My Best and Worst of 2011

The year 2011 was pretty damn weird for a lot of reasons. Some personal, some not so much. But it sure wasn't lacking for a large assortment of games that were entertaining, surprising, and in some cases, supremely disappointing. I also spent an inordinate amount of my gaming time this year with the 3DS, which I covered in a previous blog post. Now it's time to turn my focus on what the rest of the year had to offer. Let the games begin!

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. DON'T SAY I DIDN'T WARN YOU.

(Sadly mandatory disclaimer: These awards are my opinions and solely my opinions. If you don't agree with any or all of them, then that's your problem.)

Biggest Disappointment: Publisher Stupidity

At least someone got something right, if belatedly.

Jesus Christ. Poor and inexplicable decision making abounded this year. Where do I even start? The PR disaster that was Capcom's cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3, in addition to releasing two versions of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 in the same year, along with a barely justifiable (if that) remake of Dead Rising 2? Electronic Arts and their apparent complete lack of interest in providing both Shadows of the Damned and Alice: Madness Returns, two major titles in their Partners program, with any form of serious marketing muscle and leaving them to die? Sony completely dropping the ball during the PSN hacking misadventure? Nintendo's steadfast refusal to release three Wii titles in North America that could have otherwise done wonders for the console's flagging North American release schedule? (To be fair, Nintendo does get something of a pass on this, as they are caving and releasing one of these titles in North America next April in a limited capacity. But still.)

Once again, Jesus Christ. There was a period of time this past year where it seemed major publishers were lining up to trip all over themselves in embarrassing fashion. It was just painful to watch, and I hope that these companies all smarten up next year.

Worst(?) Game of the Year: Duke Nukem Forever

I just can't bring myself to hate this game.

Normally, this is an award I would be handing out without a question mark attached. After all, it's not often difficult to pick a game for a category like this, assuming that one plays enough games over the course of the year. That being said, I'm modifying the category this year to lay out my thoughts on a game that I didn't necessarily feel was the "worst." On the contrary, Duke Nukem Forever is far from the worst game released this year. As archaic as some aspects of its gameplay are and as stupidly crass and unfunny as the attempts at humor can be, that it works as well as it does is something of a marvel in and of itself. It's difficult for me to really say that this game is truly a terrible game because, quite frankly, my expectations were set so low that I was pleasantly surprised by the end result.

That's not to say that Duke Nukem Forever is a good game. Frankly, I have a hard time quantifying its level of quality because after fourteen years (I was in high school when this game started development), any scale that I might have been able to measure the game by has been shot. It is, if nothing else, a museum piece, and a deserving one at that. Duke Nukem Forever is a one of a kind game in one of the worst ways possible; the end result of a protracted time-and-money-sink of a development cycle. Students of game design everywhere, no matter what aspect of the development field they enter, should study this game as a prime example of what not to do. And yet, I can't blame anyone that was curious enough to spend $60 to see the end result because while it's a mess, it is a unique mess of the highest order.

Most Disappointing Game: Dragon Age II

Hawke's mother ends up in a state not unlike the game itself.

Dragon Age II already received this same award from the Giant Bomb staff, of course. But before I go on, I should note that of the games to which I'm handing out these awards, Dragon Age II is the only one I haven't played in any capacity. And while some may cry foul about that, I don't feel any need to have played a minute of the game to make this conclusion justifiable. I greatly enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins. It's easily one of my favorite games of this generation. It's only natural that I was looking for more of the same old school feel in the sequel. But from almost the very first moment that news of the game was released, the disappointment in my mind was palpable.

One of the things I like the most about Origins is, quite simply, the origins and the multiple playable races. While the core of the experience is largely the same no matter what origin the player selects, each origin added its own twist on the story to make them feel unique. My first run through the game, I was a just human noble driven by revenge. In my second, a city elf that hated humans and played the race card at every opportunity. The game was built in a fashion that allowed a fair degree of role-playing despite the inherently rigid nature of a video game in comparison to its pen and paper brethren. And while the story wasn't perfect (I found Duncan to be an asshole and a certain plot twist toward the end unnecessary, at best), I felt enough freedom within its scope to make it my own.

But no, not with Dragon Age II. From the moment that it was announced that the player was locked into the guise of a human character named Hawke, alarm bells sounded in my head, and those bells grew louder and louder as more and more news about the game was revealed. And when it was released, I held off on the game's purchase, hoping to hear reviews that might set my fears at ease. That criticism started pouring in from all corners left me cold, and colder still as I spoiled myself on details of the game's narrative and characters. By this point the alarm bells, had become an unbearable klaxon. I feel nothing but disappointment for the direction that Dragon Age II took; one can blame the truncated development cycle and other behind-the-scenes changes, but the end result is still the same. A game that I simply have no desire to play despite how much I enjoyed the original.

Worst Bugs: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Backwards-flying dragons may be amusing, but Bethesda's quality control is garbage.

