Monday, December 26, 2011

Top 3 Games of the Year, 2011

With 2011 drawing to a close, it's time to once again announce my top three games of the year.

As I mention each year, I'm not a professional reviewer and I don't get review copies of games, so I can only judge based on what I've played. I won't go and spend my money on triple A titles that I have no interest in, which means there are certain franchises that will not appear in my lists.

To further add to my policy, I can only consider a game for Game of the Year status if I've played through it (or at least completed its main component or Quest), so keep that in mind when you notice a few Triple A titles missing.

3) Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (Xbox 360). 343 Industries first major foray into creating a game in the Halo franchise actually comes to us in the form of an HD remake of the title that started it all. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is truly a labour of love that takes the original Campaign and gives it a major HD overhaul while still retaining the excellent classic gameplay we know and love.

In addition to a facelift, it also adds Co-Op Campaign via Xbox LIVE, Terminals, and Skulls to further add to the experience, and it comes bundled with the Anniversary Map Pack for Halo: Reach that features new remakes of classic Multiplayer battle grounds as well as a new map for Firefight.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary really harkens back to a day of quality, a day when there really was a lot of substance to retail games and products weren't just released with clearly missing pieces that you could buy later as "premium" DLC, but also to a time when games where challenging.

Don't believe me? Play through the Campaign on Legendary with no Skulls. Halo: Reach has an Achievement for completing the game on solo Legendary, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary has no such thing. There's a reason for that.

A wonderful nostalgia trip and a stellar shooter that's stood the test of time and benefits strongly from the new visuals, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is not only a great title (and a budget title at that), but it's also Microsoft Studios' best title released this year.

2) Dead Space 2 (Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3). Dead Space was an exceptional experience that really took the survival horror genre above and beyond, featuring a great story, great gameplay, and a truly nerve wracking atmosphere (I'll never listen to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" the same way again. Taking things up several notches, Dead Space 2 throws Isaac Clarke into one dark narrative.

Awakening in an insane asylum on a space station called the Sprawl, Isaac is caught between a new Necromorph outbreak and a government that's trying to kill him. Battling his own dementia and haunting visions, Isaac presses forward trying to stop the nightmare, to save himself, and to save anyone else he can.

Dead Space 2 is truly a work of genius providing suburb level design, an exceptional narrative (and having Isaac talk now really enhances the experience), and creative survival horror gameplay that's varied and fresh. The developers really know how to shock their audience and aside from some poor, more action-oriented design towards game's end that feels out of place, the whole near 20 hour experience is one heck of a ride.

Oh, and there's also a Multiplayer component as well, but it's really the single player portion that's the heart and sole of this game. Dead Space 2 is without question the best story driven experience I've played this year, and I'm anxiously awaiting the announcement of the inevitable third chapter in the saga.

1) Mortal Kombat (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3). At the beginning of 2011, if you would have told me that I'd be listing Mortal Kombat as my Game of the Year I would have told you that you were nuts. While I loved the franchise as a teenager it had its time and I've since moved on from fighting games.

Based on the strong reviews and online feedback the game received I decided to give the title a gamble just after its release, and I simply can not believe how amazing it is. Mortal Kombat is packed so full of content, NetherRealm Studios has really outdone themselves. Arcade Ladder with twenty seven kombatants to master (twenty eight if played on a PlayStation 3), a wonderfully enjoyable Story Mode, the insanely long Challenge Tower, Test Your Luck, Test Your Might, Test Your Strike, Test Your Sight, and oh yeah, there's online Versus, Tag Matchs, a full Krypt of unlockables, hidden opponents of old, _and_ they even added four downloadable "premium" kombatants and eight free alternate costumes.

Mortal Kombat, being a retelling of the original trilogy I so loved back in yesteryear, has not only completely impressed and rekindled my love of the franchise but it's also redefined what a complete retail package should contain. Built upon the Unreal Engine 3, it's also the single most beautiful console title I've seen this year with exceptionally detailed characters, backgrounds, and special effects, and boosting a wonderful soundtrack of effects, music, and even voice acting.

And this is a fighting game people, not an over hyped FPS or an overpriced MMO. Mortal Kombat has impacted my gaming life so extensively that it's become my most played game over Xbox LIVE ever, and I've also gone back to check out previous titles in the franchise, dressed as Scorpion for Halloween, and have ignored The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to keep playing this game. Seriously, you want to know why I haven't completed The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim yet and why I couldn't include it in this year's Game of the Year running? It's because of Mortal Kombat!

Simply due to how much I've played it, how much I've loved it, and how much Mortal Kombat is defining my overall gaming experience, there's no question that it's the best game I've played this year. Thank you Ed Boon and co for creating such a great title and a wonderful franchise, and it's with great pleasure that I name Mortal Kombat my 2011 Game of the Year.

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