I bought Rage at it’s launch but since it came out the same day as Dark Souls, I never played until about a month later. Because of this, I can not speak to any game crippling bugs that may have hindered it’s release since everything was all patched up by the time I played it. What I can speak of is the fact that Rage is one of the best first person shooters I have ever played. The weapons, the shooting, the movement, everything about it just feels perfect. The act of shooting things in Rage is just plain fun and the combat is made even better by the great level design and some of the best AI I have ever witnessed in the genre. The fabulous feel of the game is topped off by some of the best visuals I have ever seen on my 360 and the silky smooth animations make putting bullets into enemies even more rewarding. I’m also a big fan of the character designs in the game. It straddles the line between realism and caricature and the people you meet in the game fit well in the post-apocalyptic-future-western themed world. I’ve heard rumors that there is a story in the game but I think I was too busy oggling all of the eye candy to pay attention and I missed that part. No matter, because Rage is just as fun to play as it is to look at and because of that, it slips past 62 other contenders into my top 10 games of 2011.
9: Shadows of the Damned
Shadows of the Damned is a weird one for me. I’m not a fan of Suda 51’s previous works and was never really a big fan of the RE4 style combat. Since those were the two main selling points on this game I had little to no interest in it when it came out. But after watching a quick look of it on Giant Bomb, I was so enamored with the wackiness of it all that I had to play it for myself. This choice was easily one of my best decisions of 2011. Shadows of the Damned was one of my favorite experiences of the year but none of that can be contributed to the gameplay. I’m still not a fan of the RE4 style combat but the controls worked well enough to get me through the insane adventure of Garcia Fucking Hotspur and his best “do-it-all” demon friend Johnson. The dialogue and interactions between these two amazing characters made the journey through hell fun and entertaining every step of the way and the surprise ending was an excellent reward. The vision of hell created in this game is also a treat. The combination of horror and grindhouse is fun to explore and the whole experience is topped off by one of the best soundtracks of the year. The music was so good in fact, that it even prompted me to put money down on one of the 300 limited edition CDs signed by Akira Yamaoka himself (you jelly). As a whole, Shadows of the Damned was a great time and I’m glad I didn’t miss out on it like so many other people (judging by the terrible sales) apparently did.
8: Dungeon Siege III
I had lofty expectations for Dungeon Siege III before it released. Like many others, I had been waiting for a new game in the vein of Baldurs Gate Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath to come around this generation for way too many years. After playing the demo I was a little underwhelmed but after I picked the game up and really sunk my teeth into it I was very pleased with what it had to offer. I have always been a fan of Obsidian’s story telling, dialogue, and the way they have done consequences in games but before DS3, all of their games were bug ridden to the point of being borderline unplayable. Luckily this isn’t the case here as DS3 was a smooth gameplay experience from start to finish. The story managed to be interesting despite the fact that none of the voice actors seemed very enthusiastic in their deliveries but the highlight was the combat. The various skills that each of the characters can level up are awesome and the controls are tight and intuitive so as to make the flow of battle smooth and rewarding. The environments varied enough that the exploration never grew stale and there is more loot packed in the world than you can shake a stick at. The fact that you can’t take your own leveled up characters into other people’s games for the online multiplayer was something I was initially pissed about but in the end it made sense so it didn’t really bother me. I ended up playing the entire game in public multiplayer and random people jumped in and out of my secondary character so often that much of the time I didn’t even pay attention to whether or not they were AI or human controlled. Sure it would’ve been nice if you could use your own characters to jump into friends’ games but all in all, Dungeon Siege III was just what the doctor ordered to scratch the decade long itch I’ve had since Champions of Norrath.
