So please be aware reading this that I haven't played every game to be released this year, but you can bet your ass that there were some amazing games that I loved. And I'm going to count them down, and throw in some other fun shit along the way. So here's the year of 2011 in gaming, as determined by I, Enigma Bigglesworth VanNoLastNameInParticular.
The Golden Soap Bar Awards for the Best Games of the Year
#5: Dead Space 2
A lot of people (Or to be more specific, very few people since not that many people really follow my work here, let's be honest) seem to think that I "hate" the Dead Space games for not being scary. And that's only half-true. I hate how unscary the Dead Space games are. I hate their cheap jump-scare tactics, the way they half-heartedly rip off of concepts and scenarios from superior sci-fi horror such as Alien and Event Horizon, how it's setting a standard for modern survival horror games despite using the cheapest and easiest horror tactics imaginable, you get the gist.
So yeah, I still didn't think that Dead Space 2 worked as a fantastic horror experience. However, I did think Dead Space 2 was a fantastic game. With lots of fun shooting that made great use of strategic dismemberment; amazing set-piece moments that were some of the most thrilling and exciting since Uncharted 2; and a plot that, despite still lifting concepts from Event Horizon and Aliens (And a little bit of Bioshock, believe it or not), was more intriguing than it had any right to be.
Is it scary? No. But is it still a well-paced, incredibly fun, highly enjoyable sci-fi shooter?Absolutely.
#4: Gears of War 3
While most shooters offer up an amazing multiplayer experience hindered by a mediocre campaign and an almost non-existent co-op mode, Gears of War 3 is the full-blown deal. The frenetic and insane multiplayer is exactly what you'd expect, and remains as incredibly addictive as before, but every single other mode wasn't given the short shrift either. Co-op is ridiculously fun with a new and improved Horde mode that features more strategic tower-defense elements and chaotic boss waves, and a newly added Beast mode that lets you take control of the enemies with a vastly varied array of the different playstyles to choose from.
The most surprising aspect, however, was the campaign. Despite still having the usual Gears flaws, like the meathead dialogue and the overwhelmingly gray/brown color palette, the plot is much stronger this time around. For one thing, it actually makes sense and you can actually follow what's going on in some way or another. Another thing, Epic did a surprising job of making the characterizations stronger, thus leading to some emotional moments that I would've never expected out of a Gears game. It also helps that there are lots of varied set-pieces to keep the action interesting throughout.
So when it comes to getting the full circle, Gears 3 was by far the most satisfying title of the year.
#3: Batman: Arkham City
I liked Arkham Asylum a lot, but it didn't really click with me the same way it did everyone else. This sequel however, was an amazing single-player experience. With two playable characters that offer up variety, and a wonderful balance of intense stealth, ridiculously fluid brawling combat, and a ridiculously huge amount of content in a large open world, the entire experience just clicks even more. Probably the biggest improvement is the story, which, unlike the first game, doesn't involve a cliche plot to release a bunch of chemicals. There are a surprising amount of twists and turns that turn up, including a really ballsy move at the end involving the deaths of two really major characters in the Batman fiction. All in all, an unforgettable experience filled with really fun gameplay and an incredibly interesting plot.
#2: Portal 2
To give you all a little backstory here: I love the first Portal to death. How much do I love it? How about putting it at #2 of my favorite games of all time? To say that I was hyped about this game is a massive understatement. But there was still the looming possibility that it could've sucked. Sure it was still Valve making it, and those guys can do no wrong in my book, but part of what made the first Portal so wonderful was how self-contained and compact in length it was, and making a full-blown sequel at full price could've ruined it by stretching it out until reaching its tedium point.