I understand that, at this point, Bethesda's Elder Scrolls games are expected to ship in a buggy state, but it saddens me how many people give them a pass for this. And look, I'm well aware that not every bug is going to get fixed prior to release. I work in software quality assurance. My job is to find bugs in software so that they can get fixed before they have a chance to be encountered by a consumer. Sometimes, they're not considered serious enough to block release and they'll be targeted for a patch or update post-launch. That's just the way it works. But there is a line that should always be drawn. That line that separates "acceptable" from "holy fuck, this thing is busted." Skyrim does not fall into the former category. It shouldn't. It is a broken, buggy game that Bethesda temporarily made even worse in their first attempt at fixing it. Its save file management system is atrocious, with file sizes ballooning each and every time the game is saved.

It's not a well-coded game, is what I am saying. Also, I bought the PS3 version, which was a dumbass move on my part. How the hell does anyone, and I mean anyone manage to justify the glaring issues that plague that version? Does Bethesda do completion testing of each platform version of their games? Did it never come up that the longer you play, the greater a risk you encounter that things are going to become unbearably slow? Did they know about the issue and simply not care? I don't know what's worse. Bethesda's coding or their QA. Either way, it's soured my experience on Skyrim significantly, and considering how much I enjoyed the Companions storyline, that's just disappointing and terrible.

Weirdest Bug: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

And now for the lighter side of buggery.

This man has witnessed the horrors of the infinite.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a fine game by all accounts, but for all of the things it offers, I had to create this award for it, if nothing else. There was a moment in the game's early hours where, as I was sneaking through a facility, I came across a door at the end of a narrow corridor. As I opened it, someone on the other side noticed me. I did what I felt was the sensible thing and backed away, allowing the door to close. I then attempted to sidle myself along the wall in preparation for what was to come, when something I was totally unprepared for happened.

Adam Jensen had found the void. Or more specifically, he found a wall that was completely lacking in hit detection and passed through it into a sea of terrifying nothingness. I'm pretty sure that he didn't ask for this, and it left me completely weirded out. Not even the insane bugginess of Skyrim (a game in which bugs are sadly expected) could match this bizarre moment in my time with Human Revolution.

Best New Character: Zimos

The King of Pimps.

Take your standard, stereotypical pimp. Now increase his lust for hos by roughly twenty-fold, add in a tracheotomy, a pimp cane with a built in voice box/autotuner, and an immaculate business sense, and you have Zimos, who from the very first moment I met him became one of the many, many zany gears that cause Saints Row: The Third to run with such ludicrous, balls-out insanity. Even the simple, gimmicky act of autotuning his every line of dialogue elevates him into the higher echelon of wonderful weirdness that permeates every aspect of the game. He is simply a joy to be with any time he's on screen, whether it be as a partner in a side mission, calling him for help as a homie, pulling a pony cart, or allowing him to drug you up and put you through one the game's many hilarious story missions stark naked, armed to the teeth, and high as the moon.

Best Story: Yakuza 4

Taiga Saejima is just one of the many interesting characters in Yakuza 4.

Yakuza 4 is a tale of four very different characters. There's a charismatic loan shark, a death row convict, a crooked cop, and the traditional series protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, all taking center stage in turn against the backdrop of a conspiracy that spans decades. The way that their individual tales wrap together as the plot unfolds is something to be seen. It's a blessing that the game includes recaps of the three previous titles, as that background information goes a long way in enjoying the stories of these characters. It may not have the epic grandeur of Skyrim or the lunacy of Shadows of the Damned, but its relatively down to earth tale of mystery, betrayal, and conspiracy, punctuated with lighter moments and asides, is one of the best of the past year.

Best Graphics: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

Playing El Shaddai, I was always intrigued to see what the next area looked like.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a game that sadly fell under the radar for a lot of folks, but if there is one thing that needs to be said about it, it's that this game is artistically gorgeous. Its use of color and shading is unlike any other game I've seen this year, with wonderful level and character designs that bring, of all things, a religious text to life in a truly remarkable fashion. If nothing else, El Shaddai should be played in order to just be seen. There are very few games from this past year that contain such a unique and wonderful style.

Best Original Soundtrack: Tie (Nobunaga's Ambition: Iron Triangle/BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II)

I know what you're all thinking. "Wait, What?!" Or at least something to that effect.

Though Iron Triangle was released in North America back in 2009, I got around to playing the game quite a bit earlier this year. And while its soundtrack may not be memorable for some, there are tracks that, quite simply, stuck with me due to the moods that they evoke and the point my life was at when I played the game. One such track in particular, though very short, has stuck with me more than any other video game song I've heard all year:

To me, this track evokes a sadness; one that could be said to encompass the troubled era in which the game is set, and in which also embodies the fate of Nobunaga Oda himself, who despite his ambition was never able to attain the unification that he sought.

Now, as for the other game, technically, the majority of the music found in Continuum Shift II comes from earlier releases, but these are my awards, and if I can give one to a PS2 era strategy game, I can give one to CSII as well. More specifically, the award goes to the work of Daisuke Ishiwatari, whose tracks are among the very best in the genre. And he doesn't just stop at character themes. He creates unique themes for specific rival match-ups. Some of his songs have lyrical accompaniment, which is an absolute rarity in fighting games. As an example, here's my favorite track from the game:

It's a shame that my preferred Youtube video of this song seems to have vanished, as the description included fully translated lyrics, which fit the character of Mu-12 quite well, all things considered.

