Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Happy New Year!

Batman: Arkham City arrives today, and the new video game year officially begins. 2011 AD will rage on like a dying tiger for another two and a half months, chewing up the clock and spitting out holidays, but 2011 VG ends here.

So how did 2011 VG pan out? I wonder. It all goes by so fast. In such a blur. It seems like just yesterday I was moving my X-Com team into Cydonia and mastering the Chenjesu Broodhome. The truth is, I'm probably more interested in seeing where this goes than you are. The question that always fascinates me the most, about my own gaming, is simple: what did I buy compared to what I actually played? I think I'm about to play a lot of Arkham City, Skyrim, and Saint's Row 3. Am I right? Or will Rugby Challenge and Hot Shots Golf hold my attention against their new rivals? Do I affect the outcome of these contests by being aware of them?

You see how this line of questioning can consume me. Best to get it out of the system.

So now, by combining the resources of all seven internets, the game stacks around me, achievement and trophy lists of all flavors, and my own pixel stained memories, let us peer back across the only year Earth knows where 12 months are entirely optional.

2011 VG began quite late: last November, with the arrival of Kinect, and then Call of Duty Black Ops a few days later. Ahh, Black Ops, the game half my 360 friends list claims to hate while still playing daily...

Your Call of Duty experience may vary with online play.

Call of Duty Black Ops - I'm not the biggest fan of the CoD series (I liked 4!), but even I was stunned to find Black Ops looking and playing like a 1st gen 360 launch title. I took this dog back to Gamestop and traded it in faster than you can say "Why are all these polygons glowing? Did the Taliban invade Battle Arena Toshinden?"

Everything you know about meeting girls is wrong.
Kinect Sports - This one did quite well around here. Surprisingly well, considering the only thing my Wii did right in four years was Monster Hunter Tri. A year later, I'm still playing Kinect Sports, although it has lost a lot of its field time to Tiger Woods 12 and the PS Move controllers.

Gran Turismo 5 - The Official Racing Game of People Who Hate Rainbows.
Gran Turismo 5 - GT5 got to be the main racing game for about a month, during which time it got played daily. Since then it hasn't seen a ton of action, but it's likely to get a second (brief) chance soon, because I haven't seen it in 3D yet. After several days of meticulous head to head comparisons between Dirt 3, Forza 3, and GT5, I did determine, beyond a shadow of doubt, that GT5 was the superior racing engine. I just wish it was presented with a little more style and fanfare than a T&E Soft golf game on the Genesis. Or that it exceeded the confines of the Genesis colour palette.

Gran Turismo called. It said you're wearing too much orange.

Limbo - Can I get this on my phone? It belongs on my phone. It's good, it just belongs on my phone.

Oh, Psyduck, just let it go, man. Let it go.

Project Diva 2: Hatsune Miku - I've played this one less than its predecessor, but I still love the Project Diva games. It's actually not even Miku's fault; my psp has just seen a lot less action this year, in general. (See Monster Hunter Portable 3rd.)

In space, no one can hear you dressing up like a Volkswagon to abuse steroids.

Gears of War 3 - A fairly amazing end to the 360's second most lackluster series. (I know the core 360iots will report me to Master Chief for saying that, but coddling them makes it worse.) I only bought Gears 3 because I needed to buy something and I knew it would present tons of co-op, if nothing else. Maybe it was my super low expectations, but I've had a blast with this one. A full campaign in 4 player co-op, a drastically improved and expanded horde mode, and a killer new beast mode that's probably best described as Gears vs. Oddworld. AND it's in 3D, even though it's just a 360 game! (Ok, not good 3D, but still...)

This incredibly interesting piece of promotional art for From Dust could not be more of a lie. =[
From Dust - Eric Chahi is the only video game designer I have ever truly revered as an artist. Not only do I consider Out of this World to be the finest video game ever made, it represents, to me, the most heartbreaking of all the gaming roads untraveled. Twenty years later I'm still waiting for contextual controls to catch up with OotW. (Almost) needless to say, From Dust was a disappointment of epic magnitude. It might have worked 25 years ago during that initial Populous/Power Monger phase. It just seems like so little so late at this point, even when it's only compared to other XBLA titles. (I have multiple versions of this one, and believe me, it's an XBLA game no matter where you play it.)

Hi kids! Remember, pirates get candy! Support your local torrent sites!

Epic Mickey - Was this the moment I finally gave up on the Wii forever? Maybe. Probably. Maybe. It's too bad this game didn't come out five minutes after Mario 64. It coulda been a contender.

I'm absolutely not having sex with this motorcycle. Still, if you could come back in 15 minutes...
 Tron Evolution - One of those extremely rare titles where the psp version is better than its console counterpart. As a console game I couldn't make it to minute 4 of this title if you held a gun to my head. The controls seemed to work off a flounder based engine. As a psp game it was at least playable, if uninspired, which is actually high praise for a non-AAA psp title.

The real Nabeshin when a crazy chick tries to mind game him.
Catherine - Nabeshin!!! No, wait, nevermind. You're just some imposter with a J-fro. This was a good game, with killer presentation, it just wasn't a game I was going to play again. Traded.

A bastion.

Bastion - This looked ok, but then I was incredibly bored from the moment it started up. I don't know. I wonder sometimes if sprite based gaming has a different charm for people who didn't already sit through the 17 years of sprites literally being the only game in town.

