This post covers the details of my video, “ The Top 10 Games of 2011“. If you haven’t watched it yet go check it out!
WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND. SORT OF.
I play a lot of video games. It’s one of the reasons why I considered getting into the game development industry in the first place: I figured I had ample experience, so why not?
One thing I’ve always wanted to do with said experience is make a “Top Ten” list of games for the year. As November rolled around the idea once again blossomed in my mind and I just went with it. I took all the games I owned and began going through them, weeding out the good from the bad (and obviously eliminating those not published in 2011). For any of you who think that there’s a magically awesome game out there that I don’t know about, I doubt it; I also do my research on pretty much every game that comes out, whether I own it or not.
This project was terribly fun, and certainly a great way to spend the dreary weeks between Halloween and the Christmas countdown. I enjoyed it a lot, and I hope you do, too.
In ranking the games, I didn’t use any points system or grading scale. Many game aggregator websites do this; for example, they assign games a score of 0-10 and then rank them based on the number, or use a normalized 0-100 grading system where 90-100 is equivalent to an “A” (just like in school). However, I think this is unfair, especially when you get to the 90+ percentile and it becomes difficult to quantify what makes a “good” game and, more importantly, what makes one game better than another.
Instead, I simply compared games in pairs. Suppose I had 3 games (A, B, and C) and I wanted to rank them. I would compare A and B and say, “Hey, B is better than A.” Then I would look at C and say, “Hey, C is better than A, but worse than B.” So the final ranking would be B, C, A.
To be absolutely fair, I played each game about 1-2 hours and noted the pros/cons of each. Some things I looked for were:
- (FUN) — Duh! Why else am I playing the game instead of studying?
- (INNOVATIVE) — Did this game do anything really original? If it’s a sequel, did it bring anything new to the table?
- (CREATIVE) — Did the game think outside of the box?
- (STORY) — For campaign-based games, was the story gripping? More generally, did I get into the “world” of the game; i.e. was it immersive?
- (FLUIDITY) — A big thing for me. How “easy to play/learn” is the game?
Once again, there was no set “scale” upon which these categories were evaluated. If I found a game extremely fun to play despite the lack of a story, I wouldn’t necessarily penalize the game for no story — rather, I would grade it based on how these factors worked together. You could call it the “holistic approach”, but then I’d say you’re spending too much time in school and not enough time playing video games.
(#10) Little Big Planet 2
Little Big Planet isn’t so much a game as it is a veritable world where anything is possible. One of the things I really enjoyed about this game was the fact that you could make all sorts cool levels, HUDs, gameplay elements, and even full-fledged minigames all using the in-game components. The bulk of the time I spent playing LBP2 was devoted to community content, which this time around seemed a lot more diverse. Offsetting these boons was a rather lackluster official level set (I think Media Molecule is hinting that they want us to play user-created content instead…) and some control issues, neither of which detracted considerably from the gameplay. Overall, I felt LBP2 was a logical and creative step in the right direction from its predecessor.
(#9) Dead Space 2
This third-person horror game was a nice break from all the running-and-gunning I’m used to doing, because the Dead Space series emphasizes stealth and foresight instead of brawn and ammo. Imagine yourself in a haunted house: do you run down the halls with a machine gun blazing? Of course not, you do it with a vacuum. All joking aside, Dead Space 2 was a lot more immersive than its predecessor and overall seemed like a much more polished game. I wasn’t as scared or surprised by all the Necromorphs this time around, but the environment and general ambiance kept me on my toes at all time. As for the HUD (or lack thereof), I absolutely loved it. If only more games took the spine health meter and holographic display idea to note.
(#8) Crysis 2
Crysis has been the de facto benchmark for PC graphics cards for as long as gamers can remember, so it was only natural that I played the PC version of this ridiculously beautiful sequel. While the harsh lines and gray tones of the Big Apple don’t showcase the CryEngine as well as the jungles of Lingshan, overall this game’s version of New York City is the best in any game to date. The AI is occasionally faulty, but this is balanced by the inclusion of the upgraded Nanosuit. I found it both extremely satisfying and freakishly difficult to manage the various Nanosuit 2.0 modes, and what suspense I didn’t feel from the alien encounters I more than made up for with constant energy drains. All in all, Crysis 2 is a well-rounded game and a worthy addition to the series.
(#7) Portal 2
A few things I loved about the original Portal game: blue/orange holes, crazy hard puzzles, and ridiculous dialogue. A few things I loved about Portal 2: blue/orange holes, crazy hard puzzles, and ridiculous dialogue. Not to mention Wheatley acting like a complete idiot (my vote for best video game NPC of 2011) and GLaDOS being stuck in a potato. Hell yeah. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the new gameplay additions, especially the gels, but the main draw of Portal 2 (co-op) didn’t feel as polished or fiendishly fun as the solo campaign. Besides that, there’s not really much to say; Portal is one of those rare puzzle low-action games that really, really works, and it’s hard to imagine a Top 10 list for this year without Portal 2 on there somewhere.
