As we come up to the start of another year, and another year of games, it’s around this time, usually as I’m getting my ass kicked at some game online, that I start to reflect on the year, and without even consciously realising it I start to create a list of my favorite games from the past 375-days. This leads to the infamous ‘top ten” list that circulates the internet at this time of the year as massive gaming sites hand out awards like they’re fact rather than opinion. Sadly these awards don’t always mean much because back-handed dealings often make the entire process a bit of a joke. So while my little list of fifteen games here may not have the distinction and influence of the likes of IGN, the one thing that I can say is that none of the games have been chosen because of cheeky publishers and developers, mostly because I’d tell them to go stuff it, and partly because this small little part of the internet just ain’t big enough to make it worth their time! No. this is MY list, made up of games that I feel are deserving. Still, the games that make list probably won’t surprise you that much, because despite all the shenanigans that do go on, the games that win the big awards are usually deserving of it. Usually.
Sadly I’m terrible at making this sort of list, because I am never able choose which game deserves which slot in the list and the resulting internal debat often leaves me frothing at the mouth and qouting random Red Dwarf lines. Still, I’ve spent many tortured hours swapping the games around to try to devise my perfect list. There’s no doubt in my mind that by the time you’ve read this I’ll have just my mind half a dozen more times at the very least, but for now, it’s complete.
But before we get into this whole list thing, here’s a couple of points to consider:
- Only games that I’ve actually played can be included on this list. So while I’ve played the majority of games out there this year, there might be a few that I didn’t.
- As I’m an Xbox 360 gamer, this list is for Xbox 360 games ONLY. So don’t complain that Uncharted 3 didn’t make it on here.
- This list is just for full retail titles. I’ll be doing a seperate list forArcade games, assuming I can finally get off this chocolate high that I’ve been on since Christmas.
- And finally, the review scores I handed out to each of these games doesn’t make an impact on the list, because I was trying to be as fair as I could when I reviewed the games, and so despite the fact that I may have had lots of fun with a game it may not have gotten the highest review score.
So here we go, my top fifteen games of 2011:
Number 15: F1 2011
Somehow Codemasters have managed to sneak two games, both racers, into my list of favorite games from 2011, which goes to show that they still know what they’re doing when it comes to crafting four-wheeled mayhem. F1 2011 may not have been vastly different from F1 2010, which makes sense, really, but the changes it did make were certainly for the best. But the best thing about the game was being able to play a season with a friend, cheerfully vying for the prestige of crossing the line first and claiming those vital points for the team. It may not have been rigidly realistic enough to please the most hardcore of gamers out there, but it was a damn fun game and that’s why it’s kicking off my little list. Well played, Codemasters, well played.
Number 14: WWE All Stars
Since the end of the attitude era, I’ve not been the biggest wrestling fan. The only thing that kept me watching WWE was Edge, and then he retired and I lost interest again. Of course I’ve since tuned back in thanks to the return of a certain legend. But that’s not the point; the point is that I really liked WWE All Stars! The Smackdown vs RAW games have never really done it for me, feeling incredibly clunky and never really capturing the inherent excitement of watching two or more wrestlers collide. WWE All Stars captured the over-the-top nature of the sport(?) perfectly by using a fantastic graphical style and slick, fast paced, heavy-hitting action. I do have complaints about the game; the creation suite was severely lacking, and it’s a shame that much of the Smackdown vs RAW features weren’t transferred across, but otherwise I spent many a happy hour on All Stars, beating the snot out of people as Edge and kicking some ass as the Rock.
Number 13: DiRT 3
Cars. Dirt. More dirt.. All of these things equal DiRT 3, and while I may never see the return of my beloved Colin McRae series of games and their focus on rallying only, it’s still one hell of a game. In an attempt to appease fans Codemasters shifted the focus of their off-road racer back toward rallying, resulting in a far more satisfying career mode. Of course the new Gymkhana mode also made quite a difference to the series, and for the better. I whittled away countless hours spinning my car around posts, sliding through stupidly tight gaps and mastering lines in this mode. I enjoyed the simple challenge of mastering car control, and then using those skills in the games much improved online mode to kick some serious ass in things like Capture the Flag. In fact, DiRT 3′s multiplayer gave me many hours of joy thanks to some great game modes and its fantastic handling model. A fantastic racer.
