Year in consumables: 2011 games

Portal 2 cover artI love video games.

I hate video game publishers.

I guess that’s biting the hand that feeds you, but it is true. And, it is for a very simple reason. Their scheduling. The continued trend towards releasing new games in the Fall to capitalize on the pending holiday shopping season is killing me.

I get it. I understand that games cost a lot to develop, market and support. So they need to maximize their return on investment by releasing at the best time possible. But, I would argue it is the worst time possible. They are forced into competition with every other publisher and game doing the same exact thing. Thereby increasing the competition for people’s dollars. And games aren’t cheap these days, which has led to rising reliance on used game sales, which the publishers hate because they don’t get a piece of that. So then we get stuck with there attempts to curb that by adding on weak multiplayer experiences in games that should not have them. And that is at the expense of the core, single player game itself. So, they have now watered down the product to try to sell more of the product.

I’d argue that if you’ve spent the time to craft and build a great game, gamers are going to buy it regardless of the time of year. In fact, you’d be better off releasing in the Spring once the luster has worn off the holiday games and people are itching for something new to play. You’d probably sell more in the less competitive environment.

So, I’m sure this same diatribe has been written over and over on the Internet, but I just need to add my own thoughts in my tiny little space of it. Because what ends up happening with me after the burn out of the holidays is I don’t play anything for the first month or two of the year. This is now a trend because it has happened two years running. It may be three but my memory stinks.

This year it took Mass Effect 3 to wake me from that slumber. (That will have to wait for next year’s post, but so far it is the game of the year.) In 2010 it was Batman: Arkham Asylum. Which came out in 2009, but I didn’t get a chance to play until the new year. In 2011, it was Enslaved, which had come out the previous year. See what I mean?

That said, it is a gentle reminder that when I do this list, it is for games I played that year, not what was released. So, here’s what I played in 2011:

  • Enslaved
  • Dead Space 2
  • Portal: Still Alive (XBLA)
  • LEGO Star Wars III
  • Portal 2
  • Borderlands
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)
  • Gears of War 3
  • Bioshock 2
  • Costume Quest (XBLA)
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Modern Warfare 3
  • Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
  • Halo: CE Anniversary

So, better than the previous year in both the XBLA and PS3 departments. Which is funny because you’d like to think the XBLA games should fill gaps, and I have a ton I have purchased but not yet played! PS3, well, that is just my Blu-ray player and if someone throws me a game to play, then so be it when I get around to it. I figured I’d get Uncharted 2 out of the way with the highly anticipated release of the third coming last year, but I still haven’t played it. Maybe in 2013. (I seem to play those very late.)

Costume Quest was a funny story because it was right at Halloween that I remembered I had bought it a long time before, so I fired it up. I love me some Double Fine games, but that fun experience hasn’t caused me to fire up any others I have sitting on the hard drive. I will get there eventually, but I do blame Halo: Reach for filling a lot of time last year where I may have played XBLA games instead. Or even other full games! Yes, the march to create my own Emile or Master Chief armors for my Spartan were just too great a tug. I finally made it to General and quit playing.

As far as a top something list, even though I have a good amount of games this year, it isn’t enough to increase from a top five. And I am being generous because the previous year I only did a top three, but there is enough quality here.

1. Portal 2
This game wasn’t even on my radar, but of course I was aware of the love for Portal: Still Alive in the community. I love a good puzzle game, but I had never been inclined to play it until Ed suggested I play it before playing Portal 2. Because I was going to want to play Portal 2. And the community was eager in anticipation for this game. So I finally downloaded the first and played the crap out of it. Loved it. Which made the anticipation for this game huge! Sure, the puzzles in both are challenging, but for me, it is the humor. (I’m sure I’m not the only one.) Whereas the first one was centered around GLADOS and the turrets, this one tossed in Wheatley. What a trifecta! (Incidentally, it is an odd experience to see Wheatley live in the flesh when watching Hall Pass. Talk about unexpected. I guess.) Anyway, just a very solid game that I want to play again at some point this year. Oh, and the added co-op feature was brilliant as well. In fact, I think there is some DLC that I need to get. So, there’s another reason to fire it back up. And not for anything, but I love that this is at the top of my list for the year. I like games that come out of nowhere to take the honor. Braid did that in the past.

2. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
To say I love this series is an understatement. It would have been top dog had I not jumped into a portal. And it seems like it is consistently there each year there is a game. I’m sure this coming year’s AC3 will rank high as well, but ME3 will likely keep it from being number one. But, that has nothing to do with this. The fact that they took Ezio Auditore’s single game and stretched it into three speaks volumes. Not only about the character, but the capability to sell games based on a single player experience in multiple years without many additions to the actual gameplay dynamic. Sure, in this one the multiplayer was improved–I actually played it to grab some achievements–and some new tasks like bomb crafting were added, but overall, it wasn’t much different than AC2 or AC:Brotherhood. Just a change in location and fast forward in time to an aging character. Kind of like when Solid Snake became a grumpy old man for Metal Gear Solid 4, but without the grumpy. Kind of cool to have a character a little bit vulnerable due to age. (Maybe I think that because I turned forty at the end of last year.) The fact is this game was great and I’m not writing much about it because I have written it two times before. And I love that I don’t need to. Can’t wait for this year’s installment.