Thanks to DC Universe Online, this really happened.

DC Universe Online - This isn't an mmo. It's a suicide note from a game developer. Go find a youtube video of the opening cinema and see if you can watch it without needing to cut yourself. Then know that that video was the soaring epiphany of the DC Universe experience.

I'm absolutely not a horrifying Sackboy monster. Still, if you could come back in 15 minutes...

Little Big Planet 2 - I swear I want to care about this game. It's been sitting here for months. I refuse to take it out of the "active" pile, even though I don't play it. I wish they'd fix the super floaty controls on Sackboy. He'll never be in Mario's, or even Sonic's, league until they fix his interface. And as a game I'm bored with LBP, which makes it hard to appreciate the fact that it's one of the most interesting game systems ("system" used here in the traditional tabletop rpg sense, not as a synonym for console) ever designed. What's perhaps most telling is that I actually know a lot of people with LBP2, and we all spend a fair amount of time trying to find things to do in co-op, and not once, ever, has one of us suggested playing this game.

You look familiar. Were you also green and half naked in Morrowind?

Two Worlds II - If I could design my own character in Two Worlds II, I'd be playing it right now instead of writing this round-up. It's a cool game, and I've liked everything I've done in it so far, but it's so hard to invest in a massive open world sandbox game where you're stuck playing some computer geek's homoerotic fantasy of the perfect alpha male. Wait! Come back, every Grand Theft Auto game ever, I didn't mention you by name!

Is this why we only got 4 maps? You dicks!
Battlefield Bad Company 2: Vietnam - Fun, but it made me miss the real Battlefield Vietnam even more than I do already. Which is a lot. Also, it's possible I've finally heard Fortunate Son enough times.

Choosing outfits for your cats wasn't always the hardest part of monster hunting.

Monster Hunter Portable 3rd - Nothing but improvements for what was already one of the most cleverly designed franchises in history. Except for the one problem - Portable 3rd is painfully easy - which is the exact opposite of what Monster Hunter is all about. In Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, it took me roughly 300 hours to complete all the basic single player village quests. Not even the single player cat quests, just the ones the village elder lady gives out. There were monsters that took me days to defeat. (Sometimes many days.) I got incapped at least a hundred times in those 300 hours, and failed dozens of quests. In Portable 3rd, I completed not only all the village quests, but at least a third of the four player quests (alone), getting incapped a grand total of twice, and never having failed any quest at all. All without using armour until the final hunt for the monster from the cover. Part of the lack of challenge is the improved engine - it was much harder to dodge in Unite because the hit boxes were insane and monsters could damage you without actually touching you (without even coming close in some cases), but most of it is just Capcom toning the game down for wider audience appeal. Which might have been worth it if Capcom had actually ported the game for Western markets. I've got about 85 hours in Portable 3rd: the Monster Hunter equivalent of 15 minutes.

The 3D glasses might feel weird for a second.
Killzone 3 - Not only is Killzone 3 the star of the Sharpshooter library, it's also the pinnacle of Sony's 3D! I don't play this regularly, but it's never left the rotation either. (I'd play it more if it wasn't constantly resetting my progress. I'm not sure what that's all about, but I'm really tired of escorting that robot and covering those windows.)

This has all happened before. It will all happen again.
Crysis 2 - AKA Generic 2: the Genericing. The first Crysis was slightly frustrating at times, but fun. This one is just balls out boring. It's years too late for corridor games. They were never very dynamic, but at least they made sense in 1995. Now it's just inexcusably lazy game design.

My other car is a snorkawallapus.

Patapon 3 - You build a near-perfect game that ignores all kinds of conventions, and then proceed to video game it to death a little more with every iteration. It's Twisted Metal all over again. Not everything benefits from having cookie-cutter industry standard concepts injected into its mix. Twisted Metal was never the same once they implemented those awful Street Fighter style weapon/shield codes, and Patapon has never recovered from being infused with power ups, hero units, and less abstract scripts. If Sony really wants to apologize to me for all the weirdness this year, saving this artwork from its developers would be a great start.

Gaze carefully, for these are the tiles of infinity.
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together - Fun for the first 20 hours, but eventually you realize you're playing That Game again, and must either, 1) choose to commit to 200+ more hours, or, 2) get the hell out. Only people with a very focused library or a deep passion for tile tactics games can afford to choose option 1. I am neither.

Hi, we're here to audition for the lead in Dragon Age III.
Dragon Age II - Why is there a II on this? This isn't a sequel. That's not even my character. If I'd met this title as "Another Game with Dragon in its Name: Part 1", I might have liked it. As the sequel to the just-better-than-average game that was supposed to be a sequel to beloved Baldur's Gate I+II, all you've done is convince me that Baldur's Gate is finally dead. Insert unhappy emoticon here.

When simulating people riding buses is the only thing your game does, it seems like it should at least get bus stops right.

Cities in Motion - Pirated it, loved it (despite the fact that its inherently broken), bought it on Steam with all its DLC. I don't know why a game where all I do is set up bus and train routes/stops is so great, but it is great. Even if it will never work right. (There's an issue with punters over-queuing that the devs refuse to fix, for reasons that remain lost to me. They keep patching the game, but they never fix the one issue that we've all been complaining about forever. Like I say - inherently broken. But also addicting and fun!)