Number 12: Saints Row: The Third
Striding into the 12th space on my list is the utterly insane, utterly fun Saints Row: The Third. Its combat isn’t that great, its driving isn’t that great and it doesn’t look that great, either, but that doesn’t matter because Saints Row is just pure fun to play thanks to some truly wacky mission designs, bonkers characters and a sense of humour so depraved and, at times, vulgar that it should be illegal. Driving tigers around in cars, hitting people with dildos, fighting a space battle on Mars, playing an old-school text adventure that kills you with tiles, fighting a giant dragon/demon with a sword, skydiving through the middle of a plane and fighting off a zombie horde are just a few highlights from a game packed with insanity and hilarity. In many ways Saints Row: The Third is what Grand Theft Auto used to be: fun. And for that very reason it’s one of my favorite games of the year.
Number 11: Rayman: Origins
It’s a sad truth, but in todays FPS and Call of Duty dominated world platformers are a dying breed; a breed that’s only barely clinging on by the tip of their fingers to existence. But Ubisoft’s decision to bring back the limbless wonder Rayman proved three things: 2D games can still be awesome; platformers ain’t dead yet, and damn does this game look good! Origins doesn’t win any awards for originality, but there’s a super-slick platformer here that demands precision, quick reflexes and patience to best. Sadly because it doesn’t have Call of Duty, Halo or Gears of War written across the front the game will likely never get the attention it deserves, and that’s a true shame because I can almost guarantee that if you give this game just fifteen minutes, you’ll be hooked. And did I mention it looks good? SWEET MOTHER OF MARY MAGDELINES HAIRY GRANDMOTHER’S PET CAT DOES IT LOOK GOOD!
Number 10: Tropico 4
Out of every game on this list, I’m willing to bet that this is the only one that stops people in their tracks as they go off to Google the name, ‘ Tropico 4′. Since I had never played the previous three games, I had gone into Tropico 4 with some trepidation, but I came out with a huge grin and the knowledge that I’d never want to rule an island in real life because it would be far too much work. As an RTS game, the goal is to take control of your own little island and slowly nurture it until it has a booming economy, whether that be thanks to tourism, weapons production, exporting exotic food or any mixture of the above and more. Compared to the other games on this list, Tropico 4 is a relaxed game where one mission can take hours to complete, demanding that you patiently balance out the demands on numerous factions and those of your people. And it’s up to you whether you play the nice Presidente, always trying to please your people, or the utter bastard who randomly kills people and focuses on building a military to crush any resistance to your tyrannical rule. Throw in a great sense of humour and you’ve got a brilliant game that kept me playing for hours on end, and one that really does deserve your attention.
Number 9: Mortal Kombat
Rebooting a series, restoring it to its former glory and still keeping the fans happy is no easy task. The Mortal Kombat series had been dying a slow death for far too long, and finally Ed Boon decided that they needed to go back to the beginning, do it all again and bring back the fighter that we all knew and loved. And I fully admit that I was a little worried that in their enthusiasm to bring back the series they might forget what made it great; quick, smooth, violent gameplay. And so in 2011 they released Mortal Kombat 9, simply titled Mortal Kombat. And. It. Was. Utterly. Badass. Through the efforts of NetherRealm Studios Mortal Kombat was brought back to life as an entirely new entity that somehow still remained true to the series. The combat system, while lacking the depth of Street Fighter, was smooth, fast and incredibly fun and diverse, and taking it online and battling friends is the perfect way to settle some old scores. There is one thing I hate about Mortal Kombat, though; Shao Sodding Khan. That complete and utter bastard is the most annoying boss battle I’ve ever had to endure. JUST DIE YOU F*CKING SON OF A B*TCH! JUST DIE! Yes, I have issues.
