Saturday, 31 December 2011

Top Ten Games, 2011 Edition

First things first: this is NOT a Top Ten Games of 2011. This is a list of my top ten games as of 2011. There are no qualification requirements other than that I like the game — they didn't have to have been released this year, I'm not looking at any specific genre or platform. Furthermore, I don't play enough new games to have a top ten of 2011 list. Nope, these are just my ten favourite games as of 2011. Although I've also included an Honourable Mentions section because picking only 10 games is haaaarrrrrrrddddddd.

The games are in alphabetical order. If you're a regular reader, you'll know I'm loathe to assign numerical scores, so I'm not ordering this list in any way that suggests a #1 game. If you're not a regular reader, well, now's as good a time as any to check out what Post-Launch Reviews is about.

Some of the game names are links. Those links will take you to the full review of the game. The others? Well, consider them to be on the to-review list.

Amnesia is, in my opinion, the scariest game ever made. Its sound design is top-notch — in particular, the scary monster music stops not when the scary monster is gone, but only when you leave your hiding place and see that it's gone. No cues there. Physics-based interaction gives the game some extra immersion (and an extra freak-out factor when a monster is coming and you're frantically spinning your mouse in circles to wheel a valve shut). This is a game to be played in a dark room, only to be so terrified you sleep with the lights on and don't play again for a week.

I wanted to put Guild Wars 2 on here, but it's not even out yet, so I don't think that's entirely fair. Anyway, Guild Wars is the only MMO I ever really got into, despite having tried out games like World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Champions Online, and a few others. The art direction, particularly the characters, is still pretty. The skill system is reminiscent of collectible card games, where you build an eight-skill bar out of the 1,000+ skills, meaning each player has a unique approach to how they play their profession. Most importantly, Guild Wars was built on a foundation of balance: all players have access to all the same gear, and the rare desirable pieces are only cosmetic variations on max-stat gear. In other words, Guild Wars is a game purely about skill, rather than a level grind or gear contest.

Just Cause 2
The preeminent action movie simulator. There is a story, but it's not really important. What is important is the 450 square miles of playable area, hundreds of discoverable settlements, dozens of major landmarks, over 2,000 collectibles, well over 100 vehicles, hidden easter eggs (like the island from Lost), the grappling hook and parachute mechanics, and the sheer joy of destruction and explosions. Just Cause 2 is unrealistic and it doesn't care, because it's more fun that way. You are the star of your own action movie, and you have an entire island nation to play with.

A lot of people might consider this to be a weird entry on the list, considering its rather lackluster review scores. Well the reviews are wrong! All the bug and control complaints have been fixed, leaving us with a great sci-fi shooter with fantastic co-op play, a surprisingly huge amount of customization and different weapons, and some of the most absurdly awesome set pieces ever seen in a video game. Giant robot battlesuits? Check. Fight against one of the sandworms from Dune using a gun so big it has to be carried by two trains? Check. Regular boss fights against bugs the size of apartment buildings? Check. Crashing a Death Star satellite out of orbit to kill an alien the size of a country with the force of a hundred nuclear bombs? F*** yeah.

Metro 2033
Metro 2033 is a post-apocalyptic shooter with a unique perspective. It's based on a book of the same name by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky and developed by 4A Games in Ukraine. Metro features one of the most believable, fully-realized, alive worlds I've ever seen in a video game. When you walk into a new metro station, you can hear several conversations all going on at once from different parts of the station: an old man begging, a kid asking her mom for a new pet rat, some soldiers talking about their last patrol, a few men sitting around the fire with a guitar. The metro stations feel more alive than anywhere I've been in a video game. Add to that the gorgeous DirectX 11 graphics, some clever ideas and mechanics (bullets are money, gas mask filter management), some haunting lore and fiction, and a solid plot that isn't just black and white, and you've got one of my favourite shooters ever made.

Metroid Prime
It may surprise you, but this Gamecube classic is consistently featured on lists of top 10 best FPS games. The graphics have held up surprisingly well: clever art direction makes the game just stylized enough that it still looks better than just about everything else from its generation. Retro Studios took some big risks with Prime: the plot is told mostly through scanning creatures and objects in the environment, and it's a console FPS that doesn't use the standard twin-stick aiming setup, instead opting for lock on and hold-R-to-free-look mechanics. But it paid off, resulting in a lonely exploration-based game with a very different atmosphere from most shooters. Plus, the third and final game on the Wii is severely-underrated proof that motion control works with shooters. 