Best Licensed Soundtrack: Saints Row: The Third

*ALARM SOUNDS* THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPHS CONTAIN MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE END OF SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD. DO NOT READ IF YOU DON'T WANT THE ENDING SPOILED IN ANY CAPACITY. FAILURE TO IGNORE THIS WARNING WILL NOT EARN YOU MY SYMPATHY.

This award could easily double for the "Best Use of Licensed Music." While open world crime games have often been content with including a vast array of licensed music to provide flavor through a variety of radio stations, Saints Row: The Third goes above and beyond in what it plays and when. Much has been said about the use of Kanye West's "Power," which is indeed an effective moment. But for me, it can't match a pair of songs that appear later in the game. Joe Esposito's "You're the Best," and Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero."

In any other game of this genre, both of these tracks would be included on the kitche '80s radio station for nothing more than the sake of ironic humor. You know, "Oh, the eighties and their music. What were we thinking back then?" And for a large part of the game, that's what these songs are as well. Silly radio play.

And then suddenly, in Murderbrawl XXXI, your homie Angel de la Muerte is hurting. Killbane's thugs are coming in to finish him off. And then you bust out a fucking chainsaw, slaughtering the thugs with ease as "You're the Best" suddenly starts playing. Oh, fuck yes. Then you jump in the ring to take on Killbane himself. Come on, Killbane. Bring it. I'm the best around.

But the best, most deliriously wonderful use of licensed music doesn't come until the final story mission of the game. Chaos is raging throughout the city. You've fought throuh three waves of STAG troops and Luchadors. And then you hear that Killbane is about to make his escape, while separately, STAG is planning to kill Shaundi and Viola. Stop Killbane or save your friends. You can only follow one path.

And then Holding Out for a Hero starts playing.

The emotional rush of this moment was the most intense I had felt during the entire course of the game. Every goddamn silly moment, every insane, beautiful, whimsical minute of joy, of kicking ass alongside a cast of crazies, had come down to this moment. And for a brief few seconds, I was awed, unable to decide what to do. And then the music got to me, and I bolted for Killbane as fast as I could, intent on giving him the beating of a lifetime. Like Angel said, my friends would understand. Everything's going nuts, everyone is trying to kill me, and here I am, running, yes, RUNNING, through town to teach that piece of shit who the boss really is, and it sure as hell ain't Tony Danza.

Best Wii Game That Isn't Skyward Sword: Fortune Street

If you have an evening to kill with your friends, this is a pretty damn good choice.

It was slim pickings on the Wii this year, and with Xenoblade Chronicles and Rhythm Heaven Fever waiting in the wings until next year, very little of true note was released for it. Nintendo pretty much placed their Wii eggs in the basket labeled Legend of Zelda and called it a year. But I actually haven't played Skyward Sword yet. I have played Fortune Street, though. It seriously is a fun game, and as anyone that saw the amazing TNT in which Ryan, Patrick, Jeff and Vinny duked it out over the sad sack that is District A could see, it gets pretty cutthroat. It's an odd thing for a virtual board game to be as fun as Fortune Street is, but the game has that great mix of goofy charm from the Mario and Dragon Quest franchises to back it up alongside the intricacies of a stock market.

Also, slime racing!

Best Game of 2011: Saints Row: The Third

For the love of all that is holy, play this game.

It couldn't be anything else. From start to finish, Saints Row: The Third is the most fun I have had playing any game all year. It's as if the developers set out to make a game that emphasizes fun more than anything else. Beyond the glorious insanity and honest to god hilarity that permeates throughout, it's actually fun to play. The cars control well, the gunplay feels great, the melee is great, I can do a Dukes of Hazzard leap into cars, I can punch people in the dick, I can fly a hoverbike around town, go up in the air as high as possible, jump off, hit the ground without opening my parachute, and live because I purchased falling damage invincibility. Saints Row: The Third not only provides the tools to have a good time, the tools are all fun to use, the leveling system is great, and the missions. There can never be enough said about how sublime the missions in this game truly are.

Seriously, play this game. Just play it. It's a thing of beauty.

33 Comments
33 Comments
Posted by Hailinel

The year 2011 was pretty damn weird for a lot of reasons. Some personal, some not so much. But it sure wasn't lacking for a large assortment of games that were entertaining, surprising, and in some cases, supremely disappointing. I also spent an inordinate amount of my gaming time this year with the 3DS, which I covered in a previous blog post. Now it's time to turn my focus on what the rest of the year had to offer. Let the games begin!

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. DON'T SAY I DIDN'T WARN YOU.

(Sadly mandatory disclaimer: These awards are my opinions and solely my opinions. If you don't agree with any or all of them, then that's your problem.)

Biggest Disappointment: Publisher Stupidity

At least someone got something right, if belatedly.

Jesus Christ. Poor and inexplicable decision making abounded this year. Where do I even start? The PR disaster that was Capcom's cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3, in addition to releasing two versions of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 in the same year, along with a barely justifiable (if that) remake of Dead Rising 2? Electronic Arts and their apparent complete lack of interest in providing both Shadows of the Damned and Alice: Madness Returns, two major titles in their Partners program, with any form of serious marketing muscle and leaving them to die? Sony completely dropping the ball during the PSN hacking misadventure? Nintendo's steadfast refusal to release three Wii titles in North America that could have otherwise done wonders for the console's flagging North American release schedule? (To be fair, Nintendo does get something of a pass on this, as they are caving and releasing one of these titles in North America next April in a limited capacity. But still.)

