The Best (And Worst) Video Games of 2011
Subtypes: Editorial, Opinion
It's that time of the year again, folks. The time when everybody starts making new years resolutions, only to break them in a matter of weeks. It also happens to be the time of the year when video game critics put out their awards for the industry. Fortunately for us, these edicts will withstand the test of time.
From worst to best, find out here what we thought of 2011's offerings -- as well as those that shouldn't have seen the light of day.
(Note: Missing categories will be finalized at a later date. Thanks for reading!)
Loser: Duke Nukem Forever
This really comes as no surprise, but has Duke Nukem earned it? Well, yes. Duke Nukem - Forever is technically a sequel, and already being voted as OMGN's most disappointing game, it only seems natural. A low weapon count, stunted humor, an overly long vehicle segment, and an equally disappointing DLC that pretty much ditches everything the series has been known for all contribute to this end result.
If DNF came earlier -- much earlier -- the game probably would have received higher marks. But there's just no way around it: 14 years is simply way too long to be in development when all you come up with is this. Granted, the game was revived by Gearbox, makers of other such great titles such as Borderlands, but the damage was already done, and the restoration of DNF was more of a salvage.
Runner-Up: Dynasty Gundam Warriors 3
Most Disappointing Game
Loser: Duke Nukem Forever
There’s no doubt that Duke Nukem Forever cinched the coveted Most Disappointing title by simply getting released in the first place. Nobody knew exactly what to expect, but we were all expecting something -- it would be a lie if anybody said otherwise. Of course, despite not knowing exactly what we wanted out of DNF, we know we didn’t wind up getting it. Sure, Duke was there, and that was ... well, that was something. But the gameplay was weak and sloppy -- contrived at best and forced at worst. What really killed DNF was that it was the Shia LaBeouf of the videogame market this year. Nobody who actually enjoys movies likes LaBeouf, but the producers still force him on their captive audiences. And Gearbox Studios did the same with DNF.
Gearbox tried too hard to convince all of us that this was the Duke Nukem we wanted, so much so that when the bad reviews began pouring in, the company complained that consumers were simply being pissy. The company lost sight of what every developer needs to be asking when creating a game: “Is this fun?” Frankly, the company didn’t know what to bring to the table and was so obsessed with trying to meet what it thought everyone’s expectations should be that it didn't realize the game was a failure in the works. Instead of tapping the unlimited potential it had available, it delivered a mediocre shooter with aged game mechanics and a piss-poor attitude about itself.
Runner-Up: L.A. Noire
We know what you're thinking. "How on earth can L.A. Noire get this distinction, especially standing next to DNF?" And we wouldn't disagree with you. The best part is the story, and the fact that the main gameplay elements -- investigation and interrogation -- go hand-in-hand. But the other half of the game was exploring an open world, and unfortunately, it wasn't really given any thought. With nothing to do but collect things or play repetitious combat scenarios, the game's open world was a waste. L.A. Noire is a good game -- it's just the good part is over before you know it.
Wost Game of the Year
Loser: Rise of Nightmares
Rise of Nightmares is a first of sorts. It’s the first fully M-rated survival horror game for the Kinect, and it’s the first to teach us that walking sucks. That’s the major downfall to this motion-controlled game as far as gameplay goes. Taking a chainsaw to a zombie is slightly satisfying for a time, and kicking open a door works rather well. You just get tired of it ... fast. Walking feels like a 1-year-old trying to take his first steps. What can possibly beat the worst part of a game when it's getting from point A to B? How did developer Sega let this happen? “WAIT!” says a Sega employee. “We can give it an auto-walk feature.” If that doesn’t say, "We know we screwed up on something," we don’t know what does.
To be fair, though, it also has a terrible story. Let’s put it this way: Take the plot from House of the Dead and add in lines like, “You, the master of unlocking,” and that’s Rise of Nightmares. Nobody cares how the miserable, bickering couple got separated in the hostel, nor do we care to help them find their way out of it. Sega not only made Worst Game of the Year, but quite possibly the Worst Game of the Decade.
