Dec 282011
 

2011 was a year where we saw a ridiculous amount of good and great games released.  After several years with a dearth of great titles, this year was overrun with quality games vying for our attention, which magnified the problem eventually encountered by all gamers: Too many games, too little time.  Here’s where I take a look at some of the more memorable ones that I’ve played.

Best “New” Game
Of course every year we’re usually drowning in sequels, but this year, we had a decent amount of new games that weren’t the 8th or 9th iteration of the same thing (I’m looking at you, CoD 8!).  Probably my favorite was L.A. Noire.  When you boil it down, L.A. Noire was pretty much an adventure game that had a dash of action and a hint of open-worldness, but the overall presentation and production values tied to an interesting story made it one of my favorite games of 2011 overall.  Top notch voice acting and an entertaining cast of characters kept me playing just to unravel the story.  Searching for clues and making a case against suspects has never been so well done as it is in L.A. Noire.  Definitely worth checking out, and also makes for a great spectator game for your significant other.  Also, it’s now available in PC form.

Honorable mentions in this category go to Bullet Storm, which was much better than I expected and is probably the game that Duke Nukem Forever should have been.  Also Telltale’s Back to the Future point-and-click adventure was very good for those who love 80’s nostalgia.

Best Indie Game
I almost called this category “best downloadable game.”  Of course, in 2011, almost every game is “downloadable” — but really what I’m looking at is indie games that haven’t had any wide retail releases and usually cost $20 and under.  This category probably had the most growth in 2011 with hundreds of quality titles released.  The one that stuck out the most this year for me was Magicka.  A witty, tongue-in-cheek story with hilarious co-op play made this one playable, and re-playable for months.  It’s hard to argue with a game about wizards and magic that comes out with a Vietnam expansion complete with M16s and grenades that totally works in its game world.  The game wasn’t without its technical flaws, including lack of mid-level saves which were magnified by random crashes to desktop during co-op after a later patch, but it still provided hours of entertainment.

Honorable mentions go to Sanctum, the first person tower defense game that started life as a UT mod, Bastion and Renegade Ops.

Best Co-op
Co-op games have become a trend as of late, and 2011 had its share.  Magicka was pretty good here, as was Sanctum…even BF3 threw one in there and dangled weapon unlocks as a carrot.  But one game stands out in my mind:  Portal 2.  Portal 2 was better than the first in every way possible, which wasn’t too hard to do since the first Portal was essentially just an extended demo / pack-in for the Orange Box.  The single player in Portal 2 was great, and the co-op was completely separate and excellently done.  Trying to figure out puzzles with a friend with sometimes hilarious results was better than expected.  Mix in a heavy dosage of GLaDOS and great writing and it’s co-op at its best.   Even if you only played and enjoyed the single player, you owe it to yourself to buddy up and play the co-op, you won’t be disappointed.

Best Multiplayer
This one is pretty easy for me.  Battlefield 3 is the obvious choice.  BF3 offers such an deep experience that lets you play the game you want to play it.  The classes you choose actually affect the way you play the game and with extra-large maps and a few different game Battlefield 3modes, this game will keep you entertained for hours on end.  Team play is not only an option, but almost required even in just regular pub servers, it’ll scratch most people’s itch for some sort of organized team gameplay.  Not to mention the persistent stat and level tracking, all available from the web, BF3 provides the most in-depth experience we’ve seen in an online shooter…probably ever.  Sure, it has its flaws, and the whole Steam / Origin debate raged during the pre-release period which was turned out to be a non-issue or at least accepted begrudgingly for most players.  Where else are you going to get your online shooting needs?  True, CoD 8 still has its followers, but it’s too hollow and shallow of an experience for my tastes at this point.

Best Single Player
Again, this is an easy one for me; Skyrim.  I only dabbled in Oblivion years after the initial craze over the game, never played any previous Elder Scrolls games, but after thoroughly enjoying Bethesda’s last game, Fallout 3, I was ready to jump into the land of Tamriel head first, and wasn’t disappointed.  This is a game that you can sink 50+ hours and still not see everything.  Also it’s hard to discount the number of internet memes this game had already created.  I’ll be playing this one well in to 2012. 

A close runner up here has to be Deus Ex.  The series got a reboot and a facelift and it made for one of the best games of 2011.  Only a game of Skyrim’s magnitude could unseat Deus Ex as my favorite game overall.  Both games are must plays.