NOT the character design of people with good instincts. 

Brink - Unplayable. I don't know what possessed someone to take Bethesda's insanely clunky Fallout engine, which is barely adequate for a sprawling, pause anytime, RPG, and turn it into an online arena game, but the person responsible should be beaten, then sold to gypsies, then beaten again.

This looks like a joke, but my friend has moleskin grips installed and uses a laser pointer as a sight on his Sharpshooter.

SOCOM 4 - Would I even notice this hopelessly linear spec-ops-by-numbers game if it didn't use the Sharpshooter? Probably not. Luckily, it does use the Sharpshooter, so instead of competing with Metal Gear 4 and Deus Ex: HR, SOCOM 4 shifts into the realm of Time Crisis and Virtua Cop 2, where it can bask in the peaceful glow of diminished expectations. (Honestly, until sometime in the middle of 2013, anything that lets you snipe with the Sharpshooter is going to be awesome.)

Even GLaDOS loves Miku!

Portal 2 - Hands down winner of the 2011 Thirdrail Trophy for Best Writing in a Video Game. The gameplay is impeccable, but GLADOS, the hardest working AI in show business, is the game's real star, and well worth the price of admission.

The world died. Turbochargers didn't.
Motorstorm Apocalypse - Assuming you like racing games, you need two kinds: a cheap fun arcade racer and a heavy sim racer. Motorstorm Apocalypse is cheap fun arcade racing with bells on. Killer 3D and some of the best track designs I've seen since F-Zero was in vogue. Like every good bubblegum racer I've ever met, it will stay in occasional use until a replacement arrives. This is the only game I have ever played where I skipped every cut scene immediately. I don't know why the game even has cut-scenes, but I'm here to race a rocket propelled dune buggy across the rooftops of collapsing buildings, not listen to the ramblings of some moron who'd be better off on pokemon.net writing Ash/Misty shipper fanfic.

Tennis AND break dancing? Get out of my head!

Virtua Tennis 4 - Ever since those old Nintendo Vs. Tennis arcade machines, I've been a fan of tennis games. if this one had decent Move support, it would be getting played every day, instead of just messed with on the rare occasions I turn on my laptop.

(It really doesn't.)

Dissidia 012 - Still more technically impressive than fun, just like its old man. Between Dissidia I+II, XIII, and XIV, I think I'm finally burned out on Final Fantasy.

This is from the angry dancing portion of the rugby match. No, I don't know either.

Rugby Challenge - I'm just starting this one, and it's been a little crashy, but the game itself is great. I knew nothing about rugby a week ago, and I already like it much better than its two dopey sisters, football and football. Especially football! Plus, it's always neat to play a high quality sports game (stability issues aside) that has nothing to do with EA.

We can't have bunnies in Tiger Woods 12. I assume it's because Tiger Woods hates animals. 
Let's Golf 2 HD - I show up for a golf game on my cell phone and what do I find running around the first hole? An ostrich! A few holes later, a giraffe! Tiger Woods 12, what the hell?! It's basically just another anime golf game, but it's fun and pretty and has a soul, unlike some golf games I play every day.

Go as fast as you want, you'll still be on an iPhone!

Grand Prix Story - Full disclosure: I used to spend way too much time building and watching go kart tracks in Rollercoaster Tycoon 1 and 2. Racing Story turns that fetish into a full scale racing management game that makes Gran Turismo 5's B-Spec look about as sophisticated as a cell phone app (which Grand Prix Story actually is).

I take it back! I really enjoy your rolling papers!

The Sims Medieval - I probably got three solid days of fun gameplay out of this before turning it off and walking away forever. That seems to be my relationship with Sims games. I've never played one I didn't like, and I've never played one for longer than 5 days. I've never missed a Sims game, and yet I've also never reinstalled one once I took it off the drive.

Long hair, tons of scars, and a wolf necklace. Easy there, slut magnet, you're not the only one in the Winn Dixie.
Witcher 2 - This is the best game I'm not playing even though I should be. I keep meaning to get back to it, and keep getting distracted. It came with all this really nice stuff too, like a little map and a guide/art book. And CD Projekt has given the game a ton of post-launch support. This is probably going to end up being my big March game or something.

Never forget.

Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars - The more I think about it, the more I'm coming to realize that Lego games are the perfect home for what Star Wars has become. This is the Clone Wars material presented at its correct level. It's fun like all Lego games are fun - in that "I like this level, but did it need to be 45 minutes long?" kind of way.

Finally, a game with Johnny Depp in it!

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean - The best part about these Lego games? They run great on a 3 year old gaming laptop. Emergency gaming.

Once upon a time, the squandering of such a visceral opening sequence was the sole prerogative of filmmakers.
Homefront - Best first person on a rail cinematic opening ever! I was completely invested in this setting by the 90 second mark. Until the gameplay started, I couldn't believe this wasn't one of the biggest titles of the year. Then I actually had to play it, and it all came crumbling down. There's nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of a big open looking map and then realizing you're in a hallway. Crysis 2 did the same stupid thing. It's infuriating. If you want me in a corridor, don't set your damn game in the backyards of a suburban neighborhood. Set it someplace where your forced, linear, geography at least makes some sense. If I'm in a subway train, or a submarine, or a hallway, then being in a hallway is fine. But if you put me in an intersection downtown, and then restrict me to a narrow mono-directional track no wider than a highway, it just makes your game seem shitty and lame. And then I uninstall it, and go play a better game. (See also: using bittorrent to test things before you buy them and how much money this can save you.)

