With titles like Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on the horizon, 2011 is sure to close out as one of the best years in gaming history, but what about the first half of the year? While this holiday season is certain to take a toll on consumers’ wallets, there are less financially daunting options for the gamer on a limited budget. Let’s take a look at some of this year’s honorable mentions so far. Keep in mind that this article contains only games I have played. Just because you don’t see retail releases like The Witcher 2 or Pokemon, or Arcade titles like Bastion or From Dust on this list, doesn’t mean they aren’t worth your time. I would hate to offer my input on a game with which I have no experience.
Also note I’ve provided links to various guides and reviews for each game when applicable.
Mass Effect 2 – PS3; Rated: M
If not for the fact that Mass Effect 2 already hit store shelves last year for both the Xbox 360 and PC, this game would have been quite high my list. The PS3 version does come with all but the Arrival DLC, but besides a heavy graphical update, all the versions of Mass Effect 2 are fundamentally the same.
For John's Mass Effect 2 Walkthrough, click here.
Crysis 2 – PS3/Xbox 360/PC; Rated: M
The first Crysis was a resounding success…for those who could run it on their PCs. Several years later, the original still serves as a graphical benchmark. Thankfully, the developers at Crytek have learned their lesson. Crysis 2 runs consistently smooth on the PS3 or 360 and never drops a frame despite the number of on-screen explosions. Sadly, the game lacks the fun value of what made Crysis 1 great. Crysis 2 provides remarkable freedom when it comes to tackling each enemy encounter, but most battles usually result in cloaking and sneaking past enemy soldiers and aliens while your teammates act as meatshields. The protagonist, Alcatraz, is a man of few words, never uttering a word while being ordered around like a brainless lapdog. I found the online component substandard too - just imagine Call of Duty with nanosuits, and you’ve played Crysis 2’s multiplayer.
For Dan's and John's Crysis 2 Drink Along, click here.
For R3b3L iNk's Supersoldier Difficulty Walkthrough, click here.
For my Crysis 2 Review, click here.
F.E.A.R. 3 – PS3/Xbox 360/PC; Rated: M
The F.E.A.R. series has taken the Resident Evil 4 approach to its latest iteration, instead abandoning the horror roots of its predecessors for a more action-oriented approach. This game came very close to making it in my Top 10 list, but with a four hour single-player campaign, a nonsensical plot, and multiplayer that ultimately lacks the needed staying power, I couldn’t recommend it enough for a purchase. I appreciated my time with F.E.A.R. 3, but not for the reasons that initially drew me into the series. The gunplay is solid and the fantastic co-op is a welcome addition if you have a friend that wants to tag along, but rent this one, don’t buy.
For Dan's and John's F.E.A.R. 3 Drink Along, click here.
For RvBFreak's Insane Difficulty Walkthrough, click here.
For my F.E.A.R. 3 Review, click here.
NCAA Football 2012 – PS3/Xbox 360; Rated: E
Last year, the failing NCAA Football franchise received a much needed upgrade in terms of the passing game, running game, and game modes in general. Quarterbacks could actually complete passes for more than five yards, Running Backs could successfully juke or spin out opposing players, and the online functionality is the smoothest it’s ever been. Not much has changed in the recent edition though, which isn’t a bad thing (don’t fix what’s not broken), but that’s why this title is not on my list. If you’re a huge sports game fan, there’s little here to stop you from picking up this excellent entry in the NCAA franchise, but if you’re limited on funds, I suggest purchasing NCAA Football 2011. For half the price, it’s essentially the same game.
Dragon Age II – PS3/Xbox 360/PC/Mac OS X; Rated: M
It’s rare that BioWare should develop a sequel that fails to eclipse its predecessors, but in a shocking twist of fate, I believe Dragon Age II pales in comparison to Dragon Age: Origins. The story was mediocre and it was hard for me to like any of the characters, but once you’ve spent a few points to make Hawke’s crew death-dealing machines, the combat is extremely gratifying, and the dragon fights are easily the highlights. I’d suggest playing through the PS3 or 360 versions instead of the PC version though, as the controls seem to have been designed with a game pad in mind, not a keyboard and mouse.
For iWINuFAIL's Dragon Age II Review, click here.
Shift 2: Unleashed – PS3/Xbox 360/PC/iOS; Rated: E10+
Releasing annual iterations of a gaming franchise has never been the wisest idea. While some developers have found success due to the number of improvements made between each release, in the case of Assassin’s Creed, most developers fall towards the other end of the spectrum, such as Guitar Hero, bleeding their series dry to drain every last dollar from the consumer’s bank account. In recent years, I’ve found Need for Speed slipping towards the latter trend. Shift 2: Unleashed is a direct sequel to Need for Speed: Shift, but what advances have been made to justify a new purchase? The answer is... not many. The night races are thrilling, and the cockpit views provide a fresh driving perspective, but these minimal differences do not warrant an immediate buy here.
