HST’s Best of 2011: Video Games

Last but not least, here is HST’s list of favorite video games from the past year.  And what a year it was, with huge titles coming out and an epic fall season to cap off the year.  Plenty of sequels and a few new IPs to boot, so there are plenty of games to mention even without the honorable title and seat on high as the crowned favorite.

As with the other lists, the disclaimer must be kept in mind that these are just our favorite games, as in personal taste.  For example, nowhere on my (Lauren’s) list will you find some of the big name releases from the past year, like Gears of War 3 or Modern Warfare 3.  Maybe I just simply haven’t gotten to them yet, which is the case for one of these two, or maybe I have a strong stance against the series, which is the case for the other.  You will just never know (at least not until you get down to the section where I list the games that I still need to play.  Then you will know).

 

Lauren’s Favorite Game (1 of 2) – Batman: Arkham City

So not to get on anyone’s case or anything, but girls can’t dress their XBOX avatars like Batman.  What the heck is that about!?  If it makes you feel better, color the symbol pink and call it Batgirl, but I don’t want to dress like that whore Catwoman…

There, now that I got that out of the way I can now talk about why I so passionately wanted to be the Bat.  Long story short, the history of superhero games has been a treacherous path pockmarked with many a bomb.  And then Arkham Asylum came along, a shining example of why comic book heroes are awesome and worthy of games showing them off in all their fully animated, computer-generated glory.

With a grand base to pull from, Arkham City returned to Batman’s world, which has now grown in scale.  Some villains are back with more friends in tow, challenging the player with more dangers thrown in their path as they move seamlessly through the city in flight.  Taking on the housed villains that draw from the gameplay of the first game within the walls of Gotham’s landmark buildings, to being ripped off track by murderous psychotics who will have you swooping around the map and littering the streets with the bodies of the thugs that never stood a chance against your crime fighting prowess, the gameplay options range greatly in scale to bring a story worthy of being found within comic pages to life.

Lauren’s Favorite Game (2 of 2) – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

The verdict is still out on which sequel in the Uncharted series is at the top of my list, but this 3rd installment does not disappoint players who were hoping for another must play game with their main man Drake.

To outdo its predecessor and up the immediacy of lazily climbing around crumbling city walls and ancient ruins like an animal donning fully calloused hands, the set pieces dwarf our comedic and stubborn protagonist as he races against a woman from his past to find yet another treasure / danger to us all.  Buildings tumble as flames consume the structural integrity, ships sink as the air is pushed from its bowels with a rising surface of treacherous water, and sanity is lost in an endless sea of beautifully animated sand.

Though it is still possible to admit that the game is not without flaws, from an older man who likes to become an obstacle many a time to baddies that can take 8 bullets to the noggin, the beautiful worlds created aesthetically, between characters, and within the simple truthfulness of the character animation (such as a shirt constantly adapting as the creases follow the pull of Drake’s running body), make it quite the challenge to not enjoy these games.

Lauren’s “The Best of the Rest”

Dead Space 2

Though I really loved this game, considering that while playing I was constantly moving from pushing myself as far away from the TV as possible in my chair to attempting to keep the pee from being scared out of my bladder, I can’t put this game on the list of favorites.  Basically, it scared me too much.  However, it still deserves mention for being an amazing game.

As most of you know I shy away from playing games within the horror genre, and Dead Space 2 did everything in its power to make me regret putting the disc in my system when 2 minutes in a man is being stabbed through the back of the skull and I am running for my life through halls of chaos, all while wearing a fashionable straight jacket.  It seems that Isaac has gone a little crazy following the first game (which I haven’t played), allowing for even more flash scares than the typical surprise attack as hallucinations bombard his mind.  However, the game didn’t rely on these tactics to chill the player to the bone, but instead often took a subtle route as it allowed our minds to wander into fearing what could be as we venture into a ten minute section where absolutely nothing violent happens, to actually being in the dead of space as sound is lost as a sense.

With a soundtrack that further cemented the horror coursing through my body at all times, it was hard not to be terrified by Dead Space 2 (and slightly love it at the same time).