Runner-Up: Call of Juarez: The Cartel
If all the context of Call of Juarez: The Cartel was stripped away, it would be a mediocre sequel. Changing a game series from the Old West to a contemporary Western setting could have worked, and it could've been a new way to introduce people to the Mexican drug war issue. The real problem is everything besides the gameplay. With its backdrop of the drug trade in Southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, it turns into an inconsiderate monument of disrespect. The drug war is just that: a war. The stereotyping and misconceptions the game has (one example of many: in the game, American women are kidnapped by Mexican cartels to be used as sex slaves in Mexico when in real life, it's usually the other way around) show that the game developers didn't even try to use The Cartel as a means of both entertaining and enlightening its audience to real-world problems. Not only did developer Techland fail to make a decent followup to the first two Call of Jaurez games, it managed to make a mockery of a tragedy.
Winner: Portal 2
When we heard a sequel to the clever and all-too-short Portal was in the works, we wondered how could they make something better? It just didn’t seem possible that developer Valve could surmount the insurmountable ... and then we got our hands on the much-lengthier Portal 2. Combine brain-twisting puzzles with insane robots created by long-dead egomaniacs, and you get a game that’s full of dark humor, so much so that all you can do is laugh or go insane yourself. Hell, some of the puzzles require thinking like someone who is short a full deck just to complete them.
Back to the insane robots. At the start of the game, we fully expected Wheatley to be short-lived comic relief, but he morphs into something so much better -- and so much worse. After Portal, it’s hard to imagine something worse than GLaDOS, but it is very, very possible once Wheatley gets in charge. Power corrupts. And it corrupts in the best way in this sequel. Give yourself plenty of time to -- literally -- work your way up from the depths of insanity.
Runner-Up: Batman: Arkham City
In a year full of sequels to existing productions, Batman: Arkham City came through with shining colors. While Arkham Asylum may have taken the gaming world by surprise in 2009, there were heavy expectations in place for Arkham City. Despite the anticipation, developer Rocksteady Games delivered what is arguably a Batman masterpiece, blowing away even some of the highest hopes many had for the game. The superb gameplay from Arkham Asylum returned, and with it came an excellent open world with far more to do. The integration of the open world and side quests was woven seamlessly into the experience, giving the player the feeling that he was truly in a living, breathing world of criminals. How Rocksteady will top this, we cannot fathom.
Best Indie Game
There are points in time when we realize that even individuals can have great power, especially when we band together. Be it political movements or game developers, humanity has the capability of enacting great change if we put our minds to it. Developer Markus Persson (company name Mojang ) certainly put the effort in here, and it shows. While the game is only 8-bit and had no marketing strategy to speak of, it now has millions of players. We’ll say it again: millions. All those people constantly digging, chopping, mining, and above all, creating. Creating millions upon millions of 8-bit-style square blocks that turn into millions upon millions of lush, strikingly vivid landscapes. All from a simple concept.
And while some may ask, “Why play at all?”, it quickly becomes apparent when one sits down to try the game -- there are infinite possibilities. Infinite ways for the mind to expand its creative wings. Infinite ways to build, shape, and develop the world around you. The only limits are the depths of your imagination. All those ideas you’ve got for your back yard or house? Try them out here. Or maybe you just really wanted to build a space ship yourself but never had the wherewithal to do so. Either way, this game is going to the stars.
While some may argue that Bastion isn't a true indie game because it was published by WB Games, we disagree. Bastion is a true indie game, and boy did Supergiant Games deliver. The mix of gameplay, story, art, music, and narration provided an immersive and engaging experience that no gamer should ever miss. Add in the fact that the game also sells on the cheap, and you're looking at a winning combination.