Once again, Jesus Christ. There was a period of time this past year where it seemed major publishers were lining up to trip all over themselves in embarrassing fashion. It was just painful to watch, and I hope that these companies all smarten up next year.

Worst(?) Game of the Year: Duke Nukem Forever

I just can't bring myself to hate this game.

Normally, this is an award I would be handing out without a question mark attached. After all, it's not often difficult to pick a game for a category like this, assuming that one plays enough games over the course of the year. That being said, I'm modifying the category this year to lay out my thoughts on a game that I didn't necessarily feel was the "worst." On the contrary, Duke Nukem Forever is far from the worst game released this year. As archaic as some aspects of its gameplay are and as stupidly crass and unfunny as the attempts at humor can be, that it works as well as it does is something of a marvel in and of itself. It's difficult for me to really say that this game is truly a terrible game because, quite frankly, my expectations were set so low that I was pleasantly surprised by the end result.

That's not to say that Duke Nukem Forever is a good game. Frankly, I have a hard time quantifying its level of quality because after fourteen years (I was in high school when this game started development), any scale that I might have been able to measure the game by has been shot. It is, if nothing else, a museum piece, and a deserving one at that. Duke Nukem Forever is a one of a kind game in one of the worst ways possible; the end result of a protracted time-and-money-sink of a development cycle. Students of game design everywhere, no matter what aspect of the development field they enter, should study this game as a prime example of what not to do. And yet, I can't blame anyone that was curious enough to spend $60 to see the end result because while it's a mess, it is a unique mess of the highest order.

Most Disappointing Game: Dragon Age II

Hawke's mother ends up in a state not unlike the game itself.

Dragon Age II already received this same award from the Giant Bomb staff, of course. But before I go on, I should note that of the games to which I'm handing out these awards, Dragon Age II is the only one I haven't played in any capacity. And while some may cry foul about that, I don't feel any need to have played a minute of the game to make this conclusion justifiable. I greatly enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins. It's easily one of my favorite games of this generation. It's only natural that I was looking for more of the same old school feel in the sequel. But from almost the very first moment that news of the game was released, the disappointment in my mind was palpable.

One of the things I like the most about Origins is, quite simply, the origins and the multiple playable races. While the core of the experience is largely the same no matter what origin the player selects, each origin added its own twist on the story to make them feel unique. My first run through the game, I was a just human noble driven by revenge. In my second, a city elf that hated humans and played the race card at every opportunity. The game was built in a fashion that allowed a fair degree of role-playing despite the inherently rigid nature of a video game in comparison to its pen and paper brethren. And while the story wasn't perfect (I found Duncan to be an asshole and a certain plot twist toward the end unnecessary, at best), I felt enough freedom within its scope to make it my own.

But no, not with Dragon Age II. From the moment that it was announced that the player was locked into the guise of a human character named Hawke, alarm bells sounded in my head, and those bells grew louder and louder as more and more news about the game was revealed. And when it was released, I held off on the game's purchase, hoping to hear reviews that might set my fears at ease. That criticism started pouring in from all corners left me cold, and colder still as I spoiled myself on details of the game's narrative and characters. By this point the alarm bells, had become an unbearable klaxon. I feel nothing but disappointment for the direction that Dragon Age II took; one can blame the truncated development cycle and other behind-the-scenes changes, but the end result is still the same. A game that I simply have no desire to play despite how much I enjoyed the original.

Worst Bugs: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Backwards-flying dragons may be amusing, but Bethesda's quality control is garbage.

I understand that, at this point, Bethesda's Elder Scrolls games are expected to ship in a buggy state, but it saddens me how many people give them a pass for this. And look, I'm well aware that not every bug is going to get fixed prior to release. I work in software quality assurance. My job is to find bugs in software so that they can get fixed before they have a chance to be encountered by a consumer. Sometimes, they're not considered serious enough to block release and they'll be targeted for a patch or update post-launch. That's just the way it works. But there is a line that should always be drawn. That line that separates "acceptable" from "holy fuck, this thing is busted." Skyrim does not fall into the former category. It shouldn't. It is a broken, buggy game that Bethesda temporarily made even worse in their first attempt at fixing it. Its save file management system is atrocious, with file sizes ballooning each and every time the game is saved.

It's not a well-coded game, is what I am saying. Also, I bought the PS3 version, which was a dumbass move on my part. How the hell does anyone, and I mean anyone manage to justify the glaring issues that plague that version? Does Bethesda do completion testing of each platform version of their games? Did it never come up that the longer you play, the greater a risk you encounter that things are going to become unbearably slow? Did they know about the issue and simply not care? I don't know what's worse. Bethesda's coding or their QA. Either way, it's soured my experience on Skyrim significantly, and considering how much I enjoyed the Companions storyline, that's just disappointing and terrible.

Weirdest Bug: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

And now for the lighter side of buggery.

This man has witnessed the horrors of the infinite.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a fine game by all accounts, but for all of the things it offers, I had to create this award for it, if nothing else. There was a moment in the game's early hours where, as I was sneaking through a facility, I came across a door at the end of a narrow corridor. As I opened it, someone on the other side noticed me. I did what I felt was the sensible thing and backed away, allowing the door to close. I then attempted to sidle myself along the wall in preparation for what was to come, when something I was totally unprepared for happened.

