Yo, these games were pretty rad (part three)

This rounds out the 2011 releases which I played through to completion or, in some cases, more than 50 hours. I wasn't able to put together a top 10 list - I only played enough of nine new games in 2011 - but this was a good year to be a video game fan. I bought Battlefield 3, Gears of War 3 and Dead Space 2 this year and haven't had a chance to spend more than an hour or two in any of them. I also need to play Saints Row: The Third, Batman: Arkham City and all the other games everyone is raving about.

I wrote about the first three games on Tuesday and followed up with three more yesterday and here are the final three.

Dirt 3

Fuck gymkhana.

I kind of wanted to leave it at that but, other than gymkhana, I dug Dirt 3. I found myself playing the trailblazer races the most. I like the long meandering tracks. The Nordschleife of Nürburgring is probably my favorite race track to drive in games - I've never driven the real thing but some day I'd like to - and the trailblazer races have that same kind of feel but on a dirt road.

I don't mind that gymkhana is in the game but I don't like that its mashed into the single player part. Every gymkhana event I've played I play as little as possible. I want to race and I kind of resent that I have to do even one gymkhana event, it just isn't fun. If you disagree with me you can go suffocate yourself in a Monster Energy Drink branded pillow. I'm kidding, but gymkhana does suck.

Dirt 3 is at its best when you're hauling balls down the dirt roads around the long version of the Michigan track. The inside the car view is a must for this game if only for driving through puddles. This game isn't Forza 4 when it comes to realism but it's still realistic feeling enough even though sometimes the car does feel like it's locking into an imaginary grove even with all the assists turned off.

It's been a while since I played two racing games in the same year. Before this year the newest racing game I have is Forza 2. Before that it was probably a Gran Turismo 2.

I have a few minor quibbles about the game. It pisses me off that if I don't do as well as I'd like and hit restart after finishing a race I don't get experience but if I hit continue to return to the menu I get the experience. All that does is makes me waste time in loading screens and menus before reselecting the event and racing again. I probably shouldn't pick on Dirt 3, I think Forza 4 does the same thing so maybe they can't figure out a way to do it. Whatever the reason, it's annoying.

Did I mention the music and menus are terrible? Now that I really think about it, and yes I'm writing this stream of consciousness-style because I really am just thinking about this, the only thing I like about this game is the actual racing. I wish Codemasters would tone down the Mountain Dew-infused extreme sports schtick for this game.

Portal 2

I did the same thing with Portal 2 that I did with the original. I played it once, set it down and have no desire to touch it again. The game is perfectly enjoyable because it is challenging and makes you feel clever. The story is a great follow up to the first and garners a fair share of belly-jigglers along the way. Maybe the reason I don't want to play the Portal games again is I know I'll feel stupid when I get to a puzzle I already solved but can't remember the solution.

Out of all the games I played this year this is the hardest one to write about because I don't share the same love for it as I probably should. I like it well enough but it's not the type of game I normally fall in love with. I really enjoyed the co-op but one time was enough for me.

I enjoyed the subterranean sections of the game and thought the Wheatley wackiness was well done. The gels were fun to play with. Who doesn't like to speed off a ramp, bounce off a wall and fly through a hole? The controls felt like Portal and it's still fun to endlessly free-fall.

Renegade Ops

I played through Renegade Ops twice. Once because I was having fun and it seemed like a moderately humorous game I could play with my friends and then a second time when during the very last part of the very last mission of my first play-through the game froze and destroyed the save.

Playing through a second time wasn't too bad because the game is actually a challenging, well-designed dual joystick shooter with an over the top sense of humor. The first level got a little old and not all of the characters were worth playing but my friend and I powered through.

As I think back about Renegade Ops now, I can't remember anything about it other than the mechanics of the shooting. I know there was that Inferno guy who was this game's Makarov and there was a betrayal jammed in there somewhere but, other than the first few levels, I can't remember what the hell I did in that game.

The fact that I remember liking the game a lot and can't remember much about it baffles me. I only bought this game because of the Just Cause 2 connection and it fulfilled its end of the purchase. I'm happy with spending the money on it even if it was forgettable. Some day I might even hop back into it if the mood strikes.

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Yo, these games were pretty rad (part two)

Yesterday I wrote about three of the games I played in 2011. Today I'll cover Skyrim, Trenched and Rage. Next on my list of games to write about are Portal 2, Dirt 3 and Renegade Ops.