According to Relic, I could be anyone.
Warhammer 40K Dawn of War II: Retribution - They seem to be getting farther and farther away from the original Dawn of War games, which is fine, I guess, because they've pretty much taken that idea as far as it will go, but none of the Dawn of War II games have felt like they knew what they wanted to be, or be doing.  This is the least focused, least interesting iteration yet. Six playable races, but they all get the same campaign. Tyranids and Space Marines aren't interchangeable. You'd think someone at Relic would know the universe well enough to mention that long before Retribution reached the shelves, especially after making a half dozen 40k games, but apparently no one there has ever actually played or read any of the real 40K material from the tabletop war game.

If you could marry Cloud's sword, game designers would be extinct in one generation.

God Eater Burst - Not bad. Also not Monster Hunter. Sadly, that really is all the meaningful information there will ever be about God Eater Burst. I wish someone would come up with a decent MH clone, but so far all the attempts to endear new IPs to the hunter audience have been pretty weak.

This is not the Tiger Woods EA Sports wants you to think about. Well, you should have given me that duck.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 The Masters - If EA actually cared about this game, or anyone who worked on it cared, I'd probably give it GOTY. We've played a ton of it. We still play it almost every day. It's simply the best game for either Move or Kinect right now. The problem, as with all EA games, is EA. This is in-house EA, so it's not like they only show up in the end to suck the life out of the publishing and support phases. No, in this case, Tiger Woods, from the foundation up, is plagued by EA's persistent ennui. They just make so much money, and face so little real competition, that no one at EA ever seems to have any reason to lovingly craft anything. And Tiger Woods 12 is many things - clean, adequate, statistically sound, teeming with courses once you shell out $80 on DLC - but it is never lovingly crafted. Much like Tiger Woods himself, all this game's personality seems to have been eradicated in favor of the vanilla kiss of simple function.

Here's an example: on every hole with water you can hear ducks quacking. They sound very near you. But there are no ducks. $80 worth of DLC (19 DLC courses compared to 14 included in the game, available day one), $10 online passes, and prominently featured in-game advertising, year 13 of one of the best selling sports franchises in Terran history... and no one can be bothered to model and path a 25 polygon duck? How much would I need to spend? How expensive would Tiger Woods need to be before EA had the resources to add that duck? I'd just like to know. And it's not the ducks specifically. The game is full of that kind of empty. Anyway, I suspect Tiger Woods 12 will have serious problems staying in rotation once there's any other real (non-Sharpshooter) games for the Move. (If Minna no Golf 5 had Move support for online, instead of just single player, TW12 would have already been replaced by a golf game we can't read from 3 years ago.)

Looking at this picture, I wonder why I'm not playing this. That looks great!

Shift 2: Unleashed - I'd swear there was some problem with this one. Now I can't remember it, but there was some technical issue that quickly ended my relationship with this game. I think. I guess now I'm going to have to play it again and figure out why I don't play it. Thanks, stupid list.

By the time you get here, you'll envy her.

LA Noire - For the first few hours all I could think about was the fact that I was finally playing a Rockstar game that wasn't written by a high school sophomore for other high school sophomores. It was kind of a magic moment; there are few things in the video game universe I find more grating than the faux-juvenille writing in GTA games. The investigations are great to start with too. I enjoyed finding clues, and interrogating witnesses. For a while. The farther you play, the more you're forced to realize just how very, very shallow LA Noire's waters run. You play Cole, but you never meet him. He's just a clue finding interrogation machine, magically appearing at the police station each morning to follow a waypoint through a massive city that's just as empty as the experience of playing in it. I'm so glad Team Bondi is over.

Maybe you're calling the wrong game. How would you know?

Persona (two of them) - I'd like to stand here and tell you that I can tell Persona games apart. I really would. But it would be a lie. I've never been able to tell them apart, and I'm not getting any better at it. That said, I played two Persona games this year. One was very dry and boring, despite the whirlwind it created in the rpg community, and one was less dry and boring, with more contemporary graphics. The second one was good. It was another one of those games that's designed for people with a total library of three or fewer active titles, which rules me out, but I liked it and I'm glad I messed around with it.

Rally is just like NASCAR, except it involves driving.
Dirt 3 - They put the rally racing back in the series that Colin McCrea built. Yay. I had a lot of fun with Dirt 3 for about a week, then I wandered off and I haven't played it since. It still has the weird float in the controls that you get from driving games that are meant to be played with a wheel. I need a good hovercraft racing game to clear my palate after so many real car games this year.

I assume there's some kind of contest to see who can take the most misleading screenshot of an RTS game. This should win.
Tropico 4 - I don't know how to feel about Tropico 4. On one hand it's a marked improvement, in terms of UI, over Tropico 3, and the game is presented in a far more fun and accessible way. On the other hand, it's really just Tropico 3.1, and it's being sold for full retail. So it is fun, and I like it, but I can't, in good conscience, recommend it to anyone. At least not until it's $9.99.

