By BlazeHedgehog 4 Comments
Game of the Year articles are always tough for me to write. With my rapidly growing backlog crushing down upon me, I find that I do not play very many games in the year of their release. This becomes a problem at the end of the year when everybody's gathering together their "Best of 200X" lists, because hey, news flash: I only just finished Bayonetta last month. So, as some people tend to do, I'm just going to write whatever. Sure, I'll focus on what few 2011 releases I have played, but I'm just going to sum up 2011 as a whole for me. So without further adieu...
Best 2011 Release I Still Need To Play But Haven't
So, hey, I know this is GiantBomb and all, so of course I've heard a lot about what a good game Bastion is. A lot of that was also reciprocated in other publications, who sang praise for the game almost as loudly. Even my own friends are telling me that I need to play Bastion. But here's my problem: I have this crippling disease known as "Late To The Party"-itus. For as long as I can remember, I've never played games when they are hot on everyone's lips. Perhaps it's a weird, deep-seated psychological fear that I'll be caught up in some kind of zeitgeist and will have problems forming my own opinion, instead simply parroting what others are feeling (this has actually happened, and I personally find it distressing when I realize it has). There's also the simple fact that, financially, I'm usually behind the curve on a lot of stuff. While everybody was raving about how amazing Half-Life was, I was only just discovering DooM, and to a lesser extent, Quake. I didn't own a Playstation 2 until sometime in 2006. The counter to this, of course, is that I already own Bastion on Xbox Live Arcade, and simply owning it means the most difficult hurdle in wanting to play Bastion has already been cleared. Instead of writing this list, I could be playing it right now - but I'm not. And I might not get to it for a while. Because if there's one thing worse than "Late To The Party"-itus, it's having 90 games all with save files that read "Total Play Time: 20 minutes". I'm not going to start Bastion and then forget about it in the vast ocean that is my backlog; when I sit down to play that game, I'm going to devote as much of my undivided attention to it as possible. Unfortunately, it may be awhile.
Best Game I Beat In 2011 That Wasn't Released In 2011
This is actually a fairly difficult category when you consider it: Do I wuss out and list one of those timeless classics I find myself replaying annually, like Half-Life, Donkey Kong Country, or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night? Or do I pick something legitimately fresh, that I haven't been playing and replaying for the better part of a decade? Well, if you really want to read me ramble on about any of those other games, I'm sure you could probably dig up something somewhere about it. So, instead, let's talk about why it took me roughly 11 months to finish Bayonetta: It goes without saying, but Bayonetta is as amazing as it is exhausting. Everybody likes to reference back to that old Spinal Tap joke of how something can be dialed to "11" - well, Bayonetta tweaks that dial so hard it snaps clean off, and then throws it to the ground and stomps on it in those boots with the guns on the heel. After a certain point, that sustained level of completely over-the-top insanity wears out something inside of your brain and you have to go take a rest. Somewhere in the last quarter of the game Bayonetta stops having "levels" in the traditional sense and transforms in to kind of a non-stop boss rush. While frequently awe-inspiring, it also proved to be very draining in equal measure. Every few months, I'd see Bayonetta on the shelf - spend a couple hours with her, and then, completely spent, take a break to let my batteries "recharge". Rinse, repeat. Eventually, I just dug in and resolved to finish the game, frayed reflexes or not - and with a knowing tease, even then, Bayonetta pushed me to my absolute limit. It's one of those extremely rare games that can be punishingly difficult in a way that drives you to play better. Bayonetta is completely absurd, barely makes any sense, and openly basks in these facts with nary a hint of shame. And do not be put off by the game's sexualized aesthetic; like everything else in Bayonetta, the character's own sex appeal is nothing but another out-of-its-mind joke. If you haven't played Bayonetta yet, you should probably track down a copy.
I don't play multiplayer games very often, because the dire state of so-called "pub games" is something that I think should always be avoided. I never saw the appeal of climbing to the top of a leaderboard with a bunch of strangers, especially when you run in to that 12 year old who swears you must be hacking (by, ironically, swearing at you) - or who himself must be hacking for being able to headshot you with a knife of all things from the other side of the map. Multiplayer is so much more engaging when you're doing it with people you actually know. For the vast majority of my multiplayer "career", I was fortunate enough to maybe have one or two friends interested in playing multiplayer games with me - and let me tell you: Capture the flag just doesn't work with a team of three. That all changed late last year when I started getting invited to games of Left4Dead 2 by some guys on a forum I was a part of. Before I knew it, I was playing Left4Dead 2 with these guys just about every night for days. Days turned in to weeks. Weeks turned in to months. We were still playing Left4Dead 2. Unlike something like Phantasy Star Online, which would draw in a whole community only until the "fad" wore off a short time later, Left4Dead 2 became something of a nightly routine for me. I've not only grown attached to the game itself, I've grown attached to the people I play it with, in some weird way. It doesn't hurt that the game itself is absolutely fantastic; if you haven't ever really experienced Left4Dead's Versus mode proper, you haven't actually played the game, as far as I'm concerned. For the longest time, I didn't actually like Left4Dead, and that's namely because the game has a limited appeal when all you're doing is playing the game's vanilla "campaign" mode. It's not until you've got a full server of 8 flesh and blood human beings all trying to kill each other that Left4Dead really starts to "make sense". Valve may advertise the game's singleplayer and co-op game modes, but those are like trying to play Rock Band 3 without a plastic guitar: functional, but entirely missing the point. There is absolutely nothing else like this game on the market, and I really hope that Christmas Rush 2011 hasn't killed off "the crew"s resolve to play more Left4Dead, because it's been about two weeks since we last played and I'm starting to have withdrawal shakes.