Unexpected Greatness
Every year there’s at least one game (more if I’m lucky) that ends up being a something that I wasn’t anticipating, tried on a whim and ended up being pleasantly surprised by the results.  Previous years Batman Arkham City and Star Craft II were games I had zero expectations of and ended up enjoying so much they made my top games list.  This year, Saints Row the Third makes that list.  I never played the first, only briefly played the second, but on numerous recommendations and an aggressive Amazon sale, I figured I’d give it a go.  The game is so completely over the top and so well written with juvenile jokes that  are actually funny (unlike Duke Nukem Forever) the game exceeded all expectations I had.  It’s just plain fun to play, and in the end, that’s what counts.

Honorables
With 2011 being so rich with great games, there were several others that I enjoyed so much but didn’t make the other lists.  Dead Space 2, for example, was definitely much better than the first in every way.  Also, if you got the PS3 version, you got a copy of Dead Space Extraction, which turned out to be a pretty good light gun game that’s worth playing if you’re into the Dead Space fiction.

Another game I sunk a ton of time into and will revisit, hopefully via co-op is Dead Island, a better than expected open-world zombie smasher.  After its rocky launch, the game got a bit of a bad rap, but is completely enjoyable if you’re into smashing hordes of zombies in hyper-violent style.  Let’s not forget Batman Arkham City, which was very good and while it didn’t recapture the magic that was Batman AA, it’s still a great game and in any other year could have been one of the best games of the year.

I want to mention Deus Ex: Human Revolution one more time.  I absolutely loved the Blade Runner-esq neo-noir atmosphere, the ability to upgrade your character in any way you see fit and a great story.  I’m looking forward to going back to it and playing some of the DLC.

2011 was so jam packed with great games that there were plenty that I didn’t even get to.  There’s still a few that I will probably get to next year, like Uncharted 3, Rage, The Witcher 2 and the indie shooter Hard Reset.  But no “best of” list would be complete without a corresponding “biggest disappointments of” list.  I’ll be working to put that one together over the next few days.

Of course these are just my memorable games of the 2011, I’m sure everyone has their own take on the year.  Feel free to add your comments!

May 042011
 
consolidatedconsoles

A bunch of recent news tidbits from console-land worth mentioning. First a few price drops. The Wii will be dropping to $150 and include Mario Kart with a wheel starting May 15th. Not all that surprising since it seems that the Wii has finally hit its ceiling after running away with the console sales race and all the news swirling around about the Wii 2. Not sure who was holding out on the Wii because of the price, but hey, cheaper stuff is good, right?

Secondly, you’d have to assume an Xbox 360 price drop is imminent, probably around E3 time, as many retailers, including Amazon are selling all flavors (including Kinect bundles) of the 360 with a [amazon_link id=”B003O6JLZ2″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]$50 gift card as well as a $20 Microsoft point card[/amazon_link].

Not to leave Sony and the PS3 out, but PSN is still down, Sony Online Entertainment (MMO games division) was also hacked, with mostly non-US info and credit cards stolen. Don’t worry though, DC Universe Online players will get free Batman masks for their trouble. Most everything else in wait-and-see mode when PSN comes back online this week sometime. Don’t forget to change your password when it does come back.

Next up, I wanted to briefly mention the Red Faction: Armageddon demo up on XBL and eventually PSN at some point. After enjoying Red Faction: Guerrilla a bunch, I was eager to check out the direction Armageddon was going in. I hadn’t really followed much press coverage on it to this point, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The demo offers about 30 minutes of game play and retains a lot of the destructive abilities of the previous game. While Armageddon still is played from the third person, it takes a more over-the-shoulder perspective, like Gears of War, than Guerrilla’s Grand Theft Auto pulled-back style. Still, it seems to work pretty well. In the demo you get to use some unique weapons like the magnet gun and something that shoots mini-black holes. Also, there is a new gameplay mechanic in that you can actually repair some of your destruction, that kind of reminded me of the TMD from Singularity. It was really hard to get an overall feel for the game in the demo, but it seems like it will end up a bit less open-ended than Guerrilla. If nothing else, the demo left me interested enough to look and see what sales are available for the game’s preorders. [amazon_link id=”B003P9C6QY” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Amazon is doing a $10 credit for a future THQ game[/amazon_link] (an unusual restriction for Amazon preorders) along with a free download of Red Faction: Battlegrounds; a top down car combat game that gets mediocre reviews. Amazon’s deal applies to the console versions only.

