That’s right, gaming pals, it is that time. The Infinite Ammo brain trust has perfected a flawless scientific method with which to divine the very best games of 2011. Upon completing our experiments, the following games manifested before us. Keep in mind, though, we here at Infinite Ammo do not believe in numbers; the following games are not ranked in any way, and we love them all equally. The order is merely a formality.
10. To the Moon
There has been a lot of talk in recent years that video gaming as a medium has run out of ideas, and as someone who has been playing video games for a very, very long time, it was hard to argue that the creative well wasn’t looking a little dry. That’s why when I heard so much praise for a little indie game called To the Moon, I was more than a little doubtful. Upon booting it up for the first time – that is still a phrase people use, right? – I quickly noticed the wall of cynicism I had built around my heart crumble, and I became completely entranced. For the first time in years, I did not stop playing until I had seen the story reach its conclusion.
While most games in this list are part of a larger franchise and play with big ideas on a grand scale, To the Moon tells a more intimate story. While it may not be the most technically impressive game on this list, and some might argue that it isn’t even ‘fun’ as a game might ‘need’ to be, the story it weaves and the way it chooses to tell it is something so special that it more than deserves a spot among the greats of 2011. If nothing else, To the Moon is undeniable proof that gaming still has plenty of ideas left; all it needed to do was scale things back a bit in order to find one worth mining.
-William T. Carpenter Jr.
9. Dark Souls
Stabbed. Bludgeoned to death. Fallen off a cliff. Arrow to the knee. Eaten by a tree. Caught on fire. Dark Souls has more ways to kill you than a crazy ex-girl friend. That is the challenge, that is the hook. The game doesn’t ask you to beat it, handing you everything you need on a silver platter like every other game on the market. The game asks you at first to just survive, and then once you’re ready it asks you to thrive. There is no hand holding. You fight your first boss suddenly with no warning. Oh and he is about 30 feet tall. With a stone mallet. He is relatively easy compared to what awaits you ahead.
A lot of games ask you to find the best armor, best weapon, and the best spells if you want to beat the game. The Quick Time Event holds nearly every game hostage, making its way into Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty for instance. There are no button prompts in Dark Souls. There is no quest given to you to find the best gear. Don’t get me wrong, there is a ton of weapons and armor designed to make your life a lot easier, but there is no ultimate weapon, no “Knights of the Round”. Dark Souls is a game, more than any other in recent memory save its predecessor Demon’s Soul, that requires skill. It will beat you senseless time and time again, and you’ll keep coming back for more. For all those reasons it stands out to me as a fresh take on gaming, something unique in its delivery and deadly in its execution. You aren’t a super powered badass, you aren’t Batman, and you don’t have a really big gun. You are undead, that is your one saving grace. You will die, but you will come back and you will learn. This all may sound impossible, but the feeling you get when you down a boss is a well earned feeling that surpasses any feeling I get from any other game. I genuinely feel like I accomplished something in this game and that is why it is my game of the year.
8. The Binding of Isaac
Our Super Meat Boy bud, Edmund McMillen, brings the gross again in The Binding of Isaac, a dismal rogue-like game. The story is simple: Isaac’s mother is crazy religious and hears a voice from on high that she must sacrifice her son to prove her faith. Now the scared little Isaac is on the run, deeper and deeper into the hellish dungeon that lies behind a small door in his room.
The game play is difficult, but not frustrating. It’s possible to fly through game and go straight to the final boss, but most likely you will die very quickly without stopping to pick up the plethora of weird and disgusting power-ups like chocolate milk balls to make your attacks into spit balls or a clothes hanger that makes him attack faster with his own tears. Fighting your way through randomly generated levels populated with ghoulish monsters has never felt so good. With a price point of $5 and most of the time it’s on sale, you’d be an idiot not to nab this great game.
7. Batman: Arkham City
I wasn’t planning on buying Batman: Arkham City so soon after it launched. My gaming budget was limited. However, peer pressure from family members, friends, and everyone else in the world who enjoyed Batman made me break down and purchase it at full price before the local Best Buy ran out of copies. My wallet regrets nothing.
