Mixed bag of a year

I wrote a blog post around this time last year called "Disappointing year?" and listed the major releases that I felt had been a let-down. My timing on that post was poor as I then played my two favourite games of the year (Skyrim & Portal 2) and also played a bunch of very enjoyable ones (Saints Row 3, Gears 3, etc). It drew a lot of conversation (with most people telling me I was mad) and I picked up a few good game suggestions from it. This time I would like to know what games people have thought have really stood out.

To explain, every year for as long as I can remember (certainly in this console generation) there have been 2 games that have stood head & shoulders above the rest (2009 : Arkham City & Uncharted 2; 2010 : Mass Effect 2 & Red Dead Redemption) but this year there has been only one : Journey. There have been lots of games I have thoroughly enjoyed (as well as far too many that have disappointed) but nothing that has blown me away.

What has been interesting to me is that almost all of the standouts have been games that I wouldn't necessarily have expected to enjoy at the start of the year. games like X-Com, Syndicate & Hitman have all been very enjoyable for different reasons. The flipside to that is every sequel to games I have loved have been disappointing. Minorly in the case of Mass Effect 3 (uninteresting new characters & poor ending) & majorly in the cases of Diablo 3 (too much emphasis on loot & nowhere near enough depth re. abilities & skill trees) & AC 3 (frustrating mission structure).

So, my question is : what is the elusive second game that I have missed so far? I was planning on picking up Walking Dead & Far Cry 3 before the end of the year but might have the time & cash to pick up one or two more (or at least put them on a Xmas wishlist).

Thanks in advance.

Update: Thanks for all the suggestions guys. I think I'm going to try Far Cry 3 and Walking Dead before end of the year, put Sleeping Dogs & Dishonored on my Xmas list and then play Mark of the Ninja and Dust in the new year before all the Feb/Mar releases. I will try and check out Spec Ops & Dust sometime next year as well (although I expect the Spec Ops story will be spoiled in the GOTY podcasts - part of the reason why I want to play Walking Dead before year's end).

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Disappointing year? Updated.

Now that my two most anticipated releases have come and gone I was wondering if any games have really stood out for me this year and the answer, unfortunately, has to be no.

Let me preface this by saying I have not played Portal 2 or Dark Souls, the only two games I feel that have significantly improved on their predecessors. I personally am waiting for Portal 2 to drop in price and I hit a saturation point on Demon Souls so, while I can fully appreciate it's merits, I have no desire to play it's sequel.

The two games I hoped to blow me away, Arkham City & Uncharted 3, have left me frustrated. They both exceed their predecessors in some ways but have so many flaws of their own that I'm not convinced I could call either of them better games.

Arkham City, while improving on the combat and taking out all the frustrating moments of the first game (poor boss battles, combat in small arenas which could cause death by camera) has introduced several new ones of it's own (too many gadgets, re-spawning enemies, waaaaaayyy too many riddler trophies). Bigger? Yes. Better? Possibly not.

Uncharted 3 is, in my opinion, a poorer game than Among Thieves. Story, banter & combat are all lesser than before and it doesn't quite have the same level of polish. Only the puzzles and the technical marvel of the set pieces has improved.

Upon completing Uncharted 3 I've realised that there has been no game this calendar year that has blown me away. I enjoyed Crysis 2 & Child of Eden and was pleasantly surprised by Rage (I really wasn't expecting much going in) but none of those games are a patch on my two games of the year for 2010 : Mass Effect 2 and particularly Red Dead Redemption (Sorry Giantbomb guys but that was the GOTY). Of other contenders, Battlefield 3 & Modern Warfare 3 are what I expected, more of the same. Neither one has significantly improved in any real way. Of the surprise candidates, Dead Island, while a notable game, has far too many bugs and issues. Resistance 3 left me very underwhelmed (reviews had convinced me to take a look at it) and Space Marine, while an enjoyable diversion, was just too repetitive.

While I expect good things from Skyrim and even think Rayman : Origins looks like a lot of fun, I'm not convinced that any new release will blow me away.

So tell me fellow gamers : what have I missed? What gaming masterpieces can salvage my 2011?

Edit : *sigh* Just realised I completely forgot Gears Of War 3, Dead Space 2 and L.A. Noire. I haven't played the former. Is it awesome? Dead Space 2 was very enjoyable but, like Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3, wasn't that much of an improvement over the previous game. As for L.A. Noire, while I really enjoyed it I felt it dragged and lost it's way towards the end.

Update: Am happy to say that Skyrim saved my 2011. I absolutely adored almost everything about that game and think it could well end up being my favourite game of all time. I plunged 100+ hours into it and was left wanting more. I expected things in it to bother me more than they did, especially the clunky melee combat, but all my issues with the game felt like minor inconveniences for an experience of such immersion and depth that I don't think I have ever experienced before.

Warning: Spoilers ahead - My only really issue about the game has been that nothing big that you did felt as meaningful as it should. e.g. Dragons still appear after the main quest is finished (probably for gameplay purposes but feels incongruous considering the final scene of the story). The civil war storyline doesn't seem to really conclude and the land feels in a state of Limbo (unless other side missions complete it. Please let me know if I have missed something. I went down the Stormcloak path.). It all feels a bit like an MMO which is kind of ironic.

I went from Skyrim to Portal 2 (which is one hell of a shift I can tell you) and that also was superb. I never completed Portal (the penultimate puzzle driving me insane) so was not hugely looking forward to this. It was only really due to the responses to this initial post and other friends' love of the game that made me feel I should play it before the year was out. Well I can happily state that you were all absolutely correct. This is a far richer experience. How a puzzle game can have one of the best stories (and, for me, by far the best voice acting) of the year is a totally mystery but I guess that just goes to show how brilliant these people are. The puzzles this time were much more cryptic rather than relying on timing and skill and I greatly appreciated that. Every time I got stuck I felt it was due to me being stupid rather than the game wanting something too complicated. I now need to find someone else to play alongside to complete the co-op challenges (preferably within shouting distance).

Finally I went back to Uncharted 3 with the new aiming patch and, while it certainly improves the experience, it still does not make up for that game's flaws. Combat arenas still have too many situations where death can come from anywhere at any time and the story makes absolutely no sense. I think Patrick has hit all the flaws on the nose in the last couple of bombcasts.

So I now have Gears of War 3, Saints Row 3 and Rayman Origins to play till the end of the year. Let's hope the upturn in quality continues. :)

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