So when I finally beat it and it actually ended up exceeding my expectations, I was pretty much ready to marry the game already. The puzzles are even more brilliant than ever, the dialogue funnier than ever thanks to fantastic vocal performances from Ellen McLain, Stephen Merchant, and J.K. Simmons ("I don't want your damn lemons!"), and the newly added co-op so incredibly rewarding. My one gripe is that while the dialogue is stronger than ever, the actual plot is a bit on the simplistic side, taking away the subtle Kubrick-ian horror elements of the first game, as well as the beautiful simplicity. But it's hard to complain when the dialogue is this well-written, and I'm laughing my ass off at every minute of the game. It's just as good if not better than the predecessor. And that's saying a lot.
#1: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Oh. My. God.
This game is so good I can live in it. In fact, that's what I've been doing the past month or so. Every chance I can get, I'll just play this game non-stop, 12+ hours straight and absorb myself into its world.
Fanboy gushing aside, I wasn't the biggest fan of Oblivion but Fallout 3 is another one of my favorite games of all time. Except while I think Portal 2 equaled its predecessor in quality, Skyrim completely blows every other game Bethesda has ever made out of the water with a fully upgraded FUS DO RAH (Slap me in the face for that joke, please). The world is so rich in detail and lore, the glitches aren't as obtrusive as previous Bethesda games, the gameplay is insanely balanced--truly allowing you to play your own way with stealth, bows, two-handed blades, magic, the like--, and the amount of content is staggering.
Skyrim is a god damn masterpiece of a game, and no amount of arrow in the knee jokes can ever ruin that for me.
Honorable Mentions: Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Catherine
The Flaming Cowpat Award For Most Piece of Sh*t Game of the Year
TIE: Duke Nukem Forever & Bodycount
"That's right. Just try to write something about why you're so great. Just try. Because you can't. You know why? Because you suck. You suck so much, Duke. Hail to the king, my ass."
I'm always careful with my gaming purchases, so there's not a single game that I've ever bought that I would ever say is bad (I'd always try a demo or borrow it for a friend before seeing if it's worth a purchase or not when I could). So this isn't so much a "Worst game of the year" award so much as a "worst demo of the year" award, and this year there were two fucking awful demos.
First and foremost: Duke Nukem Forever. Now, I'm not going to beat the dead horse of "We waited 12 years for this?!", because I never really cared that much about Duke to begin with, but I do have to sympathize with the ones who truly felt that way. The targeting was so laughably sticky and awkward to control, and the fact that the textures were so horrendously ugly that you couldn't tell anything apart made shooting things that much worse. The humor is simply not funny. Plain and simple. Duke's poor attempts at modernizing his '90s sense of humor don't even count as attempts. We still get terrible pop culture references to old shit no one cares about (You're still making Olsen twins references? Really?), but added into the mix are terrible internet memes ("Uh...PROFIT!") because God knows we haven't had enough of those. And if the terribleness of the game doesn't sink in on you at first, don't worry because you'll have plenty of time to let it sink in while the ridiculously long loading screens break up the action like a bulldozer breaks up a retirement home.
Up next is Bodycount, and I remember some of the things that the developers said while the game was still in production. Things along the lines of "Oh, we're not doing cover-based bullshit, we're not doing space-armor bullshit, we're not doing any gimmicky bullshit at all. It's just you and your gun, and you can shoot pretty much god damn ANYTHING in the game and it will have an effect". I was skeptical of course, but hey, considering how horrendously Duke went out, it would've been nice to see a fun, arcade-y throwback in the vein of Serious Sam or Painkiller that wanted nothing more than to let yourself hang loose and have fun obliterating guys with massive guns. And indeed, it would've been fun if any of the controls were worth a damn.
Generic brown favela environments all wrapped around generic enemies that can be obliterated to bits, but only through generic weapons. Even worse is that it's claim that it "wasn't about cover" was a complete lie because instead of an ironsight system, in its place is an awkward zoomed-in "lean" mechanic that you hold while crouched behind cover, that allows you to pop out in any angle you want, but considering the destructibility of everything, is made completely useless. Plus you can't move while in lean mode so if you just want to really zoom in on an enemy, you'd have to do it while lying prone so either way you're a bullet sponge.