Skyrim

Morrowind came out the summer after I graduate from high school. I finally had a computer that could play games and no parents to tell me to go to bed at a reasonable hour. It was the first game of its kind that I tried to get into. Up until that point my role playing game experience was limited to console Japanese RPGs. I remember thinking I was going to stay up all night for a week playing this game I'd heard so much about but Morrowind didn't hook me like I thought it would, I enjoyed it but at some point I killed somebody who was supposed to give me a quest and I couldn't figure out where to go next. It didn't help that I went to Chico State and my innocent young eyes were drawn to the fairer sex more than a computer game.

When Oblivion came out I couldn't play it on my computer, which at this point was four years old and not up to the challenge, and I was in the middle of finishing up two degrees and working a job and an internship at the same time. I tried playing Oblivion on my brother's Xbox during my summer break but only managed to play a few hours.

Despite my previous failures to get into the Elder Scrolls series Skryim piqued my interested for one reason. Dragons. I love dragons and if Bethesda allowed me to marry one in-game I would. What's not to love about giant, demonic, fire-spouting (or frost-flinging) dinosaurs flying all over the place? Skryim turned out to be everything I wanted in a fantasy game and after spending 50 hours in the game I don't see my time in Tamriel ending anytime soon. Consider me a convert.

I spent the first 40 hours of my time in the game running around doing random side quests and playing around with the crafting system. I avoided most of the big faction quests because my character, Sigmünd, was a Nord dragon-puncher mage who has little patience for dickheads. Every guild or faction I came across seemed like it was full of jerks so I went around by myself killing bad dudes. Eventually I finished the main quest, which didn't take very long, and then the holidays happened and I haven't had a chance to spend much time in any video games.

Despite not touching Skyrim in almost two weeks I find myself daydreaming about what skill tree I want to focus on next. I think I'm going to go with a weapon now because using my fists is getting in the way of leveling my character up more. Maybe I'll restart my armor fabrication and enchanting business but this time go down the alchemy rabbit hole to create those super-enchantments.

The worst thing about this game is I never know what I want to do next and whatever I decide I want to do usually never gets done. I never thought I had attention deficit disorder but Skyrim makes me think I should get checked out. I started writing things down that I wanted to come back to and explore but I stopped doing that after the list exceeded the length of the page.

Trenched (Iron Brigade)

The single player in this game is alright. The multiplayer is awesome. It's one of the best four-player co-op games I've played. I haven't picked it back up since the Iron Brigade update came out but I still intend to once I play through the pile of newer games sitting in front of my television.

Trenched is the first downloadable game on Xbox Live to catch my attention like a retail game. I know there were some great games before - Super Meat Boy springs to mind - but none made me want to dump as many hours as I did into Trenched.

It's the first game in years that made me put on a headset and actually interact with the strangers on my team. The Volcano level never got tiresome to me because it can be played so many different ways. Sometimes I'd run around upgrading everyone's turrets, sometimes I'd go all artillery cannons. At some point it became less about winning and losing and more about finding one or two people to play with for a few hours. It was even fun when a new player entered a game frustrated at not being able to get the Medal of Honor achievement and helping them earn it while showing them a few tricks.

I think I have every wave of the Volcano mission memorized and I had every weapon and trench unlocked before the update. Double Fine did a great job of making all the different chassis fun to play. I even had fun playing a support class which is rare for me.

The art style is worth mentioning too. The cartoony look and manly, manly men added whimsy to the ridiculous plot. It's too bad the Iron Brigade update came out when it did because too many newer games have my time locked away. I really want to play the new survival mode.

Rage

Rage goes down as my biggest disappointment of 2011.

The characters and environments manage to look colorful and bright without seeming out of place in the post-apocalyptic world. The shooting feels right and the weapons system reminds me of Bioshock because of the different ammo types - which is a good thing.

Even the story has a lot of potential until about five hours in when the lack of depth starts to show through the gorgeous outer shell. Even without a great story I was having fun with the game until I got to the second disc and not only did the story disappear but the world began to feel claustrophobic.

I spent a lot of time camping when I was little and one summer we discovered we could go fishing for squirrels by tying a peanut to the fishing line and casting near one of those furry buggers. They'd snatch it and run until you flipped the bail, jerking the peanut from their mouth. Eventually we'd feel bad (but not too bad, we didn't hurt any squirrels) and let them have the peanut because they earned it.