(#6) Deus Ex: Human Revolution
In terms of story, environment, and sheer immersion, Deus Ex: HR is about as close to perfect as you can get. The Icarus trailer is freaking amazing. When I saw the intro credits for the first time, my jaw dropped. And the campaign stretches easily into the 20-30 hour range (and a lot more if you want 100% completion). Many people had gripes about the “repetitive” and “boring” boss battles, and frankly I don’t mind the battles in the least. What I DO mind, though, is the simplicity of it all. Yes, Ubisoft wanted to appeal to a larger and slightly dumber user base, but they can’t pay tribute to the original Deus Ex without some serious hacking and riddle-solving. Besides that, though, this game is gold (and I’m not just talking about the color tones).
(#5) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
One thing I’ve always liked about the Elder Scrolls series was the open world gameplay. Skyrim brings this back in full force, adding a plethora of dungeons, NPCs, and side quests designed specifically to make you completely lose track of time. I enjoyed the primary story a lot (the inclusion of dragons made this game all the more epic), but the real fun is in just roaming around and screwing around — essentially, taking in the world of Skyrim. In that respect, Bethesda has also outdone itself. The graphics are on par with some of the best graphically-intensive games out on the market today, and the realism in both the weather effects and the NPC interactions is stellar. But is Skyrim better than Oblivion? Most definitely.
(#4) Gears of War 3
Yes, I work with UDK, and I’ve been friends with Epic since the days of UT99. But on the charge of fanboy-ism I must plead not guilty. Let’s face it: there’s just something about Gears that takes it above and beyond, whether it’s the unique combat or the plethora of enemies or the brash humor of those laughably muscular Gears. This time around, I found myself owning a treasure trove of additions: Lambent, Horde 2.0, Beast Mode, pink and gold Lancers, Chicken Boomshots, Anya, and the amazing Retro Lancer execution. Also, this game has undoubtedly the most shocking video game moment of 2011. My one and only problem is that the second half of the campaign felt too rushed. But hey, who cares? It’ll be a mad world when I stop playing Gears 3.
(#3) Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
After Uncharted 2 I thought that Naughty Dog had very little room for improvement, and they certainly set an ungodly high bar with that title. In many ways Drake’s Deception easily vaults over that bar: the graphics are amazingly crisp, the particle effects are spot-on, and the destructible environments add a new dimension to gameplay. Drake’s moves this time around are better than ever, with the occasional bug (but we can let that slide, can’t we?). And the cargo plane level? Holy s%#&. In terms of story, Uncharted 3 does seem narrower and more multiplayer-oriented, which is something diehard fans of the series may be concerned with. I was kind of disappointed that the ending didn’t have an epic boss fight like in Among Thieves. But hey, who are we to complain?
(#2) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Any Zelda game that comes out has unfathomably large shoes to fill: Ocarina of Time is still pretty much the highest rated game ever, and most of the other titles in the series hold insane scores on review aggregator websites. While Skyward Sword doesn’t quite make it over the proverbial fence, in my book it’s still one of the best Zelda games out there. I absolutely love the new refined motion controls and the way that they are incorporated in your equipment and in the dungeon challenges (while we’re on the topic of dungeons, this game has some of the best in the series, such as the Ancient Cistern). The story and world are both compelling, enthralling, and deeply satisfying. I’m not sure whether the graphical choice is the best, but it definitely suits the mood of the game.
(#1) Batman: Arkham City
Rounding out the list and my pick for the best game of 2011 is this cinematic and gaming tour de force. Even if you didn’t consider the story Arkham City is still an amazing game, with combat moves to rival Nathan Drake, impeccable characters and voice acting, and a staggeringly dark and rich world armed with a variety of fun missions to complete. Add what I think is one of the best plot lines in gaming history and Arkham City just rockets above and beyond everything else around it. Keeping to a common trend in Batman media, The Joker steals the show — and this Joker is good enough to make Heath Ledger proud. And if all that wasn’t enough, I mean come on…it’s f#$@ing Batman. I would look for negative things to say about this game, but that effort would be futile.
In no particular order:
- (Battlefield 3) — Great graphics, amazing multiplayer options, ho-hum storyline. I don’t get the fuss about Origin, it’s well worth it to gain the Facebook-like features.
- (Modern Warfare 3) — More of the same from Infinity Ward. Nothing special to write home about, although IW should pay off America’s national debt.
- (TLOZ: Ocarina of Time 3D) — One of the best games currently available for the 3DS, but there’s no way to match or top the original.
- (Mario Kart 7) — A whole lot of fun, will keep you entertained/mad for hours, depending on how well you play the game. Mario Kart DS was better, though.
- (Killzone 3) — I loved Killzone 2 for its darkness and then-ridiculous graphics. In many ways Killzone 3 was a step down, but it’s still very polished and fun to play.
Whew! That was a lot of reading, wasn’t it? If you’re still here reading this, consider subscribing to my YouTube channel or this blog — both focus mainly on game development, but there are always interesting things floating around. Also, feel free to message me with suggestions on other video game-related projects you would like to see happen. I’m always open for some fun stuff to do!
Here’s to a great year in gaming, and I hope to see you all for another rockin’ year in 2012!