By plainplease 51 Comments
As an adult with responsibilities and a budget, a number of games on my “to play/to buy” list for 2011 never got checked off. But so many good games came out this year. How could I be sure I’d get the most bang for my buck out of the games I bought? A mathematical formula would be nice – some combination of review scores, gameplay hours, sales figures, etc. But I wouldn’t buy a milkshake based on such sterile numbers, and I damned sure won’t spend $60 bucks based on this kind of data.
As the year draws to a close and top 10 lists and industry awards spread throughout the gaming world like a zombie horde, I thought I’d contribute my own list to the fray. But, as I looked at many of the Game of the Year nominees on various sites, I came to realize that, while I was very observant of the top games of 2011, I hadn’t played all, or even most, of them. Fancying myself an active participant in the fresh, new hotness of video games, I started to wonder why, outside of not having limitless funds and free time to invest in all the games I might want to play, I had chosen to play the games I played and to pass on those I didn’t…there had to be a reason why I picked the games I played. And I’m math-dumb, so we can rule out that whole formula thing.
I don’t know if review scores matter all that much to me, and being no good with sophisti-plication charts, I can’t supply a fancy infographic balancing my purchasing history against metacritic scores. I’m also not snobby enough to throw my hands up at the notion that gameplay hours effects my decision to buy a game – sometimes I want a game that I can get wrapped up in, and sometimes I just want to breeze through a game in a weekend. In a perfect world, I would play all the games that caught my eye. But, alas, as the great actor Charlton Heston once famously said on screen, “Soylent Green is people!” No, wait, it was, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape." Ughh. So we can all agree math and movie quotes aren’t my strong suit. Whatever. Here are the top 10 best games I didn’t play this year.
The 10th spot on my list could’ve belonged to many different games. I could have chosen a game from the fighting game genre…something like Mortal Kombat or King of Fighters XIII. I could have chosen a sports game like FIFA 12. I could have chosen Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare 3, but, judging from their appearance on the list, I obviously didn’t. Let’s look at why. MW3 would probably have been my first choice of the two, but only because the franchise, like Madden has done in the football game genre, has all-but become the default leader of multiplayer first-person war shooters. I know the multiplayer community is active and engaging, but I’m too proud to let those 12 year olds make me look like a fool.
But MW3 isn’t the clear choice. This newest Battlefield game is using some flashy new tech in the Frostbite engine, so it looks super-duper pretty. Which do I choose, which do I choose? The answer is neither because I feel like the ref is getting ready to call this match a technical knockout as the genre of multiplayer soldier shooters has been beating the shit out of me with flurry punches for too long, and the blows are coming so fast that I can’t even see them anymore. I’m staggered, and dizzy, and I can’t tell how many FPSs you’re holding up in front of me. All of that said, and somehow, I keep climbing back up the ropes, trying to see that glorious prestige through my swollen eyes. ADRIAN!
I played Assassin’s Creed, Assassin’s Creed 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. How the hell did this game make it on this list? Easy: burnout. I don’t blame Ubisoft for making this game. When a series brings in the dough like AC does, I’m all for the decision to keep giving gamers what they want. But I’ve made the mistake of sticking with a game or franchise too long. I fell in love with Final Fantasy as a kid, and I’ve played many of its more disappointing iterations (seriously, how many sequels, prequels and spinoffs to Final Fantasy VII and Kingdom Hearts do we really need? And what in the name of Ghandi is Theatrhythm Final Fantasy? And do I really want to know? And how ashamed should I feel for kinda wanting to play it?). I’m sure Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is a good game. I’m sure of this because I’ve played the other games in the series, and Revelations, despite its title which would suggest otherwise, doesn’t look like it is going to change the experience enough to keep me coming back. I’m willing to trade in my familiarity with the developments in Desmond’s story in exchange for a long wait while the story gears up for its next jump in setting like it did from AC: 1 to AC:2.
8. Dark Souls
I didn’t play Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls’ 2009 predecessor, but I knew it was considered one of the most difficult – no, punishing – no, insanely unforgiving games of this generation of consoles. Frankly, that scares me. I consider myself an experienced gamer, but without even playing this game, I questioned my ability to complete it. But dangling there in front of me is the possibility of getting a real sense of accomplishment out of a game, knowing I’d done something that others hadn’t or couldn’t. Yeah that sounds nice. Real nice. Yeah, spank me Dark Souls.