Adam Jensen had found the void. Or more specifically, he found a wall that was completely lacking in hit detection and passed through it into a sea of terrifying nothingness. I'm pretty sure that he didn't ask for this, and it left me completely weirded out. Not even the insane bugginess of Skyrim (a game in which bugs are sadly expected) could match this bizarre moment in my time with Human Revolution.

Best New Character: Zimos

The King of Pimps.

Take your standard, stereotypical pimp. Now increase his lust for hos by roughly twenty-fold, add in a tracheotomy, a pimp cane with a built in voice box/autotuner, and an immaculate business sense, and you have Zimos, who from the very first moment I met him became one of the many, many zany gears that cause Saints Row: The Third to run with such ludicrous, balls-out insanity. Even the simple, gimmicky act of autotuning his every line of dialogue elevates him into the higher echelon of wonderful weirdness that permeates every aspect of the game. He is simply a joy to be with any time he's on screen, whether it be as a partner in a side mission, calling him for help as a homie, pulling a pony cart, or allowing him to drug you up and put you through one the game's many hilarious story missions stark naked, armed to the teeth, and high as the moon.

Best Story: Yakuza 4

Taiga Saejima is just one of the many interesting characters in Yakuza 4.

Yakuza 4 is a tale of four very different characters. There's a charismatic loan shark, a death row convict, a crooked cop, and the traditional series protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, all taking center stage in turn against the backdrop of a conspiracy that spans decades. The way that their individual tales wrap together as the plot unfolds is something to be seen. It's a blessing that the game includes recaps of the three previous titles, as that background information goes a long way in enjoying the stories of these characters. It may not have the epic grandeur of Skyrim or the lunacy of Shadows of the Damned, but its relatively down to earth tale of mystery, betrayal, and conspiracy, punctuated with lighter moments and asides, is one of the best of the past year.

Best Graphics: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

Playing El Shaddai, I was always intrigued to see what the next area looked like.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a game that sadly fell under the radar for a lot of folks, but if there is one thing that needs to be said about it, it's that this game is artistically gorgeous. Its use of color and shading is unlike any other game I've seen this year, with wonderful level and character designs that bring, of all things, a religious text to life in a truly remarkable fashion. If nothing else, El Shaddai should be played in order to just be seen. There are very few games from this past year that contain such a unique and wonderful style.

Best Original Soundtrack: Tie (Nobunaga's Ambition: Iron Triangle/BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II)

I know what you're all thinking. "Wait, What?!" Or at least something to that effect.

Though Iron Triangle was released in North America back in 2009, I got around to playing the game quite a bit earlier this year. And while its soundtrack may not be memorable for some, there are tracks that, quite simply, stuck with me due to the moods that they evoke and the point my life was at when I played the game. One such track in particular, though very short, has stuck with me more than any other video game song I've heard all year:

To me, this track evokes a sadness; one that could be said to encompass the troubled era in which the game is set, and in which also embodies the fate of Nobunaga Oda himself, who despite his ambition was never able to attain the unification that he sought.

Now, as for the other game, technically, the majority of the music found in Continuum Shift II comes from earlier releases, but these are my awards, and if I can give one to a PS2 era strategy game, I can give one to CSII as well. More specifically, the award goes to the work of Daisuke Ishiwatari, whose tracks are among the very best in the genre. And he doesn't just stop at character themes. He creates unique themes for specific rival match-ups. Some of his songs have lyrical accompaniment, which is an absolute rarity in fighting games. As an example, here's my favorite track from the game:

It's a shame that my preferred Youtube video of this song seems to have vanished, as the description included fully translated lyrics, which fit the character of Mu-12 quite well, all things considered.

Best Licensed Soundtrack: Saints Row: The Third

*ALARM SOUNDS* THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPHS CONTAIN MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE END OF SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD. DO NOT READ IF YOU DON'T WANT THE ENDING SPOILED IN ANY CAPACITY. FAILURE TO IGNORE THIS WARNING WILL NOT EARN YOU MY SYMPATHY.

This award could easily double for the "Best Use of Licensed Music." While open world crime games have often been content with including a vast array of licensed music to provide flavor through a variety of radio stations, Saints Row: The Third goes above and beyond in what it plays and when. Much has been said about the use of Kanye West's "Power," which is indeed an effective moment. But for me, it can't match a pair of songs that appear later in the game. Joe Esposito's "You're the Best," and Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero."

In any other game of this genre, both of these tracks would be included on the kitche '80s radio station for nothing more than the sake of ironic humor. You know, "Oh, the eighties and their music. What were we thinking back then?" And for a large part of the game, that's what these songs are as well. Silly radio play.

And then suddenly, in Murderbrawl XXXI, your homie Angel de la Muerte is hurting. Killbane's thugs are coming in to finish him off. And then you bust out a fucking chainsaw, slaughtering the thugs with ease as "You're the Best" suddenly starts playing. Oh, fuck yes. Then you jump in the ring to take on Killbane himself. Come on, Killbane. Bring it. I'm the best around.