Bathing suits from the 50s always look so frumpy.
Warhammer 40k Space Marine - The first half of an excellent game. After so many Dawn of War titles, and so many years of 40k figures themselves, to be seeing the 40k universe from the first person perspective. It's all very epic. You simultaneously feel very heavy in your armour and very small compared to everything around you. At one point you're loading a cannon with a shell so large, so silly, so gratuitously 40k, that it (the shell) has stained glass windows. The thing is, Space Marine isn't a full game. As a single player game, it's a cliffhanger that will never be resolved (they've already said there's no room in the world for both Space Marine 2 and the upcoming 40k mmo - Dark Millennium), and as a multiplayer game it's like a three mini-map demo. I wonder if Space Marine isn't really a field test for the third person shooter engine they're going to use with Dark Millennium.

Sometimes you chase the goat mountain. Sometimes the goat mountain chases you.
Monster Hunter Portable 3rd HD - It's Portable 3rd all over again. With 3D support. So obviously there was no way not to buy it once I had the 3DTV. It is fun to see all the MH stuff 1) clearly and 2) in the beautiful realism of 3D.

The white girl represents good and the black girl represents evil. I'm not even gonna say anything.

InFamous 2 - The first InFamous is the only ps3 game I've ever platinumed. I really, really liked it. We connected. You'd think I'd like the second one too, since it's just a reskin of the first game, but somehow, showing up and finding that even the architecture was identical, just re-textured, completely killed my ability to happily explore. Assassin's Creed: Whatever, I'm not giving you your own entry, but everything I just said goes triple (quadruple?) for you.

This doesn't look like the Resistance 3 I played at all! Dammit!
Resistance 3 - I wish I'd played this before I played Killzone 3. My least favorite Sharpshooter game so far. Way too low key for me. I wanted a giant, epic, alien invasion and instead got Fallout 3: The Prologue. Edit: Looking up screenshots for this piece, every single one looked awesome, and way more like the game I thought I was getting into in the first place. As I type this, my Sharpshooter friend and I are chatting on Live, agreeing to re-investigate this one after the holidays.

No matter how many drugs Child of Eden inspires you to take, you will never forget this space whale in 3D.
Child of Eden (Twice) - Everyone went so crazy for this on Kinect, I had to get it. It was ok. There's not much there, really, but what is there is pretty, and I've done more than enough acid to appreciate zapping trippy space fish with an outstretched arm. But it just didn't get played much, so I finally traded it. Then I upgraded my tv to 3D, and realized the ps3 version supported 3D, so I re-bought it for the Sony. And... wow. Seriously, wow. The difference between Child of Eden in 3D and Child of Eden regular is like the difference between hours of sex and glancing at a picture of a naked lady. Why Sony doesn't have this set up to demo every 3DTV they sell is beyond me.

I'm 90% sure the original Alice in Wonderland involved less stabbing.
Alice Madness Returns - The art direction on this game is so gorgeous, so out of hand, that it's easy to forgive the prosaic game play. At the same time, it does seem like you'd be able to harness the imaginative horsepower of such an obviously gifted team into creating gameplay that revolved around something more unique than hacking things with a knife and double jumping. Although, to be fair, Alice's butterfly teleport is brilliant - both in look and implementation - it's incredibly fun to use.

I was going to accuse your game of being uninspired, but now that I see you included dual wielding...

F.3.A.R. (FEAR 3) - In two years I'm going to be trying to remember which one was FEAR 3, and which one was Homefront, and which one was Crysis 2. And I'll fail. Yet another mind bogglingly average shooter.

It should probably be illegal to want anything as much as I want Akiyama's jacket.

Yakuza 4 - It's amazing how much you can play and how much you can still miss. I've been meaning to play Yakuza since the original, and finally just got around to it. Aside from the typical boring button mashy fight scenes that Japanese guys seem to require, this has been one hell of a game. It's rare that I genuinely like characters in video games. At best they're like spending time with a 14 year old boy's D&D character (think Gears), and, at worst, they're so demographically tailored as to be unrecognizable to any human with a soul (think Halo). Akiyama, Yakuza 4's eccentric loan shark, is one of the most likeable characters I have ever seen. I had rented this, and finally just got my own copy a few weeks ago, so now, much like Witcher 2, Yakuza 4 is sitting here on hold until I find the time and inclination it deserves. (i.e. February!)

After I finish this cigarette, I can't smoke again for 17 minutes. That's how long my smoking battery takes to recharge.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - I'm maybe 6 or 8 hours into this one? I play it and have fun, but I can only stand it for so long because of the part where I have to wait 60 seconds for my stabbing battery to recharge before I can stab a second person. How do ideas that stupid make it into publication? I keep hoping they'll fix that with a patch and I can go at Deus Ex full bore.

Wait a minute. Boats don't have fireplaces... boats don't have fireplaces!!!
Total War: Shogun 2 - I've been a tactical board gamer for many years, and one of my all-time favorite strategy games is an old Avalon Hill game called Samurai, which was a variant of an even older game called Kingmaker. There's a lot of Samurai in Shogun 2 (no pun intended). The internet has been less kind to tabletop games than it has their pixel counterparts. Games of Samurai, Star Fleet Battles, Car Wars, and Ogre are hard to come by these days. Shogun 2, on the other hand, is never farther away than Steam. This is one of those slot games that will continue to stay on semi-active duty until I find its replacement.

