Well guys, Deuce-Eleven is on its way out, and with that comes all the end of the year awards for things like movies, music, video games, and television. In an attempt to expand what this website consists of, we’ve decided to do our own take on the process, starting with video games. Depending on how this goes we might expand into the other mediums or change the format, but for now the process will go a little something like this…
Each member makes up their own five categories involving video games they played this year. These categories can be whatever the author wants – it’s totally up to the individual member which kind of games they highlight for this year and why, with the only limitation being there can only be FIVE. Honorable mentions are allowed, but the goal is to show off five games that REALLY made an impact on the author this year. Also an important note: The games in these lists don’t necessarily have to have been RELEASED in 2011 – it’s more a reflection on what we played in 2011 than what came out in 2011. So without further ado, I’ll kick things off.
1. A Bright Hope for the Future: L.A. Noire
Don’t get me wrong – L.A. Noire has plenty of flaws, and I never found myself enjoying it enough to get around to finishing it. Truth be told, I really only reached the halfway-point in the game before being fed up with it enough to never pop it back in, and even then I was only able to play one case a night before wanting to call it quits. Trust me – I did not get my money’s worth out of this game, but I did get something very important out of it.
There’s no doubt you’ve heard about the new technology used to capture facial-movements from the actors to use on the characters. After seeing this technology in action, I can say that this needs to be used in future titles of this nature. I was amazed by the motion-capture in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (which is a horribly underrated game from 2010, by the way) and L.A. Noire improves the effect dramatically. Even though the gameplay wasn’t satisfying, I was enamored just watching the characters interact during cut-scenes. I really wish there was a means to circumvent all of the clue-finding garbage and just watch a bunch of scenes leading up to the interrogations because the characters’ faces look INCREDIBLE. There’s still room for improvement (The great looking faces clash with the rest of the environment rather badly. The interrogation scenes always looked great, but walking around and talking could sometimes be jarring), but L.A. Noire has set a new bar in production value and making your characters believable to the player. Truly, it gives me a bright hope for future games and their ability to make me feel involved with its narrative like never before, and that is why it gets my “Bright Hope for the Future” Award.
2. MY ANGER AND ALL OF MY SORROW… AND MY LOVE!: Dark Souls
Dark Souls is the spiritual successor to the ever-divisive Demon’s Souls. I could never get into Demon’s Souls, but this installment from From Software has given me cause to try it again. Dark Souls brings to mind the games of old: You are in a world that wants to hurt you, and you are incredibly fragile. Also, the game will give you no warning, nor any obvious way to avoid it. Sound fun? Probably not…
But then you succeed. For a glimmering moment, a video game does something it hasn’t for a very long time (if ever): it gives you a sense of achievement. Not the crappy Xbox “Achievement Unlocked” feeling, where it’s a cheesy tacked on goody – it’s a feeling of knowing you conquered something that, a while back, you assumed was impossible to beat. You then take this high and run with it… for ten seconds. Then the Tauros Demon decides to ruin your day with one swipe of his giant rock-hammer. You keep on trying to stop him, but he beats you to a bloody pulp every. Single. Time. Then, throughout your attempts, you start recognizing a subtle weakness or pattern to the Demon’s movements. You learn how to stop him, without the game telling you how to do it. You do it yourself. YOU earn a victory over this impossible beast. You hate it and you scream at it for hours, but the golden minutes where you feel like a champion keep you going in Dark Souls. That was my experience with this beautiful game, and why I consider myself among the few who “get it.” It’s certainly not for everyone. I work at a video game store and stress this a LOT to customers who inquire about it. But for the few of you it is? It might be the best thing in the world. It truly steals all of your anger, your sorrow, and your love.
3. Murderer of Time: Terraria
I spend a lot of time telling people “I don’t have time to play video games,” and I honestly mean it… However, Steam’s handy little time-keeping stat-tracker proves that I’m a liar, intentional or not, with Terraria. As someone who trumpets about how much he loves deep narrative and character-driven stories in his games, I’ve spent an awful lot of time playing this story-less, do-it-yourself and make-your-own fun game.
What hooks me with Terraria is its ability to have me “grind” without even realizing it most of the time. Hiding your loot within the world that you’re exploring and presenting it as part of the exploration makes it feel that much more rewarding when you find it. “I’m going to see where this natural cave/hole leads… Oh, there’s a vein of gold down here!” Rinse and repeat ad nauseum. “Well, I’ve been digging for six hours and I’ve found a bunch of stuff that doesn’t make sense — Oh! I can summon a boss with this? Bring it on!” and all of a sudden your day is gone. Giving your players goals to meet while also presenting them with a huge, easy to manipulate and explore world is amazing. I can build a house out of glass, iron, snow, wood, mud, or whatever else I can find. Then I can fight a giant Wall of Flesh in the pits of Hell. Then I can chase unicorns. Then I can start digging some more. And it never ends. Ever. And I never want it to! Add to that the fact that I can bring in friends and we can do all of this stuff together, and you get the game I’ve spent more time with than any this year, and possibly ever.
