Placeholder text. You know how it is.
Placeholder text. You know how it is.
Skyrim has its issues. It'd be naive to think a game with as many moving parts as Bethesda's latest could ever be perfect. As to why it's my #1, then: Bethesda took the best parts of Oblivion and Fallout 3 and created not only a cohesive whole but also the greatest game they've ever developed. Everything they streamlined needed streamlining, and everything they expanded needed expanding. Plus, there's nothing quite as badass as running around in Viking armor, slaying dragons, absorbing their souls Shang Tsung style and then powering up your voice to the point where you're hurling creatures around with it. These silly indulgences greatly enhance what is generally a po-faced franchise.
2011 was the year I beat Demon's Souls, so playing the sequel so soon after was perhaps a little detrimental to my enjoyment of it, especially when a small amount of this series' abject cruelty can go a long way. From Software managed to outdo itself with its latest dungeon crawler by extending the world, refining the combat and character development, adding a few new features that gel perfectly with the extant systems in place and overall making a superior sequel in a short amount of time. It's an old-school game philosophy wrapped in a tight, state-of-the-art presentation.
My top 3 feels a little disingenuous since I have yet to beat any of them, so perhaps I'm still in the midst of some sort of exuberant mid-playthrough state for some of these. Xenoblade, from the not-insignificant amount of time played of it so far, feels like a Monster Hunter game tempered with a decent and truly unique JRPG setting and plot with a combat system that is somehow as manic and tense as it is deliberate and strategic. It's also got oodles of side-questing to get lost in, reminiscent of Dark Cloud 2's extracurricular insanity. It's quite something.
Stretching Portal's brilliantly concise experience into something approaching a full retail game was bound to cause some unfortunate dull spots and pacing issues. But what the game loses with its repetition of puzzle solutions (hint: Find the one white spot on the wall that will take a portal), it makes up with some great additional characters and an illuminating foray into Aperture Science's depths. Ultimately, it's just a hell of a lot more Portal, which is by no measure a bad thing.
Deus Ex was always going to be a hard act to follow, especially when the last guys to try to do so crashed and burned horribly. But it feels the makers of Deus Ex: Human Revolution paid attention to what made the original work for so many and did their best to recreate that measured, CRPG experience for a new audience of ADD-riddled spectacle-lovers (generally what the larger studios and the Spike VGAs view gamers as). While this lead to some unfortunate developments like the compulsory boss battles and an oddly disproportionate skill specialization system, the whole experience still felt like a painstaking adaptation of a classic rather than the half-assed brand recognition cash-in that people have come to expect from these reboots. If only more studios took their licenses this seriously.
Arkham City is a bigger, busier sequel that ticks every box on a basic checklist of what a video game sequel should do. Beyond that, there hasn't really been any major marked improvements or adventurous paradigm shifting. Rocksteady makes a darn fine Batman game and, like Super Mario Galaxy 2 last year, I feel that more of the same in this particular case is just peachy. So much for my haughty "sequels disappoint when they're just treading water" spiel.
I've never been a huge fan of the Rayman games. Even the much-lauded second game of the series just felt like an also-ran in a pantheon of mascot-based 3D platformers of the day, easily outshone by the N64 Rare games, Mario and Jak & Daxter. However, this oddball iteration embraces a nostalgia the original games weren't even around for. The excellent and striking 2D art, kooky and atmospheric soundtrack and unremitting difficulty recall, for me at least, something like Yoshi's Island or Majora's Mask - games that took an unusual detour with their franchises, resulting in something original, charming and a lot of fun.
So I guess my thing this year was disappointing sequels. Saints Row: The Third is probably one of my most heartbreaking, but yet I still find I prefer it to the other games I've named as such in the past months, namely inFamous 2, Dragon Age 2 and Uncharted 3. I guess it's because I'm still a huge fan of this particular franchise and how it manages to out-Rockstar Rockstar when they're more content on delivering pathos-heavy tales of redemption and loss that are about as fun as a gastrointestinal disorder. If all Saints Row was was the main storyline and messing around with no clear goal in mind, I'd say this was the best yet.
de Blob 2 is the epitome of low-stakes gaming. The sort of experience that is predicated on relaxing music, pretty colors and instant gratification with very little in the way of truly deep or challenging gameplay. However, there's a lot to be said about that sort of game, especially with the iOS game market booming like it is. It's just a lot of fun, and it doesn't really need any sort of justification beyond that for why I dig it so much.
I struggled with my tenth entry, figuring I should swallow my weird distaste with how much Uncharted 3 or inFamous 2 felt mishandled and embrace how they were still great games from franchises that had, perhaps, seen better days. I also felt that I should include at least one portable or Indie game because I did play a fair amount of both. But instead, like Nier in my 2010 list, I wanted to boost the profile of a maligned "auteur" game that felt extraordinary, if not in an entirely positive sense of the word. Shadows of the Damned was an unusual, comedic take on the Resident Evil 4 formula that was filled with unfortunate dick jokes and Suda51's customary plot randomness. It's a game that I'm not sure can be called objectively good, but it's the sort of thing I want to see more of from the gaming world. I couldn't tell you why.
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