Number 8: Bulletstorm
Bulletstorm is big and dumb and stupid, and that’s why I loved it. Created by People Can Fly, Bulletstorm does something that many games seem to be forgetting about now; it puts fun ahead of anything else. It’s a game inhabited by overly muscled characters, rudeness and incredible violence, all culminating in a shooter that rarely failed to have me smiling, and that’s quite an achievement. Many people knock the game for its lack of subtlety, for its lack of maturity and for its portrayal of shallow characters who just liked to blow shit up, but it’s for all those reasons that I loved Bulletstorm. In many respects it’s like Saints Row: The Third, because it puts pure fun ahead of anything else; it’s outrageous, insane and it’s not afraid to poke fun at itself. Even the shooting itself was over-the-top carnage thanks to a Skillshot system that rewards players for killing enemies in the most insane ways they can imagine. Sure, the game had a lot of flaws, but the point is it was just plain, simple good fun, and I’m looking forward to a Bulletstorm 2, assuming they make one. Which I’m saying right here, right now, that they will. And there’s a giant remote-control dinosaur in it. Called Wallington P. Tallylicker. R.I.P. Mr. Wallington P. Tallylicker.
Number 7: Battlefield 3
Oh boy, I can hear the fanboy rage machine starting up, revving its engine and getting ready to run my ass down for this one. Yes, that’s right; Battlefield 3 has made my list of favorite games while Modern Warfare 3 has not. Somewhere in the world, some gamer wearing nothing but Modern Warfare 3 branded clothing is having a heart-attack. But let’s get this straight: Do I think Battlefield 3 is a better game than Modern Warfare 3? No, they’re both extremely good at what they do, but the simple truth is that Battlefield’s multiplayer appeals to more thank Modern Warfare 3′s thanks to its large scale, vehicular carnage and general mayhem. There’s so much scope to the multiplayer that player created magical moments of sheer awesome happen on a regular basis, ensuring that every game feels completely different from the last one. I remember my first game of Rush fondly: I was perched on a rock, sniping the hated enemy, when all of a sudden a jet crashed into the top of the radio tower behind me. Fiery death rained down upon me, but I survived. I went to turn back around and get back to some pain infliction when I hear a horrendous sound, and to my horror the entire tower collapsed, crushing me instantly. Moments like this are what make gaming amazing, and it’s moments like these that make Battlefield 3 amazing.
Number 6: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
The review isn’t even up yet, but Revelations makes it onto my list of favorite games in 2011, netting a strong 6th place for its efforts. I’ve loved the Assassin’s Creed series since it began, and while Revelations is arguably the weakest entry in the franchise yet, it’s still essential playing for any Creed fan as it brings us to the end of Ezio’s story(well, almost. Embers, an animated short, actually does that) as well of that of Altair’s, giving the previously cold assassin more depth and character. It also adds more to Desmond’s history and his overall story arc, giving us a few more clues to work with in regards to the mysterious events leading up to Assassin’s Creed 3. From the start it was the intriguing storyline that drew me into the world of the Creed series, and then with Ezio Ubisoft gave me a charming character whose journey kept me captivated until this final chapter in his story. And even at its worst the Creed gameplay is still absolutely brilliant, with the new bomb-crafting and heavily tweaked Assassin’s Brotherhood elements being the stars of the show. Few experiences in gaming match up to running across the rooftops of Constantinople as Ezio, admiring one of the most believable cities ever crafted in gaming; it truly feels like a living, breathing city, full of life and wonder. But perhaps most surprising of all is that Revelations is my favorite multiplayer game of the year, trumping Battlefield by a small amount thanks to it providing something totally unique. Stalking your prey through busy streets and quiet rooftops is an incredibly tense experience, and while there’s certainly balance issues and problems with it all, it’s some of the most rewarding and equally frustrating multiplayer I’ve ever played.
