It took me a long time to decide to even do this article. After looking over the games I have played over the past year, I felt it was needed. Maybe not even for you the reader, so much as it is for myself. Make no mistake there have been a ton of good games out there this year, however the truly great games aren’t as easy to spot. This of course is a list of games that I personally feel are the best that you can find. Take into account though that I do not have a powerful PC, nor do I play a lot of games on portable systems, or really ANYTHING on my Wii. The majority of these games still sit on my shelf and I feel strongly enough about each to include them here. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my opinions, but they are mine. Having said all that, let the flame war begin.
10. Shadows of the Damned – At first I wasn’t even going to include this game. However, given it’s insane premise and the utter lack of mainstream recognition it got, I felt it warranted a spot. While Shadows may not be remembered as the best game of the year, it will be remembered as easily the most approachable of all the Suda-51 “trips”. Shadows may not have the best name in the world, but damn if the lead character doesn’t. And that name is Garcia “fucking” Hotspur. As the lead character you are tasked with rescuing your girlfriend from the clutches of “The Lord Of Demons” who goes by the name “Flemming”. Along the way you are helped out by your trusty talking, motorcycle transforming, big boner inducing, ex-demon, Johnson. If you never checked it out, and you can find it, this game is totally worth seeing, if for nothing else than to hear “dick jokes” pulled off surprisingly well.
9. Mortal Kombat – Long gone are the days when I had the time, or opportunity, to venture to a local arcade and pop quarters into a machine all day just to have fun with MK. Luckily the guys over at Nether Realms realized I am not alone, and made a fantastic fighting game for the home consoles. With a slew of returning characters and a few new ones (including some decent DLC characters) the roster is filled with pretty much everyone you would want from the series. Battling friends on the couch is easy and most enjoyable. While getting an online match may take some doing for both parties involved, it makes for a fun experience as well. The biggest surprise to be found however is that the story mode in Mortal Kombat is easily the best of any fighting game out there. By getting the players into the shoes of just about every character available, if subtlety teaches you how to control a character you may never have played before. That combined with an actual story that is worth seeing through makes MK an easy pick for this list.
8. Uncharted 3 - Drake’s third installment in the sprawling action adventure game that is Uncharted, is one of epic proportions. I was a huge fan of the second and probably would have given it all the awards I could have. Unfortunately Uncharted 3 suffers a bit because of 2′s success. Uncharted 3 has amazing set pieces and takes Drake to more exotic locales yet again. All of which look amazing. The cast of characters all play well together, as well as play off each other. The banter between Drake and Sully is nothing short of life-like. The one place that Uncharted 3 suffers is the shooting sequences. Forced to pick off dudes over and over because the AI is brutally stealthy even in the most bombastic of gun fights is a hard pill to swallow again and again. That being said, I never once gave up or was forced to ratchet down the difficulty, but the tarnish that the fights put on the rest of the game is no less diminished either. Uncharted 3 is a wonderful game and should be played if you have been keeping up with Drake’s previous adventures.
7. Batman Arkham City – The Dark Knight is back and boy does he have a chip on his shoulder. Arkham City takes the proven formula of Arkham Asylum and kicks it up a notch. With a much bigger setting and the “feeling” of an open world, you glide your way around Arkham City laying waste to all those thugs that talk smack about you when they don’t know you are right behind them. There are more villains to defeat, more side quests to finish, and a whole hell of a lot of Riddler trophies to find. Touted as a key component in the game Catwoman makes her debut as a playable character this time around but feels more like something that could have been left out entirely. The city is busting at the seams with things to do, but the main story still funnels you into hallways and buildings to really do all the dirty work that you know Batman has to do. Combat is still as simple or as hard as you would like to make it. Combos are beefed up with new special moves, and more gadgets to use makes it less repetitive and more open to putting your own spin on things. The ending of the game is also way better than I could have imagined it being, for several reasons.
6. Forza 4 – The simple fact that a racing game is on my list at all, should be a pretty clear indication of how much I enjoyed (and still am enjoying) playing Forza 4. I couldn’t go down a list of all the technical differences between this an the prior releases of Forza, except to say that this one looks phenomenal. From the presentation, to the in game models, and even the way that you interact with the “Auto-Vista” stuff, this game looks great. However, looks aren’t everything. If a racing game doesn’t handle well it may as well be a coaster. Forza 4 manages to make a guy that could care less about cars in general, an enthusiast. Driving mechanics and sense of speed will grab your eyeballs and force you to pay attention to your surroundings and competitors in order to squeak by for the win or just shave a 10th of a second off your time. Forza has a thriving community behind it as well as in charge of it and for that reason you can expect to see people playing Forza 4 well after the other big releases have gone by the wayside.
5. Bastion – I’ve heard people say that Bastion is just one gimmick after another, and that it did nothing that other games haven’t done before it. I disagree whole-heartedly. Having a reactionary narrator actually tell the story of the game as you play it, is no gimmick. Nor is reconstructing a destroyed world or the world literally rising up to meet your feet. These, usually dull and lifeless gimmicks are as much a character in the world of Bastion as “The Kid”. Bastion’s story and the way it is told to the player is second to almost none. There aren’t many games out there that force you to make hard decisions and then make you deal with the consequences of your actions. The end of Bastion is not to be spoiled, or missed. As downloadable titles go, it is easily the best one out there.