3. Batman: Arkham City
Many said Arkham Asylum was the best superhero game ever made. They were right. But now that title belongs to Arkham City. Because, again, here is another game that took what was great about the first and made it better. They listened to the feedback from the community and gave them what they wanted. And sold a boatload of games because of it. I didn’t hear anyone screaming expansion pack or retread or any of that stuff. This was a game that stood on its own, but at the same time, it didn’t. I found myself thinking of things that happened in the first game had happened in this game. The look and feel, the gameplay; they combined to make me so comfortable that I blended those two games together. The cool add on here being you could play as characters other than Batman. While I’m sure Robin and Nightwing play similar to Bats, the Catwoman experience is very unique. Maybe because it happens within the same story. (I haven’t played as Robin or Nightwing, so I can’t say for sure what that is like, it is just a guess.) Anyway, in this case, the developer strategy for getting some money back on used games slash borrowing worked out. I borrowed the game from my friend Mookie and bought the Catwoman bit because it wasn’t free without a code that came with original purchase. And, I’m good with it here because it added good value. I’m guessing there will be a third installment and I’m on board enough now that I may have to buy my own copy (having borrowed these first two).

4. Gears of War 3
And this could be five and the other four. They are pretty close in my book. But, specifically, this made for a nice ending to the trilogy. Assuming it stays a trilogy, which you’d think with the folks running the show there, it will, but then Microsoft may want to change that. I don’t play this game in multiplayer and have yet to do a co-op run (coming soon), but the single player was much like the first two and that is a good thing. I liked that there were more characters switching in and out and that you weren’t always Marcus. I have to admit that I did shed some tears when Dom sacrificed himself. That poor bastard went thru the wringer! Looking up at the previous two games in this list, this is another where not much changed. Just tweaks and continuing a story. I find nothing wrong with that and I’m glad they don’t reinvent the wheel. Looking at the Mass Effect series, they are back and forth in some areas and that’s good and bad. Here it is all good. They had it nailed with the first game and kept on trucking. Satisfying conclusion.

5. Modern Warfare 3
Speaking of conclusions, here’s another. You’d think. At least with respect to this storyline and characters. I’m sure there will be a MW4 or similar. (I still haven’t played Black Ops.) I also don’t play this game for multiplayer and did not co-op. Because you can’t campaign co-op. That’s where this and the second installment broke down a bit for me over the first. Which is fine because it is hard to justify buying this game amongst two people with such a short story, so I just share mine with Ed as a return for those he shares with me. Mook is out of luck as he doesn’t play this game type. But I digress. I didn’t shed any tears here, but much of the same stuff applies. It was a decent ending even though they killed off two characters I really liked in two successive games; Ghost and Soap. But then, there is something cool about that in they aren’t afraid to kill beloved characters and get some new ones. Not that there is tons of character development here. You get my point. I do need to play this one again on a higher difficulty though. There are achievements to be had and I did the same on the others. This can fill some time this Summer.

There you have it. Sure, those last two were forced in, but I kind of had to. Now let me say a few things about other games on the first list.

Enslaved turned out to be a bit of a surprise. I wouldn’t have played it had Ed not thrown it my way. I liked the story and the gameplay was pretty good. Any game that names the main character Monkey is aces in my book. Dead Space 2 was okay. Definitely felt forced but it was understandable given the first game was an unexpected hit. I’m not sure I really needed more out this story, but we got it. Would I play a third? Well, if it was borrowed again, sure, but I wouldn’t buy it.

I love me some LEGO games and the Star Wars ones are my faves. I watch Clone Wars on Cartoon Network so I was familiar with the storylines in LEGO Star Wars III and they had fun with it. The addition of RTS play was unexpected and, as it turned out, surprisingly welcome. Way to inject something new without ruining things. I’m not sure others feel the same, but I liked it. Bioshock 2 was one of those games I had wanted to play for a while but finally got around to when I borrowed it. It wasn’t anywhere near as good as the first but it wasn’t awful either. It really just needed a couple other tweaks to set itself apart from the first and they weren’t there.

Borderlands was one of those games with great buzz that I never got around to playing until now (then). My feeling is I had been played out on that game type whenever it came out and it got lost in the shuffle. I definitely enjoyed it and there is all the DLC yet to be played. Since I borrowed, I may pick up the GotY edition on the cheap and play it before the next installment drops. (Which looks good.) Uncharted 2 was finally gotten to as well. I feel like it was a lot like the first game, maybe a little longer, but still more Tomb Raider clone than anything else. The game dynamics in the third game look too good to pass up, but I hope I don’t come away feeling the same when I am done. Just another game to play at this point, but I certainly don’t love the series like others seem to. Well, okay, I do love the humor. Maybe that’s why I play it. And yes, for the record, I agree that Nathan Fillion would make for a good Nathan Drake. I’m sure they will cast Ashton Kutcher.

That’s it I think. I already talked a bit about Costume Quest and Portal. I probably enjoyed Portal: Still Alive more than the games at four and five, but since its sequel is at one, it doesn’t make as much sense to put it in the list on its own. It probably helped it make number one. The poor AC series can’t catch a break. Halo: CE Anniversary was nostalgic at best. A great game for sure, but I don’t need to write more. Well, other than I hope Halo 2 gets the same treatment. That would be nice to revisit in HD too.

I do feel like 2012 has a strong stable of games coming, but it is going to be a long wait for the Fall.

Damn publishers.