7: Saints Row: The Third
Saints Row The Third don’t give a fuck. It just wants to have fun and doesn’t care if you are in or out. It lets you know what you are in for right at the start of the game. Check your desires for realism at the door because SR3 is taking you on a batshit crazy ride through the open world environment of Steelport. The third iteration of the Saints Row franchise feels smaller than the second but it also is clearly much more refined. The controls and the shooting mechanics are top notch and the environments and characters look better than ever. The game offers you plenty to do outside of the main story and shooting down rival gang members is made fun by the many weapons and upgrades that are at your disposal. The levelling up system in the game keeps you coming back for more and the co-op mode means that I will be playing this game for months to come. You should totally play this game.
6: Driver: San Francisco
Driver returns to it’s former glory in this outing by focusing on what made the original game so good; crazy ass car chases. Sure it hypes it’s weird ass coma-teleporting mechanic as a bullet point but the teleporting and other abilities just make it so the car chases can be even crazier. Now instead of just flying 100 feet through the air while cars crash around you, you can teleport into another car, launch it head on into your chasers, and then fly 100 feet through the air while even MORE cars crash around you. Many people have joked about the way they implement the teleporting mechanic through the fact that the main character is in a coma but at the end of the day, it just works. Car chases have never been more fun than in Driver: San Francisco and the triple A presentation, awesome movie vibe and fantastic soundtrack are just triple layers of frosting on an already delicious cake. It also packs in a fun and addicting multiplayer mode that I have barely scratched the surface on.
5: Alice: Madness Returns
Alice was a huge surprise for me this year. I had never played the original PC game but I did read reviews of it so I didn’t really expect much from it’s sequel outside of atmosphere. Madness Returns definitely has a fantastic atmosphere. The dark twisted Wonderland is amazingly realized in this beautiful game and is even highlighted between levels by the surprisingly darker world of Alice’s reality in London. The London sequences are particularly fascinating to me because they don’t really involve much in the way of gameplay. You simply move Alice around the environment and interact with certain items and characters to get more of the backstory of what is going on in this poor girl’s life. These sections do well to break up the action of the larger part of the game and really made me sympathize with the main character, which is something I don’t do much in games. London was so gritty and dark that it actually made me feel dirty and although I loved exploring those sections, I was given a sense of relief when me and Alice would return to Wonderland. The atmosphere is very powerful in Madness Returns and the story takes you to dark places of humanity and insanity that video games never dare visit.
This game would be in my top 10 just from it’s world, story and FANTASTIC ending but it also managed to deliver in the gameplay department. Madness Returns is essentially a 3D platformer and it does the job very well. Alice moves well and the triple jump to glide ability makes traversing the beautiful levels very enjoyable. But oddly enough, the combat was what I enjoyed most in the game. The combat is basically 3D Zelda combat. You lock on and then proceed to attack with the various bizarre weapons you have at your disposal while dodging to avoid getting hit. It’s very well done but what makes it awesome for me was the vorpal blade. I LOVE THE VORPAL BLADE. The vorpal blade is just a cool looking butcher knife (which I totally want a replica of) at it’s core, but the speed and fury at which Alice attacks with it is a sight to behold. Once it is fully leveled up, colorful tracers flow from the end of the blade and this slight effect, combined with the way Alice’s hair and dress moves during combat just looks awesome. Throw in the dodge animation, which transforms Alice into a flurry of butterflies, and the fucking badass hysteria mode and the combat is so visually stimulating that I wish I was watching it right now instead of staring at this giant wall of text. Watching Alice fight just never got old to me, even when the last few levels got a little too long for their own good. The entire game is a visual masterpiece which legitimately delivers in the gameplay department and even manages to wow with it’s dark story. Madness Returns is a rare game that I will undoubtedly return to again and again.\
4: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
