11 games for 2011. My list of this year's most favorite games. Otherwise known as "the wall of text". I'm sorry.
11 games for 2011. My list of this year's most favorite games. Otherwise known as "the wall of text". I'm sorry.
I don't know what happened, but over the last week (maybe more) it's become cool to hate on Skyrim. Whatever the case, I'm not onboard with these hipster shenanigans because I've put about 80 hours into this game and had a blast--and I'm not planning on stopping anytime soon. See, I understand that the game is busted but for what it's worth it is not as busted as any of Bethesda's previous games. That's something, right? Now, there are these people who are of the opinion that this game CANNOT win GOTY because of the fact that the PS3 version is absolutely unplayable. That's a fair opinion and I really feel for those people that rely on just a PS3 to play their games; I mean, the game still costs 60 bucks and you expect a working game for that money. That said, what strikes me as odd is the fact that usually the PC port of a fantastic console game is the version that's broken. And usually people accept that fact and don't feel sour when such a game still receives very high praise. So what's different this time?
Anyway, Skyrim (I'm playing the PC version, by the way) is the single-most immersive experience I've had this year and it's just a fantastic game top to bottom. That's not to say that it's without flaws (apart from the technical ones). One of the things I really feel Bethesda needs to improve upon is character development or just general character dialogue. I mean, most characters in the world feel absolutely generic and forgettable.
Wait, just hear me out. No, I know, I know. Just... Okay.
I've thought long and hard about this game and whether or not it belongs on my list. When I decided that it did belong on it I thought even harder about whether or not it was insane to put it in the number two spot. Eventually I agreed with myself that it did. Let me explain.
Of the games I played this year Dragon Age II is the most disappointing by far. A ringing endorsement, I know. It's just that I absolutely loved Dragon Age: Origins. To me that's one of the best examples of a game that perfectly balances implementing lessons learned in gameplay design in the last two decades without sacrificing depth in its mechanics, it's story development, character development, overall length, etcetera. Dragon Age II throws a lot of DA:O's brilliance overboard and takes a Mass Effect-esque approach to its design. This is immediately evident from the inclusion of the dialogue wheel. Not that that's bad, it's actually a very good design choice that really benefits the flow of dialogue. What strikes me as the most divisive imported aspect is the fact that the player now a more fixed character in the guise of Hawke. Where in the previous game the player could choose his or her own name, this time you're part of the Hawke family. While that may not seem like such a big deal, the thing is that your family is actually there with you; Hawke travels with her brother, sister and her mother and even lives with her uncle for a while. This greatly affects the space for role-playing in DAII. Your character comes with a very much present and immediate history and a defined personality (even when you get to choose between different types of responses to situations) because of the proximity of her family. In other words, where DA:O allows more player freedom because the character's history is vague, distant and hardly ever confronts the player in whatever is going on at the time, DAII anchors the player in a particular historical narrative that is rendered present by the very fact that that history is embedded and embodied by particular characters that come along with the player on his or her journey. Whatever your judgment may be on this particular aspect of DAII, it cannot be denied that it allows for a more focussed narrative form and enables a form of storytelling that's more directed but also makes the player feel much more involved with whatever is going on in the world.
This aspect is also carried forward by the limiting of the player-agency. In fact, even though the player gets to make tons of choices along the way, the most important story beats are initiated by NPCs who are, more often than not, in Hawke's own party. Whereas it is common for RPGs to let the player initiate most events and make the player responsible for the formation of the opinions held by most NPCs, here, in DAII, you sometimes feel at the mercy of those you thought you could "trust". More often than not, the player is swept away, carried forward, by events beyond his or her control. Mostly, I've come to like this about DAII but then the Anders event happened and I hated it. Fuck that guy.
Of course, the most jarring thing about DAII is the lack of variation in the environment. The same dungeons and areas are used over and over again and not even in a prefab kinda way but literally the same dungeons. You even have to go to the exact same locations! It just feels rushed. This feeling is strengthened by the fact that the music is rushed as well. For example, Fenris has his own character theme while none of the other characters have one. Clearly, the intent was to write a theme for all party members. I read an interview with Inon Zur (the guy who wrote the music of DA:O and DAII) where he flat out stated that the score was unfinished due to time constraints. This is just plain bad.