But the best, most deliriously wonderful use of licensed music doesn't come until the final story mission of the game. Chaos is raging throughout the city. You've fought throuh three waves of STAG troops and Luchadors. And then you hear that Killbane is about to make his escape, while separately, STAG is planning to kill Shaundi and Viola. Stop Killbane or save your friends. You can only follow one path.

And then Holding Out for a Hero starts playing.

The emotional rush of this moment was the most intense I had felt during the entire course of the game. Every goddamn silly moment, every insane, beautiful, whimsical minute of joy, of kicking ass alongside a cast of crazies, had come down to this moment. And for a brief few seconds, I was awed, unable to decide what to do. And then the music got to me, and I bolted for Killbane as fast as I could, intent on giving him the beating of a lifetime. Like Angel said, my friends would understand. Everything's going nuts, everyone is trying to kill me, and here I am, running, yes, RUNNING, through town to teach that piece of shit who the boss really is, and it sure as hell ain't Tony Danza.

Best Wii Game That Isn't Skyward Sword: Fortune Street

If you have an evening to kill with your friends, this is a pretty damn good choice.

It was slim pickings on the Wii this year, and with Xenoblade Chronicles and Rhythm Heaven Fever waiting in the wings until next year, very little of true note was released for it. Nintendo pretty much placed their Wii eggs in the basket labeled Legend of Zelda and called it a year. But I actually haven't played Skyward Sword yet. I have played Fortune Street, though. It seriously is a fun game, and as anyone that saw the amazing TNT in which Ryan, Patrick, Jeff and Vinny duked it out over the sad sack that is District A could see, it gets pretty cutthroat. It's an odd thing for a virtual board game to be as fun as Fortune Street is, but the game has that great mix of goofy charm from the Mario and Dragon Quest franchises to back it up alongside the intricacies of a stock market.

Also, slime racing!

Best Game of 2011: Saints Row: The Third

For the love of all that is holy, play this game.

It couldn't be anything else. From start to finish, Saints Row: The Third is the most fun I have had playing any game all year. It's as if the developers set out to make a game that emphasizes fun more than anything else. Beyond the glorious insanity and honest to god hilarity that permeates throughout, it's actually fun to play. The cars control well, the gunplay feels great, the melee is great, I can do a Dukes of Hazzard leap into cars, I can punch people in the dick, I can fly a hoverbike around town, go up in the air as high as possible, jump off, hit the ground without opening my parachute, and live because I purchased falling damage invincibility. Saints Row: The Third not only provides the tools to have a good time, the tools are all fun to use, the leveling system is great, and the missions. There can never be enough said about how sublime the missions in this game truly are.

Seriously, play this game. Just play it. It's a thing of beauty.

Edited by BoG

Wow, you did not play Rayman, did you? Shame. Good list though, not typical. I probably need to check out El Shaddai, because you and VGK like it so much. Did you play Alice perhaps? I would say the same about Alice as you did about El Shaddai: It's a game that should be played simply so that it can be seen. 
Oh, and they're still making games in the Nobunaga's Ambition franchise? Whoa.

Posted by Hailinel

@BoG said:

Wow, you did not play Rayman, did you? Shame. Good list though, not typical. I probably need to check out El Shaddai, because you and VGK like it so much. Did you play Alice perhaps? I would say the same about Alice as you did about El Shaddai: It's a game that should be played simply so that it can be seen. Oh, and they're still making games in the Nobunaga's Ambition franchise? Whoa.

Rayman simply isn't my thing, though I definitely see the appeal of it. And I've been meaning to pick up Alice; that game looks fantastic and I'd love to play it, as well. There were just too many great games released this year to keep up with them all.

And yeah, they're still producing Nobunaga's Ambition games. But that ain't even the half of it.

Posted by Breadfan

Oh, man. Totally forgot about Hawke's zombified mom. I tried to like Dragon Age 2, and I do to an extent, but come on.

Posted by Hailinel

@Breadfan said:

Oh, man. Totally forgot about Hawke's zombified mom. I tried to like Dragon Age 2, and I do to an extent, but come on.

Yeah, Dragon Age II seemed to go for shock value a lot, but it's hard to be shocking when you keep falling on your face.

Posted by AlecOfTheWest

I actually agree with most of your choices (though I haven't played DAII yet). I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed Saint's Row: The Third, and how much it made me laugh my ass off. Certainly a step-up from Saint's Row 2's lame idea of humor.

I don't know if I would say that Skyrim had the worst bugs this year, it was just only one that seemed to get a free pass for them because of "ambition". I don't really know if it can be considered ambitious when they've had the exact same formula for the past decade.

Posted by Hizang

That is a solid list, especially the Yakuza 4 mention. This list also reminded me how much I need to play El Shaddai.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Wait, Metroid Other M isn't the Game of the Year? But that game is the Game of the Year EVERY YEAR!

Yeah, that's kind of what Dragon Age II is, and while if it were any other game I'd reprimand you for stating an opinion without actually playing the game yourself... That's kind of what it is. I would use less harsh words obviously, and most of my criticism for that game revolves around the main story, rather than the supporting cast (which is mostly great) or the combat (which, once again, is mostly great. Could use fewer enemies appearing out of thin air though.) A shame on all accounts, especially since DA:O is easily one of my favorite games of the last decade.