If I had to pick which one was worse, I'd have to go with Bodycount, but Duke Nukem's horrid humor allows it to share the spot with Bodycount's horrendous gameplay. Because sharing is caring, folks.
The Diamond Killstreak Award For Best Multiplayer Experience of the Year
Short version: Military shooters usually bore me to tears. Long version: In a medium that is oversaturated with military shooters, it's almost impossible to stand out in a septic tank of gray, brown color palettes and funny Russian and/or Middle Eastern accents. That being said, Battlefield 3 is one of the most fun shooters of the year. Not because it has some of the smoothest controls you can possibly want in an FPS, which it has. Not because the multiplayer is filled with a vast amount of unlocks that'll have you playing for ages, which it has. The other big FPS release this year, Modern Warfare 3, had all these things as well, but that ended up being yet another boring corridor twitch-shooter. What made Battlfield 3 so fun?
What makes Battlefield 3 stand out from the pack is the strategy. Whereas most shooters are strictly in the confines of small corridors, the battles in Battlefield 3 are huge, open, and massive. Combined with the inclusion of numerous vehicles, there's a level of strategy that is incredibly rewarding when playing with a good team that no other shooter does nearly as well. The only reason why it isn't ranked in my top 5 list is because the campaign is very mediocre and rather poorly done, but Battlefield 3 is still one of the best multiplayer experiences of the year.
The Silver Points-Card Award For Best Downloadable Game of the Year
Granted, I haven't played any other downloadable games this year aside from Trenched/Iron Brigade, which I haven't played enough of to really have a full opinion on. But Bastion really is a quality game. Fun combat with a nice use of RPG elements and upgrades that are deep enough to offer strategy but not overwhelming enough to distract you from the real meat of the game, an interesting and fully-realized mythology with some great world-building that is slowly revealed through gameplay rather than cutscenes, and what is literally one of the sexiest-sounding narrators in the history of anything ever. Seriously, the man's voice is like a man's chocolate-dipped fingers massaging your earholes while the sounds of Scarlett Johannson's orgasms fill-up the background noise...sorry what was I talking about?
Oh yes, the plot wasn't as good as I had heard, but it has a killer of an ending that is strangely beautiful and heart-warming in a really strange way. It also helps that the game is incredibly vibrant both in visuals and sound design, with a wonderfully inventive art design and great music. While I do agree with some that it's kind of overrated, it's still a hell of an experience that really does feel unlike anything else I've played. And on that regard, it does deserve mad props.
The Stripper With A Heart of Gold Award For Most Underrated Game of the Year
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
Crikey, I haven't bought that many games this year. So as such, I wasn't able to put in a "Best Downloadable" or "Best DLC" award this time because I haven't played that many, but I would love to turn your attention to a demo that I played that I wholeheartedly fell in love with.
I am not over-exaggerating when I'm saying that El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is one of the most gorgeous, soothing, zen experiences I'd ever had with a game, and all I played was a 20 minute demo. The art direction is flawlessly inventive with rich, abstract environments and a gorgeous, painterly style (And from what I've heard, it constantly switches numerous other styles along the way too). The sound design is moody and atmospheric, creating a surreal sense of calm that feels unlike anything else I'd ever experienced in a game. And the combat just has this strange rhythmic energy to it that feels as soothing as the back and forth of the waves in the background of a Hawaiian sunset.
All this culminates to a truly zen-like experience. The game grabs you in this trance and doesn't let go, and I would love more than anything to play the full game and give the developers who made this game the money they deserve.
The "YOU THREW A SHARK AT AN AIRPLANE!" Award For Most Bat-Sh*t Insane Game of the Year
Calling Catherine crazy doesn't do the game justice. Between anthropomorphic sheep, nightmare monsters that try to eat you with their anuses, block pushing puzzles, and regular trivia about numerous alcoholic beverages, Catherine is another one of those games that's unlike anything else you'll ever experience. It should also be noted that, even though it isn't entirely as deep as it thinks it is, it's probably the first game to look at sexuality in a mostly mature way (anus monsters aside). Combined with a story that goes through tons of crazy twists and turns throughout, Catherine is sheer madness from beginning to end, and it's hard to put down.