Rage does the same thing only at the end there's no damn peanut. Just a bunch of enemies you know nothing about and an awesome weapon you get to use for one lousy, unsatisfying mission before the story just ends. The different ammo types, weapons and gadgets you can craft suggest there are multiple ways to kill enemies but it never played out that way for me. I ended up using the same three or four weapons most of the game - perhaps because I stopped caring and just wanted to finish. I kept waiting for something cool to happen but all I got was a bunch of snazzy looking people telling me to go fetch crap out of bandit hideouts.

I'm actually looking forward to a sequel because what little plot there was did set up a foundation for what could be a really cool story. The problem is I spent $60 and 20 hours playing what is basically a prologue.

Somebody should tell id Software nobody likes a tease.

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Yo, these games were pretty rad (part one)

I don't have a top 10 list of games this year - mostly because I didn't get a chance to play every game I wanted to - but I do want to organize my thoughts and opinions and the best way to do that is to write them down.

Today I'll write about Bastion, Forza 4 and Modern Warfare 3. Tomorrow I'll write about Skryim, Trenched and Rage. Thursday I'll close out with Portal 2, Renegade Ops and Dirt 3. I might write up another blog post after that with some thoughts on Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3 and Dead Space 2, three games I own but haven't had a chance to finish yet.

So here is part one of my ruminations about the games I played in 2011.

Bastion

I'm really glad I heard about Bastion. Most of my friends don't follow video games as closely as I do and Bastion never appeared on their radar. On the surface it's difficult to explain what makes this game so great, even watching gameplay videos before release didn't do the game justice. I bought Bastion because I have a sense of obligation to support companies I feel are doing things the right way even if I'm not particularly interested in the product. Boy-howdy am I glad I did.

I lost track of how many times I got goosebumps playing this game. It's been a few months since I last visited the Bastion and the thing that stands out in my mind is the tone of the game. It's melancholy and beautiful. There aren't many games that take that tone and none that I know of which capture it so powerfully.

When Bastion first came out on the Xbox 360 my little brother, who is 11 years younger than me, was spending the week at my house. He ended up playing the game three or four times during his stay and I watched him play it for hours and hours. Despite knowing exactly what went on in the game, when I finally sat down and played it through on my own I was blown away. I didn't anticipate how much fun the actual game was.

If everything sucked about Bastion except the story it would still be worth buying. If everything sucked except the gameplay it would still be worth buying. Hell, even if the story and gameplay sucked the incredible art in the game is worth paying for. Oh, one more thing, if Bastion was a static screen with just the music playing I'd still buy it.

I'm sure the game has flaws but I can't remember any.

I haven't had a chance to jump back into Bastion to check out the Stranger's Dream DLC because I know if I do I'll just do a new game plus and I don't have the time yet.

I wish Supergiant Games released a $150 legendary edition of the game with more art, music and love because I'd gladly pay it.

Forza 4

I like sports games and racing games. I don't buy them very often, maybe one or two a year, but this year Forza 4 was the game that grabbed my attention. The last Forza game I played was Forza 2, which I got for free at some point, so the arguments about how similar the games are don't matter to me so much. I definitely got my value for this game.

When it comes to racing games I prefer the simulation style. I don't need a story or any fancy gimmicks, I like the pure gameplay of racing. Dodging oncoming traffic or using boosts is fine but I'm the kind of guy who turns off most assists and uses the inside car view.

There was one moment in the game that made me realize why I like this game so much. I was driving my 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona HEMI on the Fujimi Kaido track and had a flashback to driving in the mountains of Northern California. For a few moments I forgot I was in a game. I've spent a lot of time driving on winding mountain roads to go camping and snowboarding in my life and taking corner after corner, changing elevation and pulling off a flawless pass was a driving fantasy come true.

My older brother and I built two gaming chairs out of the front seats of his dead 1971 VW Bug during my Christmas vacation and that experience, combined with how many hours I've sunk into driving in circles lately, has me seriously considering buying a steering wheel and making a racing rig. It's too bad those wheels cost so much.

Modern Warfare 3

I get it, it's not cool to like Modern Warfare 3 unless you're a bro or 12-year-old racist yet somehow I still enjoy the hell out of this game.