I could get away with writing about how much of the Batman mythology Rocksteady incorporated into the game, gushing over the game’s near-perfect voice cast, and applauding the dark, gothic, and memorable stylized atmosphere. I could fanboy about the narrative written by Paul Dini and top it all off with a paragraph on why Kevin Conroy is the best actor to portray Batman and any good Bat-fan shalt not have any other actors before him. While these are telltale signs of a good Batman product, that isn’t enough to make it a great video game experience. What makes Arkham City stand out as its own video game instead of a piece of Bat-fan fodder?
There’s plenty of side quests to compliment the main story, the New Game+ mode adds enough challenge to keep the game from getting boring, and around 400 collectible trophies and challenges to keep completionists occupied. The world is big enough to provide a variety of distinct areas, but is small enough keep players from getting lost and doesn’t resort to using any artificial padding to make itself seem bigger. Boss encounters are unique enough and placed so that they seem like significant events in the narrative, and feel like a major improvement over the half-hearted encounters in its prequel, Arkham Asylum. It also doesn’t hurt that the player feels they’re in control of the combat and using the grappling hook and gliding abilities to get from one point to another is a lot of fun. Not to mention the setting of a lower-class section walled off as a ghetto for prisoners provided some subtle social class commentary.
Other developers and publishers working on licensed games would depend on the license alone to sell their title and release it alongside a movie as a tie-in product. While Rocksteady could’ve relied on the “Batman” name alone to sell their game, they went above and beyond to ensure their game would stand out and create a memorable Batman experience.
Typically when you hear a lone voice narrating your every action, you’ve either gone mad or had a stroke. Thankfully, neither is the case with Bastion, Supergiant Games’ adventure story that combines amazing music, great character designs and beautiful colors. They have created a world that seems to combine elements of fantasy and technology in a way never seen before that is still incredibly familiar. Plus, the narration by Rucks, as played by Logan Cunningham, would be a sweet addition to any game.
Everything about the gameplay is amazing as well, from the unique enemies like living gasses or alligators hunt in tall grass as well as the varied weapons with which to kill everything. You haven’t lived until you use a battering ram to destroy a race’s elite warriors or use a gigantic cannon to wipe them from existence. Underneath all that, this game also has a lot of heart, with a story that is definitely worth hearing. If you haven’t already given Bastion a shot, you are doing yourself, and your ears, a disservice.
5. Sonic Generations
There’s nothing more cool than trying something new with a video game series in order to keep things fresh. In fact, that’s perfectly understandable. But when game companies constantly try to experiment with half-baked gameplay gimmicks and release games filled with bugs and glitches, that’s no good! It’s no secret Sega has had this problem with Sonic. The well-received gameplay in 2010’s Sonic Colors seemed like a lucky shot in the dark and fans were skeptical if Sega could maintain the same level of quality with future games.
Sonic Generations captures everything enjoyable about Sonic; gameplay based around building and maintaing momentum, and providing multiple routes through levels. The game can be beaten in the span of a few hours, but there’s replayability that compliments Sonic’s speedy nature through finding hidden red rings, online leaderboards, and additional challenges in each area. Gone are the Final Fantasy-style narratives and lengthy cutscenes past games were criticized for and in their place is a carefree, fun story that’s aware of its cheesy characters and dialog and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Generations felt surprisingly polished. At first I was skeptical about dividing the game into “classic” and “modern” levels, fearing that dividing the game in such a fashion would skewer the game’s quality. The classic levels replicated a classic Sega Genesis gaming experience (with a few tweaks and twists). The modern levels grant the player a more refined style of the recent Sonic gameplay and relies on platforming rather than blending speed, memorization, and the occasional jump. There’s still a few technical issues in the game, but the developers did have a vision for the game and followed up on it.