Best Mobile Game
Winner: i Love Katamari (on iOS)
Runner-Up: Kirby Mass Attack
Best XBLA/PSN Downloadable Game
Winner: Dungeon Defenders
Never before has a downloadable-only game brought together so much cooperation, friendship, sharing ... and arguing whenever someone places their tower in places monsters don't go. Dungeon Defenders is one of the most-played XBLA games out there, combining real-time combat, tower defense, and RPG elements. Just be sure to bring as many friends as possible.
The game is a blast online or offline in local 4-player splitscreen. And it doesn't get any harder the more players you have, so it behooves you to play with as many people as you can. The first few levels may seem like a cakewalk, but the difficulty soon escalates. Cooperation and communication is key -- among friends, even better. So what better game to award this title than one that brings friends together?
Runner-Up: Renegade Ops
Most Exciting Game
Winner: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
When Nathan Drake, star of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, is running along the collapsing rooftop of a burning chateau, you're controlling him. As he fights pirates inside an overtaken cruise liner while it fills with dynamically undulating ocean water, you're controlling him then, too. Even after he gets sucked out of a crashing airplane into the open sky without a parachute, you can still make him flail around while you try to figure out how the hell you'll get him through it all.
Just about every set piece in Drake's Deception has existed in some form of media already, but it's the way that developer Naughty Dog puts these moments right in the middle of gameplay that makes them special. While it may be walking a fine line between "overly scripted" and "just right," Naughty Dog certainly has a knack for creating some of the most gorgeous and involving action sequences in gaming. Drake's Deception's spectacle is anything but fluff.
Runner-Up: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Winner: Dance Central 2
Runner-Up: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Twist the remote slightly left, and your bird banks left. Twist the remote slightly right, and your bird banks right. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword nails motion controls. Your Wii remote is the sword. It’s a simple concept that just hasn’t been done correctly until this game. It took the power of Wii Motion Plus to finally get it right. Link can deftly slay his enemies if you’re quick and precise. No waggling allowed in this game, folks. If you run up to Moblins in this Zelda adventure and waggle, they will take a piece of you with them. You have to watch where they’re guarding and strike accordingly. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is not only the Wii’s swan song, but the yard stick on how a motion-controlled game should play.
Winner: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim is beautiful. Say it with us. Skyrim. Is. Beautiful. There’s going to be one guy out there who utterly disagrees with this. We don't care who he is or why because he's flat-out wrong. The biggest leap forward between Oblvion and Skyrim was the complete retooling of the natural environment. When you played Oblivion, you were playing a game -- the cities were closed-in, the ruins were ill-placed, and the natural world (while vast) was artificial in feel. Hell, you could see the temperate Imperial City from both ice-ravaged Bruma and swampmucked Bravil if you stood in the right spot.
But when you play Skyrim, you’re in Skyrim. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s the first, best, and most shining example of a natural, virtual world. Nothing feels forced or out of place, and despite having hundreds of areas to visit and thousands of NPCs with which to interact, the hauntingly beautiful Nordic backdrop has a feel both vast and cloistered. It’s an experience that any gamer with an eye for detail would utterly lose out on by skipping.
Runner-Up: Alice: Madness Returns
When your only limit is your imagination, then really, what’s holding you back? Alice: Madness Returns is a hauntingly beautiful take on the latest installment of the Alice franchise. Starting off with a twisted take on Dickens' London, the game quickly abandons this brown, polluted mess and dashes it against the backdrop of a restored Wonderland. As it represented Alice’s psyche, it quickly turns from a light and beautiful gardenscape into a dark and nightmarish place of clockwork monstrosities, but each new stage brings with it a symphony of gorgeous design and carefully constructed scenery. The gameplay may have been a bit dated, and the bugs and errors a bit frustrating, but as a visual feast, few games can compare.
