2011 was another outstanding landmark year. I finished articling and was granted admission to the law society in August. I began my (hopefully) lifelong career as a federal prosecutor. A job that I absolutely love. For the second straight year my wife and I welcomed a new addition to our family, our third child and second son Ellis. The twins are starting to develop their own little personalities and are ridiculous amounts of fun. I have never been happier, and aside from finding some time to workout, things could not be better.
As far as gaming goes 2011 was hands down the best year ever. Gamers tend to be a little blinded by nostalgia, but really the quality and rich experiences that games are delivering these days is incredible. There were a few disappointments like Dragon Age 2 or Resistance 3, but even the bad games were decent. In my entire gaming life I've handed out sixteen 9.5 scores. This year I handed out eight! Every one of those games was superb. Unlike most years with one or two standout games followed by some decent titles, I look at my top five (six) and every one of those games should be GOTY.
Unfortunately 2012 looks bleak. Just awful in terms of gaming. This is made all the worse because I get to take six months paternity leave starting in April. It will be amazing to get paid to hang out at home and spend time with my kids, but what will I play? My top five anticipated games are really just the only five games I plan on buying in 2012. I bought 19 games in 2011 and now I am struggling to find 5 in 2012. At least I will save some money. The Metal Gear Rising gameplay looks horrendously bad and after playing the Starhawk beta I'm turned off.
Aside from one brief relapse (Kung Fu Panda 2) I stuck to my 2011 gaming resolution to give up trophy whoring. There were way too many amazing games to play so it was made easy for me. For the most part I stopped letting trophies determine my gaming purchases and just bought games I would enjoy. My gaming resolution for 2012 is a simple one: try to find more time to game. I played 37 games in 2010 (prior to the twins), 29 in 2011 (after the twins) and even fewer 26 now in 2012. My free time is at a premium but too often I'm finding myself watching mindless movies or football or hockey instead. I always end up enjoying gaming time much more but I'm developing a bad habit of getting too lazy to start if that makes sense. For the first time in my life I need to motivate myself to game a little bit. My other resolution was to buy an Xbox and Kinect, but I accomplished that shortly after New Years. So I guess for 2012 I would like to spend some time catching up on the 360 titles that I've missed over the past few years.
5) Skyrim – This spot should rightly belong to Resistance 3 or X-men Destiny but I had to toss Skyrim in. Everyone and their dog picked this for GOTY, but I just can't get into it (most had it picked for GOTY before it even came out but that's another issue). It's like a huge house party next door but I wasn't invited… and I can see the wet t-shirt contest through the cracks of the fence. I gave up on Oblivion after about 20 hours and I was hoping that this would be different. I can't understand how any rational human being can derive any pleasure from a travesty like FF13. Skyrim, I can absolutely understand why people love it, but I personally can't get over how bad the combat is and how much I dislike the levelling system. Without exaggeration, every game I played this year had better gameplay. By better, I mean deeper, more complex, more interesting or more challenging… and that includes Kung Fu Panda 2. I can't sink 100 hours into a game where you run up to things and mash R1. Most iphone games have more rewarding combat. Everyone seems to be able to overlook this… and the glitches. I'm just disappointed that I can't appreciate all the other things this game and epic world have to offer.
4) Transformers: Dark of the Moon and 3) Spiderman: Edge of Time – Both War for Cybertron and Shattered Dimensions were awesome games that completely took me by surprise in 2010. In both cases Activision forced a garbage sequel within a year. It's not just that both these games are awful, sloppy, broken with no effort or heart... objectively they have a fraction of the content. Dark of the Moon has a broken mp with no depth. Co-op and escalation mode are completely gone. Edge of Time has literally a quarter of the spidermans, bosses, environments, etc. Where the hell does Activision get off doing this? A smaller studio comes up with a successful little game and rather than developing the franchise they murder it within eight months by forcing a terrible sequel.
2) Killzone 3 – My favourite multiplayer shooter of all time is still Killzone 2. I will never have that much fun with an online game. Beyond the amazing graphics and environments, I loved the simplicity of the class system and the focus on paced, skilled gameplay. Killzone 3 throws everything down the toilet and tries to become a CoD clone. Why would you do this? People loved Killzone 2 because it was Killzone 2, what is the justification for changing everything? The single player is shorter and some portions are so derivative they are laughable. They took an amazing and unique game and rushed a sequel to sell 3D televisions and Moves. I hope 3D and the Move was worth killing two franchises this year Sony.
1) Brink – I had my eye on Brink for a couple of years. Very interesting concept... absolutely horrendous execution. Nothing works in this game. It's not worth repeating the numerous frustrations, design flaws and nonsense. This game, more specifically the AI, provided me with some of the most infuriating game related freakouts I've ever had. I played most of this game screaming at my television at the top of my lungs. It's rare to see a game screw up this badly.
5) Mass Effect 2 – The Xbox exclusive I was dying to play finally came to PS3 early last year and it didn't disappoint. This is Bioware at their best. Outstanding characters in an epic plot. Great music, mood and environments. I liked the more serious and focused storytelling as compared to Dragon Age, but I was actually really disappointed with the gameplay and lack of any rpg elements. Had I not picked the game up again later in the year for my insanity run it probably wouldn't be in my top 5. Playing it a second time I realized how much I had enjoyed the game. Insanity required you to constantly pause and choose abilities carefully. It played more like an rpg than my first easy run, which was essentially a poor man's third person shooter.