I will concede that the single player isn't worth $60 so anyone who doesn't plan on spending some time in multiplayer or co-op shouldn't bother paying full price for this game. But to denigrate this game for its lack of a strong single player is like criticizing a Civilization for not having a good story. While correct, it's irrelevant.

For some reason I feel compelled to defend this game because I've played more of it than I did the first two Modern Warfare games and I didn't play Black Ops. I didn't reach the level cap in the first one, I prestige once in the second and I hit level 80 fairly quickly in this edition.

The weapons have been tweaked significantly, the maps are smaller and better designed, and the changes to load-out options are great. The fundamental gameplay is pretty much the same but the strategy and how you play the game is surprisingly different because of the subtle changes.

MW3 is more paintball than war sim but that's why I prefer it to Battlefield 3. Eventually I'd like to spend more time with BF3 but it's much more of a time commitment. I like being able to hop online and play two or three games in a half hour and then jump off. It's perfect for a quick gaming session before work or while waiting for something. I don't even mind that I'm playing with some obnoxious people because I never hear them. Every online community is full of idiots and trolls but there are easy ways to mitigate their impact on the game. The Modern Warfare series suffers no worse than anywhere else people can hide their identity.

I didn't mind the single player game either. I played through it once on veteran and had fun. It is mostly a combat puzzle where the goal is to find the right series of cover to advance past endlessly re-spawning waves. Not great, but I've played worse. I think this game was designed to be played on veteran because the vehicle sequences always seemed to appear just when the ground fighting was getting tedious. I can see where it might seem like a lot if you were blasting through the levels no problem but having a respite from the psychic, one-shot snipers kept me going.

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MW3 and Rage: Two games, one review, no story (just kidding)

I beat Rage Monday after plodding through it an hour or two at a time for the past month and Sunday I beat Modern Warfare 3 on Veteran in just two long sittings.

There's much about both these games that I loved and an equal amount that I loathed but the thing that stands out to me the most is that both have terrible bad guys. I'm going to put down some very mild spoilers here so if you actually care about the stories of Rage and MW3 you might want to stop reading. Or don't, there's not much to spoil in either game and I'll avoid any major plot points.

In Rage the primary bad guy is some general dude who you never actually meet, fight or find out what becomes of him. To give you an idea of what I mean, I beat the game 10 minutes ago and I don't even remember his name and that's not some lame exaggeration to prove a point. The number of conversations in which he is mentioned, despite being the mastermind of all that is evil - with the exception of the asteroid of course, is less than the number of fingers on Frodo's right hand.

Instead the enemy you end up fighting is the absentee general's generically-named army, the Authority, which does things you'd expect from a bland sci-fi authoritarian regime. They stand around and look violent while spreading propaganda and growing increasingly paranoid. I think if I was the leader of a super high-tech army I wouldn't call myself a general nor my army the Authority, I'd probably call myself the Ironfist Rage-Knight of the Violently Oppressive Destruction Force. Something with a little more zip to go along with the killer matte-black armor with red highlights and the deadly laser gatling guns.

Similarly, you don't really get to fight MW3's primary bad guy but you do get to do a random game of patty-cake with Makarov at the end of the game. At least with Makarov is more of a character with some back story and he is a known quantity from the previous games. What makes him a crappy bad guy is that he is constantly two steps ahead of you and dupes the world into Armageddon but for some reason can't kill you. He is some kind of crazy evil Russian villain version of the Texas Rangers - or the Buffalo Bills if you want to go old school.

I wish I could sit in on the early creative meetings for both these games because it feels like they sat down and talked about the levels they wanted to create and then went to work. At some point down the road they realized they needed a story to tie everything together so they gave the UPS guy a pad of paper and told him to do it in 2,000 words or less.

MW3's main character is, um...I think Price but it might be that one Russian guy because you play as him a lot and he's kind of the main plot twist. Wait, you do get to play grab-ass with Makarov from Price's perspective at the end but I can't remember if you actually play as him in any other parts. Without one of those cool police detective walls with all those strings connecting polaroid pictures of all the characters or playing all three games again while actually trying to hear the conversations between the variously-accented GI Joes over all the explosions and bang-bang noises I'll probably never know. I'll settle for Price as the main character because he's been in all the games.

I get the feeling the actual story of the Modern Warfare games might actually be good if you read it as a novel but as a plot condensed down into three loud but short games it's hard to process all that information without playing them through on the easiest setting while paying close attention.