The Nathan Drake-Approved Award For Coolest Moment Of The Year
Dead Space 2
Dead Space 2 has a ton of amazing and epic set-piece moments that really ratchet up the action, but the one that surprisingly stuck out the most was a small but incredibly tense moment involving Isaac having to use an eye-needle machine (for reasons that aren't incredibly clear, but hey, it's a cool moment, shut up). Having to guide the needle into the iris of Isaac's eye proves difficult as he starts twitching out, making it hard to center. As the needle gets closer and closer, you just hope to god that he doesn't fuck it all up for himself. Even better is when you see what happens when you fail. It's a surprisingly, incredibly tense moment in what is usually not a scary game (Okay I'll shut up now!).
The "What Is This, I Don't Even" Award For Most Ridiculously Contrived Moment Of The Year
Modern Warfare 3
Imagine yourself in Infinity Ward's shoes. Your lead designers have left the company due to your publisher's douchebaggery, you're stuck making the sequel without them, your last game had a controversial scene in which the player could massacre an airport full of civilians, and despite a recent big win for "games are art" and free-speech at the Supreme Court, your medium is still under close scrutiny, especially after some douchebag in Oslo, Norway decided to go on a shooting rampage at a daycare center and call your game part of his (exact wording, here) "training simulation".
So what do you do? Make the controversial scene even more tasteless, manipulative, and contrived, of course! So you decide to, in a cutscene rather than an interactive segment like the airport scene, depict the death of a child in the most egregiously tasteless depiction of the death of a child you can possibly think up in a Modern Warfare game: Blowing her up. BECAUSE WE WANT OUR INDUSTRY TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AS AN ART FORM! THIS WILL TOTALLY HELP, RIGHT GUYS!!....Guys?!......guys?.....gais....
The Cyanide Ice-Cream Award For Most Disappointing Game of the Year
Okay, let's get one thing perfectly straight: I really liked L.A. Noire. But there were lots of crippling flaws that kept it from greatness. The facial animations: Awesome. The voice acting: Awesome. The attention to detail in its recreation of late 40s/early 50s Los Angeles: Awesome. The Story: Awesome until the ending makes you realize you didn't really have much of a connection with the characters at all. But that's okay. The Sandbox: Aweso--no, scratch that, there isn't really much to do in the open world, which is such a shame considering how much detail was put into it. The Shooting: Awe--no, wait, that's actually kinda crap. The Missions: Awesome...that is until they start repeating themselves over and over again. The Interrogations: Okay, I'm not even going to pretend that this one is awesome because the way they did it hear was really poorly handled (I HAVE THE EVIDENCE RIGHT HERE, WHY WON'T YOU LET ME USE IT!!).
All in all, L.A. Noire has the elements of a great game, but it's bogged down by some questionable design decisions and some not-incredibly-well-developed characters. The potential is there, but the execution leaves something to be desired.
Of course there are still so many more games that I have yet to play. I still need Saint's Row: The Third, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, a PS3 so I can play Uncharted 3, and all those other games. But this was still a wonderful year for gaming. Of course, it's all for naught, because I won't have time to play any of those games for months because--OH MY GOD SKYRIM!! Why am I still writing this when I could be playing more Skyrim!?!
See ya next time. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to ride off with Shadowmere into the sunset to kill dragons and such. Bye!
Note To Developers: I didn't make ACTUAL, physical awards, per se, so I suggest just getting them yourself. Bethesda, go wash yourself with the best soap money could buy! Team Bondi, go eat a Cyanide Ice-Cream cone. Gearbox, scoop up a cowpat and set it on fire in your house. El Shaddai, fall in love with a prostitute. Infinity Ward, just...don't be near me.