Whatever's happening here, it's far less gay than an actual Zelda game.
Legend of Zelda OoT - Link and I have a dysfunctional relationship. There's no other way to say it. I'm hopelessly attracted to his ultra-high production value, and lured by memories of his brilliant snes game. And yet, I am simultaneously repulsed by Link himself, and by the torporific stink of Nintendo's endless regurgitation. Deja vu isn't supposed to be enforceable. I don't know that we'll ever work things out, but it seems likely I'll keep trying, like the fool I am.

I am absolutely not excitedly kicking this lizard in his penis. Still, if you could come back in 15 minutes...
Kung Fu Panda 2 - Unplayable. Even by "this game is for 8 year olds" standards. There are a few Kinect games that just don't function correctly, and this is one of them. It did have one of the better Kinect menu systems among the early launch titles. All I can say for myself here is that I think my attempts to work with Kinect prove I don't have any commitment issues.

There's always one building where both sides end up mushing together, which turns a supposedly objective based game with vehicles into team deathmatch.
Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad - EA is fighting with Valve, and I can't side against the people who have been piling free Left 4 Dead 2 DLC onto me for years. So, I'm trying to find a Battlefield alternative. Red Orchestra isn't it, but it has some cool ideas - like a morale system where allies dying near you affects your vision and aim for a second. With better map design, it definitely could be a replacement for Battlefield, but the maps it has are so awful that I'm afraid that's never going to happen. Oh well, back to Arma!

Guess which one is the bad guy.

Shadow of the Colossus/ICO - The ps2 was easily my least favorite console ever. (And mind you, my first console was a used Magnavox Odyssey.) It was the most poorly designed hardware ever (The 360 didn't exist yet! I'm sorry! I had no idea!) and it had a library of shovelware not even Japan's PC Engine or an iPhone could ever hope to rival. I got out of the ps2 early, and was glad to be rid of the thing. Shadow of the Colossus was the price I paid for that escape. I never got to play it. Not a week has passed in the last six years that I haven't thought of it. The number of times I stood staring at ps2s, calculating exactly what it would cost me to play that one game...

Thank Yig I waited. The new HD version supports 3D, and 3D, which spends most of its time just being a luxurious but ultimately unnecessary graphic enhancement, changes Shadow of the Colossus so deeply, so fundamentally - the feeling of actually being up on those massive things as you clamber around on them - that I've now made a miraculous transition. Instead of being the only gamer I know who never played this classic, I'm now the only one who has played it. The key now is not to rush through it, as tempting as it is, because not only is it a unique and amazing experience, it's currently the closest thing I've got to a real Monster Hunter game.

Oh yeah? Let's see you play X3 or Darkstar One in line at Chik'fil'A.
Galaxy on Fire 2 - I just wanted a smart phone for the GPS and the ability to Google products while shopping. I never expected this goofy little thing (a Droid X2) to come straight out of the box and put my psp and 3DS to shame. But it did. And it has. With a library of games costing no more than $9.99, it has relegated both of the "real" handhelds to supporting cast. Galaxy on Fire 2 turned out to be one of the most important games I bought all year, if not the most important, because it completely destroyed any prejudice and misconceptions I had about this upstart genre of cell phone software. This is a huge, fully realized, space sim with tons of smooth, innovative mechanics. I've been absolutely stunned by the number of clever things they've done - flawless motion controlled flight, equally flawless motion controlled mining, dialog windows so well designed that you'll wonder why they haven't all been that way in every game for the last 30 years. It probably has more cool ideas in it than every other game I've played this year, combined. If anyone had ever put this much effort into designing psp games, the thing would be as ubiquitous as the iPod. 

When you hang up my little laser copy poster of this image, it falls down every 2-3 weeks. (For like 10 years, off and on.)
Radiant Silvergun - I remember waiting for Radiant Silvergun to ship. To understand how much this game meant to me, you'd have to understand how terribly, terribly bleak the Saturn's non-Japanese library was. Anemic doesn't even begin to describe it. It made the 3DO's shelf look positively robust. This game, along with an imported copy of Iron Storm and some colourful little isometric platformer I can never remember the name of, rescued an entire system for a year. I've literally been homeless in a park between then and now, and I still have my original copy of Radiant Silvergun, despite all the years when it was the most valuable thing I owned. It's been great playing it again. I even unlocked a remote control Silvergun for my Xbox Live avatar. Score of scores. I hope so many copies of it sell that my original ends up worth a penny. This game, along with a handful of other half-lost Saturn titles, truly deserves a new life on a console that isn't being systematically starved to death by its caretakers.

When shmoos attack.

Tom Clancy's Shadow War - So far, this is the only fun thing I've seen my 3DS do. (Aside from being an awesome 3D camera that takes unsharable pictures.) It's not a great game, but it's solid enough to give the 3DS purpose for 5-7 days. It teaches you that 3D is less about things sproinging out at you, and more about making things look real, as you move tiny soldiers around a map that looks more like an HO train village than a polygon driven landscape.

OUTSIDERS (They aren't from 2011 VG, but they are from my 2011 VG.)

It's almost impossible to find a picture of Minna no Golf without wildlife.