Some argue many of the things Generations did right were borrowed from Colors, but doing so showed that Sega finally re-discovered what to do with Sonic instead of always trying to provide “Sonic, but with a twist!” Sega may have been playing it safe, but it looks like it was the best route to take. It looks like Sonic finally found his niche, and that’s way past cool.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
tyle=”font-family: arial,helvetica,sans-serif;”>There has never been a bad Legend of Zelda game and Nintendo’s latest, Skyward Sword, is no different. Combining the colors of Wind Waker, the graphics of Twilight Princess and the annoying sidekick of Ocarina of Time, Skyward Sword has something for everyone while still being completely unique. Everything that we all knew and loved about the series has been changed in some fashion and it couldn’t be better.
The fields of Hyrule and the loyal stead have been replaced by a land in the sky and a giant red bird, yet the adventures and lands they take you to make the trade for the best. Even in the Wii’s motion controls get a proper use this time around, forcing the players to think strategically when fighting minions and really do some damage. This game doesn’t start easy and get difficult, it challenges players from the get-go. It makes every boss defeated, every puzzle solved that more satisfactory when triumphed over and it never gets stale. If you own a Wii, you should own this game.
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Game of the year? No question for me. Game of my lifetime, at this point. I don’t think I’ve ever been absorbed into a game quite the way in which I have been sucked into Skyrim, and I played World of Warcraft for several years.
I spent a lot of time in the beginning wobbling around trying to get my bearings. At quite a few points I was ready to give up. Then a friend took pity on me and hooked us up with a new TV. In retrospect, that might have been a bad idea. I haven’t gotten jack shit done since then.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’m the Harbinger of the Companions, the Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold, married to my fellow Companion Farkas, a proud homeowner… if only I could be this productive in real life. I think my IRL husband might be starting to get a little worried.
I’ve spent hours sitting in the College library just reading the texts. I’ve wandered aimlessly enjoying the scenery. I’ve taken out giants, trolls, falmer and more draugr than I can count. I’ve looted dungeons of their wealth and sold it all to my buddies in Whiterun. I’ve lost track of how many dragons I’ve pulled out of the sky. And my quest log never gets any shorter. Am I ever going to run out of stuff to do? We might have a problem here.
Okay, I’m done. Is that enough? I wanna go play.
2. Super Mario 3D Land
Hey, guys! Guess what! There is a new Super Mario game in town, and it completely outclasses nearly every other game of the year. Are you surprised? Well, you shouldn’t be. Super Mario 3D Land takes everything you have ever loved about the series and adds a whole ton of crazy into the mix thanks to the very significant addition of the 3DS’s third dimension.
What makes this such a great treat is how well the 3D is integrated into the experience. It would be easy to throw a few Bullet Bills at the player, but 3D Land works in that extra dimension in some surprising and exciting ways. It builds on the formula set by its Super Mario predescessors naturally and elegantly, putting spin after spin on that tried and true platforming gameplay. There are no gimmicks here, just genius.
-William T. Carpenter Jr.
1. Portal 2
I was a little late on the scene with Portal 2. By the time I got around to picking it up, everyone had already played it and all the reviews were in. Everyone I knew was recommending this one to me, knowing my taste in games. They wondered what the hell was wrong with me and why I hadn’t played it yet.
Frankly, I hadn’t played it yet because I was broke and couldn’t afford any new games at the moment. I also had never played the original Portal and their descriptions apparently weren’t doing the game justice. “So I shoot holes at the wall and jump through? So the f*** what?”
Finally, a few months after its release, I found it on sale so I decided to give it a shot. I picked up the PC version (we didn’t have our Xbox yet) and loaded it up when I got home. And boy did those people know me.
Portal 2 was a game made for me. From the intricate puzzles to the snotty wit, this was my game. I played it for hours each night, both in single-player mode and as a team with my brother (who was profoundly grateful to finally have someone to play with). I felt utterly brilliant every time I solved a puzzle, especially if it seemed completely impossible at the time. I never once consulted a strategy guide; I figured those suckers out myself. I was seeing portals in my sleep.
I love me a good puzzle game, and Portal 2 is one of the best.
Well? Was our science up to snuff? Did we forget about any hidden gems? Now that you have heard what we thought of 2011, it is your turn to tell us how you feel in the comments section below!