Top Games of 2011: Andy Daniel's Choices

By Andy Daniel

Top Games of 2011

2011 was the year that brought us the eventual release of Duke Nukem Forever, so you know it has been a great year for gaming. We've seen the releases of the 3DS and (in Japan at least) the PlayStation Vita, which I’m very excited to get my hands on in February, as well as the announcement of the (oddly named) Wii U. 2012 and 2013 will be the years of gaming hardware as we expect to see 3 new home consoles hit the market, so let's recap the year of gaming software, 2011.

The gels were an exciting new addition

The gels were an exciting new addition

Portal 2 (PC/Mac, PS3, Xbox 360)

I'm just reading the Top Games of 2011 articles from Rich and Matt and at last we all agree on something concrete. Portal 2 is brilliant. One of the only two games receiving full marks this year from, I had the fortunate pleasure of reviewing this title, and explaining how Valve, once again, got everything right.

Seeing as this game has had a lot of coverage already from other staff members, I’ll be very brief in explaining why this game should be in every Steam library. The original Portal was just a small game bordering on tech-demo bundled with Half-Life 2: Episode Two in The Orange Box all the way back in 2007. Making headlines with its unique first-person puzzle gameplay using portals to access all different areas, Portal became a huge success and gamers worldwide demanded more. It took Valve 4 years to grant their wish, and it began with a very large, involved and clever ARG. Hiding clues for a sequel in the original Portal, gamers excitedly scurried radio receivers around the game, tuning into frequencies providing tenuous clues.

Even after the announcement of Portal 2, Valve couldn’t help making gamers work for it, by using another ARG involving potatoes. Steam went potato crazy as everybody scrambled to collect potato achievements from indie games. Everyone was buzzing with excitement, and the game hadn’t even been played yet. It eventually resulted in a slightly early Steam release of Portal 2, and then the world rejoiced.

In Portal 2, the player reprises the role of Chell, a mute female test subject with springy leg augmentations (for soft landings from high falls of course), awakened from a long hibernation by the very charming Wheatley. Wheatley, voiced by the very brilliant British comedian Stephen Merchant (co-creator of the even more brilliant TV show "The Office"), is a personality orb, attached to rails. About 90 percent of the game's charm - and there's a lot of charm to go around - comes from Wheatley's quips. Being a guide, he is very vocal and every line is witty and funny, so much so that I often find myself just standing near him, waiting to hear what he says and wring every juicy word from him.

Gameplay in Portal 2 is just the same as its prequel. It couldn’t be any simpler; you will enter a room and you need to get through to the exit, but to do that you will need to exploit the portal gun in your possession. The tool allows the player to create entry and exit portals on designated flat surfaces, and the player or any object can pass through them. Simple, but it can lead to some devilishly deviant puzzles which will have you scratching your head for hours.

I wouldn't be spoiling the game by revealing the return of the antagonist from Portal, GLaDOS. Very bitter from her demise, GLaDOS will taunt Chell in clever and witty ways, verbally or with puzzles. The game is also self-referential, spoiling Portal geeks to no end. Fans of the previous game will understand the significance of the cake, which also receives reference.

Finally, the game introduces a very well created co-operative campaign, where you and a friend can take on a whole new set of puzzles, separate from the main single player campaign. Taking the role of two tests robots with their own special personality, the players can use special tagging tools to help communicate with one another to get through the puzzles, which like the single-player game, raise in difficulty excellently.

What I like most about this game, and the reason I chose it as my game of the year, is not for any one part of the game. It is not because the characters are very witty, funny and charming. It’s not because the puzzles are very clever with the perfect difficulty curve. It’s not even because of the separate co-operative campaign which provides an additional 6/7 hours of gameplay. It’s because it’s all of those things, rolled into one very refined bundle. Think of it as a three course meal, where each course is your favourite dish, made from a very reasonable and inexpensive restaurant. It’s not too rich, not too cheap. And afterwards, you are comfortably sated. That’s Portal 2.
Review (PC) - 10/10

This really is an in-game screenshot - it is that beautiful

This really is an in-game screenshot - it is that beautiful

Rayman Origins (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)

I had the extreme pleasure of producing two 10 out of 10 ratings for video games of 2011. In fact, the only two 10 out of 10 ratings for First was Portal 2, which entirely deserves all of the credit it received, and the second was Rayman Origins.

Fans of the series, true fans like myself, who refuse to acknowledge those cretinous rabbids, are surely huge fans of the original Rayman. First released in 1995, it was a colourful, glorious platforming game featuring the titular limbless hero collecting pink orb creatures called Electoons, trapped in cages and hidden throughout the game. Since then, Rayman has never been the same, having been rendered in 3D or in spin-offs like the aforementioned Raving Rabbids. While the series has seen success, it was tailing off into oblivion.

