Saturday, 24 December 2011

The best games of 2011

20. To The Moon

All video game writers should be forced to play through To the Moon, an indie PC game that takes you on an emotional rollercoaster ride through the memories of a dying old man. It's a beautiful, personal story about love and communication, a drastic departure from the save-the-world tropes found in many of today's triple-A games. There's not a whole lot of interaction here, but spend 4 to 5 hours with To the Moon and you'll be a sobbing wreck before you can say "one of these days, Alice..."
—Jason Schreier
19. The Witcher 2
If you're the type who agonizes over the moral decisions in games like Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age, thenWitcher 2 will have you losing sleep. There's no binary good or evil here, just shades of gray, and the choices become more difficult when you realize they have far-reaching implications: Do a good deed for someone and they might return the favor much later into the game. Witcher 2 has beautiful graphics and strategic battles, but what keeps people talking about this RPG is the quality of its role-playing. —John Mix Meyer
18. Gemini Rue
Part Blade Runner, part Monkey Island, this sci-fi noir adventure game is packed with puzzles and plot twists. It's a short, sweet, satisfying experience, the type you can (and will) zip through in a night or two. Experienced point-and-click adventurers might not find Gemini Rue too difficult, but it's an experience worthy of the glory days of LucasArts and Sierra. —Jason Schreier.
17. Jetpack Joyride
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It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a game becomes better as you increase the scope or complexity.Jetpack Joyride is the perfect example of a game with a simple idea—you touch the screen to move up, and remove your finger to move down—that shines on iOS devices. The wonderful design extends to the vehicles you're able to drive, the missions that earn you more coins and the continual content packs that add more things to see and do. From a game that's only a dollar on the iPad or iPhone, it's one of my fondest memories from 2011. —Ben Kuchera
16. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
This charming, sprawling PSP adventure is funny, heartbreaking and everything in between. Legend of Heroeshas love, betrayal, interesting combat, a metric ton of sidequests and just about anything else you could want in a JRPG, including an obligatory (and hilarious) crossdressing scene. —Jason Schreier
15. Bulletstorm
This game tanked, probably because the story and characters took the thick-necked raunchy Spike TV dudebro vibe from Epic's Gears of War and turned it up to 11. But look past the lunkhead character design and scatological tough-guy talk and you find the same sort of innovative twists on shooter mechanics that made the original Gears so surprisingly satisfying. Bulletstorm's slide-kick, enemy-grabbing leash and endless array of imaginatively gory skillshots provided some of the most satisfying action gaming experiences I had all year. Go buy a new copy and help convince Epic to make a sequel. —Chris Baker
14. Uncharted 3
The actual story in Uncharted 3 can be hard to follow, and there are some storytelling tricks that I don't agree with, but when the characters interact with each other it's easy to see why Naughty Dog is so respected: no one can write characters and situations like Amy Hennig and her team, and it's amazing to relax and enjoy the back-and-forth between Nathan Drake and his gang of rogues. The action setpieces are likewise breathtaking; you fight on the land, in the sea, and of course in the air. Uncharted 3 is a thrilling look back at the movie serials that also inspired George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to create the Indiana Jones movies, but in many ways Drake is a much more interesting character than Harrison Ford's withered archeologist. —Ben Kuchera
13. Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP
Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP is a game of moments: some as small as watching a deer hop into the bushes, others more revelatory and world-changing. But each one is powerful. It's an intimate game that makes you feel like it was created solely with you in mind. A point-and-click adventure that won't make you feel frustrated, with puzzles that often force you to simply poke around until you find the solution. It's leisurely at times, and heart-pounding at others. It's like nothing else you've played before. —Andrew Webster
12. Rayman Origins
This 2-D side-scroller with lush, colorful and intricately detailed animation is hands-down the most visually appealing game I played all year. The only downside is that I sometimes died because I paused to drink in the hand-drawn animation. The solid framerate really helps you enjoy it. Like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Rayman Origins is designed to be a great single- or multiplayer experience. But the gameplay is quicker, more varied and more brutal. In fact, I think I prefer it to Nintendo’s blockbuster platformer. —Chris Baker
11. Resistance 3
The first Resistance was a hit for the PlayStation 3, but fans cooled on the second release. Insomniac went back to what made the original so much fun to create the third game, and what resulted was a delicious mix of atmosphere and a unique period setting: Think of what would happen if Robert Heinlein wrote a Steinbeck novel, add some of the best guns to ever be used against aliens, and you have an idea of the quality of the game's single-player campaign. A recent pack of downloadable content added a survival mode and included seven songs from metal gods Mastodon. Why? Why not? Resistance 3 proved that when you mix things you're passionate about into a big pot, amazing things can happen. —Ben Kuchera
10. Dead Space 2
Although it devolved into something of a gore-heavy corridor shooter in its second half, Dead Space 2 was front-loaded with lots of brilliant scare moments. A streamlined design made it more compelling than its predecessor, even though you were so loaded up on ammo that none of the monsters ever really had a chance of stopping your traipse through an abandoned space habitat. These highs and lows make it hard to voice a full-throated argument in favor of Dead Space 2, but you've got to experience the good stuff. —Chris Kohler

9. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Of all the games of 2011, Deus Ex: Human Revolution had the greatest potential for failure. Eleven years is a long time to wait for the follow-up to one of the greatest games of all time, after all. To its great credit, Human Revolution does not disappoint. It is everything you could want from a Deus Ex game, provided that everything includes bleak future cityscapes, twisted conspiracies, crazy body modifications and the ability to play as a sneaky hacker badass (or some mixture of those three). Just try to look the other way when the boss fights come up. —Marty Cortinas

8. Dark Souls
In a year of games that found endless ways to hold your hand, it's amazing to see one so willing to slap your face. Dark Souls can feel like going from a hot tub to a cold pool if you jump in without learning how the mechanics work or reading up on the game, but it's a shock to the system in the best way. The world of Dark Souls truly does not care if you live or die. There's something freeing in the game's ability to kill you at any point: When (if) you do succeed, you will always feel like you earned the victory. —Ben Kuchera
7. Bastion
The best games are released with some kind of delightful twist or gimmick that provides a new way to view or play an established genre. Bastion was immediately impressive due to the lush, hand-painted look of its graphics, and the music carried strong emotional weight. The real treat, though, was the in-game narrator who seemed to speak the story of the game as you played it. He addressed everything from the weapon you chose to the mistakes you made as you tried to fight your way through the game's intriguing story. —Ben Kuchera
6. Super Mario 3D Land
A platform is only as good as its killer app. Take the Nintendo 64, with its silly-looking controller and its cartridges that already seemed archaic in 1996: None of that mattered after a few minutes of exploring the courtyard in Super Mario 64. Super Mario 3D Land is a killer app for the 3DS in the same way. Not only is it a fantastic game, almost on par with the brilliant Super Mario Galaxy, but it also addresses many of the misgivings I had about the platform. Stereoscopic 3D was a nice bonus feature in other 3DS games, but it’s absolutely integral to 3D Land, which plays some sort of clever trick with depth or perspective every 90 seconds or so. It never occurred to me to switch off the 3D during my many long hours of collecting gold coins and ground-pounding. —Chris Baker
5. L.A. Noire

Your ability to enjoy L.A. Noire rests in great part on your ability to look past its barely-there and occasionally contradictory gameplay. Chris Baker wanted to put it on our Most Disappointing list instead. I think, especially in the fullness of time, L.A. Noire's mechanical failings will be overlooked in light of its frighteningly real characters and lifelike animation. The story is gripping enough and the characters human enough to keep you fascinated even as the adventure gameplay begins to fray at the edges. —Chris Kohler
4. Portal 2
If there's one thing Valve is known for beyond actually caring about narrative, it's nearly pathological levels of fan service. Portal 2 delivered on both counts. Not only were you given more of what made the original first-person puzzler so great—mindbending level design and the wryest humor this side of the BBC—but the Valve braintrust went off its potato and crammed the sequel with enough features to give GLaDOS a kernel panic. A surprisingly robust co-op campaign, a quiver of new play mechanics, and the where-have-they-been-all-our-lives voice performances of Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons (whose Cave Johnson may just be the most badass character of the 2010s thus far) made for a blessed respite from the aimless open worlds and copycat shooters that plagued the release calendar. —Peter Rubin

3. Batman: Arkham City
It's simple: Be the Batman. Everything that made Arkham Asylum such a blast is present in Arkham City,except there's more: more free-flow combat, more Gotham City, more gizmos, more Riddler trophies, more challenges, more villains. It all melds together to form a sprawling, open world perfect for busting heads and hurling Batarangs. As for the killjoys who complain that there are too many Bat-gizmos (whaaaaaat?), did I mention that you get to play as Catwoman? —Marty Cortinas
2. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Some people will try to tell you that Skyward Sword's souped-up motion controls, which allow players to swing the Wii Remote and have Link swing his sword in precisely the same way, weren't a critically important feature—just a clever mechanic that if discarded wouldn't have had much impact on the game's overall quality. Don't listen to those people.
By allowing players to move Link's sword with exactness, Skyward Sword's enemy encounters became more than just speed bumps on the road to the next dungeon. You had to be careful in your swordplay; slice in the wrong direction and an enemy would block your strike, leaving you open to a nasty counterattack.
Almost every facet of the typical Zelda experience has been rethought, leaving little more than the “you found an item” jingle and some familiar faces as reminders of the past. A fresh, successful revamping of the Zelda formula. —John Mix Meyer
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Much has already been written about the way Bethesda's open-world role-playing game allows players to direct their own narratives. Skyrim completely lives up to its raison d'ĂȘtre, creating a world so vibrant, it's easy to buy into the illusion that it actually exists. Granted, some of the bugs and glitches are hard to swallow, particularly on the PlayStation 3 version (which we did not review). But you'd be hard pressed to find another game with this many meaningful choices.
Ultimately, when we think about the games that stood out most in 2011, Skyrim will take center stage for both ambition and execution. The game is at its best not during its grandest moments but during the little details that flesh out its world, those bits of environmental storytelling that make every sight worth seeing. From a bustling wizards' college to an abandoned lighthouse filled with corpses, the landmarks in Skyrim are peculiar and unparalleled.
Perhaps the biggest testament to Bethesda's success is that though I'm over 80 hours in, and even though my shelf is stacked with all sorts of other new games, I just can't stop playing Skyrim. —Jason Schreier

1 comment:

  1. skyrim, rly? to the moon is worth first prize much more