Wait. Who am I kidding? I’m only ever going to casually appreciate this game for what it is. I’m okay with knowing that this game deserved a fleeting moment of my attention, but I’m not going to play it. I’m passing on this one because, for some odd reason, the answer to this SAT question is clear to me:
Spreadsheets : Dull :: Video games : ________
C) You don’t need any other options because the answer is A
From what I understand, Michel Ancel made this game look almost as if the concept art had come to life. That seems like an awesome approach to designing a game. Pair the amazing art direction with what reviewers are calling tight and precise controls, and you have me hooked. But am I really willing to overlook what have been some lackluster games from the Rayman-verse? Even if I forget about the Raving Rabbids games (I’m not saying these are bad games, they just aren’t “must buys” for budget-conscious gamers), I still look at this game from the perspective of what I am getting for the price. At 29 years old, my supply of friends who want to get together to play a cartoony, jokey, colorful side-scrolling platformer is somewhat dwindling, so I wouldn’t really get much out of the multiplayer aspect. And I’m not really sure if I see this game living up to other recent high-quality platformers in this aesthetic (ie. LittleBigPlanet). So, while I’m sure I’m probably passing on a great game, to Rayman: Origins, I have to say…
(*switches tabs to watch the Rayman: Origins trailer…again)
Missing The Legend of Zelda: The Skyward Sword saddens me. I really do want to play this game, but there are too many obstacles standing in my way. Unless circumstances drastically change for me, I may never have the chance to play this newest entry in what is one of gaming’s most beloved franchises.
2011 was the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, so if you pay attention to the industry at all, you don’t need me to go into detail about what made the series so great over the years. Suffice it to say, I consider Wind Waker to be my all-time favorite game. Period. And, while Twilight Princess held my attention despite being, what I considered, somewhat underwhelming, I still thought there was life to be squeezed out of future Zelda games. And Skyward Sword might do just that. It might be a great game, though reviews and criticisms seem all over the place. Ultimately, this just comes down to the simple fact that this is a Wii game and a motion-controls game. You can tell me that this might change the way I think about motion controls (yes, I’m looking at Patrick Klepek). You can tell me anything you want about this game. But, like most gamers who would be reading an obscure contributor’s comments about 2011’s top games, the Wii just isn’t for me. I haven’t been interested in a Wii so long that I completely forgot Nintendo even added a Motion Plus attachment to the Wiimote. I haven’t been interested in a Wii so long that I lost my Wii. I haven’t been interested in a Wii so long…okay, that’s getting old. In all seriousness, I’m not about to invest in a game that seems to be teetering on the final seconds of a console’s lifeline, especially if I need to buy a new piece of hardware to even play it. Still, not playing Skyward Sword leaves me feeling like I told an old high school buddy I couldn’t help him move when I very easily could have…I just didn’t want to.
5. L.A. Noire
Like video games, new tech – TVs, cell phones, PCs, etc. – spark the “informed consumer” side of my personality. This stuff is expensive, and no one wants to get burned on something that seems new, fresh and cool but turns out to be a dud that fails to stand up to closer scrutiny. I’m a salesman’s nightmare: the educated, decisive and quick shopper. So, no video game salesman, I don’t want to go ahead and put money down on a pre-order copy of L.A. Noire, even though I’m sure I look like a duder who played the shit out of some Grand Theft Auto.
I felt the same way about L.A. Noire as I would about a new model of a cell phone or some new type of TV, both of which buy as an early adopter. I prefer to let developers work out the bugs in time for the newer, better 2nd generation. The game was obviously gaining considerable attention in the gaming world (it is hard to overlook a game that Tom Bissell reviewed), and its big offering was the revolutionary facial animation technology: motion scan.
I watched some video of the game, and I’m not going to deny how fantastic it looked or argue that this game doesn’t set a new benchmark for facial animations and sophisticated video game storytelling. Critics have applauded the game’s animations and the performances given by the voice actors – the biggest surprise about the voice acting, perhaps, is that Nolan North is not on the cast. But just below the shiny surface of those high review scores and praises, I kept getting an aftertaste of what seemed like some frustrating gameplay elements. Ultimately, the threat of poor driving mechanics, tedious and repetitive scenarios and lack of control or consequences in the story left me turning away, waiting for something more promising to come along. When Team Bondi employees started coming forward about the poor work environment surrounding the development of L.A. Noire, it only solidified my resolve to move on to greener pastures and pass on this game. So, I’ll just sit back, waiting to read about a game that “uses the same facial animation technology developed for L.A. Noire.”
