Like m’colleague, I don’t think I can narrow it down to a singular game as doing so would exclude so many others. As such, I present my stand out games of 2011, all of which deserve the title of Game of the Year. In no particular order, here they are.
Arkham City is the magnum opus, the major movement of a beautifully conducted symphony.
Had invert-x existed in 2009, Arkham City’s predecessor, Arkham Asylum, would’ve easily made this list. I am no large fan of DC and Marvel’s superheroes, but I’ve had a love for Batman ever since I was a young lad. Granted, a love of a particular character does not automatically grant games based on that license a free passage: I am a huge fan of James Bond for instance, but I’m still waiting for a Bond game that eclipses the brilliance of GoldenEye 007.
Arkham Asylum took the mythos and lore of the Batman character and universe and perfectly encapsulated what it’s like to be the world’s greatest detective. Compared to Arkham City, however, Arkham Asylum now feels like the warm-up act. Arkham City is the magnum opus, the major movement of a beautifully conducted symphony. The sectioned off area of Gotham City that forms the anarchic village of Arkham City is wild and untamed, brimming with the festering remnants of human civilisation. Starkly opposed to this is the beautiful blue tinged glow of perpetual moonlight, with a steady snowfall gently cascading down. For a game to blend these seemingly disparate units together and present it as cohesive and immersive is truly an achievement in itself.
Arkham City’s (and Asylum’s) strength comes in presenting Batman as he is. If you fail a task, it’s not because the developer had to implement some kind of arbitrary method of increasing difficulty: it’s because you failed at being Batman. Rocksteady have kept this simple fact as the core of the entire series so far, with everything branching off it. Coupled with a deep love for the franchise (and the wonderful 90s animated series), Arkham City is not only one of my games of the year, it has become one of my favourite games of all time.
Bastion is, quite simply, beautiful.
2011 was a great year for independent developers. The growing selection of distribution channels for developers allowed a far wider audience to sample what has become an increasingly substantial source of innovative and unique games. Bastion is a fantastic example of the variety coming out of the independent space, and a great indicator to the big publishers that we want games like this.
Like Arkham City, Bastion is steeped in a deep and committed world, one that feels so effortlessly real. Coupled with the soothing tone of the Narrator as you roam the world, and the quirky musical styling that incorporates old west style guitar licks with middle-eastern style beats, Bastion is, quite simply, beautiful. While it’s gameplay mechanics could do with a tune-up (the game plays a little like an isometric Zelda, but with no puzzles), I can’t fault them overall â€“ as action RPGs go, it’s fun, fast and frantic. Like Arkham City, Bastion has found a place on my favourite games of all time list (a list that isn’t very long at all).
The strength of Sword & Sworcery lies in the world that forms from the flow of the music.
Anyone who talked to me when this game was released may recall my less than favourable reaction to it. It wasn’t until recently when I restarted the game that I realised what the intent behind the whole thing was and it all suddenly clicked: I was playing a soundtrack. The strength of Sword & Sworcery lies in the world that forms from the flow of the music, something that I now greatly appreciate and admire. As someone who deeply loves music and the unique images that it can conjure, Sword & Sworcery is a reaffirmation of how humans differ from any other living organism on this planet. It’s easy at times to simply ignore the game and stare at the world presented on-screen at you. Granted, there isn’t much of a game attached (and it tends to skirt on the side of pretentious a few times), but that’s beside the point.
I’d argue that this game is a perfect fit for the iPad as well. The iPad can be a wonderfully intimate device at times, far more than the what the small screens of handhelds and phones can offer. Sword and Sworcery plays to this intimacy, and by not making a song and dance about using the iPad’s various hardware features, it feels like the first proper game for the device. It’s an absolute pleasure to lose yourself to this world: what more could you ask for?
And there we have it! I do have to make mention of one more game that I’m absolutely certain would’ve made this list had it arrived in time: Rayman Origins. Unfortunately, due to shipping issues and the like (plus the onslaught of games that came out at the same time), Rayman has yet to hit my doorstep. Apologies, Mr. Ancel, but I know I’ll love it!
Well, 2011 is over, which means that it’s time for us to look back at all the good memories we had over the course of the year. 2011 saw a number of huge game releases including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Batman: Arkham City, PokÃ©mon Black and White, Portal 2, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Slightly less huge (but still significant) releases include Dead Space 2, L.A. Noire, Rage, Infamous 2 and Super Mario 3D Land.
Certainly a year to remember, with all those notable releases. But which one gets the prestigious title of my GOTY? Well, I can’t just tell you straight up – that would go against my writing style! So, before we get to that, I want to look at some of the games I listed above and why they didn’t get my GOTY, and what defines a "great game" to me.
First of all: I need to feel good when playing a game, and especially after I’ve just finished it. Well, sorry Battlefield and Modern Warfare, ignoring all your other faults, you certainly didn’t make me feel good. Hell, if you haven’t seen the ending of MW3’s single player campaign, go look it up on YouTube. How can anyone feel good after that?
Next: A game needs to be consistent. What I mean is that the quality doesn’t vary much as you play through the game. Not just in graphics and detail, but also in plot, gameplay, and so on. This rules out Rage and L.A. Noire and their aimless driving (i.e. padding) sections, Deus Ex with its disappointing ending, and Infamous and Uncharted for not being as good as their predecessors.
Thirdly: A GOTY should be memorable. I use the term "video game junk food" a lot, and I think it’s a really good definition of some games. Junk food is stuff that tastes good while you eat it, but is forgettable afterwards and didn’t really fill you up (and isn’t good for you, to boot!). Video game junk food is very similar: fun while it lasts, but forgettable after that. Let’s rule out Dead Space, Pokémon, and even, unfortunately, Mario.
I haven’t played Zelda yet (shame on me), so that leaves two: Batman, and Portal. Playing as Batman is an awesome feeling, and because of his no-killing policy, certainly makes you feel good – while at the same time feeling like a total badass. Portal 2 has a lot more meat than its predecessor, has just the right amount of challenge, and a very memorable (and feel-good) ending to back it up.
So, which one wins the GOTY? Surprise! Neither! Batman and Portal are indeed great, but for me, one game stands above all others in 2011: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective.
I talked a bit about Ghost Trick last week – it’s an adventure/puzzle game where you play as a recently-deceased spirit, who discovers that he has the power to manipulate objects, and rewind time to save the lives of others. You progress through the game using these two powers, with the ultimate goal of solving the mystery of your death.
Ghost Trick is the latest creation of Shu Takumi, the same guy who was behind my favourite series, Ace Attorney. The music was composed by Masakazu Sugimori, the same person responsible for the ever-so-memorable track from Ace Attorney: Pursuit ~ Cornered. I’ll just put the theme at the end of this post for your listening pleasure.
All the elements – plot, characters, art, animation, music – combine to form an extremely satisfying and memorable game. The puzzles continue to evolve as the game progresses, and the feel-good ending and memorable characters help put this in the top slot of 2011.
GOTY Main Theme