Minna no Golf 5/Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds - I don't generally pay much attention to Hot Shots Golf games, because I'm familiar with them from the psp universe. Then I saw a video of Minna no Golf 5 running on the monitor at a local import shop here in LA. It was beautiful and Move compatible AND supported 3D! It came right home with me! The western version, Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds, is not Move compatible or 3D (sad face, sad face), but does make it a lot easier to learn the nuances and many, many weird house rules of Minna no Golf 5, which are far beyond my primitive Japanese skills. Apparently this game is from 2008. You'd sure never know it. It looks a million times better than Tiger Woods 12, and is, all the way around, a far more sophisticated game design than EA's golf flagship. Plus it has ducks.

Every morning I call Grand Theft Auto and describe speedometers.

Mafia II - To be clear, I pre-ordered this game when it launched last year, but it and my least stable gaming rig could not get along with each other. I put a new pc together this year, and was finally able to play it. It's done ok. It has a lot to compete with. And it's open world, but not a sandbox. In fact, it's probably best I played it after LA Noire, so I have some perspective on what it looks and feels like when someone really wastes their map.

You have to pause the game when Spiderman calls for advice.

Just Cause 2 - @toomanywires mentioned this on his site, so I grabbed a copy, and it was awesome. Assuming you're willing to embrace the clunky learning curve and master the grapple, it becomes a super hero game like no other. The things you can pull off with that wire are totally sick. I was at 50-something hours before I even did the second story mission. Then I realized there was an even nicer pc edition, so I traded my 360 copy and restarted it on the computer, where I continue to terrorize Panau on a semi-regular basis. If Just Cause 3 manages to link your infrastructure damage with the actual capabilities of the people you're fighting, so there's some real cause and effect to your anarchistic shenanigans, it could be the greatest sandbox of all time.

Sometimes you eat the little Asian man. Sometimes he eats you.
Rapala Pro Bass Fishing - The out of nowhere superstar of this gaming year. It was Move compatible, and it came with a fishing rod peripheral, and it was on sale, I wanted to buy something, and, most importantly, I knew almost nothing about fishing games. Instant favorite! I'm now pacing myself, because I know once I reach 100% completion, there's no next fishing game to play. This is the only one compatible with its rod, and the reviews of every other fishing game are terrible.

Apparently the world ends with me squinting.

The World Ends with You - For a DS rpg competing against the tide and tumble of my arcade, TWEWY did very well. It didn't get finished, but it definitely got noticed, and got to be the game of the day at least once. That's pretty impressive. It's entirely possible this game and I will meet again, once it's ported to a phone, as every popular DS game surely will be one day.

Is the one on the right shrugging? I'm with him.

Deadspace - Ehn. If we're not going open world sandbox, I think I want your game to be short. I certainly don't need your narrative artificially lengthened by a bunch of boring, repetitive fight scenes, which has been the norm in video games for at least two decades too long. I'm also certain that nothing robs a horror game of its scariness faster than those constant retreats into conventional video game gameplay.

Brace yourself. I don't really like the Beatles. I just think Sgt. Peppers is the best album ever.

Beatles Rock Band - Certainly the best game of the Rock Band games, as far as the raw game design goes, in that it's a much more coherent and focused experience than the typical Rock Band "cover band on the rise" scenario. The thing is, I can no longer tell if I buy Rock Band games because I want to play Rock Band, or just because I need to justify dragging this plastic drum kit around for the last three years.

The friend who introduced me to Viva Pinata grew up to be a World of Warcraft player. I also lost a friend to heroin once.
Viva Pinata 2: Trouble in Paradise - I still consider the three Viva Pinata games the best reason to own a 360. The week I spent with my pinatas this summer only reinforced that notion. This era of gaming has been fun, but I don't think I've ever seen so many cool games fail to find an acceptable audience. Anyone who thinks we don't need the ps3 and pc to be viable platforms, just look at how much damage Microsoft has done to the more imaginative side of gaming in the last six years. Compare the quirkyness of any current system's year one library to the library of year five. The people who check "eclectic" before taping their penny to the card have really taken a hit.

Not one dial, gauge, switch, toggle, lever, button, hat, or slider in this picture is decorative. Wrap your mind around that.

DCS Blackshark - One of the things I love about pc gaming is the simulators. Airplanes, helicopters, and even giant robots get ultra-detailed treatment on the computer. That said, this game, if you can even call it a game, is unbelievably complex, even by hardcore flight simulator standards. It was too much for me. But if you wanted a single game that could be as complicated, time consuming, and ultimately (I'm sure) as rewarding as a real life job, DCS Blackshark would be an excellent place to start looking.

Ok, still not as accessible as Rogue Squadron, but you can learn to play without getting a Master's degree.

Apache Air Assault - Reeling from the near-life experience that is DCS Blackshark, I set out to find a helicopter game that was sim enough to not insult me, while still being game enough that I wasn't insulting it. Apache Air Assault to the rescue!

I once attended a convention where the Napoleonic miniatures players set up on a massive table and then spent all weekend trying to get their troops across the expanse and into combat. When we left Sunday afternoon, they had never fired a shot.

All the Total War games - Shogun 2 was so good, and the last one I'd played was Shogun 1, so obviously the only reasonable thing to do was to buy every modern Total War game and try them all. I miss the old siege rules, even though they're technically the newer siege rules from my perspective.

Norman was the tallest kid in class. It made him self conscious.

