Tuesday, November 29, 2011

best of 2011: video games

First of all, thanks to everybody for their fashion advice on my last post. You're the bestest! But I can't get too girly or I'll lose my street cred, so here are my 10 favorite video games of 2011.

A few notes before I begin:

  • Aside from the first game listed, these aren't necessarily in preferential order.
  • Some of these games are available for numerous consoles, but I used the box art for the system I used.
  • Not all of these were first released in 2011, but that's when I first played them.
  • Video games receive ratings just like movies, so I'll tell you why these games earned theirs. (Servicey!)
  • I've already written in depth reviews for most of these games in my media updates, so these will be shorter. The month in parentheses denotes the month in which I originally reviewed it in case you want to go back and take a gander at the full review.
  • For those of you wondering, I asked G what his favorite game of the year was, and with absolutely no hesitation he said "Batman: Arkham City." He added that it came damn close to being his favorite game of all time, but because they took away any story-based reason to start a New Game+, Mass Effect 2 remains his favorite. I didn't play B:AC myself, but I watched G play and it's pretty freakin' boss. Paul Dini script + Mark Hamill as the Joker = profit!
  • And as always, your mileage may vary.

After escaping from a mental hospital located on the spaceship where he works, Isaac Clarke isn't exactly home free. Not only does he have to deal with monsters known as Necromorphs, but the few uninfected humans on the ship are all members of Unitology, a cult that worships a marker of alien origin and wants to capture Isaac for nefarious purposes. And why does his dead (and very angry) girlfriend keep talking to him?

One of the few sequels that surpasses its predecessor on every level, Dead Space 2 is fucking terrifying. It's the second most frightening game I've ever played, and I'm not ashamed to admit I almost wet 'em a few times. Even before we'd finished the game, I knew DS2 was going to secure a place in my top ten of all time. Highly recommended for all survival horror and action game fans, but you might want to put a towel down first; I wouldn't want you to stain your couch. (February; rated M for graphic violence, strong language, and the fact that you'll need to take a sedative at least once while playing.)

In this "visual novel" game (so called because it's primarily text), you play as Junpei, an average college student who wakes up in a room that's rapidly filling with water. He manages to free himself, and after he leaves the room, he runs into eight other people who share the same experience: they were kidnapped by a masked man called Zero and brought to a sinking ship. Zero has given them 9 hours to find an escape, but to do so, they must complete a sadistic experiment called the Nonary Game. They are all wearing a bracelet with a number on it, which allows them to go through numbered doors scattered throughout the ship. But only 3 to 5 people can enter a door at any given time, and in order to do so, the numbers on their bracelets must create the same digital root as the number on the door. (For example, if three people decide to go into a room and their assigned numbers are 5, 7, and 9, they can only go through Door 3, because 5+7+9=21 and 2+1=3.) Once you and your group enter a door, you have a limited amount of time to scan your bracelet across a deactivation device or the bomb that Zero has kindly placed in your stomach will go off.

Thanks to 6 different endings, 999 has plenty of replay value, some brainbusting puzzles, and an excellent soundtrack. And for a game that plays like Professor Layton meets Saw on the Titanic, it can be surprisingly funny. If you've been looking for a more mature game on the Nintendo DS, this is the one. (April; rated M for violence, thematic elements, strong language, and sexual innuendo, including a startlingly graphic comment about anal sex.)

In this "flower defense" game, zombies are terrorizing a small neighborhood. You must defend your property against the zombies by filling your garden with different kinds of plants, all of which have strange abilities. For example, the Kernel-Pult flings corn kernels and pats of butter at the encroaching zombies, rendering them temporarily immobile, and the Fume-Shroom will puff poisonous spores at them. Things get fast and furious as you try to pick the best plants for the situation and replace the ones that get eaten along the way. An unbelievably addictive game that I still pick up practically every weekend---the Vasebreaker minigame is my heroin---and as a bonus, the disc also includes Zuma and Peggle. (April; rated E10 for very mild, bloodless violence)

In Rockstar's newest offering, you play Cole Phelps, a member of the LAPD during the late 1940's. He's a troubled man with some things in his past that he's not particularly proud of, but he's a terrific cop who will stop at nothing to pursue justice and the truth, even at great cost to himself.

During the course of the game, you cover five different "desks": patrol, traffic, homicide, vice, and arson. My favorite section by far was homicide, in which you have to track down a serial killer who's taking his inspiration from the Black Dahlia murder, but they all have intriguing moments.

Unfortunately, the interrogation aspect of the game was wonky; if it had been fine tuned before release, L.A. Noire could have been brilliant. But I still think it's worth playing for the story, the cool 1940's setting, and the absolutely gorgeous graphics. The facial animations are the best I've ever seen in a game, bar none. If you're willing to cut it some slack for the jacked up interrogation mechanic, and you love James Ellroy and noir movies, you're in for a treat. (May; rated M for graphic violence, sexual themes, drug use, full frontal female nudity including pubic hair, and some seriously salty language, including the C-word.)

Imagine that Devil May Cry and No More Heroes had hot dirty sex while Silent Hill music played in the background. Then a demonic tattooed baby was born whose first sentence was a dick joke, and they named it Shadows of the Damned.

You play as Garcia Hotspur, a demon hunter who flips the fuck out when his girlfriend Paula commits suicide and Flemming, the king of hell, claims her as his own. Armed with his trusty sidekick Johnson, a wisecracking skull that shapeshifts into weapons, Garcia will stop at nothing until Flemming and his minions are destroyed and Paula is back in his arms.