4. A Game I Expected to Hate, But Didn’t At All: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I’ve dabbled in some of the previous Elder Scrolls games, but I never found myself enjoying them enough to ever invest real time into them. Skyrim was going to fall by the wayside, despite so many folks encouraging me to get it, until I was given an opportunity to get it on the cheap. Deciding that $20 for one of the most critically-acclaimed games of all time was a good deal, whether I enjoyed it or not, I took home a lightly-used copy of Skyrim for my Playstation 3 console.
I cannot stress how much I planned on disliking this game. I don’t typically like games from the first-person perspective. Combat is incredibly important to me, and it’s no secret that the Elder Scrolls games have never been a strong contender in that category. I’m also not a big RPG guy in general, unless they’re fairly simple like Chrono Trigger or Pokémon. But something about Skyrim drove me to keep playing it. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I’d begun missing the traditional western-style fantasy world that made me love the concept of fighting a dragon so much (I had flirted with this feeling repeatedly earlier this year with Dark Souls, mind you), but Skyrim had me pretty hooked after my first REAL encounter with one of the scaly beasts. Unlike Dark Souls, there was much more narrative here for me to sink into, which also tickled parts of my psyche that had been begging for more attention. The vast amount of history and lore that the Elder Scrolls world has managed to accrue through its many titles was something the fantasy nerd in me got excited about, even if it was covered in game mechanics I typically abhor. But then I came to terms with the fact that the combat isn’t nearly as bad as I had imagined it, and I could easily switch out of the first-person perspective into my personally much preferred third-person mode. A lot of people call me crazy and say it looks awful, but it hasn’t bothered me at all.
And that’s not nearly the whole of it. There’s plenty about this game I could go on and on about, but I’ve started rambling already. All you need to really know is, if you’re the kind of person who looks at this game and just says “It’s not for me,” I urge you to find a way to give it a solid chance. I’m really glad I did, and I look forward to playing it more.
5. The Bar: Saints Row the Third
For a while now I’ve kind of considered myself “over” gaming. By and large I don’t really play all that much anymore, and the ones I do are typically more for the social experience of multiplayer or because my friends play them, and we’ll probably play them together or talk about them if we hang out. Though games can be fun, they’re primarily fun in either the company I play them with, or the company I discuss them with. This has been true for probably the last seven or eight years of my life.
Saints Row the Third is the first game in nearly a decade to break this cycle. THIS is a fun game. It’s phenomenal. I’ve liked games. I’ve loved games. Saints Row the Third goes beyond either of those emotions. It’s a game I’m convinced a future me went back in time to make for myself, because it is the PERFECT video game experience for me. The humor is fantastic, and hits on nearly every cue for me. Everything about this game is put together to excite me, and to make me want to play it more, be it the obnoxious dubstep in the menu screens, the ability to put blades on your wheels so you can pop surrounding vehicles’ tires, or the fact that you start the game robbing a bank disguised as yourself. And that’s some of the more tame parts of this game — nay — this masterpiece. I’d go into more detail, but I don’t want to rob you of the potential to experience what this game has to offer firsthand. What’s truly beautiful is that though this game goes to such extreme and crazy places, you can tell that there’s careful attention paid to making sure the game never oversteps itself. Though the story goes through insane phases, it all makes sense within the universe the game presents you with, and never feels out of place in the fiction. Conversations between the characters and the world around them makes you realize how at home all of this ridiculousness is, and brings you to a point at which the idea of a game show about murdering people in outlandish mascot outfits is entirely plausible.
Honestly, I cannot praise Saints Row the Third enough. It is the single greatest video game experience I’ve had all year, if not in my entire life. There’s never been a game I was so excited to play every chance I got, and have been so happy to own. I fully expect to play through it many many times in the years to come, and I eagerly await a sequel, as Volition has already promised one is on the way. Seriously, it has set a new bar for me in fun with video games, and I can’t wait to finish typing this article just to play it some more.
Pokémon Black/White: Easily one of the best, if not THE BEST, Pokémon games yet. The story is much stronger than any previous installment, and deserves a look from even non-Pokémon fans.
Bastion: A fantastic action-RPG that shows you don’t need a huge budget to tell a great story and create a great world in a video game.
Mortal Kombat: Sets a new standard in “Story Modes” for fighting games. I’ve never wanted to know more about guys I planned on killing in almost hilariously brutal ways.