L.A. Noire – PS3/Xbox 360/PC; Rated: M
While I’m sure some folks would’ve liked to see L.A. Noire on my list, I just couldn’t put it on there. The voice acting is top notch, the facial capture technology is revolutionary, and never has the corrupt 1940’s Los Angeles been so meticulously recreated, but there was little motivation for me to keep playing after the credits. The interrogation mechanic is unlike anything I’ve encountered in a game before, but the interrogations falter when they only allow for one “right” answer when accusing suspects. Even the evidence gathering becomes monotonous too quick for my liking, which resulted in me just running around a crime scene until my controller began vibrating. I could go on discussing the weak gunplay and floaty driving, but I see no reason to continue at this point.
For my L.A. Noire Review, click here.
For the WGG Review Crew's L.A. Noire Review, click here.
LittleBigPlanet 2 – PS3; Rated: E
The developers at Media Molecule have really outdone themselves with their latest creation. The LittleBigPlanet series has always been about letting gamers’ minds run rampant with the near limitless level customization, and the latest entry expands on that concept tenfold. The controls are easy to grasp, and watching your ideas unfold before your very eyes is immensely satisfying. The soundtrack is lighthearted, the simplistic graphics only add to the overall presentation, and the community never ceases to blow my mind. There’s a lot of replay value here, but sadly, unless you’ve got friends on hand to play with you, I can’t recommend this title. My one major complaint is the insanely boring tutorial, but other than that, LittleBigPlanet 2 is quite the astonishing game, but it’s not the game for me.
And now for the real reason why you people are still reading this blog. Keep in mind that these are ranked based on how much FUN I had with each game – your list may be completely different from mine. Feel free to leave a comment below on what titles you would have included in your Top 10.
10. Shadows of the Damned – PS3/Xbox 360; Rated: M
What do you get when you take the creator of Resident Evil, the composer for the Silent Hill series, and the developers of No More Heroes and Killer7, and throw them in the same room together? An amalgamation of pure bat-sh*t insanity, but oh how I love it. Shadows of the Damned follows the journey of Garcia Hotspur as he fights through the inner workings of the underworld to rescue his girlfriend Paula from the lord of demons, Fleming. Accompanying Garcia is his loyal friend Johnson, an ex-demon himself, who can turn into a variety of weapons, a torch, and a motorcycle.
Along the way, the duo slay hell’s minions, collect strawberries, and make a lot of penis jokes, and I mean A LOT of penis jokes – Garcia’s handgun is even called the Boner. Some gameplay mechanics are a bit touch-and-go, and I really wish weapon upgrades carried over to new save files. I hope you enjoy boss battles too, because there are approximately two dozen in all, maybe more (I honestly lost count after the third Act). With its odd game design, Shadows of the Damned is an amazing adventure worth taking if you’re looking to shake things up during these slow summer months.
For R3b3L iNk's Shadows of the Damned Let's Play, click here.
9. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 – PS3/Xbox 360; Rated: T
For nearly eleven years, fans have clamored for a new entry into the Marvel vs. Capcom series. Based on their reception however, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is not that needed sequel, but I thoroughly enjoyed squaring off against friends nevertheless. The art style is gorgeous, and combining Hyper Combos with your team will dazzle the eyes as they obliterate your helpless opponents. The roster is a menagerie of characters both new and old, and the gameplay is accessible for newcomers to the fighting franchise. Skilled players will decimate the opposition once they learn the combos and timing, but simple button mashing also results in a lucky win.
Unfortunately, there are some issues in terms of game modes. The arcade component is too brief, and although Marvel vs. Capcom 3 features an Endless Battle lobby similar to Super Street Fighter IV’s, strangely (mostly because both games are developed by Capcom), the spectator aspect remains absent. Players are forced to sit in the lobby and simply watch as two current fighters’ health bars dwindle. If you’re still on the fence about buying this game, wait. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is slated to hit store shelves this November with twelve more fighters, new stages, and gameplay tweaks.
8. DiRT 3 – PS3/Xbox 360/PC; Rated: T
I play a sizable amount of racing games, but rarely does a racing game offer me true satisfaction – the feeling that I won, that I earned that first placed medal. Thankfully DiRT 3 fills that void. Shoving the persistent AI into a guardrail to take the come-from-behind victory is exciting. In a stroke of brilliance, the developers have distilled DiRT’s career into a pure rally experience. The cars and locales also showcase an impressive amount of detail, but it’s hard to catch more than a glimpse of your surroundings when you’re speeding along mountain roads at over 100 miles per hour.