The main character in Rage is nothing more than a Golden Retriever constantly fetching something for his master and getting tasty little treats in return. Oh, and he has nanotrites, which I think are like elecrolites because those things are what freezer dudes crave. Also, they have something to do with mind control on mutants but your vault boy is full of them too so my guess is if they make a sequel Mr. Silent Protagonist is going to find out he's been controlled this whole time. That's not a spoiler, that's just me trying to see which plot device id Software will use in the future if they ever decide to make a plot.

Rage is the perfect vessel for a wonderful story, unfortunately id Software has zero writers on staff. I spent 20 hours in the campaign because I enjoyed looking at every little corner of every level. I played through on normal, which was a mistake. I think you must not take damage on the easiest setting because Normal presented very little challenge. It didn't help that I did every side quest and race so my character had too much health, ammo and gadgets. By the time I got to the final mission I was so bored I just tossed down a bunch of sentry bots and watched everything unfold, what little there was to watch. You can only have two sentry bots in play at one time so every time one would die I'd just throw down another.

The weapons system reminded me of Bioshock. Most weapon have four types of ammo, each effective against a certain type of enemy or piece of equipment. I found myself using the Combat Shotgun, Striker Crossbow, Sniper Rifle and Authority Machine Gun the most. In levels where there were waves of enemies I'd usually drop down two sentry bots and use my wingsticks to take out any charging enemies. It's one of those games where you could probably ask five people and they'd each tell you they used a different group of weapons and ammo. There are so many options it was fun to experiment but you haven't lived until you stick a guy with a dynamite bolt from a crossbow.

I didn't restart Rage on a harder difficulty because I'd initially thought I would want to play through the game a second time because the game makes such a great first impression. By the time I realized my mistake I just wanted to get through the game while seeing as much as I could in one sitting. I don't think I want to go back through and fight wave after wave of the three or four identical enemy types for each faction. I hope id Software puts more effort into the story for Rage 2, if they end up making it, because I have a feeling it will be much better. Rage reminds me a lot of the original Assassins Creed game, not in how it plays but because it has so much potential wasted by catastrophic boredom issues yet somehow I subjected myself to way too many semi-enjoyable hours of it. If they turn the story into something worthwhile and get rid of some of the repetition I'd love to jump back into that goddamn gorgeous world.

I decided to play through MW3 on Veteran and I'm glad I did. Several reviews, including the one here on Giantbomb, mentioned the gratuitous vehicle sequences. I didn't feel like half the game was behind a turret or in a some sort of vehicle because most of my time was spent dying in one or two hits from an enemy with an aimbot while running around in some ruins. The vehicle parts felt perfectly spaced on Veteran because by the time I was getting frustrated by the vicious instakills I'd inevitably get to relax and blow dudes up without having to worry about dying. Say what you will about the campaign but after playing it on Veteran I'm convinced that's the way it was designed to be played. It felt good to find the correct series of barriers or cars to duck behind to advance through the level. Each level is like a maze but with dudes you can shoot and after solving each maze it was nice having the reward of a helicopter or AC-130 gunner sequence at the end each time.

In the end, MW3 is still about multiplayer and once I figured out the maps I was having fun running around shooting. The maps are much smaller and sometimes all the shit in the air gets overwhelming but it's still one of the best FPS experiences on a console. I'm still a big fan of having a friend or two over and playing a splitscreen game so Spec Ops is always one of my favorite parts of the Modern Warfare series. This time is no different, I spent a few hours last week getting three stars on the first two groups of operations and reached level 20 on our first try at the Survival mode. We ended up dying when a juggernaut dropped out of a helicopter onto the claymore I just set, killing both of us.

Ultimately, I'm glad I played both games. MW3 is always a guilty pleasure of mine, mostly because I usually play it with a friend over and it's perfect for that sort of thing. I'm glad I played Rage because I hope it turns into one of those series which comes of age in the sequel. If you were thinking about buying one of these games but not both, I'd probably recommend MW3 simply for the re-playability of the online and co-op stuff. Rage is worth checking out but probably as a rental or once it drops to $20.

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The best part about Bastion

I love everything about Bastion but holy damn that music is awesome. Maybe after I play through the New Game + I might write out my full thoughts on the game. Until then I'll just keep listening to "Build That Wall (Zia's Theme)" on repeat.

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