I loved Batman: Arkham Asylum. I’m not a Batman super fan or anything, but I did grow up at a time when Batman: the Animated Series was just about the coolest chiz I’d ever seen. I never read the comics (that is, until I played Arkham Asylum), but Batman has been a cultural phenomenon whose reach extended far beyond the nerdy walls of comic book stores for ages. All of that said, let me reiterate, I loved Batman: Arkham Asylum. Call backs to the Animated Series (the game used many of the voice actors from the 90s show) interspersed with the dark, adult Batman from some -- I repeat, some -- of the movies allowed Rocksteady to strike an emotional chord with their game.
So, I should probably play Arkham City then, right? Yeah. I know I should, and I was completely ready to play it in the months leading up to the game. But when people started playing it and writing about it, I backed away from my excitement. Sure, everyone said the game improved on its predecessor. But were slight tweaks to the combat system, a few new weapons and a larger world to explore really a bright enough bat signal to entice me out of my bat cave and to the mall to fork over my hard-earned cash to jump back into something that was going to feel so similar? Arkham City looks great, and I’ll get around to playing it, but I don’t feel any sense of urgency to run out and buy it now. There are other games out there that I can’t wait to play, so I can hold off until the cheaper Greatest Hits edition to come out.
Under no circumstances would I ever have been interested in Saints Row: The Third as one of my top games of the year. I looked at the series as cornering the niche market of bro-dudes who could be easily tricked into buying any game where open-world mayhem similar to GTA could be found. That’s why I was so surprised when Volition’s third iteration in the series – despite having a weapon’s list that included the Penetrator, a three-foot-long purple dildo attached to a baseball bat handle, and the Fart in a Jar – began to capture the praise of reviewers, journalists and a healthy chunk of the gaming community.
I love that this game is a game. It seems intent on capturing an odd – yet refreshing – brand of entertainment. The mechanics, aesthetic and concept all look to be stripped down to offer gamers a fun, ludicrously insane experience. I love that. But, I couldn’t bring myself to take the plunge to buy this one. Despite all the praise, there was one nagging aspect of the discussion of Saints Row: The Third that kept me from pulling the trigger: the excuses. Each time a reviewer interjected with “…but the asinine humor is self-aware”, or a friend explained “…but it isn’t re-eally just an open-world facsimile with a layer of the absurd”, a part of me felt that they were asking me to look past something – something that would probably bug me just enough to force me to face my old nemesis: buyer’s remorse.
Let’s just get it out there: I didn’t play Skyrim. But I know it belongs on this list. I’ve seen the frenzied popularity of the game. I watched all 12 hours of Giant Bomb’s video feature of Greg Kasavin adventuring through the land of Skyrim. I’ve even watched dozens of other Skyrim videos online (Skyrim - Unarmed Badass Viking Commentary is my personal favorite). I’m very aware of the staggering sales and popularity and the rate at which Bethesda is gobbling up various GOTY awards. If I was creating a profile of the kind of person who would play this game, I – being a male, ages 18-35, and actively interested in gaming and new games – would kinda be the prototype.
But I’m not going to play Skyrim. The only reason I’d play the game would be to participate in the cultural phenomenon, and even then, slogging through the vast landscape, managing inventory, inspecting every nook and cranny and cycling through massive amount of menus and source text would seem like a chore to me despite the undeniably cool concept of becoming a dragon-slaying warrior in an archetypal, but awesome, fantasy land. Since the rise of the Western RPG, I’ve only played a few. The closest I’ve come to a Skyrim-like experience was Fallout 3, and I’m not sure I particularly enjoyed that one. And because Skyrim seems to be the Mt. Everest of Western RPGs, it seems to require a level of commitment that intimidates…no, frightens me. For a lifelong, dedicated gamer, this is simply too much game for me.
All of that being said, I’m glad this game exists and that people like it. Just because it isn’t for me, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the ambition and the scope of the game. I recognize that Skyrim will likely be a benchmark in gaming from here on, and even I think it deserves every GOTY award it receives…hell, I suspect it might be the first and only game to win GOTY in consecutive years.
Looking at what I played and what I didn’t, it was actually easy for me to put this at the top of my list of games I missed. Of all the games I didn’t play, this action/RPG is one I want to pick up the most, appearing to encapsulate everything I love about the genre. Like a sports car, an action/RPG needs to have precision handling, speed and styling for me to really love the experience. The colorful art style – with its spritely character design and unique weapons – coupled with the intriguingly innovative concept of dynamic narration seem to make this a “can’t miss” title.
So why did I miss it?
I wish I had a witty answer to that question. But all I can think of is that as soon as I finish this list, I’m probably going to go grab this off Steam. Man, now I can’t think of anything else…what was I saying? Oh yeah, concluding my list.
And the winner is: Bastion!
(*rushes off to get Bastion on Steam’s Christmas sale)