Number 5: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Human Revolution may not be impressive on the technical front, but this prequel to the original Deus Ex games is still one of my favorite titles from the year. Following the story of Adam Jensen it portrays a dark world where humans have developed augmentation technology that allows them to replace perfectly healthy limbs with superior mechanical ones. They can even upgrade their eyesight and mental capabilities. It might sound far-fetched, but it’s actually closer to reality than most people realise, and the game’s story paints a bleak picture that may well come true should humans not be careful with such technology. This, above all else, is why the game makes it so high it my list; the storyline speaks to me in ways that most games don’t as I’m someone very interested in technology and where it’s taking our race. But the gameplay wasn’t half bad either; Human Revolution offers several different ways to play the game and multiple routes through its levels, resulting in a game that’s a joy to play. Sure, there are problems, like a clunky control system and a boring lead character, but the augmentations that can be unlocked, the different ways to play and the world all combine to make this a damn fine game that, I feel, does the original game proud, though I’m sure many would argue otherwise.
Number 4: Gears of War 3
The original Gears of War was responsible for my choice to get an Xbox 360 many years back, and it remains one of my most loved games of this generation, but Gears of War 3 takes what made it great and blows it out the water with ease. Now many people don’t like the hammy story of the Gears story, which is perfectly understandable as it really is an over-the-top blood fest, but I for one enjoy the mad-cap antics of Delta squad, but sometimes it’s nice to get back to a simple story about aliens, guns and explosions. Gears of War 3 wraps up Marcus Fenix’s storyline in truly epic fashion (crap pun intended) and offers the most polished rendition of Gear’s gameplay yet. The cover-based blasting is super-slick and incredibly satisfying, the set-pieces are awesome, the game looks amazing and the improvements made to Horde mode and multiplayer are great. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not the biggest fan of Gears multiplayer, mostly thanks to those damn shotguns, but even I had great fun online, bayonetting people and generally causing carnage. But the real star was the improved Horde mode, which I was even willing to play by myself because it was so much fun. Quite simply, the Gears series is, for me, what I think of when I see an Xbox 360, and while Gears 3 doesn’t have the wow factor of the first game, it’s still a sublime shooter, and that’s why its fourth on my list.
Number 3: Portal 2
Few games can make gamers laugh, and Portal 2 is certainly one of those few. When Valve announced that they planned on making a full retail sequel to their previously download only FPS puzzler Portal, I admit that I was a little dubious as to whether they could pull it off, but damn did they do it! As a puzzler Portal 2 succeeds on almost every level, balancing difficulty and fun perfectly throughout. The puzzles are often devious tests of your intelligence and spatial awareness, yet never feel unfair in their design. But the real reason this game hits third on my list is the wit of the script. From Wheatley’s hilarious ramblings, Glados’s insults and the brilliant narration of the games second half, this is an intelligently crafted game that never failed to bring a smile to my face and a chuckle to my throat. The engine powering it all is starting to look creaky in its old age, but that doesn’t stop Portal 2 from being one of the must-own games of 2011.
Number 2: Batman: Arkham City
I’m not the biggest Batman geek in the world: I can’t quote lines from comics, I can’t tell you his biography word for word. Still, though, I do like Batman; as a character he’s pretty awesome and comes in second only to Spider-Man on my list of favorite heroes, so this love of the character has gone a long way toward Arkham City securing second place on my list. When the first game from Rocksteady involving Batman, Arkham Asylum, was announced their was great concern amongst gamers, and for good reason; comic-book heroes don’t have a great record with video-games. But I was quietly confident that the game would work because Rocksteady seemed to have something that most other developers of such games lacked: a passion for the source material. The result of their passion was the single greatest super-hero game of all time. But this year they upped their game by creating Batman: Arkham City which took everything that made the first game great, improving on it, ironing out things that didn’t work and adding in new stuff as well. The result displaced Arkham Asylum as the single greatest super-hero game of all time and serves as both a fantastic tribute to the Dark Knight and an utterly superb game.