4) Deus Ex – This game had the coolest trailer of all time and I was doubtful that any game could live up to that hype. But Deus Ex did a fine job. This game had absolutely stellar atmosphere and mature and complex ethical decisions. I liked that choices were met with realistic and immediate feedback which felt quite different from what has become the classic Bioware choice model. I love games that are roughly linear but have tons of gameplay variety in how you can tackle objectives. Deus Ex rivals MGS4 as the best "multi-method" game. My best friend and I were playing through the game at mostly the same pace and it was amazing how different how experiences were. There are literally three or four full games packed into Deus Ex. My first playthrough was run and gun no nonsense killer. My second playthrough was all stealth and dialogue. They felt entirely different.
3) L.A. Noire – L.A. Noire is a gutsy game. They took a lot of risks and an equal amount of criticism but beyond just the novelty of the game I genuinely enjoy and was captivated by the experience. I have so much to say about this game and I've defended it numerous times so I'm not sure if it's worth getting into again. I just wish people could appreciate that they told an atypical story with a very creative, complex and deep protagonist. Cole was not a likeable guy and to base a character driven, story heavy game on an individual they were setting us up to hate is absolutely brilliant. I hold my breath waiting for games like this and Heavy Rain. L.A. Noire is the reason I love gaming.
2) Batman: Arkham City – Despite all the awesome games this year, Batman AC was my only 10. This game is perfect. This is one of the best games every made. I can be so picky and hard to please but the controls, the combat, the movement are all flawless. The voice acting is perfect. You get to live as Batman set against the background of all these rich and fully fleshed out villains. Every one of the hundreds of collectibles involves a unique riddle. Top to bottom the effort and love they poured into the game is obvious.
1) Dark Souls – Demons Souls is still the best game I've ever played and Dark Souls is bigger and better in almost every way. I absolutely love this game. The tight combat. The ridiculous bosses. The atmosphere and environments. The difficulty and how you overcome the impossible by becoming more skilled. This is a game that consumes you even when you're not playing it. It sucked up a huge portion of my life and my wife was ecstatic the day I finally beat it. Sure they dropped the ball in executing the brilliant multiplayer but looking back no game in 2011 captured my attention the way Dark Souls did.
5) Borderlands 2 - Let's be honest. Borderlands wasn't a great game. The graphics and environments were garbage. There was zero plot or dialogue. Angry Birds has more story and narrative. The mission structure was repetitive and lacked any context. No voice chat and loads of connection issues for the multiplayer. All that being said Borderlands was freaking awesome because it was such a cool idea. 4 player class based co-op dungeon crawling, loot grabbing FPS. It was a brilliant concept and the gun gameplay was so good it made the bazillion weapons feel meaningfully different driving your need to level up and horde weapons. The concept of Borderlands is so simple yet so fulfilling that for Borderlands 2 they would be hard pressed to ruin it. But on a technical level almost any change they make will be an improvement. All this to say that I can't see Borderlands 2 not being an awesome game.
4) The Last of Us – While I'm not the biggest Uncharted fan, on a technical level Naughty Dog is making the highest calibre of games out there. I can't wait to see what they do with a new IP and all of their technical wizardry. So far the game looks amazing and the concept is certainly very interesting. This game could be an instant classic if they can manage to create some solid gameplay.
3) Bioshock Infinite – With the original minds back behind the Bioshock series I'm excited to see what they come up with. If this game has even a fraction of the magic and atmosphere of the original Bioshock I will be content.
2) GTA 5 – I love the GTA series. It is a staple of the game industry and I've grown up with the series. When you mention video games GTA immediately comes to mind. I loved GTA 4 and the more serious, story driven approach. If all they did was remake GTA 4 with a couple new characters I would be happy. So much detail goes into the GTA worlds, I'm excited just to watch the apartment TV.
1) Mass Effect 3 – The thought of this game gives me goosebumps. ME2 got me so heavily invested in the story I need to see how things play out. Just having a chance to go back into that universe is exciting. And it's just around the corner...
(P) Batman: Arkham City – 10
(P) Dark Souls – 9.5
(P) Mass Effect – 9.5
(P) L.A. Noire – 9.5
(P) Deus Ex: Human Revolution – 9.5
(P) Portal 2 – 9.5
Deadspace 2 – 9.5
(P) Crysis 2 – 9.5
Battlefield 3 – 9
(P) inFamous 2 – 8.5
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception – 8.5
(P) Dragon Age 2 – 8.5
Dance Central 2 – 8.5
Elder Scrolls Skyrim – 8
(P) Killzone 3 – 7.5
(P) Alice Madness Returns – 7
(P) Resistance 3 – 7
Marvel vs. Capcom – 7
Limbo – 7
(P) Lord of the Rings: War in the North – 7
(P) Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters – 6.5
(P) Transformers: Dark of the Moon – 6
(P) Brink – 6
(P) Spiderman: Edge of Time – 5.5
(P) X-men: Destiny – 4.5
Stacking – 4.5
(P) Kung Fu Panda 2 – 3.5
Once Upon a Monster – 0.5