Rhete's Best and Worst games of 2011
by Rhete

The Best

I played a lot of games this year, as part of my silly resolution to try and clear out my Steam backlog. Did I succeed? Hell no, but I had a lot of fun trying at least! Here are my picks for favorite games I played this year. They're listed in the order that I played them, no ranked ordering to be found here.


Bionic Commando


Bionic Commando was the first game I played this year, and replaying it nearly a year later to grab some screenshots reminded me just how much I like this game. The swinging mechanic is just a fun as hell and perfectly executed. Enemy soldiers are fun to kill with a number of grapple related ways to dispose of them, and the fights with larger enemies get really intense as you combine swinging and gunplay at the same time. Although a more exploration-based game would've been neat, I'm fine with the focused linear experience this game provides.




Monday Night Combat


I'm not too big on the online multiplayer shoot the other dude in the head games you kids these days love, but man this one hooked me good. Monday Night Combat is some sort of combination of Team Fortress 2 and DOTA... two other games I don't play, but man do they work well together. The overall goal is to guide your team's AI Robots into the other teams base, while preventing theirs from reaching yours. There's always a lot going on with other obstacles such as turrets you can build, power-ups you can buy, and time sensitive attacks like the annihilator, ejectors, juice, and shooting cartoony mascot in the head for cash.

Despite being able to kill other players on the enemy team, that isn't really the focus of the game, and I enjoy it because of that. You respawn in a few seconds, so death is never a huge setback, and a player who only goes around killing the enemy can be a liability. Much more important is field control, you can be an asset to the team without ever killing another player, but instead focusing on killing bots, destroying turrets, and controlling the overall map.

The sad part is that the game is pretty much completely dead now, and I'm not particularly impressed with the changes the upcoming sequel Super Monday Night Combat have made to the formula that worked so well in the original.




Half-Life 2 + Episodes 1 & 2


Man, I don't even know what one can say about this game at this point. If you're reading this, you probably already know about Half-Life, and have already made up your mind on if you like this game or not. I went in with somewhat restrained expectations, when people start throwing around terms like "Game of the Decade" this often, there's no way it could live up to that level of hype, right?

To my surprise, it did. For me Half-Life 2 is easily the best FPS I've ever played. The game is just jam-packed with unique and interesting encounters that really surprised me with their inventiveness, and what could actually be done in a FPS. Gameplay wise, the game has an incredibly tight feeling that I haven't seen in any other games, shooting just feels good, and I loved the sense of scale and amount of distance you travel, making it the whole game really feel like a grand adventure.




Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst


I suppose a little explanation is in order, as I previously put this as #2 on my Worst Games of All-Time list. Not because the game was bad or anything, because hell, it's PSO! I love PSO! But this version of the game was pointless, poorly managed, and took away precious development time from Phantasy Star Universe, and probably should never have been made at all. But it's been several years since then and that discussion is pretty pointless now.

In the end though, I'm glad this version of the game was made. Gameplay wise it's the definitive version, further balancing and refining the changes that the Gamecube version originally introduced. But more importantly, is that even without Sega's own support, Blue Burst continues to live on to this day, via private servers. It has outlived all other version of PSO, and even continues to see support years after the English Phantasy Star Universe PC servers were shut down. Giving the role of managing the game to the fans instead of Sega was probably the best thing that could've ever happened to it.

PSO when played with friends is one of the most insanely addicting experiences you can have in gaming, and I'm greatly thankful I got to go through it one last time.




Snailiad


Wait, what the hell is this? A flash game? Yes that's right I'm putting a flash game on my list and there's nothing you can do about it!

Many flash games seek to imitate the Metroid-vania genre of exploration based platformer, but they always seem to miss the point entirely. Just throwing power-ups into a maze and making it so you have to backtrack to get them isn't enough. Snailiad is the single game I've found that seems to understand what makes the genre tick, and completely nails the execution. In addition to the required power-ups found along the way or gained from bosses, it rewards exploration by having a heap of optional items, secrets, and other goodies to find. Luckily the game doesn't suffer from making things impossible to find, as your Snaily powers include being able to walk on walls, ceilings, flip gravity around, and blast lasers through nearly every thing on the screen. You know, usual snail stuff.

Snailiad also features simple but charming 8 bit graphics, an authentic famitracker composed soundtrack. It's the NES game that never was, and it's totally free, so go play it!




Portal 2


Everyone else has already talked about this game! I don't know what else I can add! If you played Portal and thought "Man I sure wish they would make more Portal!" then this is the game for you, my friend!

News that Valve is making an in-game level editor makes me so excited I want to preemptively named Portal 2 the best game of 2012. Until then, it'll just have to settle for being one of the best of 2011.