So why is this game my number 2 game of this year? While the combat is more shallow than its predecessor, I feel DAII did a lot to make it feel more interesting by speeding it up and making it more flashy (yes, shallow indeed); it just looks cool and towards the end of the game the combat gave me a real sense of being a badass just wrecking fools! Also, I feel the artistic style is far more pronounced and memorable than DA:O's generic fantasy style; It's really a step up for the series and I hope they'll retain it for DAIII. But the most important reasons for me to really like this game lies with what the writers did with the characters. The character development is just fantastic in this game. You really feel like your party members are actual people with their own hopes and dreams and their own distinct personalities. Combined with a top-notch voice acting crew and you have characters that are both memorable and very lovable. But that's not all, what I absolutely loved about DAII is the dialogue; it's just really well-written. DAII takes dialogue a step further by including a ton of random dialogue that occurs between party members. To be clear, it's not like in Mass Effect that one of your party members just remarks something, or in Mass Effect 2 that you have to select a dialogue location (sunset on Ilium, anyone?) to make dialogue between character happen. No, in DAII you're just running around in the world and suddenly two of your party members will just start to, you know, talk. More often than not they're actually bickering or exchanging snide remarks; it's absolutely fantastic and just doesn't get old.
Like Skyrim, this game is very flawed but it entertained me to the end. Let's just say that a very disappointing game from the DA team is still a very good game.
While I feel the first Portal game had a much more profound impact on me, this second installment is without a doubt a stellar experience and just a very polished and magnificent game. Fantastic!
Zelda games are good games. This we know to be true. That said, there is always a strong divide when it comes to which of the Zelda games you prefer over others. Let me just say that from the polygonal era I enjoyed Twilight Princess the most with Majora's Mask a close second. Am I crazy? Perhaps. It's just that I really connected with Midna's character in Twilight Princess and felt Nintendo finally nailed it with giving Link's guiding character a real personality.
Anyway, while I think TP is the superior Zelda experience available on the Wii, there's just no denying that what the developers did for Skyward Sword is anything less than outstanding. The implementation of motion controls is one of the best available for the system, the game mechanics are very accessible without feeling boring after a couple of hours and some of things they do with the art style for certain environments is just fantastic.
One of the major drawbacks in this game, for me anyway, is the fact that I feel that this game is just too brown. There's just so much desert and flying above the clouds is one drab and brown experience. Whereas Wind Waker's overworld was very blue and could be monotonous, it was very vibrant. Skyward Sword doesn't have that. Flying around the overworld felt like a chore and there was hardly anything interesting to look at. That said, just jumping of one the islands and whistling for the bird to come felt amazing every time!
I love Lewis Carroll's Alice and I love American McGee's rendition of this character and world.
This Alice fiction zooms in on the darker, more hidden, tones of Carroll's masterpiece without forgetting the crazy. Alice: Madness Returns is not for everyone, though. Each world feels about a quarter too long, the platforming sequences can become tedious as well as the combat. That said, I'm just in love with the art direction in this game and Alice's character model is just fantastically rendered. JUST LOOK AT THAT HAIR!
Call me crazy, but for me one of the most satisfying experiences in this game is Alice's triple-jump-into-float ability which causes the camera to slightly tilt on its axis. It's such a subtle but very present and distinct effect. That and Alice's dash ability that turns her into butterflies are just two amazing (yet simple) effects I could look at all day and made playing this game an absolute joy to play.
You know, I somewhat disagreed with the dismissive tone of the GB crew on some of their talks on U3. I mean, yeah, I had more fun with U2 and am convinced that that was just an overall better game, but U3 delivered on every front and was just absolutely a fantastic experience. Yes, I knew what I was in for and yes they hit the same notes they did with U2, that just doesn't mean it's not one of the best games put out this year. Because it is.
When it comes to first and third person shooters, I have to say that Dead Space 2 offered the most compelling experience for me, this year. Not only do the weapons feel very satisfying, Dead Space 2's art direction is outstanding and its narrative is just top notch for the genre. Loved it!
I don't like racing games. I love Dirt 3. The racing feels fantastic, the tracks and cars look amazing, and the music and presentational style are second to none.
If there is one complaint I have about this game it is the fact that I think there are just too many Gymkhana events and too few straight up rally races.
A wise man once said "more safari, less track". It's like that, kinda, just maybe in reverse. Or not at all.
OI, IT'S THE SHPOICE MUHREENS!
The only downloadable game to make my list this year, and for a good reason. The presentational visual and vocal style combined with an excellent combat system makes this just a very good game; downloadable or otherwise.
You know, everything about this game is just excellent. It's very well-made and just a top-notch product. That said, I just can't help but feel that Arkham Asylum was just better. This is largely due to the fact that I felt the environments in AA were just more coherent and compelling to me. I also loved the mystery surrounding the Asylum which was slowly revealed through Amadeus Arkham's recordings that could be found in the most unexpected places.
Don't get me wrong, Batman: Arkham City is still an excellent game, but I just didn't connect with it like I did with Arkham Asylum. That's the reason this game get's an honorable mention but falls just outside my top ten for 2011.
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