My Five Favorite Games of 2011 That Weren’t Skyrim

The title should more or less get you up to speed on what’s happening here: your classic once a year condensation of everything awesome that happened for twelve months.  The last three years or so have been a pretty amazing time to be a gamer, and 2011 was certainly no exception.  And as someone with no real genre preference, it was an overwhelming year to say the least.  I feel a deep responsibility somehow to play everything that’s good, and that left me playing catch-up on 2010’s lineup for a large portion of 2011.  To be honest, I still am.

So realize, this is in no way a definitive “Best Of” list.  I’m not a magazine, and I entertain no such obligations.  These are the games that broke through the backlog, rudely shoving their way to the front of the line and demanding to be played immediately.  And nobody could stop them or do anything about it, because they were so awesome.  Also note that I am leaving off The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which is by no means a slight towards that game-quite the opposite in fact.  I am playing Skyrim with a devout focus that will one day be commemorated in the form of a Twilight Zone style cautionary tale.  When the last dungeon has been satisfactorily cleared of bandits, I will emerge squinty-eyed and gray-haired from my apartment into a world of flying cars and harsh gorilla overlords.

And besides, Skyrim will be on everyone’s list, you can get that anywhere.

1. Dead Rising 2: Off The Record

As far as I could tell, I was the only person excited about this game.  I preordered it, which I almost never do, and recorded that tale of woe for the benefit of the Internet here.  The GameStop in that story literally only got two copies in.  I think a lot of people wrote it off as an unnecessary remake, just a character-swap of a game they’d already played.  But I’ve been around long enough to know that sometimes it just takes Capcom a couple tries to get it right, and the double dip is usually worth it.  The actual story here is that this is the best entry in the franchise by far, incorporating a well-done co-op mode and the no time limit sandbox mode fans have been asking for since the beginning.  I could go on for pages about how much fun I had playing this, and in fact I did just that.  Simply put though, it’s the best Dead Rising ever, and it released at only $40.  I’m sure it’s cheaper by now too, so do yourself a favor and pick this one up.

2. Saints Row: The Third

I will be the first to admit that the marketing blitz for this game caught me unusually hard, prompting me to play through two huge sandbox crime games just to catch up in time for this one.  By the time it actually shipped, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say that it was one of my most anticipated games of all time.  ANO co-author Michael Boyd and I fired up our copies simultaneously on day one, and thus kicked off one of the most fun weeks I had all year.  We barely walked away from the game, and when he did I switched over to my alternate character that I was running concurrently.  Yes, a game so great I was playing it twice at once, and never got bored for a second.  Saints Row: The Third starts off with what would be the climactic peak of any other game in this genre, and just keeps going.  Halfway through the game you’ve progressed from a daring bank heist to raining down laser fire on a gang of luchadores from your stolen VTOL jet, and right around the 75% mark you’ll be calling up Burt Reynolds to help you survive a few waves of zombies.  For more reasons why this is one of the most awesome games ever, you can check out my full review here.

3. Dead Island

This game kinda just came out of nowhere, quickly selling out its first shipment of something like two million copies.  And by the time retailers got it back in stock, word of mouth had ensured that nobody wanted it.  I won’t sugar coat it, when Dead Island shipped and for weeks afterward, it was a horrifying glitch-ridden mess.  I powered through that mess though, again with Michael as my co-op partner, and it was totally worth it.  Brutally overpowered zombies, a weapon degradation system that left even your best weapons broken and useless after a few swings, requiring thousands of hard-earned dollars to repair… wow, when I type it out, none of this sounds like a fun game.  I mean, we’d routinely encounter free-floating rocks or trees, have things disappear from our inventories, and see zombies run so hard that they’d vibrate through closed doors like the goddamn Flash.  And of course, once we’d finished the game, a patch was released that fixed basically everything, completely invalidating any review I could have written.  So this is me now, telling you the game was fun even when it felt like I was beta testing it, and I’m sure it’s amazing now that it’s been fixed.  Especially if you have a good co-op partner (or three), Dead Island is a good time and it’s worth checking out.

4. Bastion

Proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that modern games don’t need blockbuster movie budgets and years-long development cycles to be awesome, Bastion was released this year by Supergiant games, a studio consisting of only seven people.  It features simple but solid gameplay, beautifully drawn characters and settings, and a story told by a narrator so good he makes Morgan Freeman sound like Bobcat Goldthwait.  Controls are tight, and the challenge is present but never too frustrating.  There’s a surprising variety of weapons to be found, upgraded, and experimented with, something to suit anyone’s unique playstyle.  The whole game only lasts a few hours, but like a great movie I immediately wanted to go through it again.  Like so many classics of the 8 and 16-bit eras, I will be playing through this one time and time again, the experience is just that good.  It’s probably the only game on this list that I would recommend to literally anyone who has ever played a video game.  For all the unabashed praise this game deserves, check out the full Nerd Occurrence review here.