Gymkhana presents a new incentive to keep fans glued to their controllers, challenging players to drift under, jump over, and drive through varying sets of obstacles. Even though the vehicles handle like a dream, the learning curve is steep, but mastering the tricks and nailing that perfect run is sure to elicit a smile. Multiplayer brings a few new modes into the mix, including infection-based and capture the flag style gameplay. Eluding your pursuers is fast-paced and frantic as each near miss brings you one step closer to the gold.
For my DiRT 3 Review, click here.
7. Bulletstorm – PS3/Xbox 360/PC; Rated: M
I can’t say I was expecting much when Bulletstorm hit store shelves, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the fruits of People Can Fly’s labor. With excellent pacing, tight controls, and addicting gameplay, Bulletstorm possesses a level of polish that many new IPs strive to achieve. The Kill with Skill mechanic delivers on the execution, encouraging players to find numerous ways of dispatching their enemies.
The dialogue could use some work though and the weakest part of the game is the story, only serving to move Grayson Hunt and his merry band of space pirates to more deadly environments. Whether or not you’ll appreciate the writing is based on your enjoyment of frat boy humor – some jokes are quite amusing, but most are simply groan inducing. Sadly, the only online multiplayer option is Anarchy, which allows up to four players to kill with skill together.
For Dan's and John's Bulletstorm Drink Along, click here.
For R3b3L iNk's Very Hard Difficulty Walkthrough, click here.
For my Bulletstorm Review, click here.
6. Killzone 3 – PS3; Rated: M
I know I’m probably going to catch a lot of flak for this game being this high, let alone on my list at all, but I really enjoyed Killzone 3. On a graphical level, Killzone 3 is the most impressive game I’ve ever played on the PS3. Every character model is rife with detail, right down to the individual stitches in their gloves, and the environments show Helghan has more to offer than dilapidated slums in shades of brown or gray. The voice acting and paper-thin plot certainly won’t win any awards though.
In response to major criticism, the controls have been tweaked – characters movements are now more responsive, yet the weapons still manage to maintain their weighty feel. The class-based multiplayer also returns, now allowing for intra-class customization similar to Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Killzone 3 exceeds Killzone 2 in every aspect – a must buy for any fan of the series.
For Dan's and John's Killzone 3 Drink Along, click here.
For my Killzone 3 Review, click here.
5. inFAMOUS 2 – PS3; Rated: T
inFAMOUS 2 begins with the calm before the storm. The Beast, whom Kessler spent preparing Cole for in the first inFAMOUS, shows up to destroy the peace Cole worked so hard to achieve or to prevent. The opening battle is intense as the two titans clash and explosions dot the skyline. However, Cole’s powers are no match for the behemoth, and he is forced to flee with company to New Marais. In a new town inspired heavily by New Orleans, Cole must become the hero the city needs or the villain that the city deserves. The narrative is compelling enough that fans will want to see the conclusion of Cole’s journey, but the moral choices are devoid of any lasting impact until the final mission, serving only to move the plot forward.
Luckily, New Marais is just begging to be explored and with Cole’s newfangled abilities, you’ll have a blast collecting shards, defeating local militia/freaks, or leveling block after city block. User-generated content is a first for the series, and if games like LittleBigPlanet are any indication, I expect solid, entertaining, and highly re-playable missions from the community. I truly had a great time with inFAMOUS 2 whether it was silencing street performers, assaulting an occupied military fort, or seeing how many cars I could destroy with electric tornadoes. Fans of the first inFAMOUS should not hesitate to see what the sequel has to offer.
For Jevrio's Normal Difficulty Walkthrough, click here.
For the WGG Review Crew's inFAMOUS 2 Review, click here.
For my inFAMOUS 2 Review, click here.
4. Mortal Kombat – PS3/Xbox 360; Rated: M
Do you remember the Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe video game that released a few years ago? Yeah, I try to forget it too. This April finally saw the first true HD release of Mortal Kombat (Teen ratings my ass), and I’m proud to say it delivers on nearly every front. To get the criticisms out of the way, some Fatalities do become stale after watching your opponent get his/her head ripped off two dozen times and the AI can be brutal even on Medium difficulty, pulling off combos only seeing in top tier competitive play.
On the bright side, the story mode is lengthy, the characters are extensively detailed, the controls are classic (or should I say klassic?) Mortal Kombat, and the multiplayer provides significant re-playability. Just think Super Street Fighter IV’s Endless Battle mode with Mortal Kombat characters, and you’ve got King of the Hill. For those that desire an even greater challenge, the Challenge Tower offers 300 unique missions with increasingly difficult objectives. Ever wanted to take on three Shao Kahns with Stryker? Well now’s your chance. But of course, Mortal Kombat is best enjoyed with a friend. The game supports four player local co-op, and arguing with your buddies telling them they’re button mashing noobs never gets old.