4. Dance Central 2 - Wait, a driving game and a dancing game? Yup. Dance Central was a fun launch title for the Kinect. Dance Central 2 took that idea and made it much more enjoyable and much easier to get in to. With the additions of a progressive, albeit thin story, and two player simultaneous dancing, DC2 was great for new comers as well as returning players. Dance Central 2 has the ability to create a true party situation in your home. Gather a bunch of friends together, put on Baby Got Back and watch the fun create itself. There are a lot of dancing games on the market right now but really only one that makes you actually FEEL like you are dancing. Dance Central 2 taught me that I actually do have rhythm. It also taught me all the moves to Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” … finally.
3. Portal 2 – The First Portal game was great for a myriad of reasons, but it felt like something that couldn’t be duplicated. Most people going into Portal 2 were excited to be there but really had no clue how they could possibly be as happy with the second as the first. The biggest surprise was that Portal 2 may actually out shine its predecessor. While the initial set up for the story is a bit strained, especially if you had only ever played the console version of the original, the rest of the story plays out with a silky smoothness. Though the original cast of characters are here again, what truly shines are the additions of Wheatly, a “personality sphere”, and of course the incomparable Cave Johnson. If anyone in the game were to be said to “steal the spotlight” it was Johnson. His narration of the test chambers and their connective conduits are told through pre-recorded dialog that speaks to you from a time long forgotten but still manages to create a vivid picture to the player. Glados still manages to be a character that you will have a love/hate relationship with but it’s one that feels familiar and easy to settle back into. Valve also made a couple new toys to play with while you make your way through the now degraded and decaying insides of the Aperature Science facility. Each of these new items adds a new wrinkle to puzzle solving along the way and does a lot to keep the puzzles from feeling stale or rehashed. Portal 2 has a pretty definitive ending that doesn’t seem to allow for a continuation of the story, however, that was probably said of the first game, as well.
2. Skyrim - Here’s the deal with Skyrim; I feel weird giving it such a high spot on the countdown because I have played so little of it (waiting for the next patch to the patch). However, the time I have sunk into the game already (about 20hrs) was sufficient enough to let me know where a LARGE quantity of my time will be spent over the next year. It took me about 100+ hours before I even approached finishing Oblivion, and I suspect that Skyrim will be no different. Aside from the usual Bethesda issues with their open world games, Skyrim is a vast improvement over Oblivion. The UI is much more streamlined and easier to use as a whole. Improved combat, magic, and character interactions all make Skyrim feel much more natural and less like talking and interacting with robots. Skyrim at first looks like a much smaller land than the previous games but upon investigating the actual world you soon realize just how expansive, and how densely populated it truly is. Hours upon hours can be lost simply by thinking “Oh, I’ll just go to this spot.” Only to find yourself lured away by the prospect of finding new caves, towns, and castles to explore. Also, fucking Dragons. Possibly the biggest (literally) addition to the Elder Scrolls universe are the dragons. While some of the encounters are scripted, the ones that matter the most, are not. The first time I was climbing a hillside and had a giant dragon descend upon me I freaked out! It’s a feeling of panic and dread that few games can recreate as easily. Seeing as how much I enjoyed the relatively short amount of time I have spent in game, it’s easy to see that my next big obsession will be Skyrim and all that is held with in its boarders.
1. Saints Row: The Third – I spent a lot of time deliberating with myself over if putting a Saints Row game as my top spot made sense in any universe. The answer came to me when I realized that I had spent almost 30 hours in The Third with out even realizing it. In a video game market where everyone is clamoring to make games as real and as immersive as possible, Saints Row The Third says “Fuck That!” and just lets you have fun. As I stated in my review this is the one and only “open world” game that I have finished. As your ease your way into the mission structure and the story, you are given a multitude of weapons and gadgets to experiment with. All of which are completely enjoyable. As you finish the story proper, you should be just about at max level. In a normal game this is where things break down, and normally you are given now real incentive (or chance sometimes) to keep going post story mode. Saints Row again breaks that tradition and allows you to go right back to work and tie up loose ends. At max level, with the money flowing, you have the ability through perks to become invincible. It’s way more satisfying than it may sound. Being able to jump out of a car and literally hold the trigger down until everyone is dead is awesome. Why not take your VTOL jet as high as you possibly can and jump out, never opening a parachute. Don’t worry about hitting the ground, your character will just jump up and shake it off like nothing. Saints Row The Third is so utterly ridiculous that it makes you wish more games out there would just get back to being fun first, and winning awards for story and writing second. Having said that, the story is really well done, too. Even with the most crazy things popping off around the Saints they take it in stride while still acknowledging that, yes in fact, that was pretty nuts. SR3 isn’t afraid to have fun no matter the cost, and that is respectable. A pimp that speaks through a “talk box” and everything is “auto-tuned”. Singing the ENTIRE song “What I Got” from Sublime in character. Calling down predator missiles in the second mission. None of this is out of place in Steelport. Don’t let the previous games or the fact that “Whored Mode” is offered to you right up front, skew your view of this game. Saints Row The Third is like the best action movie ever made. Though it will probably never win the awards it should, it will be well respected by everyone that has experienced it.