The opening months of 2011 were graced by the hilarity of Portal 2, the summer was packed with downloadable goodness via Xbox Live Arcade, and the holiday season’s daunting pile of AAA releases spoiled gamers everywhere. If there weren’t multiple games that piqued your interest this year, it may be time for a new hobby.
Last year (it’s weird to be able to say that now, in 2012) also marked the year I played the most games and wrote most about them. So I thought this would be as good a year as any to list my top five of all year. In order to keep spirits high and complaints low, I’m not going to number my top five, opting instead to list them in a random order.
So here are my top five games of 2011, in no random order, but in all of their glory. Enjoy.
A melancholy theme of overcoming regret was tackled in this Xbox Live Arcade hit. The game was essentially built around this theme, and the emotional approximation that results is subtle, yet remains poignant when the controller is put down. Some of Bastion’s design mechanics were questionable, like the aiming of the shield or some of the over-powered weapons, but the aesthetic pleasantry, unforgettable soundtrack, and smart narration (Hey, I liked it, okay?) are enough for me to give it a nod for one of the best games this year.
[Side note: The "unforgettable soundtrack" I mentioned can be found here. You can give each of the songs a listen before you buy, but I believe it's worth a purchase.]
Rayman Origins is a nearly perfect game. The only complaint I have with it is that it doesn’t support online co-op, but that’s not much when considering what Origins has going for it. Beautiful, hand-drawn art? Check. Wonderfully catchy soundtrack? Check. That good ol’ platforming nostalgia? Hmm.. check. The story is almost non-existent, but you shouldn’t care — Rayman Origins hearkens back to the golden days of platforming where fun mattered and the story didn’t (at least not quite so much), and it delivers well enough to make even Mario blush.
Unfortunately though, in a sea of AAA blockbusters this holiday season, this gem of a game didn’t see the success it really should have. If you don’t think this game warrants a purchase (shame on you) it’s already reduced to under $30 at most retailers. And if that’s not persuasive enough, do yourself a favor and download the demo on Xbox Live to see the brilliant platforming in action.
The much-anticipated sequel to the surprise hit Portal thankfully arrived early in 2011, an otherwise dry period in gaming. It featured an intensely funny campaign, accentuated by pervasively stellar voice work. The hilarious Wheatley and Cave Johnson, balanced by the menacing humor of GLaDOS, gave me a campaign experience I’ll never forget — partly because it had me laughing the whole damn time. Even when the brain-melting puzzles had me on edge, the hilarious commentary always kept my temper in check. New technology and a nice cooperative addition (along with the aforementioned voice talent) also set this sequel apart from the original, and that’s saying something.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I’ll refrain from making any “arrow to the knee” jokes. You’re welcome.
A massive, somewhat daunting world of lore, magic, and intrigue are what makes Skyrim so great. Bethesda really made a world worth inhabiting; it’s escapism at its finest, and a testament to what video games can accomplish. Buy this game and show your moms, folks.
You can be anyone and do anything in this tour de force of Tolkienian proportions, and I’m guessing you’re one of the millions who own this game so I don’t feel the need to sing its praises.
Saints Row The Third
Eschewing any sort of coherent narrative for sheer, raucous fun and mayhem was Saints Row The Third’s formula for success. The ridiculousness started from the opening moments and didn’t end when the story came to a close — that is a good thing. Whether I was flying a hoverbike around a faux New York City, galavanting around town with an RPG in-hand, or just playing through the enjoyable campaign, Saints Row The Third is just plain fun. This game will have you laughing, too; it has more social commentary than South Park and more explosives than a Michael Bay epic. That means, if you don’t laugh at their attempts to pick fun at America’s war on crime, then you will laugh at your near omnipotence when it comes to the law. Blow stuff up, run things over, and have a good time.
Well, those are my top games of 2011. If you agree with me and want to throw me praise, disagree and want to yell at me, or are somewhere in between, hit me up on Twitter.