Chantelise


Chantelise is a fairly simple action RPG hack and slash that really feels like a long lost PS1 game, with its basic 3D graphics, sprite based characters, and digital camera controls. Not that any of that is a bad thing, it's just neat to see a game hit a such a rare and specific nostalgic note. Chantelise is also old-school in the fact that it can be quite hard at times, bosses especially will mess you up until you learn their tricks and patterns. Kind of funny that the game about little girls was also one of the hardest, and definitely will not let you button mash to victory. Chantelise has a charming cast of characters, lots of secrets to find, a really fun and dynamic magic system, and fast as hell combat. Overall, it's just a lot of fun.




Assassin's Creed & Assassin's Creed 2


It's probably cheating to combine these two, because they are actually really quite different games. Things I liked in the original weren't as good in the sequel, and parts that were weak in the original were greatly improved in 2. Normally with two entries being so different you'd be able to pick a clear favorite, but they're pretty much tied for me.

In Assassin's Creed 1, I liked how focused the game was. Graphics aside, it didn't really feel like a current-generation game at all, it felt more, well, video-gamey. You've got this large world and massive cities, but they aren't there for you to dick around in. There isn't really any optional side stuff, everything is focused towards one goal, the assassination of your next target. And I really liked the flow the game had going, even if it did get a bit repetitive. Scout out the town from the towers, do a few of the smaller quests to gather information (it should be noted that the PC version added 4 more of these, from the original 5, so you aren't always going through the same eavesdrop, interrogate, pickpocket routine every time) then move in for the assassination. What I loved about the assassination scenes were how dynamic they felt. Pulling one off flawlessly felt really satisfying, especially after several botched attempts. The game rewarded observation and planning, there always felt like a way to do things without alerting the guards or having your target flee into the city. The final step in each stage was the escape, having to evade the guards as you escaped from the city. Again I liked how dynamic this felt, a few good moves and you'd lose your pursuers immediately, mess up and they'd chase you to the end of the earth.

And then there's Assassin's Creed 2. Everything I just wrote about up there? It's the total opposite now. There is a shitload of side content, but the actual assassinations feel really weak, and most of the time there is no escape phase at all, the game just launches into the next story cutscene. If they do make you escape, the guards will just give up if you get far enough away, finding a hiding spot is no longer mandatory. So with the negative out of the way, what's improved here? Well, pretty much everything else. Movement and climbing feels even smoother and more responsive than before. The way guards respond to your presence and the way you can weave through crowds to avoid detection is great, and much more natural than in the first game. The cities are more diverse, full of unique landmarks. The optional dungeons that focus on platforming are great. The new weapons like smoke bombs, poison, and pistols are fun to use, and the combat as a whole is much improved over the originals "counterattack to win". Basically everything except the actual assassination part is greatly improved. If only I could combine the two games into one perfect masterpiece, as is they are sort of two opposite sides of a single coin.




Darksiders


I'd once heard it was impossible to talk about this game without mentioning Zelda. For the first few hours of playing though, I wasn't seeing it. I was just running around, choppin dudes up, in a game that felt much more like God of War than some slow paced Zelda adventure. And then it happened. I reached a new area, and saw several doors leading to side rooms, a second floor I couldn't reach, and a large rock on the ceiling that screamed "drop me to make a hole in the floor". I realized then, aww damn, this is totally a Zelda dungeon isn't it. Darksiders isn't the most original game, but it takes ideas from other games in a way that works, everything feels naturally connected. It moves as a much faster pace than Zelda typically does, it has a good amount of puzzles to stop the game from being endless combat, and just to spice things up more, there's even some third person shooting and a Starfox-esque rail shooter. Darksiders is just a fun little package that keeps things fresh and doesn't outstay its welcome.

Also it has a portal gun. Cuz why the fuck not, right?




Renegade Ops


From the creators of Just Cause 2 (probably my favorite game of 2010) comes a game where you drive around and blow shit up. And that's pretty much the entire game. This game is like the fast food of video games, it's quick, simple, and I feel a little bit guilty for enjoying it as much as I do. It's great fun racing through stages over and over trying to get the best score, and online multiplayer is just a beautiful chaotic clusterfuck.




Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition


As weird as this may sound given the length of this list, but several years ago, I didn't really play video games that much anymore. I looked at the current generation with dismissively, same shit, prettier graphics. Fallout 3 managed to break through though, it just looked too fun to ignore, and thus became one of the first games I ever got on Steam.

Since I played Fallout 3 back in 2009, this entry, like PSO, is a bit of a cheat, but I feel the "Game of the Year" version of it deserves some mention. The original ending of the game SUCKED, and totally killed any motivation I had to play it afterwards, and this version fixes that, along with raising the level cap from 20 to 30 so your character has more time to grow. Along with new quests and areas added by the other expansions, Fallout 3 feels like a much fuller and complete game now, to the point where it may actually be too big. I've still got two expansions left to complete and a ton of unexplored locations on my map, but having put 56 more hours into this playthrough, I actually decided to take a break before I completely burnt myself out. With as addicting as this game is, I can safely say that I am scared to play Skyrim.




