff ("Hey three months from now Jeff, see how fat you used to be?" was my first, can't take things TOO seriously), as well as daily tasks (use the stairs, take a walk, park at the far end of the parking lot, etc) as well healthy recipes that are pretty decent. My fiance and I eat pretty healthy as is, so we haven't put many of the recipes into play, but if you don't know where to start it is a great resource. If you can slug your way through the shitty menu system. It's hard to put it into words how bad they are, you almost have to experience it to understand.

Both games will definitely kick your ass a bit, all depending on how much you put into it. Starting with YSFE I thought it was great, I'd usually work up a decent glisten, but I'd just get so damned bored I couldn't force myself to do it more than two or three times a week. Even still I'd usually be a bit sore the day after a work out and the games are decently fun. Not Borderlands or Gears of War fun, but a nice change. Unfortunately playing a Tetris-ish balancing game with an invisible bar doesn't really burn many calories, and lets face it, if I want to play a game for fun I'll throw Forza or something else in. Changing over to Biggest Loser it's night and day. The menus are ROUGH to get through, has essentially made it so I try not to change settings or do the other stuff. That being said I've never had a workout like some of these workouts. I used to work out with a personal trainer twice a week (went from 260 to 215 in ~3 months), and I work up a sweat equivalent to those work outs. Even if there's no ground stuff I put my yoga mat down, because otherwise the sweat pools on the carpet. Not kidding. YSFE can get a mild sweat, Biggest Loser makes it pour out of me. What's more is that since every workout is different I've never gotten bored. Even now and then I've gotten angry (yes I've yelled obscenities at Digital Bob Harper and Digital Jillian Michaels, when I'm going as far as I can I'm GOING AS FAR AS I CAN) but I'm still dripping sweat and signing on the next day to do something different the next day.

Oh, and I'm constantly sore. But it's a good thing.

Ultimately YSFE is far more polished, and so much easier to use, but once you are actually exercising there is no comparison whatsoever - Biggest Loser is better. I'm curious what the second generation of Kinect games will bring, but for the first gen it's clear as day to me.

Oh, and I've got a gym membership to the gym around the corner. When I was playing YSFE I'd still go the gym regularly, but since buying Biggest Loser I haven't gone back. Since I'm primarily focusing on cardio there's not much the gym holds for me over Biggest Loser. Yes, I can do everything there, but I lack imagination in the gym and I've run more than enough (in the last year gone from from 12 minute mile on average to averaging a little under 8 minutes, my best is 7 flat). Do I think it's a gym replacement? Maybe, all depends on how often you follow it. I got off track when I went to Seattle for PAX, but if I was going to gym it would've been the same thing. I'm not saying it's going to certainly make you lose weight (diet is as big of a part as exercise) but I 100% believe the biggest part of getting in shape is showing up. Working out for 20 minutes a day is substantially better than not working out at all. Is an hour better? Of course, but not everyone can/is willing to do that.

/soapbox off :D

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Fanatec GT2 Wheel ...or one of the coolest birthday presents

I've had a GT2 wheel (and Club Sport Pedals, equally as important) about a week and I can honestly say I'm not ever going back to racing games with a controller. I've always been decent at racing sims with a joystick, not really noteworthy or anything but I can play most games on medium difficulty levels and win, except for tracks that have long sweeping turns, I've never been good at micro corrections with a controller, with a wheel it's ...well...exactly how you think it should be. That's not a big surprise. What is the big surprise is that I've always been a third person view kind of guy for racing games (because being in the cockpit feels foreign...keep in mind I've driven ~180,000 miles in the real world...from inside a car...I know, it makes no sense whatsoever) but now having a wheel I can't race in third person perspective. My first race was on easy, against Honda Fit's and the equivalent, I was in a stock Ferrari 360 Modena, and I took second. Not my proudest moment.

Only gripe so face about the wheel isn't actually about the wheel, its about the sequential shifter. The standard gated 6 speed H shifter feels too weird, plus I drive a manual transmission daily (2011 VW GTI 4 door) so going to back to a sequential or paddles is nice (previous car was a 2003 BMW M3 with SMG tranny) but they've reversed the sequential order. In the BMW you pull the stick toward you to upshift (1 -> 2 or 2 -> 3), and you push it away from you (toward the radio/dashboard) to downshift (4->3 etc) and after doing that thoughtlessly for three or four years and ~30,000 miles I can't go opposite of it. Luckily blowing a shift doesn't destroy the engine in the M5 I'm driving, but I think it means I can pull the little rods out of the side of the wheel because the shifters are going to be unused.

Unless the next Clubsport shifter is awesome...

One side note, I did a lot of research about this wheel, and there was a lot of negative reviews regarding its use with Forza 3. Apparently people think that Forza 3 doesn't make the force feedback kick in hard enough. I'm not sure what they can possibly be talking about. I've got the wheel at half strength, and it still pulls a phenomenal amount. Me thinks some people may be overly picky...kind of like complaining about the sequential shifter being backward. :D

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