Otherwise... I should really play Saint's Row, shouldn't I? Then again, considering my grades of last semester, maybe a fun open world crime game is the last thing I need if I want to prevent academic probation. Bah. Real Life.

Posted by EuanDewar

"The lighter side of buggery"

Oh man, I hope when typing that you were conscious of it's multiple meanings.

Posted by Doctorchimp

I'm pretty sure if you bought the 360 or PC version of Skyrim your tune would be completely different. It's a shame your console was messed up though.

Posted by Hailinel

@AlecOfTheWest said:

I actually agree with most of your choices (though I haven't played DAII yet). I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed Saint's Row: The Third, and how much it made me laugh my ass off. Certainly a step-up from Saint's Row 2's lame idea of humor.

I don't know if I would say that Skyrim had the worst bugs this year, it was just only one that seemed to get a free pass for them because of "ambition". I don't really know if it can be considered ambitious when they've had the exact same formula for the past decade.

Simply put, people take one look at the scope and breadth of content and come to the conclusion that the game is too big to test properly.

@Hizang said:

That is a solid list, especially the Yakuza 4 mention. This list also reminded me how much I need to play El Shaddai.

Yeah, Yakuza 4 and El Shaddai both could always use more love.

@EuanDewar said:

"The lighter side of buggery" Oh man, I hope when typing that you were conscious of it's multiple meanings.

Oh, indeed, I was quite aware!

@ArbitraryWater said:

Wait, Metroid Other M isn't the Game of the Year? But that game is the Game of the Year EVERY YEAR!

Yeah, that's kind of what Dragon Age II is, and while if it were any other game I'd reprimand you for stating an opinion without actually playing the game yourself... That's kind of what it is. I would use less harsh words obviously, and most of my criticism for that game revolves around the main story, rather than the supporting cast (which is mostly great) or the combat (which, once again, is mostly great. Could use fewer enemies appearing out of thin air though.) A shame on all accounts, especially since DA:O is easily one of my favorite games of the last decade.

Otherwise... I should really play Saint's Row, shouldn't I? Then again, considering my grades of last semester, maybe a fun open world crime game is the last thing I need if I want to prevent academic probation. Bah. Real Life.

Yes, yes, you need to play Saints Row, but grades are definitely more important than a video game. (I learned this lesson back in fifth grade. Finish this math assignment, or play video games? I made poor choices back then.)

And yeah, Dragon Age II is just disappointing. I'd have loved to play it, if only it was a better game that lived up to the original. Bioware and EA might learn their lesson for Dragon Age III, but at this point, I'm not holding my breath.

Also, Metroid: Other M won my Super Secret Game of the Year For All Years Award. You didn't see it because the text is invisible!

@Doctorchimp said:

I'm pretty sure if you bought the 360 or PC version of Skyrim your tune would be completely different. It's a shame your console was messed up though.

Honestly, it's hard to say since I have neither a 360 nor a PC that could effectively run Skyrim. I do like the game that's in there, when it works, but there are just things about it that leave me shaking my head.

Posted by PixelPrinny

Good read. I certainly agree with your biggest disappointment of the year. It was quite the shitshow when it came to publisher missteps and mishandlings this year.

Posted by Hailinel

@PixelPrinny said:

Good read. I certainly agree with your biggest disappointment of the year. It was quite the shitshow when it came to publisher missteps and mishandlings this year.

Thanks. It really is amazing how many publishers seemed to need a clue that they were being such screw-ups.

Posted by Cincaid

We have quite different taste, but a nice read nonetheless.

Posted by Make_Me_Mad

An all around good and solid list, with several games that I really wish I'd gotten around to playing. Glad to see someone else enjoyed Murderbrawl as much as I did.

Edited by TheDudeOfGaming
@Hailinel: I am TheDudeOfGaming and i approve this message. Although i think Witcher 2 deserved best story, that or Portal 2. Anyway very solid list dude and an entertaining read. Kudos. PS. I'd like to hug you for the DA2 part...no homo.
Posted by Pezen

Taken on it's own, I enjoyed Dragon Age II. I really liked the Zombified mom part and it had fast combat and even as a magic user you could feel powerful. But it wasn't the game I wanted the follow up to Dragon Age to be. Also, nice to see some love for Yakuza 4, I've yet to finish it but it's such an awesome franchise and I've loved every minute thus far.

Edited by spazmaster666

Though I loved Off The Record, that's mainly due to me being a crazy Dead Rising fan. For anyone else that game is certainly not a good value at $40 a year after Dead Rising 2 came out.  Also, it's just a real shame how Shadows of the Damned was basically sent out to die. It's kind of like what Activision did with Singularity last year. Speaking of which, I'm also a little concerned for Tales of Graces F. It's not coming out in a very good window (i.e. a week after Mass Effect 3, SFxTekken, Max Payne 3, Ghost Recon, and XCOM and a week before RE: Operation Raccoon City and Ninja Gaiden III) and is unlikely to have much advertising. If that game flops in the US, the chances of Xillia or other Tales games coming out here again would greatly decrease. As for Dragon Age II, it was definitely disappointing, but I guess I just didn't have much attachment to the fiction of that world so I still had fun playing that game. I would agree with Duke Nukem not being the worst game of the year (i.e. I would almost prefer it to say, Modern Warfare 3) but I still don't get the enormous amount of hate people have for that game (at least for the PC version, not sure about the console versions). I mean what did people really expect after 14 years of development drama, a good game? Anyway, great blog and glad to see Saints Row The Third get some more love.