Bastion


When Bastion came out earlier in the year, I kept hearing how good it was. I actually got annoyed at how much praise it was getting, thinking it could never be as good at people were saying.

Turns out, it really is as good as people say.

There is no weak element in Bastion. The gameplay is simple but insanely addicting with the amount of stuff to do and collect, the hand drawn art is just flat out gorgeous, and the soundtrack is unique and emotionally powerful. Bastion also has the best narrator in a video game ever, who tells the story as you play without ever needing to stop for a cutscene or dialogue box, as well as providing a lot of character and charm himself.

Most importantly though is how everything about the game works together perfectly to create a single sublime experience. It becomes something far greater than the sum of it's parts, even as individually strong as they are. Bastion is probably the single greatest achievement in gaming this year, a thoughtful video game that can easily stand as a true work of art.





The Good

While this still doesn't include everything I played this year, there were a few more games I wanted to mention. While they didn't quite make the best list, they each managed to do something of note that I felt was worth recognizing.

Mass Effect 1 & 2

Because Jennifer Hale. No, seriously, I think she's the only reason I care about this series. Exaggerations aside, the strength of this series for me is the incredible voice acting and narrative, and the way it really feels like my own personal character and story, with events and decisions you make having far reaching impacts. It feels weird when I see pictures of other Commander Shepards, because that's not the game I played, and their story isn't the same as mine.

Now playing games where your character has no voice, I tend to hear Jennifer Hale's voice in my head instead. Not that I have any problem with that.

Red Faction: Guerrilla

Because I like blowing shit up, and this is pretty much the best "blowing shit up" game ever, with its unique destruction engine allowing you to blow up any building in the game, piece by piece. Unfortunately, with lackluster scenery ranging from brown hills of dirt to grey hills of dirt, the destruction is kind of the only thing the game has going for it. Hopefully though, future games will aspire to match this level of destruction technology. I'm looking at you, Just Cause 3!

Limbo

A fun little atmospheric platformer. Although Limbo is most known for its visual style, I was really impressed at how much the game managed to do with so few elements. All you can do is jump, or push and pull objects, but this limited move set works really well. Granted the game is only about three hours long, but it's consistently fun and unique right up til the abrupt as hell ending. I really like this game, I just wish there was more of it.

Yume Nikki

Yume Nikki is a weird little game. You play as a Madotsuki, a shut-in who stays in her room all the time. The entirely of the game takes place in her dreams, as you explore surreal worlds, bizarre landscapes, and interact with some very unique creatures. There isn't really much of a game here, things like enemies and objectives, while present, are secondary to just exploring the game.

Yume Nikki is interesting because everyone has a different interpretation of it. Personally I don't think there is any meaning to it, just a bunch of random things thrown together, but that also didn't stop me from having my own personal theories and reactions to some parts. Yume Nikki is like a mirror, everyone will see something different inside of it, and for that reason I think it's worth checking out.



The Worst

Just to mix things up, there are no games here, just two news stories that really rubbed me the wrong way.


Nintendo refuses to release games for the Wii

Now granted, since I originally planned to put this on my list, Nintendo has finally agreed to release Xenoblade in the States, but that doesn't change the fact that for the majority of the year there was no indication they would, it's over 7 months after the European version, and most importantly, there is still no sign of The Last Story or Pandora's Tower.

Nintendo's claims of wanting to reconnect with core gaming audiences again with the Wii U feels extremely hollow when at the exact same time there was a huge fan petition to bring over three games getting completely ignored. There was basically nothing at all on the Wii this year, three RPGs would've really helped to fill in the massive release schedule gaps, as well as avoid pissing off your entire fanbase.



Capcom cancels Mega Man Legends 3

I found it funny that just as Nintendo was busy giving the middle finger to their fans, Capcom came out and trumped them by canceling one of their most anticipated games, setting the internet on fire for several weeks, and letting Nintendo quietly slip out of the spotlight. I'm sure a lot of you are sick of hearing about this, and it's hard to explain why this cancellation was just so insulting. I loved the original games when I was younger, and for 10 years there was no news of a third one, aside from Keiji Inafune occasionally teasing that he wanted to make it. So when it was finally announced, I was truly shocked. They even actively got the community involved letting people vote on character designs, submit ideas, or even bosses to appear in the game. Pretty soon there was even going to be a demo with 10 missions! Finally, after all these years, people were going to play Mega Man Legends 3!

And then they canceled it. And that demo? Nah we're not gunna release that, even though it's done. Fuck you. What makes this worse than the Nintendo situation is that those three games still exist. If you're really desperate enough, you can import them from Europe, and if they never come out there, you could play them in Japanese. Nintendo of America not releasing them doesn't make it impossible to play them, just a pain in the ass. On the flip side, you will never play Mega Man Legends 3. It will never exist. They waited 10 years to announce it, encouraged the fans to participate, then pulled the rug right out from under us. I cannot possibly think of a bigger "Fuck You" from a company.





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