This is composed of games I have been able to play this year and despite doing quite a bit of work in the gaming press itself, that has been less than I would have liked due to 2011 being a really busy year for me. I’m sure there are many other games worthy of inclusion, but I just haven’t played them and won’t pretend that I have. That’s integrity for you.
I like Minecraft, so I’m going to like Minecraft in 2D. I did eventually tire of Terraria because I didn’t get quite such a thrill out of exploration as I would have liked, but it’s still somewhere that I go back to every now and then. It has its quirks, but these just separate it from the 2D Minecraft clone it could have been without them. Well worth a look and a decent challenge for anyone that delves a little deeper.
4. Frozen Synapse
This year I’ve started to rediscover strategy games a little more and I finally got around to sinking a little time into the original XCOM as it was on my to play list and I’ve been reading about an imminent remake due for this year. The precursor to this rediscovery is Frozen Synapse, a turn based strategy with an interesting twist. Player’s turns resolve simultaneously.
The only thing I wish it did differently is making me feel like I had anything to do with winning a match. I’m awful at the thing, but I suspect everyone is and sooner or later, everyone gets a break and ends up cleaning up.
A spectacular idea executed brilliantly. A good one for strategy nuts and anyone with a little patience.
3. Dark Souls
The game that made me want to turn it into a frisbee. I have sunk more hours into Dark Souls than I care to admit and not got half as far as I probably should have. This game likes to throw one challenge at you after another and has a reputation for being punishingly difficult. Don’t let that reputation put you off too much though as the difficulty never feels cheap with every mistake you make being entirely your fault.
I actually took the warnings to heart a little too much, which meant I psyched myself up for a near-impossible gaming experience, only to be battered around by the tutorial, facing off against an obese and irritable demon with little more than a rusty butter knife, and having been told so many tales of its difficulty, it didn’t occur to me that you had to run away from that one.
Keep your wits about you and maybe think about insuring anything valuable around your gaming area and Dark Souls could be your next favourite game.
2. Skyrim / Portal 2
I know I am completely cheating with this, but I loved Skyrim and I loved Portal 2 and either one is truly worthy of taking the top slot, but the thing is, I’ve played them both already. I loved Skyrim when I played it in the guise of Morrowind and really, Portal 2 isn’t all that different from the original Portal either.
Skyrim let me roam around a stunning landscape that made me feel immersed enough for me to want to nudge the heating up a little and then threw some dragons at me to liven the pace up. Portal 2 let me solve a series of lateral thinking puzzles by opening doors in the walls and the floors and the ceilings with a portal creation gun.
Both have done tremendous things with their worlds, and with polishing the experience and maybe it’s a bit unfair to say they are the same experiences as before as iteration is after all what a lot of software design is about, with games being no different, but at their core, they are still the same games. It’s worth noting that these are both sequels and I tend to be a little twitchy with sequels, and they are both worthy of being at the top of anyone’s list.
1. The Binding of Isaac
If you are an avid gamer and you have missed this one, fix that. If you are not an avid gamer, you could do worse than trying this. The humour and aesthetic are not for the faint of heart but the simplistic yet deep gameplay has kept me playing for hours and inspires the “just one more game and maybe I can still catch my train if I run” vibe that truly great games do.
A simple rogue-like on the surface, every play through will be different and having played the thing to death, I’m still discovering new items and power ups long after most games would have surrendered their secrets. It has gone from making me a little queasy and repulsed to making me laugh at little unexpected moments and growl in frustration whenever I mess up. A perfect gamer’s game with a difficulty curve that seems to match the player.
Minecraft would be on this list because it was technically released in November, but it has also been released in a state that isn’t all that different from the finished product for a lot longer than that. If you haven’t played Minecraft then I would like to be the first to welcome you back from your stay on the Moon, and introduce you to a genre breaking industry shaking title that could change your life. And if it doesn’t change it, it will at least probably take some of it, but in a good way.
APB: Reloaded is a curious beast because I can’t quite work out when it was released and I just don’t know how different it is from the original release. A cops and robbers MMO that is best described as GTA online, the production was deeply troubled with developers Realtime Worlds going under and the game having an uncertain future shortly after release. The title was then snapped up by Gamers First and released as a Free To Play game and should be tried by everyone. It seems odd at first, but once you get the hang of how it works, it is a fantastically fluid and dynamic constant PvP-fest with what I consider to be near flawless matchmaking and pacing.
I also feel there are a couple of games that got a bit of a raw deal in the gaming press this year. Space Marine was a lot better than people gave credit for and more people should have probably tried Hunted: The Demon’s Forge, just because both games were fairly solid and entertaining and were trying something a bit different. Ok so they were both third person shooters, but one got rid of cover mechanics by making you into a walking wall and the other set it in a brown-and-muddy fantasy setting instead of brown-and-muddy sci-fi setting. Maybe not exactly enough to call innovation, but certainly enough to appreciate on some level.
The next thing to do would be to say what my most anticipated games of 2012 are, but I have such a huge backlog of games on my to-play list that haven’t reached their magical “you can’t play this any more” sell-by-date that instead, I’m going to play a few more from 2011 first.