For my Mortal Kombat Review, click here.
3. Dead Space 2 – PS3/Xbox 360/PC; Rated: M
The first Dead Space was a well-received addition to the horror genre, blending polished gameplay with startling scares. Not surprisingly, Dead Space 2 surpasses the original in nearly every facet, except for the scares. Sure a pipe bursting here and there delivers a jump or two, but after watching necromorphs explode from air vents countless times, the shocks quickly lose their impact. Unfortunately for our hero, Isaac can’t catch a break as he’s haunted by visions of his dead girlfriend in the midst of a new necromorph outbreak aboard The Sprawl.
Usually playing through a game several times devalues the experience as enemy encounters become predictable and plot points lose their lasting impression, but happily, Dead Space 2 retains that fun factor. Excellent pacing, fantastic gunplay, eerie atmosphere, a concrete story, and intelligent AI make for a package well worth the price of admission. Carrying over weapons and suits between saves is vastly entertaining as enemies that previously tasked your steady trigger finger now beg for mercy in the face of Isaac’s explosive weaponry. The multiplayer portion does feel tacked on but offers a brief respite in the form of Left 4 Dead style gameplay.
For Dan's Zealot Difficulty Walkthrough, click here.
For John's Hard Core Difficulty Walkthrough, click here.
For R3b3L iNk's Dead Space 2 Let's Play, click here.
For iWINuFAIL's Dead Space 2 Review, click here.
2. Total War: Shogun 2 – PC; Rated: T
I’m a huge fan of the RTS genre because no other brand of video games does a better job at separating the master tacticians from mindless peons. In the twelve years it took for Blizzard to release a sequel to the original Starcraft, the team at Creative Assembly managed to develop and ship six Total War games, and they’re only gotten progressively better. I still enjoy Starcraft or Company of Heroes, but my skills have always been somewhat lacking when it comes to the base-building aspect of the gameplay, which is perhaps why I fell in love with the Total War series in the first place, and Shogun 2 is easily the best of the series. Previous entries almost seem primitive next to Creative Assembly’s latest product.
The unit details are stunning, the calligraphy styled campaign map is gorgeous, the AI pushes your micro skills, and the scales of the battles are enormous, supporting tens of thousands of units on-screen at any one time. This is one of the best looking games I’ve ever seen. Multiplayer has also been revamped with new co-op campaign and Avatar Conquest modes. Battle with your friends in the quest for Japanese domination or create your own Avatar general, select his units, and start conquering provinces across Japan to rank up online. Form a clan with your generals and capture provinces together to reach the upper echelons where only the best clans get to compete. This article really doesn’t do this game justice. If you have any interest in picking up Shogun 2, do so now. You won’t be disappointed.
For iWINuFAIL's Total War: Shogun 2 Review, click here.
And now, the winner of my Top 10 Games of 2011…So Far is…
1. Portal 2 – PS3/Xbox 360/PC/Mac OS X; Rated: E10+
Really? Were you really surprised at this choice? There’s not much I can say that you probably don’t already know, but Portal 2 is hands down the finest game of I’ve played this year. With an unprecedented level of polish (seriously, I didn’t encounter one glitch or bug during my multiple playthroughs), Portal is nothing short of a must-play experience worthy of Valve’s reputation. New gameplay mechanics build upon the basic Portal formula, keeping the adventure fresh until the end credits, and the writing is comical and imaginative.
Astonishingly, it’s the newcomers, J.K. Simmons as Cave Johnson and Stephan Merchant as Wheatley, who steal the spotlight from GLaDOS. I often found myself stopping mid-puzzle to listen to any and all dialogue – it’s that good. In addition, the mindbending co-op campaign will not only put your brain to the test, but your partner’s as well. I do have two VERY MINOR gripes that hold Portal 2 back from perfection in my eyes. The game lacks instant re-playability and the plot twists are predictable, but honestly, there’s little left for me to say here. If you don’t already own Portal 2, what’s wrong with you? Rivaling even that of the Half-Life franchise, Portal 2 is sure to remain a classic for many years to come.
For Dan's Walkthrough w/ All Achievements, click here.
For Dan's and John's Portal 2 Co-Op Drink Along, click here.
For RvBFreak's Speedy Walkthrough, click here.
For the WGG Review Crew's Portal 2 Review, click here.
For my Portal 2 Review, click here.
So that’s it for me. Is your list different from mine? Do you believe some choices should have been ranked higher than others? As always, feel free to leave a comment below.