My Top 10 Games of 2011

10. LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3):  Despite its undeniable charm and ambitious tools to create and share your own games, I was not a fan of LittleBigPlanet. The controls and level design let me down. LBP2 fixes my issues as being a mediocre platformer, by providing creative gadgets and new genres of games to create and play. Best of all, level design has gotten much better. New stuff had me interested all year—It justified my Move motion controller purchase and was into a user created action-RPG. It provided me with a continued strong co-op experience from a community that is helpful and fun, not competitive and cruel. This is a YouTube-like experience for games that has matured and become worthwhile. So far I have only taken from the LBP community, but it’s creative richness has me inspired to give back or, at the very least, continue to check-in to see what’s new.

9. Driver: San Francisco (Xbox 360/PS3/PC): All signs pointed to a mediocre experience— cheesy story, the series pedigree and game’s delay. Luckily this open world, Quantum Leap-like story never takes itself seriously with main character, Tanner, able to shift and take control of any driver in the city. This brings a unique and effective mechanic to an already good game for any arcade racer fan. Is the guy you are chasing getting away? Possess the car on the other side of the street and ram into him head on. Or try to place first and second in a race by shifting from one car to the other while jumping the hills of San Francisco. After finishing the story mode, I had only scratched the surface on exploring all the events and movie car chase scene recreations. I just chose my favorites. I also spent more time in it’s online modes then any other game this year, with cool qualifying events and unique modes using it’s shift mechanic. This 70s-era cop show setting title had me chuckling, groaning, cheering and throwing my controller.

8. Superbrother’s Sword & Sworcery (iPad/iPhone): This grand experiment of pixel art and music, left a lasting impression more then any game this year. Although it’s retro bit style graphics and homage to Zelda may seem a call back to early video games, what it becomes is a case-study in mythological themes that manages a sense of humor. The controls also seem new, and a bit unfamiliar, as they cater to multitouch and accelerator controls in different ways. Perhaps most impressive is how music and sound is integrated into the gameplay itself. Good headphones are a must! While at times it proves more effective as an art project than as a game, it’s an overall important experience that seems to cry out for classroom discussion.

7. Heroes of Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes (PSN/Xbox Live/PC): I had not stepped foot in the Might & Magic universe before this. What I got under it’s fantasy exterior was a  puzzle game that is easy to learn with serious depth. Clash does not sit pat with another effective reinterpretation of match three gameplay popularized by Bejeweled, while also having the story and RPG elements first seen in Puzzle Quest. It moves the mechanic forward gameplay-wise to make it the best of it’s kind. Like Critter Crunch, Capybara games re-imagined it’s mobile game for the console, with beautiful hand drawn animated artwork and perfected it in a way that clearly shows their love. With a huge single player game, I have hardly touched multiplayer where it shines. With two games on my top 10 list, Capybara Games is a developer I am watching closely.

6. Skyrim (Xbox 360/PS3/PC):  If you have played any of Bethesda’s open world games you probably already felt, after being lost in it for a day, week or month; that it was the best game ever made. Many will feel that way with this game, which does some smart things to streamline the user interface and evolve it’s world. The fact remains, the moment to moment gameplay is not always great and the weight of it’s ambitions cause it to be littered with bugs. Almost universally named as game of the year, I still think their is room for improvement. True that no game can match it’s scope and content, but I’m guessing next generation’s version will likely cause this to lose it’s luster. Still, this is the one title I’m taking to a desert island.

5. Dead Space 2 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC): This high production game, is one of the best playing third-person shooters available. It does not embrace headshots, but carving off limbs of the alien necromorphs that hide in a dark, dank space station where horrible things have happened. Again you have a variety of powerful weapons to fight off the threat, with Statis (the ability to slow down enemy movement) and Kinesis (levitating and throwing objects) make the game engaging at every moment. One of the most intense opening escape sequences I have experienced, seems to be trumped, with one scare moment after another. A huge plus was Dead Space: Extraction that came with every PS3 copy of the game. This is the best light gun shooter I have ever played with a origin story that is better then the main game. It makes for the one of the best extras ever for a game launch. I am not a big horror game guy, but this makes me forget the Japanese one dominating games for decades. A superb single player game to turn the lights off to.

4. Bastion (Xbox Live/PC): This to me is the perfect example of a small downloadable title. The art and story will keep your attention, with simple gameplay and elegant balance to make your way through it. Where Bastion really stands out is in the diversity of weapons and music. The thing that impressed me most; I enjoyed this very linear game more the second time through. Mainly because I could max out and use all of the equipment. I also spent more money on the soundtrack then the game after I was done. weird!

3. Portal 2 (Steam/PS3/Xbox 360): One of the best written and clever games you will find. It’s also could be the funniest. Wheatley (played perfectly by Stephan Merchant) is the most endearing villain since Portal’s GLADOs. Portal also had the best ending in gaming history till now. How could they hope to top it? Somehow they did. Portal 2 is smart, beautiful, challenging, hilarious, heart-warming, and near perfect.

2. Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception (PS3): I’m sad that Uncharted 3 has been ignored by everyone when it comes to the best games of 2011. This game cements this series as one of the most technically beautiful, animated,  action-adventure games this generation. In the earlier games, I had to come to terms with the lack of platforming and exploration I was looking for. I also had problems with enemies and often fought through it, just for the next story bit. For this installment the combat clicked. With improved hand-to-hand combat, their intended combat style finally worked. Any who claim frustration, now has me unfairly saying, ” You’re just playing it wrong!” This game is not to be played like Gears of  War or Mass Effect in which you camp behind cover waiting for a good shot. This is to be played like the cut scenes. Jumping into and out of cover, fighting and stumbling at the edge of death. Most of the time it came across brilliantly (if not, the next time it did.) Like Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood last year, all the pieces of the franchise (single and multiplayer) came together for Naughty dog’s swan song. I can’t wait for what’s next.

1. Batman: Arkham City (PS3/Xbox 360/PC): No existing character seems better for a video game then Batman, with his cool gadgets and colorful villains. No one, to me, seems to have taken better advantage of Batman lore then Rocksteady. The game is a perfect blend of character control and combat responsiveness in a open world, with very directed level design. One of the dozen villains would be a hallmark in any other game, but here you get them all. Their look and performances are amazing. I am not a big fan, but this is the best I have seen them. The game comes across as a little intimidating at times. Overstuffed, as you start to dig into the menus, gadgets, abilities, riddles, and background story. In the end, you will be amazed how you expertly traverse Arkham City as you experience the best boss encounters this year, on the longest night of your life.

For the record this list did not come easy. As I tried to define the best games and my favorite games in 2011, I seemed to compile a totally different list. I also had trouble comparing small games to big budget titles. Last year, some of the most interesting things have come from the mobile and indie space. Yet, when I put Tiny Wings against Modern Warfare 3, it just does not compute. To put up a list to my satisfaction required a melding of this criteria. Unfortunately, this brings casualties to some deserving titles. So with some regret, the high polish of Gear of War 3, immense fun of Super Mario 3D Land and artistic achievement of Rayman Origins are left out.

Game not played that may have made my top 10: Dark Souls, Witcher 2, Deus Ex: Human Evolution

Flawed gems (games with great qualities and flaws that stopped me from finishing): Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, L.A. Noire, Dragon Age 2

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