Afrika - The ps4 era will end and I will still cling to Afrika. Twice my game has been derailed by the elephant glitch, but my third and current play-through has escaped it, so I can finally continue forward into the artificial wilds. That I would even keep trying to get a game that's glitched 20+ hours of my time into the ether teaches us that my love of giraffes is so great that it actually outweighs my lifelong hatred of poorly constructed games.


No one stole your umbrella. Just settle down.
Dead Island -Yeah, look, I'm as surprised as you are. If you'd told me a year ago that the most fun game in my arcade was going to be a blatant attempt to cash in on the success of Left 4 Dead, by the Call of Juarez people, I would have assumed you're using better drugs than me. And yet, here we are. I've played through it alone, and with friends, and with more friends, and with less friends, and played it alone some more, and the only conclusion I can come to is that Dead Island is the best all-around game to show up since that week when Kinect and Black Ops dropped. It's been the most fun. It's been the most engaging. I've finished it, I've got at least 200 hours in it between the two versions I own (pc and 360), and I still haven't seen everything. The story is solid. The core gameplay, running, searching, and fighting, is great, particularly on the pc.

That said, it's easily the best port I've seen in the 360 era. The transition from a high end gaming rig to the consoles is usually a brutal drop. I barely notice the shift in this game. (If the consoles could run all the combat smoothly, instead of just running it, I probably wouldn't notice at all.)

"Life" guard. Haha! I see what you did there.

It's huge. Like Oblivion huge. With the most relaxed and forgiving multiplayer to single player transitions ever. You can play any amount of the game alone or in groups, with any combination of people, much like Borderlands. Game of the Year awards should go to the games that aim the highest, and come closest to the mark. I think the "aim the highest" part gets lost sometimes in these discussions. It's a technologically based medium. Forward momentum has to be a requisite. Dead Island might not be the most polished contender for GOTY, but it is the most ambitious, and it manages to hit most of its intended beats with clarity and confidence.

I don't believe in spoilers, but I'll say this - do yourself a favor when you play this game and turn everything off. The autopathing, the damage meters, all their wannabe rpg readouts. You don't need any of it, and the game is far more immersive without their game mechanics cluttering up the screen, or their cartographic training wheels impeding your sense of the space around you. And, perhaps most importantly, remember that the 15 minutes it will take you to get comfortable with the analog combat controls are 100% worth it.

I put on my lipstick with a Hot Wheels.

My mon Bats don't shiv. You see.

You know, at some point, in the near or distant future, you may find yourself thinking "Hey, a round-up of the year in gaming would be fun! I should totally do that!"

But it isn't. And you shouldn't. Because first you're like "Oh, this is fun.", but then you realize it's turning into a wall of text, and that the only thing that will make any of it legible is pictures breaking it all up. So then you spend 12 hours google image searching and trying to figure out where the hell Steam puts your screenshots. All to realize you're not actually done and have forgotten another game. And another one. And that you haven't actually written the Game of the Year section! All on the day Batman came out, which is it what makes it a (expletive deleted) holiday in the first place.

So don't. Just: don't. This is my advice to you, many long hours after starting this stupid thing. The original opening line was "Batman Arkham City comes out in three days..."

I've gotten maybe four hours of play time in since writing that sentence.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go get some coffee, put on these 3D glasses, and use my ps3 to pretend that I'm man enough to dress up in pointy ears and fight crime.

I am absolutely not going to make out with that bat. Still, if you could come back in 15 minutes...


toomanywires said...

That was a word feast. Fortunately your timing is impeccable, as I had lots of important things to avoid doing this morning.

So many things to add, but I'll keep it to a minimum.

I absolutely concur on LA Noire and Crysis 2. Without doubt, two of the dullest games of the year, despite both displaying ample promise.

I loved Yakuza 4 and feel that the ensemble cast was a stroke of genius and exactly what the series needed. Saejima's exploits were my favourite of the game - I just wish they had extended the jail sequences, perhaps with more of an Oz twist - though I agree that Akiyama was an outstanding character. I wouldn't be surprised if future installments gradually shift their focus away from Kazuma and onto the charismatic loan shark.

Glad I could be of assistance with Just Cause 2. The sheer scale of the map, and the fun that can be found within still amazes. Not even Cole Phelps could ruin Panau.

I'm surprised to see Dead Island at number 1. I'll definitely be giving it a go at some point, but we will probably be well into 2012 when I finally do.

Your warnings on writing a best of the year post have been duly noted and ignored. I'm already stockpiling screen shots and witty comments.

Great read by the way.


Thirdrail1 said...

I still think they could fix LA Noire if they wanted to, just by patching in some more varied content. But, of course, that's never going to happen. It is kind of fascinating that the dev team spent THAT much time trying to improve facial expressions and personal nuance, and yet somehow created the least organic game since Targ.

Shadows of the Damned was one of the many entries I deleted from this sprawling mess, but if it had made it in, it would have included a caption saying something like "The Bottom Line: Apparently I can no longer play Rico without his grappling hook." Just Cause II is just so much fun. I was at like 1300 of the 2700 collectibles when I found the pc version, and I didn't even blink. There's no down side to being forced to repeat that island.

Hopefully *I'LL* come back and read that warning next year, and not do this again! Please, narcissism, save me from myself...

You know, you're the only game writer I keep up with at the moment. I always look forward to your stuff. It's sincere and entertaining.