SOTD has a sterling pedigree thanks to its creators: Suda51 (No More Heroes) and Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil/Devil May Cry), with a soundtrack by genius Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka to boot. If you choose your difficulty level wisely (I thought it was extremely hard; G disagreed) and you've enjoyed any of Suda51 or Shinji Mikami's previous offerings, I bet you'll like this as well. It's almost worth playing just to hear Garcia Hotspur yell "Taste my big boner!" (July; rated M for graphic violence, gore, extremely strong language, nekkid lady, adult humor)

In an idyllic small town, flanked by forests and famous for its stunning waterfall, a beautiful young woman is found brutally murdered. The FBI sends an agent to investigate. He's quirky and overly fond of coffee and cherry pie, but he's got some amazing insights into the case...some of which come to him while he stands in a red room occupied by strange characters.

...nope, it's not Twin Peaks. It's Deadly Premonition, and while it borrows heavily from that cult classic, not to mention Clock Tower, Silent Hill, and Haunting Ground, it manages to transform those elements into something original. Make absolutely no mistake; this game is heavily flawed. The combat mechanics blow, the voice acting is largely mediocre, and the graphics look like something I would have laughed at on a Dreamcast. But the characters are unique and the story manages to be both batshit crazy and heartbreaking. If this game sounds even remotely intriguing to you, you can pick it up on Amazon for $13...only slightly less than a movie ticket in many parts of the US. If you're willing to overlook its flaws, I guarantee it will become a cherished part of your game library. (July; rated M for graphic violence and extremely disturbing thematic elements)

Vincent Brooks is a shaggy-haired slacker who spends his evenings drinking with his friends at the Stray Sheep bar. Vincent has a girlfriend named Katherine, who's a bit of a shrew and keeps pressuring him to get married. He loves her, but it's getting a bit old.

Which is why, when a gorgeous blonde walks into the bar, he gives in to temptation and sleeps with her. Turns out her name is also Catherine, only with a C, and she becomes awfully fond of Vincent. But Vincent is wracked with guilt, which spills over into nightmares where he's forced into a world filled with talking bipedal sheep who have committed indiscretions of their own. To survive, Vincent must climb a tower made of blocks that he has to rearrange in order to get to the top. It might sound simple but trust me, it's not, especially when you have to get to the top before a boss kills you. If he fails in the dream, he'll die in real life. But if he makes it, he lives to see another day and hopefully make things right with Katherine (or Catherine, if you want to play it that way) once and for all.

This game deserves props for originality, its gorgeous anime cinemas, and mature (in the best possible sense of the word) storyline. Be warned that the puzzles might make you rip your hair out at the roots, but if you like a challenge, here's your new BFF. (August; rated M for sexual content, language, alcohol/tobacco use, and violence)

Ten years after a fire killed her entire family, Alice Liddell has been released from an insane asylum, but her demons haven't been fully exorcised. Seeking comfort, she returns to the Wonderland of her imagination, but it's been twisted almost beyond recognition. Armed with a rapid-fire pepper grinder, the Vorpal Blade, and a hobbyhorse that she wields like a club, Alice is determined to find out the truth once and for all.

Alice: Madness Returns is a combination platformer and action game. In each level, Alice jumps from platform to platform (some of them invisible unless she uses "shrink sense", which renders them visible for a very short period of time; however, you can't jump while using shrink sense so your timing better be good!), scurries through keyholes, and fights off enemies ranging from Card Knights to grotesquely deformed dolls. Along the way, she recovers memories that start to piece together the dark truth of what happened that fateful night.

I was pretty meh on this game for the first level or so, but as the engrossing storyline progressed, I could barely let go of the controller. And the level design and costumes are so gorgeous that I wound up buying the artbook off Amazon. If you're willing to tolerate a few bugs (glitches, mediocre voice acting, a crappy camera) at your mad tea party, A:MR is a feast for the senses. (September; rated M for violence, strong language, and some VERY disturbing thematic elements)

In DR2:OTR, intrepid photojournalist Frank West, the hero of the first game, replaces hunky motocross star Chuck Greene as the protagonist. Frank used to be kind of hot, but he's a bit the worse for wear since we last saw him; he's gained a paunch and a bad back, and he's slumming it by wrestling zombies in the Terror Is Reality arena for cash. But when somebody frees the zombies from their cages and turns gambling mecca Fortune City into a slaughterhouse, Frank leaps at the chance to snag the scoop of a lifetime.

Games don't get much more fun than the Dead Rising series. How can you resist the opportunity to take out a bloodthirsty horde of zombies with a dildo cannon or a wheelchair equipped with machine guns? I sure as shit couldn't, and although I think the $40 price tag was a little high considering that it's 90% recycled material from DR2, I regret nothing. (October; rated M for graphic violence, gore, language, and sexual situations ranging from a stripper cop to a guy who wants you to fetch him a porn mag so he can masturbate, even though the streets are crawling with zombies; I mean, come on, dude, use your fuckin' imagination)

Professor Layton and his young apprentice Luke are attending a time machine demonstration when the device explodes. Shortly afterwards, the professor is astounded when he receives a letter from Luke...and not the Luke he knows, but Future Luke! Determined to get to the truth, Professor Layton and Luke set out to solve the mystery. A fascinating story, charming art, and plenty of puzzles that range from easy to headbangingly hard. (No previous review; rated E10, though I cannot for the life of me remember anything remotely objectionable. The story is a little more melancholy than previous installments, so maybe that's why?)