Most Surprising Game
Catherine is very story-driven and a very difficult puzzle game. You play as Vincent Brooks who likes to hang out at the Stray Sheep, a bar he frequents with his friends. Vincent's longtime girlfriend Catherine is trying to get him to settle down. One particular night, Vincent gets overly drunk and wakes up with a half-naked Catherine. Then the story really picks up. Vincent is also having nightmares every night. It’s this part that’s the core gameplay here. You’ll spend your nights trying not to be murdered while you climb blocks. This gets more and more difficult, as it's timed. And then add in exploding blocks, heavy blocks, ice blocks, and fragile blocks. Did we mention the medal system that unlocks harder levels?
Catherine was a huge surprise in how much fun it provides. One normally wouldn't expect a puzzle/dating sim to equal a fantastic game. It's got some serious replay value. You have a morality system to contend with and a conversation hub area -- the Stray Sheep. Vincent will chat with his friends and other patrons, play stuff on the jukebox, and just plain get drunk. (Which, by the way, helps him move faster in the nightmares.) Atlus scored again this year with Catherine. You simply have to play it to believe it.
Runner-Up: APB: Reloaded
All Points Bulletin: Reloaded is a relaunch of the horribly flawed, unbalanced, hacked, gold-farmed-to-death, and short-lived MMO All Points Bulletin. The shutdown of Realtime Worlds (Crackdown) spelled doom for the unique GTA-style shooter. Fortunately, GamersFirst, an MMO company dedicated to F2P games, applied its business model to the game and made dramatic changes -- and what change. Even during the beta phase, no one saw this coming. But those who stuck with it even during the hard times, be it through the first or both betas, were rewarded with a game that players not only enjoyed but felt like they helped shape. APB: Reloaded's successful comeback has earned it this title.
Best Strategy Game
Winner: Total War: Shogun II
Plenty of historical war games sacrifice making the combat itself look awesome in order to have a game that will actually work because having dynamic fight animations for hundreds of soldiers all at once would be crazy, right?
Well, Shogun II is crazy. It has 8-player, multiplayer, weather that affects whether classes are effective, and all the micro-managing of past Total War games. To top it off, a horseman can throw a spear into an infantryman, ride up to the guy as he stumbles about and yank the spear out of his stomach, all while fighting is going on around the two of them. Developers behind the Total War series, The Creative Assembly, has sharpened its skills over the past decade in creating engaging war strategy games. Shogun II is the result of that and manages to be an awesome addition to the series.
Runner-Up: Tropico 4
Best Sports Game
Winner: NBA 2K12
All hail NBA 2K12! If the lockout had you worried you wouldn’t enjoy the NBA, then think again. There's tons of things to keep you busy in this game. Its got My Player, Association, NBA’s Greatest, Creating a Legend, and online modes. In normal sports terms, it would only take one of these modes to make the game a great improvement to the previous year. 2K12, however, made all of them fantastic. My Player streamlined the process to get to your team and made the team grading system easier. Association mode is 2K12’s franchise mode. This is the one area in the game that didn’t change that much. NBA’s Greatest is exactly that: going up against some of the greatest players of all time. They even put it in black and white and talk about the game as if it happened in the past. Seeing that for this first time is just jaw-dropping amazing.
NBA 2K12 is shockingly improved what was previously a great game. We've never seen the number one in any sports category change so much the second year around and be this awesome. They usually just spoon-feed you more and call in the next year. Thank you 2K Sports and Visual Concepts for not resting on your laurels on this one.
Runner-Up: NBA Jam: On Fire Edition
Best Action/Adventure Game
Winner: Batman: Arkham City
Batman Arkham Asylum not only proved that excellent superhero titles could indeed be possible, it also was one of the best action/adventure games this generation. Arkham City did the near-impossible, providing not only a worthy successor to the original title but surpassing it in nearly every way.
Taking all of the excellent combat and stealth mechanics from the original and adding in nearly every Batman villain worth mentioning along with an open world to explore, Arkham City provided a mix of engrossing gameplay and compelling narrative that sucked in the player and refused to let go until the shocking conclusion. Best action/adventure title of 2011? Yes, and quite possibly one of the best action/adventure titles this generation.