Posted by Sjupp

MAN, YOUR OPINIONS ARE WRONG!

Actually, the Best Graphics category is the only one I don't really get. Mostly because I'm too lazy to base my knowledge of that game on anything more than your screenshot. (Which looks butt ugly)

Posted by spazmaster666
@Sjupp said:

MAN, YOUR OPINIONS ARE WRONG!

Actually, the Best Graphics category is the only one I don't really get. Mostly because I'm too lazy to base my knowledge of that game on anything more than your screenshot. (Which looks butt ugly)

Actually El Shaddai is pretty much universally acclaimed for it's great, unique artstyle.
Posted by Video_Game_King

Yea, I can't bring myself to call Duke Nukem Forever a bad game, either. It had some pretty cool weapons and levels and all that other shit.

Yay. You've played El Shaddai. Now I won't have to yell at you like crazy for it.

That's really all I can say about anything in here, mainly because I haven't played a ton of games from 2011. If it helps, I hate publishers, too. WHEN WILL YOU RELEASE THE LATEST FIRE EMBLEM IN ENGLISH, NINTENDO!? DON'T KEEP AWAKENING IN JAPAN, TOO!

Posted by BoG
@Hailinel said:

@BoG said:

Wow, you did not play Rayman, did you? Shame. Good list though, not typical. I probably need to check out El Shaddai, because you and VGK like it so much. Did you play Alice perhaps? I would say the same about Alice as you did about El Shaddai: It's a game that should be played simply so that it can be seen. Oh, and they're still making games in the Nobunaga's Ambition franchise? Whoa.

Rayman simply isn't my thing, though I definitely see the appeal of it. And I've been meaning to pick up Alice; that game looks fantastic and I'd love to play it, as well. There were just too many great games released this year to keep up with them all.

And yeah, they're still producing Nobunaga's Ambition games. But that ain't even the half of it.

Mind = blown. 
Whoa.
Posted by warxsnake

lol, dragon age 2.brings back memories of wait am I in the right dungeon, this cant be right

Posted by AjayRaz

i'm glad Yakuza 4 got some recognition. it was one game i feel bad for missing out on.

Posted by Hailinel

@Cincaid: Thanks!

@Make_Me_Mad: Oh man, Murderbrawl was the highlight of the game for me until the last mission. It's just so wonderfully ridiculous.

@TheDudeOfGaming: I haven't played Witcher 2 or Portal 2 yet, though I'd definitely like to. (Portal 2 is actually in my collection and sitting in my 2011 Backlog of Shame.) It's great to see so many games that put this kind of effort into their narratives. (Also, I find your offer of a hug acceptable. No homo.)

@Pezen: My enjoyment of Yakuza 4 makes me sad that I hadn't gotten into the series sooner. And I know that some people really do like Dragon Age II, and more power to them, but man.

@spazmaster666: Namco's historical handling of the Tales series in the west has always baffled me. There doesn't seem to be any consistency with which Tales games they choose to localize, and even then, their marketing for the games in the west isn't that great at all. Then I think about how even in Japan, they decided to release a Tales game right next to the launch of Final Fantasy XIII. It's almost like they were trying to aim a gun straight at their foot.

As far as DNF is concerned, I'm not sure what people were expecting, either. A game that survives a rollercoaster fourteeen-year development cycle has little chance of actually being a good game. And frankly, I've played games that are a lot worse that only took the normal two to three years to develop.

@Video_Game_King: I think I was talking to you about El Shaddai before either of us had a chance to play it. :P

My job here is done!

Posted by Video_Game_King

I remember the conversation, and I still stand by it. (Would you have been surprised if a Transformer appeared in El Shaddai? Let's be honest about this.)

Posted by Hailinel

@Video_Game_King: No, probably not, all things considered.

@AjayRaz said:

i'm glad Yakuza 4 got some recognition. it was one game i feel bad for missing out on.

It's well worth playing. You should get around to it, if you ever have the time.

Edited by Ben_H

    

              
Posted by Hailinel

@Ben_H: The Deckers are an entertaining bunch all around from their headquarters and missions to the fact that their Specialist class is essentially Ramona Flowers.

Edited by BulletproofMonk

Should I play Yakuza 3 before jumping to 4? I don't really care about the older ones but I'm really interested in the PS3 ones. They seem like something I'd enjoy.

Posted by Hailinel

@BulletproofMonk said:

Should I play Yakuza 3 before jumping to 4? I don't really care about the older ones but I'm really interested in the PS3 ones. They seem like something I'd enjoy.

You probably could, but Yakuza 4 actually contains a pretty good recap feature that covers the major story events of Yakuza 1-3, so even if you go into it cold, you should be fine.

Posted by SpawnHellraiser

I'm a Wii fan so that whole section lit me up. Now I know I want to get Fortune Street. Thanks for this post as I never seen Best and Worst categories like the ones you have. I played the demo for El Shaddai and like you said, it's really good graphics, but I must say that game was kinda weird even for the demo. :D

Posted by eskimo

Awesome post, good to hear some different opinions for once