Deus Ex Human Revolution

Though I am still unsure as to how alcohol helps replenish his health, the Batman impersonating Adam Jensen really is a BA fighting machine capable of some pretty spectacular things thanks to the inclusion of upgradeable, mechanical augmentations in his body.  If you want to spend your points so that you can run more than the four feet of a chain smoker you now can, if you want to punch through walls to snap the necks of unsuspecting enemies you can, if you want a cloak of invisibility you can have that too!  The choice of how to come at the challenge of the game is yours, with the main paths taking you on a journey of a stealth agent or a killing machine.

Though there are still a few noticeable issues with the game (such as the boss battles), the steam punk world of the future is beautifully crafted by the designers.  On top of that, the cutscenes truly are some of the best out there.  But above all, this action/RPG gameplay blends the style of Splinter Cell: Conviction and the world building, conversational sections of the Mass Effect series, making it accessible to many a gamer.

Portal 2

If we were handing out an award for the best character in a game, GlaDOS would definitely be in the running.  As a vengefully antagonistic voice echoing around the test chambers, she is back with even more snide comments and constant insults.  The puzzles are fun enough, but she alone is worth the entry fee as the verbal abuse continues throughout the game.  I mean, how many ways are there for a robot to passive aggressively call you fat?  Apparently there are a lot.

From the turrets to GlaDOS, Wheatley to Cave Johnson, this solo game of a woman trying to make it through room after room of potential horrible deaths is filled with such lighthearted humor that the danger really does just become full-blown fun.  And the added satisfaction of feeling like a genius when solving some of the more challenging puzzles doesn’t hurt, especially after the inclusion in this game of a larger amount of variables to the solving process in addition to the portal gun.  Plus, on top of all this, there is now a co-op campaign within this game as you and a friend get to solve puzzles together as two different bots.  This may lead to some anger issues as your friend preys on your impatient tendencies while trying to explain to them what to do, but you can always put a portal at their feet and watch them fall to their death for satisfaction.

Lauren’s Honorable Mentions

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations – At First I was skeptical of this trilogy within a trilogy following Ezio as our past hero.  And let’s face it, I couldn’t begin to tell you what the heck happened within the story of his memories.  With that said, this series has become an amazing contribution to the world of gaming from Ubisoft, with most of the games building on it’s predecessor to make sure that it just didn’t feel like an expansion pack.  However, this game took the gameplay a little too far for me mixing isometric strategy in with my shanking as the player must now partake in “den defense.”  So though I was glad to finally see the end to two historical heroes’ journeys and would recommend it to anyone who loves this series, I am still glad to finally be moving on to Assassin’s Creed 3.

L.A. Noire – As much as I appreciated the facial capture techniques they used to make suspects and NPCs look as realistic in their reactions as possible, they were kind of creepy at times.  However, the gameplay crime solving style of searching for clues, some gunplay, interrogation sequences, etc brought an amazing change to the gaming world, as Heavy Rain did before.  Unfortunately, another similarity to Heavy Rain is the lack of replayability because of the style.  You solve a crime once and you’ve pretty much solved it forever, right?  But no, if you want to see how else that case could have played out then you have to purposely miss clues or read someone incorrectly, and there is no fun in that for me.

Rage – All year it seemed as if I have heard nothing about this game other than that it is being run on an engine that will make you sit in awe as you stare in amazement at what is being gifted to you through your television screen.  Yes, it looks pretty; yes, it is super fun mixing up the different attack tactics in this FPS (look at my spider turret! It’s so cute! And Deadly!), but let’s face it, the story was quite the kick to the crotch (Yes, this does still hurt girls.  Just probably not as much).  All this build as the player takes on the mutants, bandits, and Authority plaguing this post apocalyptic world to end up where exactly?  In a half-baked ending leaving the player feeling as if this was Part 1 of a game.  Don’t have a character say that “the war can finally begin” an hour or less before the game ends!  I respond to that with “Bwa bwa!”

