Best Games of 2011
My favorite games from 2011.
My favorite games from 2011.
I said Portal 2 was my favorite game of this generation of hardware, and I stand by it. It's just the right length, with its story mode being a significant chunk of content lasting just the right length, and the co-op being a meaningful addition. The puzzles are just as mind-bending as before, relying less on reflexes and more on your ability to think through a problem, and having plenty of new tricks and elements to keep things fresh the whole time. The story is funny and intelligent, expertly told in ways both direct and indirect, with well-written dialogue being superbly delivered by the small voice cast and the environment being carefully crafted to tell you everything about Aperture you'd ever want to know without saying a word. It's just the best example of both good game design and good execution of that design on this list, and it's my favorite game of the year.
I played Oblivion for well over one hundred hours and called it my favorite game of 2006, so you know when I say that Skyrim is better in almost every way, I must really think something of it. It again captures the joy of exploring and getting to know an immensely large world, but improves on pretty much everything about that experience. Skyrim is a land with an intriguing history and sense of culture, and it's absolutely filled to the brim with cool stuff to do. There are six major questlines all with their own little twists and wrinkles, and their stories are generally much more interesting than what you'd find in the earlier games. There's more side stuff to do, and the basic experience of finding a dungeon and then raiding it for all of its treasures is more fun and less repetitive. If there's one thing the game doesn't do as well, it's come up with individual quests that feel as special at certain memorable moments. But the overall feeling of playing the game for many, many hours is undeniably superior.
I find it odd that Uncharted seems to be held to a totally different narrative standard than other action games. Most of the time it's fine for a shooter or platformer to jump all over the world for very little reason, but since the characterization and voice acting in Uncharted is so good, people expect consistency in the plot too, and complain if a part of the game is only there because it's cool and certain threads get lost in the shuffle by the end. I understand hoping for a little more, it just seems unfair to me. Anyway, Uncharted 3 isn't the revelation that Uncharted 2 was because of course it isn't, but it still manages a fun mix of shooting, jumping, and puzzle solving, it's still funny and exciting, and its big moments are still staggering in their technical complexity and ability to impress. If it's Naughty Dog's last Uncharted game, it's a great note to go out on.
A lot of times I get really into smaller games like this despite the gameplay, because their stories and presentations are unique and enchanting. That's true here, but the actual game part is really good as well. Bastion is a short but satisfying action RPG that hooks you both with its myriad of fun weapons and powers and all the ways it has to enhance the whole experience, from the unique setting and art style to the wonderful soundtrack and the unforgettable narration. And it might just have the most affecting story of any game on this list.
I feel like the Zelda series has gotten a raw deal from many gamers in the last few years, perhaps starting with some backlash there was towards Twilight Princess when it came out earlier in the Wii's existence. Some complaints about the way they've decreased freedom and increased the tedium are valid, but I think sometimes these people are looking for something that they're just not going to get from the series anymore, which has always been meant to be friendly to kids. Taking into account changing standards and some of those now-systemic flaws though, I think Skyward Sword is perhaps the best game in the series since Majora's Mask. After a slow opening, the game opens up, and there's a lot of fun to be found in its world. Trying to tell an origin story again makes for a pretty interesting narrative, the use of motion controls is better justified, and the dungeons are as fun as ever. It's not the game-changing Zelda people probably wanted, but what it is is a very fun and comfortable adventure.
Another surprisingly good sequel, Human Revolution learns from the mistakes of the last game that tried to follow up on the original classic and stays true to what was actually interesting about it while updating things that needed updating for the modern day. The game is not without significant flaws, notably in the design of the boss fights, but the core experience is so solid that it's hard not to get sucked into it. The game is really meaty, with plenty of interesting content and very little in the way of filler, giving you twenty solid hours of science fiction roleplaying and action and allowing for a variety of approaches to almost every situation. It's hard to really connect with the story, but the act of playing it is always compelling.
The first game in the series had a lot of cool ideas, but it was ultimately a bit hamstrung by its nature as a sort of strange European RPG by a first-time developer. They used that experience very well though in crafting the sequel, a much better game that smooths over some of the rough edges well enough to let the good stuff underneath really shine. The game looks fantastic, with graphics that compliment the visual design and impress without being flashy, and the gameplay is a solid mix of discovering and learning about the game's world with a combat system that is tough but fun and rewarding. A really nice success story.
For an open-world game, Arkham City isn't that big, with a map that only takes a few minutes to get across even if you have to glide all the way around its weird shape, and not much to do beyond the main story besides collecting a whole ton of Riddler trophies. But the core gameplay they brought back from the last game is still so good, that actually playing it beats most open-world games on the market. The combat and stealth get a better chance to shine when there's more groups of goons to stumble across, and the more focused stuff once you get indoors is still a lot of fun. It would be hard to capture the thrill of being a super hero better than this.
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