Runner-Up: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Take everything great about Uncharted 2 (fantastic visuals, cinematic gameplay, exciting set pieces), make them better, and release to the public. Seriously, if you even remotely enjoyed any of the previous Uncharted installments, you must play this title. From amazing visuals to some of the most exciting action/set pieces we've played this generation (the boat and plane levels still linger), and you've got a hybrid of cinema and gaming perfection.
Best First-/Third-Person Shooter
Winner: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
One top of being an excellent action/adventure title, Uncharted 3 also has some of the best third-person shooting mechanics this year. Being able to take cover, hang from objects, and pull off headshots with a variety of weapons made for the some of the more intense gun fights experienced this year.
The mechanics truly shine when played online in one of Uncharted 3's many multiplayer modes. For someone who originally started out loathing the idea of multiplayer Uncharted, this third installment has won us over with its variety of modes, character customization, and weapon modifications. In a market where Gears of War 3 gathers the most attention, Uncharted 3 not only stands toe-to-toe with it, in a variety of ways it surpasses it.
Runner-Up: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
It’s difficult to find anything wrong with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Choices, choices, choices galore, each with short-and-far ranging effects on gameplay, make this a gamer’s game. The game doesn't pigeon-hole anyone into doing anything the way it wants them to, mostly because it doesn't want players to do anything a specific way -- it lets us make decisions and then live with the consequences. It's a lesson Square Enix should take to heart what with its other slipshod productions.
Winner: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Yes! New RPGs like this one make us want to simultaneously squeal with joy, quit our jobs, throw away our cellphones ... and develop carpal tunnel and near-sightedness. After all, when faced with massive time-sinks like Skyrim, what else can one do but plunge in head-first and hope to come out breathing at the end? Is it possible we were living in a world without this game only a few months ago? What did we do with all that time?
Bethesda took all that was amazing with its previous titles and made it shine in Skyrim while leaving out the game-killing factors (aside from the *cough* bugs). While there are a few deal-breakers here, Skyrim is infinitely satisfying if you love exploring, questing, and killing. You can ally yourself with the empire or the rebellion or neither. You can become a sneak-thief or a brutal warrior. You can kill anyone you want and take all their stuff (of course, there are consequences), or you can be friends with everyone while stealing all their stuff behind their backs. Did we mention you can steal? Oh, and dragons. Have we mentioned them before, too? The point is: choices. Thousands of choices. Hundreds of hours of gameplay. What more could an RPG fan ask for?
Runner-Up: Dark Souls
No other RPG this year provided steep challenges, amazing enemy design, and frightening moments than Dark Souls. With steep challenge came incredible awards through weapons and armor for those who dared to explore and conquer their enemies. This is the hack-and-slash for the big boys and girls -- the RPG for adults and one of the very best RPGs of 2011.
Game of the Year
Winner: Batman: Arkham City
There are many routes to earning a Game of the Year award these days, but in the end the game itself must be rally stupendous, really awesome, and really spectacular to pull it off. This year, Batman: Arkham City pulls it off with a great formula. Take the solid underpinnings of Arkham Asylum (which includes great stealth and beat-em-up gameplay, as well as a phenomenal story and puzzles) and add to it a wonderful open world, great (and greatly integrated) side quests as well as even more unlockables at Batman lore than before, and this is what you get.
Arkham City does a wonderful job of not breaking what made Arkham Asylym great. It does this with a large roster of Batman baddies, but manages not to get bogged down by the sheer variety, much like how the movie Spider-Man 3 did. The stealth game has been upgraded; the beat-em-ups are even better; the flying is totally awesome. Rocksteady hit a home run with Arkham City.
Runner-Up: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim, through all its bugs and glitches, could have easily swept if we let it. Instead, we’ll give a salute to its vast, rich environment, solid story, and gameplay. In comparison to Oblivion, this game’s replay factor is through the roof. Throw in billions of tons of loots, thousands of quests, dragons, an amazing crafting capability, a unique leveling system, more loot, more quests, more dragons ... You get the idea.