You may have heard of Minecraft. It's the most successful indie game of all time. Minecraft is a unique take on the open-world sandbox concept: you can dig up and alter and build the randomly-generated world as you choose, rather than playing in a mostly-static world created by the developers. It's this sheer, unrestricted, LEGO-esque freedom that's made Minecraft so successful. Its unique and terrifying monsters, such as the Creeper and the Endermen, don't hurt either. With fairly frequent content additions to a game where no two worlds are the same, Minecraft only runs out of steam when your creativity does.

Pokemon Black & White
Some of you may ask, “What is Pokemon doing on a top ten games list?”. My response would be, “Why the f*** hasn't it been on top ten lists?” Average review scores of 90, plus 11.5 million sales in less than a year, placing them among the best-reviewed and top-selling handheld games of all time. Black and White are great jumping-on points for players new to the franchise, featuring none of the old Pokemon or characters until after the game's story is complete. Pokemon always has been, and still is, a surprisingly deep franchise mechanically, with some pretty absurd hidden math and behind-the-scenes mechanics to master for the really hardcore crowd — not to mention the 649 different monsters to collect and train. Black and White have the strongest plot of any Pokemon game so far, even raising the question of the morality of confining creatures in tiny balls and fighting them against each other.

And here we are at what is almost uncontestedly THE game of 2011. There are other games that had a rabid following and games that were very critically successful, but no other game this year has captured the attention of gamers and the internet like Skyrim has (except maybe Cave Johnson's lemon rant from Portal 2). The main plot of the fantasy RPG is almost inconsequential. Skyrim's success is owed to its absolutely massive, gorgeous Nordic world jam-packed with content — in fact, Skyrim has infinity dragons to fight and infinity quests to complete. Some of the side quest lines are big enough and strong enough to hold up entire games on their own. You can play this game for 100 hours without even touching the core plot — and many people have done so.

Finally, we're back to the game that was my first review. I know I said I didn't want to assign scores, but TF2 is still my favourite game. I've played it for nearly 1,000 hours and it just doesn't get old. The cartoony, 1960's spytech shooter receives constant updates and content additions, keeping the game fresh over its four years. TF2 is one of the most balanced multiplayer games on the market, but its unique, hilarious characters are its true strength. And of course, since earlier this year, Team Fortress 2 is free to play.

Honourable Mentions:

A prequel to the original Deus Ex, the new game manages to capture the feel of the original and deliver a compelling story with great characters and gameplay. The crappy boss fights are really the only low points.

Donkey Kong Country Returns
Of the honourable mentions, this is the one that really wanted to be on the full list, but I just couldn't cut any of the others to replace with this one. Developed by Retro Studios — the same guys who did Metroid Prime — DKCR is a fantastic tribute to the original with some really cool twists on the side-scroller formula. Don't let the cartoonish graphics fool you, this game is monstrously difficult, requiring all your reflexes and memorization skills. Mine cart levels will have you throwing your controller across the room, but it feels great to finish the game.

Singularity is an FPS about Russian time travel experiments, flipping you between the past and the present and dealing with the repercussions of interfering in the past. It's a solid shooter with a fantastically well-written plot (it won writing awards!) and some fun exploration and RPG mechanics to boot. There's some clever design decisions regarding colour — the present is orange, the past is blue — and the game is full of action and clever twists. It's an underrated game that's totally worth your time.

So, that's all.
I've been pretty excited for Batman: Arkham City and Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but I haven't played either of those games yet. If I had they'd probably be on the list based on what I've heard, but maybe they'll be on next year's list. And they'll definitely be reviewed at some point.

I'd love to hear what you think of these games, and/or your favourite games. Let me know in the comments!


  1. Great list! I'll have to get around to finishing some of those, but I do agree with what you've written!

  2. I like this list, however I'm disappointed that you left out Bioware's RPG games. Games like Dragon Age: Origins and the Mass Effect series feature incredible stories with interesting plots and great character development. I think their focus on story telling and the high quality of their games in general deserves more recognition.

  3. Good thing MW3 isn't on there.