Lauren’s To Play ListBattlefield 3, Bulletstorm, Crysis 2, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (still debating on this one. I have never been able to get into the other Elder Scrolls games I have tried), Gears of War 3Ico & The Shadow of the Colossus (PS3 remastering), Killzone 3, Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7, Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars (Don’t judge me, the Lego games are fun!), Need for Speed: The Run

 

Alan’s Favorite Game: Portal 2

The original Portal was a masterpiece; creating a game that is both creative in its format, and just flat-out hilarious. So you can’t blame me if I was a bit skeptical about the sequel. But luckily for us, Valve turned out a sequel that took everything that we loved from the first game – freshened it up a little bit – and spun it into an icredibly enjoyable experience. You play the same dangerous, mute idiot from the first game – who has some apparent brain damage due to how long you have been locked up in the chambers of Apeture Science. You meet up with a very talkative idiot named Wheatly, who along the way tries to help you escape the labs that GLaDOS (aka one of the best characters in gaming history) calls home (or hell, whichever her two minutes of internal memory would show). Now I highly recommend you play this game. With an incredible story which will have you laughing from start to finish, some incredible voice-work (J.K. Simmons as Cave Johnson was AMAZING), and the new challenges in Co-Op makes this game a must play.

For science. You monster.

Alan’s Favorite Surprise: The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile

The original Dishwasher game was a complete disappointment to me. The action was a bit tedious, the learning curve was off center (really off), and the overall difficulty was ridiculous. Then there sequel, Vampire Smile, came out, and almost blew me away. The graphics are still a bit off, but the movements of the characters, the memorable story, and the unrelenting action makes this one of the best XBLA games to come out all year. I would recommend you play the first one though, just so you can go into the better game knowing vaguely what to do. However, you will have a lot more fun playing Vampire Smile than you will it’s original any day. Go check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

Zac’s Take on Games in 2011: I didn’t get to play a lot of games this year, and what did take up my time involved a lot of older titles, such as Super Mario Galaxy (which I completed almost every star, might I add).

Zac Playing Catchup: I finally got around to playing Assassins Creed 2.  That’s right, 2, and thought it was pretty freaking great.  Then, I got to experience the improvements to the first game of the series with Uncharted 2, which I hope to continue with Part 3 sometime in 2012.  In yet another series that had an entry released this year, I started at the beginning this year with Arkham Asylum, and I look forward to that sequel down the line sometime this year or the next as well.  But above all, I’ve gotta say that nothing from this past year has surpassed Banjo Kazooie as my best game of all time in my book.

Zac’s Highlights From this Year:

I beat 85% of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and thought it was f***ing awesome, no matter what Lauren whined about in her review.  The game was inventive, never repetitive, and I loved how it slowly opened up the world and the adventure to you.  I spent just as much time exploring and doing RPG stuff as I did running the dungeons and it is a game I hope to revisit once I finally beat Wind Waker and Majora’s Mask.

Portal 2 was also a great, great game and Stephen Merchant is my hero.  Plus, you got to go to the flipping moon!  The puzzles had my brain hurting at times, but it just made the whole adventure all the more satisfying once you got through to the end.  The game was the most addictive, exciting, and hilarious I have ever played.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP on iPad was a strange, yet compelling, game that I don’t think anyone really played.

LEGO Harry Potter: Part 2 was as much fun as the first game last year and is a good game to play with a timid gamer in your household.  Those two titles, HP Part 1 & 2, perfectly capture the spirit of the films and games and you could just run around Hogwarts for hours upon end if you so desired; the castle is that well realized. 

L.A. Noire was a pretty game, but I feel like it was an unsuccessful experiment from Team Bondi and Rockstar.  I hope they continue to move the technology forward the game put on display, but the gameplay was just far too repetitive and just fell flat. 

Battlefield 3 made me forget COD, as the multiplayer proved to be both balanced and a hell of a lot of fun with friends.

Zac’s Missed Games of 2011: Ico & The Shadow of the Colossus (technically I have started it), Arkham City, Uncharted 3, Assassins Creed: Revelations as soon as I play Brotherhood, and Star Wars: The Old Republic as soon as I get a computer that is worth a damn.

 

The End:  That does it for 2011! Tomorrow, we are going to be listing all of the things that we are excited for as 2012 is just beginning. We hope you enjoyed our lists, maybe commented on a couple of them, and will come back tomorrow to read our January through March 2012 list of things that are interesting to us!

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