Wednesday, February 15, 2012

2011 in lists: video games

Yes yes, it's so late for this, but I'm making lists of my favourite things from 2011 now okay?! I meant to get rough to it in January but couldn't and if you think mid February is too late for this business you can just get lost!
As with my favourite games of 2010 list - this is not strictly a collection of my favourite titles released last year, but rather the ten games I most enjoyed playing in that time.
From Dust
At the age of 11, seeing Another World on the SNES for the first time, my mind broke. I had never seen anything like it and it's safe to say that in the 20 years since it's release, still haven't. Other great titles have crafted heavily cinematic experiences for players, and many great platformers have come along since, but it's the specific erie feel of the game that's never been matched in my eyes. 7 years later, desginer Eric Chahi followed the genius of Another World up with 1998's cult classic "Heart of Darkness" and then left the world hanging. Then sometime in 2011, 13 years later, Chahi released his next great work, the bizarre From Dust. Again, a whole new beast, quite unlike anything else I'd played before, the game handed me powers to create and destroy, save tiny little people and guide them through ever more amazing worlds. I loved every minute of it.
Dragon Age 2
Let me be honest here - this game was a huge let down. A total step backwards from the expansive magic of Dragon Age 1. It was a major disappointment that my actions in that game had no real impact on my world in this sequel and easily the least engaging story I've seen from usual narrative-champions Bioware. But, all that said, I still really enjoyed my time with this game.Great combat, some really fun characters and a satisfying (if limited) leveling system - I would be lying if I said this disappointment hadn't still made for one of my most enjoyable gaming adventures of this past year.
Like some of my favouirte bands and comics have, this game totally felt as if it found me because I was meant to love it. I had never so much as heard of Contact when Nestor passed this title on to me at the end of our European tour. While he furnished me with a bunch of great titles for my DS that day, Contact was the one that just blew me way. Constantly taking a wreckingball to the 4th wall, the way this game placed me, the player, as the icing on top of multi-layered cake of pure RPG deliciousness made for an experience so sweet and rich that Contact now fills a very special little place in my heart.

I have a tiny kitten-shapped award for "the company that made the largest number of Ben's favouirte games in the space of a year". Catchy title - I know! This year, Double Fine win the award! After spending close on a decade on just 1 game (which happened to make my top ten last year) Double Fine approached 2011 with a unique strategy; instead of spending years and years making one more AAA title, they instead opted to start releasing smaller games, more frequently. The results have been amazing and I could easily have had a third game (Costume Quest) on this list as. For the benifit of mixing things up though, I've left that off, but there was no way Stacking couldn't be on here. The game just looks amazing. With a nod to the silent era of cinema, it's built around the simply inspired idea of creating a world out of Russian dolls, the result is a unique blend of old timey aesthetics and current-day designer toy awesomeness. But what makes it a truly wonderful game is that the only thing more original than the visuals are the gameplay. With Stacking, Double Fine created a genre all of it's own; an adventure lived through puzzles, solved from a 3rd person perspective and the results where hour and hours of fun.
Front Mission Evolved

This is one that wouldn't have made many top ten lists when it came out in 2010. Yes, it's not the most well made game, the story's not great and you have to spend way to much time running around as a little human, but... MECHS! When I play video games I wanna design giant robots, fly them through cities, shoot an insane amount of guns at once and step on tanks - WHY DOES NOBODY UNDERSTAND THIS!?! The mech genre is really my total favourite and yet no one seems to want to make games in it. While waiting for 2012's Armored Core 5, Front Mission Evolved totally filled the massive robot-sized hole in my heart and did so in a totally fun, satisfying way!
LA Noir
Like Dragon Age 2, this is no perfect game. That said, the people behind LA Noir created something geniuelly new and different, making a game that is more about seeing virutal characters as living, real people than anything else. Personally, even if it's a little flawed, I'll take that kind of ambitious creativity any day over the kind of "perfect" carbon copies of the same thing that the industry tirelessly churns out. LA Noire was a story I loved to live (and bungle) through, and I am massively excited to see the kind of impact this brave game will have on future titles in coming years.
My second entry from Double Fine, this game had the same kind of genre-blurring fun that made Brutal Legend so good. Mobile tower defence with giant mechs against aliens in a world war 1 era setting - how could I not have been totally in love with this title?
The Undergarden
I dream about people making games like this and, playing the Undergraden for the first time, I couldn't believe that dream had come true. This game is the anti-Limbo. In contrast to Limbo's dark, grey world where brutal death was always one step ahead of me, The Undergarden put me in a space where nothing could kill me, in a world as bright and colorful as I chose to make it. A real breath of fresh air in a world that constantly takes itself too seriously, The Undergraden made for some of my most happy gaming moments of 2011.
Unlike Front mission Evolved, this is one that was on many many similar lists and the reasons for this barely seem worth repeating. Nothing that came out in the past year comes close to the colossal, immersive experience Skyrim presented me with. 70 hours in, I sill feel like I've barely scratched the surface of the stories this world has to offer me, and if i'm still playing this game by this time next year I wouldn't be surprised in the least.
I don't even know where to start with explaining the genius of this title or my adoration for it. Put together by a tiny team of friends, Bastion is just perfect in every way. It's beautifully painted environments, the epic battles I fought through them and the post apocalyptic, steam-punk world they fell under, Bastion just didn't put a foot wrong. Considering it was made by a team of only 7 people (brilliant art girl and constantly narrating voice-over guy included in that number!) this game can only be seen as a colossal slap in the face of an industry where games are made by fifty to a hundred times as many people and titles don't hold a candle to the inspired, creative brilliance of Bastion. But outside of the DIY way the game was lovingly brought into this world, Bastion is just brilliant for what it is, a flawless hack and slash RPG, where your quests are undertaken not for the selfish gain of leveling up your own character, but to build something so much bigger, The Bastion, a home for orphaned monsters and a beacon of light for the few that survived the end of the world.

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