There isn’t much more to say about Skyrim that hasn’t already been said. It’s a fantastic open world game that improves on the Elder Scrolls formula in every single aspect. The world is beautiful, the exploration is fantastic, the lore is intriguing, the combat is much improved, and there are dragons. Lots and lots of dragons. We raved about it on our last episode and I even prematurely declared it my game of the year. So what happened to make it drop to number 4? Nothing really. I haven’t faced any of the major glitches and bugs that others on the internet have and overall, Skyrim has been one of the smoothest running open world games I have ever played. The main problem I have with the game is probably due to my own life and the time constraints I have during the week that only allow me to play for about 2 hours a night on a good night. Even though Skyrim has much improved the menus from previous Elder Scrolls games, I feel like Skyrim goes out of it’s way to waste my time. I love loot. Loot is great. And Skyrim has lots of loot. The problem is, the encumbrance system combined with the fact that merchants have so little money has led to me logging in on some nights just to spend my precious little game time entirely on inventory management. Epic quests through amazing dungeons get broken up when I get over encumbered half way through and have to engage in complicated algebraic formulas to figure the cash to weight ratio of my treasures in order to decide what to drop and what to hold on to. And even now, 100+ hours into the game, after I improve and enchant a weapon or armor piece to improve my skills, all of the merchants carry so little gold that I have to sell it for half the value and then go to a different merchant or wait for a day or two to sell my next piece. It’s all just gotten very tedious and often times just makes me want to put the game down and go play something else. It may sound nit-picky but it is enough of an annoyance to me that even with all the good that Skyrim brings to the table, I could not in good conscience award it my coveted Game of the Year award. It’s still an awesome game though.
3: Forza 4
Simply put, Forza 4 is the best driving sim out there. Turn 10 has the formula right and they manage to improve where it counts in every iteration. The Car Club feature is the highlight for me this year. It is basically a “clan” where you can form a club of up to 100 people to share cars and compete with other clubs for online and leaderboard supremacy. Other than that, the main thing Forza 4 does better than it’s competitors is the career mode, which doesn’t force you into cars that you have no interest in driving, and the leaderboard tracking that makes it easy to compare your fastest lap times with your friends, club and other drivers around the world. This last point is key to me, and something GT5 really dropped the ball on, since the entire premise of racing is getting around a track in the shortest time possible, being able to compare those times with other people is kind of the whole point. My obsession with lap times is catered to greatly by Turn 10 with the ability to launch into any fast lap scenario directly from the online leaderboards. It may not sound like much, but you don’t realize how awesome that functionality is until you have it, and it has led to countless hours of me fine tuning multiple cars and running on F4’s numerous tracks trying to shave that extra second off of my lap times. The tuning is as simple or deep as you want it to be and the auction house gives you an outlet to purchase the fruits of true gearheads’ hard labors by giving them in-game credits in exchange for some of the finest tuning setups in the world. The racing, the tuning, the customizing and the comparing are all refined to create the finest experience imaginable. But racing sims would be nothing without cars. Forza 4 does car love better than anyone with the new Autovista mode, which is automobile pornography at it’s finest. Forza 4 is the complete package and easily the best racing sim on the market today.
2: Two Worlds II
The most important (and baffling) lesson I learned in 2011 was that Two Worlds II is not for everybody. The wonky camera, slightly loose controls and slow start are too much a barrier of entry for most folks. And I’ll gladly admit that I was about ready to toss the game out the window when I was forced to conquer the game’s terrible horse riding controls to win a race in order to progress in the game. But shortly after I got past that point, and subsequently abandoned my horse forever, I started falling in love. While TW2 comes off as a serious business fantasy game at the start, it slowly reveals itself to be more of a parody of the genre. The overly gruff voiced main character manages to play the role so straight that he even starts to come off as hilariously dickish in some of the more bizarre quests that present themselves later in the game. And speaking of quests, that is the area that TW2 shines. Whereas games like Skyrim have a few memorable quests sprinkled in with a huge number of forgettable ones, TW2 says fuck it and makes most the quest premises so crazy, that you couldn’t forget them if you wanted to. Many of them are homages to great fantasy movies of the 80s like Conan the Barbarian and Beastmaster, to name a few, and Reality Pump’s love for the 80s fantasy genre is even presented at the end of the game. When the credits roll, an amazing butt rock song blares that sounds like it was ripped straight out of the credits from Neverending Story or Willow. Some quests are even nods to movies that bare no resemblance to anything in the fantasy genre at all such as a brilliant (and easy to miss) side quest that has you seeking out The Wholly Grail. Aside from those, they even manage to come up with some gonzo quests on there own. In fact, for hours in the middle of the game, you spend time at an eastern themed college where you do things like find a stripper for a party or bust a professor for sexing up some of his students in turn for good grades. And yes, I’m still talking about Two Worlds II. The brilliance of it all is that they somehow manage to make these quests fit and even seem normal in the fantasy world that they created.
