In the 28 years or so of gaming that I have experienced, I don’t think I can name one other year that has impressed me in such a diverse way than 2011. Right from the get-go, quality titles began to stack up on the retail end, and quite a few digital games began to stack up on the hard drives of gamers all the world over. While one franchise saw two releases within a nine month time span (Marvel vs Capcom 3, the Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3), some saw their first release within that said series in years (Battlefield 3, after a couple of spinoff titles over the last few years.) There was something for everyone within each genre, with a quality to them that’s rarely seen in such an abundance.
As with last year, I’m going to take this time to reveal what my personal favorites were for 2011. It was a rather challenging ordeal though, as there were quite a few that I absolutely adored yet didn’t feel like they should make my list, and there were a good number I have yet to get my hands on (most notably Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.) I won’t categorize anything either, so iOS titles, XBLA titles and console retail builds will all be considered equally. Again, this is a personal reflection and not a collaborative effort with the rest of the Chocolate Lemon staff.
Homefront (not reviewed) – While it had its share of flaws, I still feel that the story was legitimately worth being invested in, outside of the ending. The multiplayer portion was shockingly addictive as well, and gave a more gratifying sense of accomplishment with each kill. I wholeheartedly recommend this to FPS enthusiasts more than Modern Warfare 3 or even Battlefield 3 (seriously.)
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (Rating: 9.5) – What I still feel as the first true reason to purchase a Nintendo 3DS, Ocarina of Time 3D didn’t try to cram in anything unnecessary gameplay wise (the gyroscope archery aiming was actually a brilliant addition), but simply put a fresh coat of paint on the visuals to help give the 3D effect a more glorious and appealing sheen. It was the highest rating I gave a game this year, though I feel it just barely misses my top five. Plus, I’d rather keep the list to new releases and not so much a re-release, regardless of how fantastic it was. An honorary mention would suffice.
Orcs Must Die (Rating: 8.5)
The only reason I ever knew about Orcs Must Die was based off of the PAX East preview that ForteWally provided us. My fascination for the tower defense genre had started to pick up quite a bit of steam, and the notion of third person gameplay thrown into the mix had me anticipating this one for quite a while.When I finally did get my hands on it, was I ever enthralled by the trap setting mayhem that I had unleashed on the legion of orcs. Orcs Must Die excelled at creativity, where setting up combos with your traps produced not only a better reward on a currency manner, but in a satisfaction sense as well. With each level conquered, a new skill or trap is revealed, and with each level completed gives a rating, which is another form of currency that can be used to purchase a one time upgrade for each skill or trap. With a modest number of levels to complete, a difficulty that steadily grows with each passing level, and the myriad of methods to dispatch the incoming horde of enemies, Orcs Must Die is not only my fifth favorite game this year, but just passes Bastion as my favorite downloadable game of the year.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Rating: 9.0)
For a series that last saw a sequel back in 2003, Deus Ex: Human Revolution made quite an impact on its return to the scene. Definitely for the more patient of players, anyone going into this one with a “run and gun” kind of mentality will be quickly taken down, as the stealth approach will almost always net the best results. The amount of customization allowed through leveling up helps players stave off the strictly stealth approaches as the game goes on, though sticking to the shadows and picking off a guard always feels like the more exhilarating choice of action. Though it had a number of annoying blemishes (excessive load times, emotionless protagonist voice acting, overbearing difficulty early on, the laughably easy last boss) the experience, stealth and story overall were more than worth the price of admission. Even if you turn your nose at any game that contains a predominant amount of stealth to its gameplay, I still recommend Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Have a bit of patience with its blemishes, level Adam Jensen accordingly, and the game becomes quite exciting.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Rating: 9.0)
Skyward Sword didn’t reach every plateau that I was hoping the next big Zelda release would, but it nailed an aspect that helps immerse player into the franchise like never before – just about full control over Link’s sword. A radical departure from the industry standards of “press the attack button to hack and slash away”, motion controls gave a more profound sense of life to Link, enabling players to slash where they wanted, with little restrictions. on top of that, the narrative manages to suck you in from the very beginning, giving the story, while still as cliche as possible, more heart and presence. If Nintendo’s stubbornness ceases on the fully vocalized portion of the audio, removing the inane grunts, moans and “duh!” sounds, Skyward Sword could have made an even more significant impact in a year of solid gaming. It may not have been my favorite game this year (even after anticipating it for years before its release) but it’s still constructed in a way that has it superseding most every other release in general.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Rating: 9.0)
Truth be told, this was an easy selection for number one. A gigantic game world filled with life (eventually you’ll see more of it a few dozen hours into your adventures), numerous quests, sights, sounds and everything in-between. It’s just a shame that my actual number one selection was released just over a month later, or else The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim would have ran away with it all. That doesn’t diminish the fact that its addictive nature and much more refined gameplay, inventory system, skills and so on, are just a small fraction of why it’s nearly impossible to put the game down. In terms of console releases, Bethesda probably released the single best title in this young decade, with more incentives to march forward than any other game released since January 1st of 2010. If you haven’t got your hands on this hot seller yet, check out my review and then go out and get lost in the world of Skyrim for the foreseeable future.
Star Wars: The Old Republic (not reviewed)
I’ll be the first to say that this is the latest release I’ve played into a year, and the first that ever impressed me so profoundly. While the review is still some weeks away (I’m not going to throw out a review two days after launch like some people), I have spotted some flaws with The Old Republic, but they are not enough for me to bump it behind The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bioware managed to do something that no other MMORPG has ever done in such a successful manner – provide a storyline that will grip players in and make them remember their adventures as much as they remembered their trek through the first two Knights of the Old Republic titles. Many of the MMO nuances have been simplified or streamlined some, though never feel excessively dumb down and borderline skewed to preteen casuals. As of this writing, it remains to be seen what kind of end game material will be available (I’m a level 46 Sith Juggernaut) but the journey thus far has kept me hooked harder than any other MMORPG that I’ve played since the one of the grandfathers of the genre, Everquest. While Imperial classes will intertwine in terms of content and side missions, as the Republic side does the same, just following the main storyline and finding out what happens next is gripping enough. The Sith Warrior > Juggernaut plot takes predictable turns here and there, yet they come about at unexpected times. From engaging combat to an engaging soundtrack, the complete package thus far of Star Wars: The Old Republic manages to peep its head above a plethora of high caliber releases that gamers have seen this year. For a game released midway through the final month of a year, that’s quite a spectacular feat.