That is until Rayman Origins arrived at the tail end of 2011. A re-imagining of the charming original game of the franchise, Rayman Origins is a 2D platformer like no other. Designed in Ubisoft's aptly named UbiArt engine, the game looks glorious. It is unbelievably beautiful in its art and animation. Several themed worlds take the bouncy character, and up to 3 other characters controlled by your friends around the same screen, through luscious green worlds of Jibberish Jungle, icy glaciers and waterfalls of Gourmand Land and the deep, dark mysterious underwater Sea of Serendipity; it is very hard not to stop and admire the world with it’s rich detail and stunning depth. Every moment is picturesque, and that's only half of why this game is so brilliant.

Rich in imagery and rich in gameplay. Controlling Rayman and other unlockable characters is incredibly charming, especially when playing with multiple people. Slapping is the primary attack function, which often means a slapfest between players commences at a moment's notice any time. Sprinting, swimming, jumping, wall jumping all look swift and smooth, like a Rube Goldbergian sequence, especially with multiple players sprinting through multiple routes of the many levels. Finally, there are many items to collect in the game, such as the Mario Coin-like Lums or the hidden pink Electoons in cages once again. Many items are secret and will likely take a couple of playthroughs to complete, just like the time challenge for each level. Completing the game campaign just once will be enough for most, but for the hard core collectors out there, it will be tricky enough to have you playing for hours on end to collect every last artifact.
Review (360) - 10/10

Skyward Sword is probably the best looking game on the Wii

Skyward Sword is probably the best looking game on the Wii

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)

Another game released towards the end of 2011, yet was originally intended to be released at the end of 2010. Thankfully Nintendo took the additional year to polish the game, as it turned out to be a belter. Not a single video game of 2011 can match the polish that Skyward Sword provides.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is another iteration of the Zelda franchise. You assume the role of Link as a teenager, looking for and attempting to save Zelda, his love interest in this iteration. To get to her, Link must travel different lands and meet different creatures, fight monsters and solve mystical puzzles in dungeons. If you haven’t played a Zelda game before, you better start soon.

Besides being the best looking Zelda game so far, Skyward Sword improves on the franchise with Wii Motion Plus, the technology to make Wii Remotes very accurate. This allows the player to control Link’s precise sword movements. Every slash is the same direction you flail the remote, and you can even jab the remote forward to perform a stabbing motion. The game makes full use of this technology; monsters can only be defeated by swiping the sword the correct way, bosses need a complex routine of directional stabs and doors have directional-based locks. Alongside the varied sword action are the many contraptions and gizmos specialised to help solve puzzles throughout the game, with most of them making a reappearance from other games like slingshot, bow and arrow, beetle and bombs.

I think any Zelda game deserves to be in the top list of video games of the year they were released. The story has real depth, and the fantasy elements don't feel contrived, and link together perfectly. There are a few side quests to complete, but they don’t steal focus. The many puzzles are challenging, and the combat is compelling. It's another great Zelda game. And that's why it’s in my top 3 of 2011.

My close contenders each with a brief reason:

  • Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)
    Naughty Dog finish the story of Nathan Drake with another compelling and visually stunning game. Not as good as Uncharted 2, but that’s a very large pair of shoes to fill, so falling short is far from failure. We follow Drake through another adventure of his once again, which even include his origins, from when he began treasure hunting. There’s also a special appearance from many of Drake’s companions, but I’ll not spoilt the story for you. Drake’s Deception provides yet another movie-like experience that we’ve come to expect from the franchise, and is certainly a must play game of 2011.
  • LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3)
    It was difficult to imagine how the very creative developer Media Molecule could better the already fantastic 2008 game LittleBigPlanet, a very charming and creative platformer. Media Molecule managed to deliver, though, extending the concept to a whole platform. The game takes on many genres such as driving, sports, shooters and animations, and does them very well in a simple but pleasant story. And again, players can use these very powerful and flexible tools to create their own games. Not just levels, but whole games, and share them in a very easy-to-use online system.

Minecraft finally came out of beta in 2011

Minecraft finally came out of beta in 2011

Indie Choice: Minecraft

Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to play many indie games of 2011. Heck, I’m still catching up on "triple A" titles of 2010; I’m only just getting through Red Dead Redemption now. So I will default my choice of Indie game of 2011 with the only indie game I know well, Minecraft. It was my indie game of last year, but this year saw its official release, at MineCon in November. Load the game now, and a full adventure mode is the main game mode, requiring the player to collect, craft and slay to reach the end goal. Minecraft’s simple premise makes it easy to understand and play, but its depth makes it a time sink like no other, making me lose as many days in real life as I do in the game.

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