Number 1: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The fact that Skyrim is taking the number one slot on my list should hardly come as surprise to any of you. In all the games that I’ve reviewed on here, Skryim was the second ever game that I handed out a full 10/10 to. Is it a perfect game? No, it is not – like any game there are flaws to be found, areas that could be improved and glitches to be fixed. But no other game can match the sheer amount of freedom that Skyrim offers, nor the amount of content that it can boast. In the hand-crafted and beautiful world of Skyrim, you can essentially lead an entire fantasy life, playing the game in any way you see fit, whether that be as a morally questionable thief, a fire-wielding mage, a none-too-bright warrior, skilled blacksmith, deadly archer, or even a pacifist who likes to chase bunny rabbits around. As I write this I’ve spent around a 120-hours in the world of Skyrim, battling dragons, looting dungeons, stealing ( I mean “acquiring”) items of value, fighting vampires, having fun as a werewolf, forging my own custom gear, assassinating poor suckers for money and generally just getting up to much shenanigans. Even my review which came in at over 5,000 words didn’t really do the scale of the game justice, so this meagre assortment of words doesn’t stand a chance. However, many people will disagree with my choice for number one due to the sheer amount of glitches and problems that the game has had since launch, and that’s a perfectly valid point, but here’s the catch: I haven’t actually had any major problems. Even the 1.2 update barely affected me, with only one backwards flying dragon making an appearance for me to laugh at, and so for me this isn’t just the best game of 2011, but one of the best games of this generation and any other. An absolutely outstanding adventure that will suck you in, devour your life and spit out your remains many years down the line.
Alright, so that’s my top fifteen games of 2011 – a year that has been filled with many, many great games and memorable moments. But I’m not quite done yet, because you see this list was almost like physical torture to me. Picking just fifteen games and then trying to put them in some semblance of order was like a nightmare wrapped in a horror film stuffed in a bag made of nettles. So I want to take a moment and mention a couple of the games that didn’t quite make my list:
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
So, many of you guys and gals will probably have this on your list, and presumably it’ll be in a fairly high position. For me it was still a damn good shooter, but it just felt too familiar and so when I thought back to my time with it I remembered having plenty of fun, but pretty much forgetting about it a few days after I completed because the multiplayer didn’t sit with me as well as Black Ops did. For those reasons it doesn’t quite make my list, but it was a very close call.
Dragon Age II
This game received a hell of a lot of flak from fans of the first game, and so I sort of feel like I’m completely on my own when I say that I actually really enjoyed it. Sure, there’s a lot of things that I didn’t like about the game, and I was disappointed that from a technical point of the view the game was poor, yet there was just something about it that kept me playing and then had me doing a second play-through. Don’t ask me to put a finger on it; I just liked the game and I had great fun with it.
The LEGO Games
Can you believe three of these things came out in 2011!? THREE!? Nevertheless, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the LEGO games, and ever time one turned up on my doorstep this year I was thankful because it was a nice change of pace from the usual blood, guts and gore. Actually choosing which is my favorite of the three is pretty tough: on the one hand Clone Wars introduced some great RTS elements, while LEGO Pirates had a LEGO version of Jack Sparrow! And of course the Harry Potter game was just plain charming. It took me ages to decide whether one of these games would actually make it to my list or not. In the end it was the simple fact that there was three of them in one year that stopped them from making it to the list, because as I reflected on them I started to realise that I was a little tired of them. Still, they bring a smile to my face.
Bethesda’s singleplayer/multiplayer hybrid didn’t do well when it was released, neither commercially nor critically, but I actually quite enjoyed it. Sure, there were quite a few problems with the game and some questionable design choices, but the basic premise was solid, the art-style was slick and including a parkour system for movement was a fun idea. I feel that Brink is solid platform that’s begging for a sequel to realise the games potential, and I await that sequel eagerly.
Only one thing really stopped Forza 4 from getting into my list: it felt a lot like Forza 3. Sadly there’s only so much improvement that can be made to a racing series, and while Forza 4 did what it could it still felt too familiar. I had fun with the game, patiently amassing a collection of beautiful cars that I wish I could own in real life. But I’ve told a lie - there was a second reason why it didn’t quite get into my list; a lack of soul. Yes, it’s an old argument against the series, but one that rings true; the game often feels cold and dispassionate about itself, and so I couldn’t justify a position on my list for it. Perhaps it’s the rather sterile racing that gives me that feeling. Adopting the shaky camera of the Shift series may go a little way toward fixing it, helping to give the game a visceral feeling.
So there we have it; my top fifteen games from 2011 – a damn good year to be a gamer. Doubtless this list is radically different from your own, which begs the question, what’s your favorite games of the year?