If none of you mind, I'm going to count this as a 2011 release due to the PC version, despite the fact it originally came out (and I played it) in 2010. Regardless, I feel like one of ten people on planet earth who did not "get" Costume Quest. Sure, aesthetically, it was charming as hell - as Double-Fine games tend to be. But dig even an inch below the surface and Costume Quest is a painfully simplistic game, even by the uncomplicated standards set by the very RPGs it is paying tribute to. I could tolerate the ultra-basic Super Mario RPG-esque interactive battle system, but what really broke Costume Quest for me is when I'd finish a "dungeon" and the game would send me to the equivalent of the next town, only to find it largely populated by the exact same NPCs with the exact same mini-games as the place I'd just come from. It was fun and endearing for maybe an hour, but then the repetition sets in and all of the cute artwork and clever writing in the world could not save me from the crushing boredom of having to go door to door for candy, trade cards with other kids, and bob for apples yet again. I actually resolved myself to finish it for Halloween this year, and could not muster the effort to even launch the game once. What's worse is they had the guts to release Costume Quest DLC that, judging by trailers and other media I've seen, once again recycles everything all over again for what must be the fifth or sixth time - except now there's snow everywhere and it's vaguely Christmas themed! Oooh! Aaah! Ugh.
The Game I Really Need To Go Back To
My memories of Dead Island are a blur of zombies being kicked to death by four assholes who didn't really have much of an agenda beyond "Hey, what's over there?" It was a single day of complete madness, and while some of my friends didn't seem too thrilled with the game, I thought it was cool. I think. Maybe. It's hard to tell, what with all of the zombie kicking. But, just like that, it vanished in to the aether of my towering videogame backlog, never to be heard from again. It wasn't until recently when I was called upon to co-star in some footage for Nitrobeard.com's Game Of The Year video content that it dawned on me: "Oh yeah, Dead Island! There's like, quests and stuff! There's actually a game in here beyond the zombie kicking simulator. I should really get back to that." The question is, do I try and get the band back together (coordinating a multiplayer game with the original four chuckleheads can be like pulling teeth at times), try and find some new recruits (the Steam sale holds plenty of promise in that regard), or just go it alone? I'd love to play Dead Island with more people, certainly, but I've always been more of a gets-invited than a sends-invites kind of guy. Given that I'll probably never get invited to another game of Dead Island, maybe I should just start a singleplayer character. Singleplayer characters certainly have their benefits; there's a greater opportunity to totally immerse yourself in a world, take things at your own pace and to stop and smell the... well, stopping to smell anything in Dead Island is probably a bad idea on multiple levels - but you get the point. Or maybe Dead Island can just sit on my HDD for another six months while I wallow in indecision. Hasn't hurt anything yet!
Game Of The Year 2011 Runner-Up
Hey. Have you watched my Sonic Generations video review yet? You probably should, given that I spent three grueling weeks putting it together. Long story short: Sonic Generations is a great game. Better than Sonic has been in over a decade. Some of its ancillary content is pretty weak, but the core meat of the game - the part you really care about playing through - is the strongest it's ever been. Somebody at Sonic Team finally figured out how to design levels for Sonic in 3D. Actually, scratch that - somebody at Sonic Team finally figured out how to actually learn from their mistakes for a change. Long gone are the days of games like Sonic Heroes that simply rehash the worst elements of their predecessors. Sonic Generations takes all of the best ideas from Sonic 4, Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic Colors, and throws them in to a blender set to "purée". The end result is a game that does not punish you for making the choice to slow down. Rather than expect the player to perfect some amazing high-speed death gauntlet their first time through the level, Sonic Generations provides plenty of ways in its level design for psychotic speedrunners and more leisurely players to co-exist in the same space together, and as simple as something like that sounds to accomplish, it represents a major step forward for this franchise. Whether you want to rip through a stage at 100mph or take it easy, Sonic Generations has a little something for everybody to enjoy. This is the real deal, folks. No human-on-hedgehog kissing, no overly-serious plot, no werehogs, no fishing. Just blue hedgehogs and brightly colored environments as far as the eye can see. May the Sonic cycle never darken this doorstep ever again.
My 2011 Game Of The Year
I'm sort of in awe at just how completely and utterly perfect Portal 2 is. It nails everything with a kind of exacting, pin-point accuracy that you just don't see in very many games, if at all. Often hilarious, sometimes emotionally resonant, Portal 2's storyline is, at least to me, the single best piece of game writing ever put to paper (or otherwise). What few characters are in the game are sharply defined, totally unique, and an absolute joy to be around (relatively speaking to how much some of them want to kill you). Puzzles are just devious enough to cultivate that magical "Ah-ha," moment and the game knows exactly when to pull back and let the player explore and when to buckle down and teach you exactly what to do. Everybody can go on about how crazy Saint's Row is, how long and involved Skyrim is, but neither of those games are so perfectly and expertly executed on like Portal 2 is. There is no fat, no fluff, no filler. Portal 2 is exactly the game it wants to be with no compromises. The only real problem is how Valve follows it up - you can only raise the bar so high before you become eternally trapped in its shadow; and Portal 2 is good enough that I think there's a possibility it may be "that game" for Valve. This is their "Thriller", their "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial". At best we can hope for a Pixar-like scenario where we somehow managed to get The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Up all one after another - but we eventually had to meet the crushing despair of Cars 2, and Valve's going to stumble at some point. Regardless of my crazy ramblings on the matter, I know one thing for sure: I am dying to see what these guys do next.
And that wraps up my Game of the Year stuff for this year, I suppose. I could probably keep going, making up awards to give out (like, say, Best Fangame, or at least the Best and Worst Xbox Live Indie games), but I've been at this for three hours already and I'm ready to call it a night. So I guess I will see you guys in 2012? Sure, why not. See you in 2012!