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Erik Wolpaw's Top 10 Games of 2011

Stare into the mouth of madness of Erik Wolpaw. Looks like a regular mouth, right? Nope. Each of his teeth is wearing a tiny straitjacket, and his tongue thinks it's Grover Cleveland.

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Erik Wolpaw has written or co-written ten games including Psychonauts, the Left 4 Deads, Team Fortress 2, Alien vs. Child Predator, Portal, and Portal 2. He has been recognized by the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry as someone who made a game about an alien who killed registered sex offenders from North Carolina, and he is currently employed at Valve.

10. Elijah

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You know how at Passover Seder you leave an empty seat for Elijah? This is just like that, except replace Passover with this list and the prophet Elijah with the dark knight Batman. In other words, this position is reserved for my huge backlog. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that’d have a decent shot of making this list if I’d actually managed to play it in 2011. Stuff like Arkham City, Dead Space 2, Uncharted 3, Trenched, The Gunstringer, and Rayman: Origins. This is also where I’m putting games I played for 30 great minutes and then my DS broke, although only Ghost Trick falls into that category.


Number nine through number two are basically interchangeable. I’m listing them more or less as they occurred to me. So if you’re angry that "Gavel" is three spots ahead of "Upholstery Hammer", just pretend you pled your swear-filled case in the forum and I was like, yup, that makes a lot of sense, I’m reordering the list and I should probably go fuck myself. So that I don’t ruin the surprise, I took that example from a list I made for a magazine about hammering things. Also, number one is number one. So if you’re mad about that, I can’t help you.

9. Serious Sam 3: BFE

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I love Serious Sam games, and this is a spectacular return to form for Croteam after the pretty lackluster Serious Sam II. I never get why people call Serious Sam "mindless". Other than once a year when I nominate myself for a million dollar MacArthur Genius Grant, I don’t consider myself a genius. So maybe I’m an idiot, but I’m thinking all the time when I play Serious Sam. About weapon selection, ammo supplies, enemy wave management. And I’m doing all of that thinking under serious time pressure as huge packs of monsters sprint towards me. You know what? Screw it. Serious Sam 3 is the thinking man’s first-person shooter.

8. God Hand

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It’s the best game of all time and it got re-released on the PSN store this year and so it qualifies for this list. Don’t like that? Maybe you should take it up with the International Criminal Court. Also, if it’s the best game ever, why isn’t it #1 on the list? Maybe you could ask the warden of International Criminal Jail, where you’re probably spending the rest of your life after lodging your earlier frivolous complaint that made the International Criminal Court so mad.

7. Sonic Generations

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Other than last year’s amazing list of the Top 10 Hottest Female Sonic Characters, it’s been a long dry stretch for this franchise. But, man, Generations is the perfect blend of nostalgia and sensible updates. A great, great gamey game.

6. Bastion

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It’s on everybody’s list because holy crap it’s good. Supergiant crafted a game that feels totally complete, as if no corners were cut. It’s a really spectacular example of designing around the constraints of a small team. Great writing, acting, and a stirring soundtrack as well.

5. (tie): Zettai Hero Project: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman/Cladun X2

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Technically, ZHP came out in late 2010, but bear with me here. For the first four months of this year, I spent a ton of time travelling all over the place promoting Portal 2. It was a tiring, lonely, and generally all around anxiety-producing experience. These two PSP games saw me through a lot of long plane flights, train rides, and hotel stays. NIS America is famous for publishing high-personality grind fests like the amazing Disgaea series, and these are both great examples of that tradition. For some reason, I can only play these types of games on portable systems, which is why the new Disgaea didn’t rank. Anyway, these two are inextricably linked in my head to the craziness surrounding the release of Portal 2, and so, bam, there you go. They’re on the list.

4. Driver: San Francisco

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If this was a “Heroes of Game Writing” list, Driver: SF would be number one. It’s a game writer’s nightmare scenario: We need you to revive a basically dead franchise and also we need you to explain why the main character can suddenly fly and also he can possess people and also it still needs to be a serious police procedural and also you can’t get out of the car. The writers not only managed to deal with these constraints, they thrived under them. Driver’s writing is clever and funny while still taking its absurd core premise seriously enough to carry you through a ten hour story. Plus, the game is really fun. I expected nothing from Driver and was blown away.

3. (tie) Dungeons of Dredmor/The Binding of Isaac

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Another tie! Only this time it’s because these two polished, excellent, accessible, funny rogue-likes have kind of fused in my memory. That means it’s possible one of them is carrying the other, but I’m pretty sure they were both great. Look, some of my fondest life memories are much, much hazier than the vague, pleasant impression of gathering loot and dying a lot that these games left me with.

2. Saints Row: The Third

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If Valve ever cans me, I’m going to show up at Volition begging for a job, because Saints Row seems like it’d be a huge amount of fun to work on. Instead of coming up with a brand new description, I’m gonna repurpose something I wrote about GTA in 2005:

“When I was a kid, I was fascinated by a really detailed fake ad in National Lampoon for a ghetto train set. I was too young to realize that it was a joke, so every Christmas I'd beg my parents to buy it for me. Eventually, my parents went broke and we moved to a real ghetto. Time passed, and a bunch of stuff happened, like I got a job selling hot dogs and a chronic illness. Just when my life seemed to be winding down to its painful, embarrassing conclusion, Rockstar actually released the detailed ghetto train set of my childhood dreams. It was a Christmas miracle. The end.”

Anyway, that all applies quadruple to Saints Row: The Third. Volition made the smart choice to embrace the violent absurdity inherent to the open world, clockwork-city crime genre. And they didn’t just embrace it, they penetrated it with a giant purple dildo etc etc. For me, the biggest sin a game can commit is to be bland, and whatever else you might say about Saints Row, it’s not bland.

1. Dark Souls

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Number one. By a mile. I loved Demon’s Souls, and I love Dark Souls even more. It has a great, original sense of place, a spectacularly tense risk/reward structure, and the best melee combat of all time. No other game makes me feel like I’m actually smashing things with a 50-pound hammer. It also has a very scary giant bird and a uniquely weird vibe. It feels like anything could happen at any moment, and I love that feeling. One of my favorite games, period.

Special Achievement: Conduit 2

I didn’t actually play Conduit 2, but I did watch the incredible ending on youtube. If they follow through with the promise they make in that scene, Conduit 3 is my most anticipated game of the decade.