Our own Suibhne points me to this great video, related to Armageddon:

Last up, a deal for Portal 2 that can’t be passed up. [amazon_link id=”B002I0JIQW” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Amazon is offering Portal 2[/amazon_link] for $30 on the PC and $35 on the consoles. A great price for one of the better games to come out this year so far.

Apr 132011
 
portal2

Next week, 4/19, to be exact, marks the release of Portal 2.  Valve has already unlocked Steam pre-loading for the game if you pre-ordered directly from there.  If you were one of the many who held out for the PS3 version, which also includes access to the PC and Mac versions, you may have wondered how exactly that whole process would work and how Steam would interact on the PS3.  Maybe you have no intentions on playing it on the console, and were just a savvy shopper who figured that Amazon’s $20 credit on the PS3 version actually turns out to be less than the PC version.  Hint: [amazon_link id=”B003O6E3C8″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]that deal is still available here[/amazon_link].

What’s interesting is that they are bringing pretty much the full Steam overlay to the PS3 (you press the “select” button in-game to access it).  When you link your PSN to your Steam ID in game, you’ll also be able to see and chat with all your Steam friends.  While it’s great to see Steam branch out, I can’t help thinking that it’s a bit odd to have an additional, duplicate functionality layer on top of PSN.  So now you’ll have your PSN friends and separately your Steam friends.  You’ll have Steam achievements and PSN trophies, which, if you’re playing on the PS3, will unlock both sets of “cheevos” simultaneously.  Playing on the PC or Mac, however, does not unlock any PS3 trophies.  Cheevo whores take note.

If you did buy the PS3 version only for the cost savings mentioned above, and could care less about the PSN interaction, you’ll be happy to know that each PS3 copy includes a one-time use code which you can activate on Steam.  Valve does indicate you will have to link your PS3 account to your Steam ID before you do that — so don’t buy the PS3 version if you don’t actually have a PS3.  Duh.

Also, the PS3 and PC/Mac interaction doesn’t stop there.  The co-op game can be played across those platforms without any issues.   The Steam Cloud save game feature is also available on both the PC/Mac and PS3, however save games between platforms are not compatible, so no starting the game on the PS3 and finishing on the PC — each system will have separate saves.

Lastly, those who were looking to do local co-op with one copy of Portal 2 will be disappointed to hear that this is not allowed (unless it’s split-screen on 1 PS3).  You’ll need two copies of the game if you had ideas of playing with a local friend on the PC and the other on a PS3 in the same house.   Too bad, it would have been nice to see that supported.

I think Steam on the PS3 is an interesting experiment for Valve.   It’s fairly obvious that this is the next step towards them trying to make Steam become a de facto standard across multiple platforms.  Since it’s clear that Microsoft would never let an additional layer be bolted onto games on the Xbox, the PS3 was the next best thing and allows Valve to showcase their Steamworks package to console publishers as well.

Valve PS3 Steam support page

Mar 222011
 
money

Gaming deals come and go everyday, so it’s hard to keep track of them as the phase in and out of existence.  Today a few notables from Amazon come our way. Amazon’s Game Deal of the Day (all day) is Dragon Age II for $39.99 on PC (both digital and disc versions), PS3 and Xbox 360.  Also be sure to keep checking out Amazon’s Lightning Deals today, as they are all game-related.

Also up on Amazon is pre-order Portal 2 for PS3 and 360 for $54.99 and get a $20 credit for a future game purchase.  No love for the PC version, although the pre-order price for that is $44.99.  However, PC users don’t despair!  You may actually want to consider getting the PS3 version, as that will also include access to the PC version on your Steam account.  This will be the first game to include Steam on the PS3, and through their “Steam Play” service, you will automatically be able to play the game on both PC and Mac as well.  So even though the game is $10 more, the extra $20 credit on the back end results in a $10 win, assuming you ever plan to purchase games from Amazon again.  Consider it.

Lastly from Amazon, today they launch their Android AppStore, complete with a free-for-today-only version of Angry Birds.  If you haven’t been keeping track, Apple has sued Amazon of the use of their “App Store” trademark.  You can read up more on that in this article at the WSJ.