Aside from the bizarre charm that the game has, Two Worlds II even manages to bring some great ideas to the genre that triple A titles need to take notice of. The item management in this loot heavy game is kept from becoming tedious by a great crafting system where you can easily break down unwanted items into core components wherever you are. No need to travel all over the damn world visiting blacksmiths and merchants to get the most out of your hard earned, yet no longer needed treasures (I’m looking at you Skyrim). The alchemy system makes it just as easy to make potions and food yet still manages to rival the Elder Scrolls games as far as it’s depth. And last but certainly not least is it’s fantastic magic system that allows you to combine multiple cards that have different effects to form a countless number of spells. Always wanted that spell where you shoot a fireball that explodes on impact into a rain of poisonous zombies? Well look no further than Two Worlds II.
Beyond the enormous world that I easily sunk over 100 enjoyable hours into, the game even has a full multiplayer suite. Wait, what? Yeah that’s right, sweet fantasy multiplayer action where you can build a unique character to battle other players, deathmatch/team deathmatch style, in arenas, or capture crystals on various maps to lead your team to victory, or even join 7 other players in an adventure campaign that spans over 8 (not counting dlc) lengthy quest filled chapters. And THEN, once your character accumulates enough cash through those modes, you can purchase your very own plot of land where you can build a custom village who’s inhabitants will spawn an endless amount of quests for you to do. You can even invite other people into your village as well as visit other people’s villages for commerce since certain rare items and equipment only spawn in some people’s shops.
“Are you still talking about Two Worlds II?” Yes. But I’m almost done I swear. Two Worlds II was a magical experience through and through. It’s wonderful charm and fabulous soundtrack (that I didn’t even get to talk about) kept a stupid grin plastered on my face for 120+ hours in 2011 and will continue to do so in the forseeable future. In a year without a Souls game, Two Worlds II would easily be my Game of the Year.
1: Dark Souls
Demon’s Souls came out of nowhere to become my 2009 Game of the EVER so it should be no surprise that it’s successor should win this year’s top prize. Dark Souls improved on the original ideas that Demon’s Souls brought to the table in every way imaginable. Once again you are dropped into a terrifying fantasy world with nothing but your wits and some flimsy steel to protect you from the myriad of horrors that wish to destroy you. Your insurmountable task to save the world is slightly more forgiving this time around with the use of the beacon system which acts as “save points” throughout the countless environments. These beacons are safe areas that allow the player to restore health, magic, healing items and even level up and repair equipment. The geniuses at From Software managed to place these beacons in perfect locations where I would stumble upon one right at the moment when everything seemed lost. These same geniuses should win a lifetime achievement award for greatest level designs in any game ever since they somehow manage to put brilliant level layouts in an open world environment and do so seamlessly without ever breaking immersion with pesky load screens.
There is tons to say about Dark Souls, from it’s fantastic combat, amazing enemy designs, intriguing multiplayer, awe-inspiring environments, wonderful exploration, countless secrets, and insane “meta game” aspect, but the most important thing to say is that out of all the amazing games that came out this year, Dark Souls’ flaws are so negligible compared to it’s greater parts that I would venture to say that it is flawless. All bow before the glory that is Dark Souls because I hereby declare it my 2011 Game of the Year and new winner of my coveted Game of the EVER award. Well done.