5. Batman: Arkham City

For a character so inherently great as Batman, adaptations have not been kind to him over the years, whether in the form of movies or video games.  Finally though, people are starting to get it right.  You’d think Rocksteady would have been satisfied making the greatest superhero comic book-to-video game translation ever when they did it in 2009 with Arkham Asylum.  In reality though, that was just a testing ground for Arkham City, which was to be the actual best superhero game of all time.  Maybe the best video game ever based on a licensed property, period.  Yes, it’s that good.  This game has everything: top-tier voice acting, super smooth controls, and a story that feels like a year’s worth of truly great Batman books.  I spent the entire  game being routinely surprised by story turns and character appearances, attempting to solve mysteries I truly did not know the answer to.  That’s a rare commodity in the world of video games, and it’s definitely something to be savored and appreciated.  There are a lot of licensed games out there that, while they may be perfectly competent games, never really allow you to inhabit the character.  The first moment you swoop down from a rooftop into a group of thugs and one of them just drops their weapon,  runs down a nearby alley in a panic and hides in a box, you will know what it’s like to have criminals truly fear you.  For more compliment-heaping, allow me to direct you to this glowing review.

So there you have it, my year in review.  There were lots of honorable mentions of course-LA Noire, Stacking, and Portal 2 were certainly up there, but didn’t quite captivate me like the titles on this list.  I hear good things about Dead Space 2, but it’s been sitting in my backlog since January.  I’d love to hear some feedback on the list, what did you guys kill all your time on this year?  Recommend some things I may have missed out on!  I’ve got a lot left to squeeze in before Mass Effect 3, but I can always make room for more.

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About Ryan Searles

I like watching movies, and then talking about those movies. Sometimes I write things about them, which you should read. Other interests include boxed wine, video games, the works of Harlan Ellison and HG Wells, and being a general curmudgeon.

Posted on December 31, 2011, in Video Games and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I have to say you’re on the mark here. The only change to the list that I’d make would be Dead Rising 2: OtR. This is only because I never got around to it. Because I just couldn’t get excited for it. I don’t really feel very guilty about that either, I feel fine blaming Capcom for my lack of interest. Let’s be clear, I LOVE killing zombies, but Off the Record is what Dead Rising 2 *should* have been… when I paid $50 for it. Not 11 months and forty additional dollars later.

    My replacement for Off the Record would be either Portal 2 (possibly the funniest game of the year) or Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

    Some of my thoughts on the other four titles…

    Dead Island. It certainly did sneak up on us, this one. Looking back, I’m really surprised we soldiered through that bug-ridden carcass the way we did… enjoying it so much, in spite of it’s painfully apparent flaws. I haven’t played it since it was patched/finished/polished, I’m not sure it would feel like the same game.

    Saint’s Row: The Third shows Dead Island how co-op is done! The only complaint I could muster for this game would be that the co-op is only two player. The rest of the game I enjoyed more than I expected to. I was surprised that I found very little to hate on… being a gamer, it’s usually easy to think of things you would do differently or change. This game was just FUN.

    Bastion is delightful. Beautiful looking, sounding, feeling… just all around good game design.

    Arkham City, I don’t have much to add. You pretty much nailed that. It feels like a great run of Batman without that annoying month in-between issues. I too was delightfully surprised with the amount of characters they injected into the game. It’s so hard not to run down a list of my favorite appearances… but I also don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

    So there are my thoughts on the Top Games of 2011 that Weren’t Skyrim. A good year for games, to be sure.

    I’ll close my feedback with this: Skyrim, Skyrim, Skyrim, Skyrim aaaaaand… Skyrim.

  2. I’m sure I will agree on Portal 2 once I get around to finishing it. I got distracted partway through and didn’t feel right including a game I didn’t finish. 🙂

    I totally see where you’re coming from on DR2:OTR, but I had a lot of fun with Dead Rising 2 the first time around, enough so that I didn’t mind buying/playing it twice for the upgrades. I mean, looking at it in terms of MSRP, with games like Oblivion, Mass Effect 2, any Halo, GoW, or CoD, Borderlands, Fallout…a $90-100 endgame price tag isn’t all that unusual for early buyers.

  3. I think I might be caught up enough to list mine:

    1) Deus Ex: Human Revolution
    2) Dead Space 2
    3) Bastion
    4) Batman AC
    5) Gears of War 3

    • Looks like a good list, although I have not gotten to Deus Ex or Dead Space 2 (although I own both), and I don’t own GoW3. With the hindsight of 2011 games that I’ve played since the new year I’d probably drop Dead Rising 2: OTR and replace it with Rayman Origins. I feel like Arkham City was just that rare game that everyone can agree is amazing. It’s not even an opinion, it’s just factual.

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