The top ten games of 2011

Title The top ten games of 2011
Author Tom Chick
Posted in Features
When December 13, 2011

2011 turned out really well. And in some entirely unexpected places! Bodycount had some of the year's best straight-up no-nonsense gunplay, but in terms of the overall package, Fear 3 was a real stand-out..

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The economy of storytelling in Bastion is nothing short of amazing. Nothing goes to waste: the limited cast of characters; every weapon, level, and challenge room describing some aspect of the fiction; even the soundtrack is framed as Rucks listening to old tunes from home.

More games need to learn from Bastion's example and stop pumping their fiction full of frivolous Important Proper Nouns.

"Finally someone broke out of the stagnant model on which MMO worlds are built."

Umm rift is a lot of good things but hardly anything resembling change from the status quo..

Evrett, I feel the way the world is built is a huge change from the status quo, with the equivalent of raid instances breaking into the world and actually moving around it. Have you played much Rift? It felt like a very different kind of place to me. It made it really hard to enjoy LOTRO and SWTOR. :( So in that regard, as well as the way it freely encourages respecs, I feel it did change from the status quo.

"Can you name another open-world game in which a gun, a sword, or a car isn’t your chief means of interacting with the world?"

The Infamous games and the Assassin's Creed series come to mine. I'm not even sure that Batman qualifies as an "open world", because unlike most open world games, there is no sense that the city or environment is a living, breathing, functioning place. Arkham City, as a place, made no sense to me. It is this weird collection of buildings that wouldn't have any natural relationship to one another in an actual city. It is so littered and cluttered with mechanical traps and puzzles that it was hard for me to actually believe how the Riddle could possibly put it all together. For me, a mark of a good open world game is that the world has some internal logic, and I don't think Batman had that.

I really tried to like bastion and whenever I play it I feel charmed but I never want to play for more than half an hour. Maybe PC was the wrong place to play it. At some point I might pipe it out to the TV and play on controller.

If Dead Island had kept or built on the promise of the first act, I would have called it one of the best of the year as well. And perhaps co-op was a different experience (I wouldn't know, as I'm a cranky single-player-only kind of nerd).

But I have rarely seen a game blow a strong first third as thoroughly as Dead Island. Everything past the first act was a steady downhill side towards awfulness. First, we lose the clever opening setting for a utterly generic third-world city location whilst simultaneously cranking the difficulty from tense-but-manageable to controller-bustingly frustrating. And then, just to twist the knife a bit, what's your reward for this level? Sewers. Not just sewers, but the most egregiously long sewer sequence since Vampire: Bloodlines. Then we're treated to a jungle that's unfortunately mostly empty and a dull lab location, before transitioning to an even duller prison location before capping the game with literally the worst boss battle I've seen in maybe a decade.If we're judging games based on the opening, then sure, Dead Island is awesome. But there's a whole rest of the game after the opening that could be used as a textbook example of diminishing returns

I had completely forgotten how much you liked SPaZ, Tom. Nice to see it ranked so high!

C'mon, sleeve blades are just swords. But good point with Infamous. I think you got me there, although I'd argue that his "spells" are really just guns.

Point taken on Arkham City as a place, but I did feel that it had plenty of *internal* logic, if not real-world logic. In a way, Arkham City, as a place and a game, is like a Metroidvania/Dark Souls, disguised as a traditional open world.

Excellent list, other than perhaps switching the positions of Anno and SPAZ, but thats personal preference.

I will have to try RIFT and Witcher 2 is already on my wishlist.

Heck, you don't need to argue that the hidden blades in Assassin's Creed are swords. Both major series protagonists to date spend plenty of time with a full on traditional sword in hand.

Awesome on choosing SPAZ as #2 on your list!! Woohoo!

Also, OT, how do you like this Discus thing on your blog rather than the Wordpress comment system? Been thinking of trying it.

Is killing things the main way you interact with the world in Assassins creed? I would argue that climbing is a more important mechanic than stabbing. Until brotherhood getting into a fight was something I avoided at all costs because it was the most boring part of the game.

Does minecraft count as an open world? There is very minimal gameplay and I am not sure that the levels you gain mean anything at all but it is a world where the key verb is create rather than destroy. It is probably different enough to be an outlier though.

Kevin, I loved the resort/Moresby/jungle shifts for how different they all felt and played. But I agree that it resulted in some very weird pacing. From laid back, to gah-crazyhard, to nearly devoid of gameplay. Maybe I'm just wearing Dead Island blinders, but it felt like the idea was that zombies are worse in populated areas (e.g. Walking Dead's don't go to Atlanta concept).

And I know this might be hard to believe, but I actually like the Moresby sewers. They have enough detail and variety that they don't just feel like long empty tunnels. I've don'e a bazillion videogame sewers in my day, and Moresby's sewers are among the best. But again, that might just be my Dead Island blinders. Out of curiosity, can you name a better sewer level in videogame?

Brian, Disqus is miles and away better than Wordpress' default system.

Re: Good sewer level: Hmmmmmmm. This is a bit of a trick question because most sewer levels are pretty bad, in my opinion, so not coming up with a better one is more of a comment on sewer levels generally than Dead Island specifically.

Actually, now that I think of it, I sorta dug the sewer level in Singularity. But talk about damning with faint praise.

Ha ha, I forced you to say something good about Singularity! But, yeah, the bar for sewer level design is pretty low.

Every time I see one these lists, I'm at a loss to even recall which game I've played this year (that were also released this year). Of the ones you've listed, I've only played Witcher 2, SPAZ and Shogun 2, and while I thought they were all ok, none of them really grabbed me. I'm kind of sad in the case of Witcher 2, since I really wanted to like it, and while I do kind of like it, I still haven't finished it. After a couple of hours, I just start getting bored with it, and eventually quit for a month or two, after which I try picking it up again.

Anyway, I did manage to recall at least some of the games I played and liked this year, and I guess I'd put Portal 2, Frozen Synapse and Fate of the World on my own list, were I to make one. Gemini Rue was pretty good, too.

Yeah, the best part of an Assassin's Creed game is climbing up to the top of a tower, followed by a Swan Dive back down. All the rest is filler.

I'd throw out the sewers from Arkham Asylum personally. Mainly because it made you feel more vulnerable than at almost any other point in the game. Plus Dead Islands sewers didn't have the zipline.