Top Games of 2011: Richard Pilot's Choices

By Richard Pilot

Top Games of 2011

In each of these "Top Games of 2011" articles some of our contributors from last year pick out their highlights along with why they fell in love with these particular games. They select three of their favourites, as well as pointing out an indie game that stole their time. We begin with one of our most prolific staff writers, Richard Pilot.

2011 has certainly been an interesting year. We’ve had two handheld console launches (although one hasn’t hit North American or European shores yet) and the reveal of a next generation console from one of the big three. On top of all that, we’ve had a whole bunch of games released and whilst new IP was introduced such as Homefront, Bulletstorm or RAGE, this year has mostly been filled with sequels for the hottest franchises or final chapter of gaming trilogies.

The Enrichment Centre is looking a little worse for wear in Portal 2

The Enrichment Centre is looking a little worse for wear in Portal 2

Portal 2 (PC/PS3/360)

How on Earth could Valve beat the 2007 first-person platform puzzler, Portal? With an insanely well-written script, more fiendishly tricky puzzles and a lot more fleshing out of the Aperture science universe, that's how! What astounds me about this game is how great and funny the dialog is. This most apparent in your 'trusty' sidekick, Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant who delivers a performance that I haven't heard before or since. He is arguably one of the most memorable characters in video games since the introduction of Nathan Drake. It's not just Wheatley though, J.K. Simmons does a great job as Cave Johnson and Ellen McLain returns as the science-happy GLaDOS. This narrative world, mixed with clever level design, makes for a fanatic puzzle game and a Valve classic. And that's just the singleplayer. Valve expands on Portal's content in this second installment by adding a fleshed out co-op mode. Taking on the roles of two Aperture Science robots, you have to make your way through yet another set of challenging puzzles, but this time, each one requires the efforts of both players to make it through. GLaDOS also makes an appearance, urging you on or berating you when you fail. A completely original set of challenges awaits you here and with an impressive couple of hours worth of content. With one free DLC pack out and another on its way, Valve's support for the title is clear.

If you haven't experienced this game yet then I urge you to go out there and try it for yourself. I would be surprised if this didn't appear in one of our other staffer's list, but either way, it's rated one of the highest scores we've ever given out, our only question is how can they top this one. Perhaps they'll give out free cake! It therefore makes my list of Top Three Games of 2011.
Review (PC) - 10/10

Did you know there are dragons in Skyrim?

Did you know there are dragons in Skyrim?

Skyrim (PC/PS3/360)

It's hard to sum up what makes Skyrim a great game, because every player’s experience is different. If you've been listening to our podcasts, then you'll know at least a little about the adventures that both Matt and myself have been getting into. There is of course the game's main quest which in itself is the length of an average AAA title but on top of that, there's tonnes of other stuff to do and explore. Almost every village and city adds 5-10 additional quests which are no picnic on their own, not to mention hundreds of caves, shacks or ruins that you can stumble upon and this is before the community gets their hand on it. Supporting this rich and vast world is an engaging set of gameplay systems which cater for whatever fantasy play-style you like; there's magic and shouts, shields and swords, stealth and sneak attacks. This is contained within a smart leveling system (much better than in Oblivion) that rewards you for what skills/abilities/items you use.

And did I mention you get to fight dragons?
Gamescom Preview - Review Coming Soon

L.A. Noire exploded on to the scene in 2011

L.A. Noire exploded on to the scene in 2011

L.A.Noire

It's always great to see innovation within gaming; not just fancier engines or exotic peripherals, but with new or better ways of story telling. Team Bondi/Depth Analysis’ exciting new motion capping allowed actors' facial expressions to be preciously rendered in-game. This led to stunning portrayals of characters in 1940s Los Angeles, with crocked cops, shady gangsters and damsels in distress. To make full use of this highly detailed facial capture, the game's core gameplay revolves around judging truthfulness or deceit in other characters and potential suspects, something that could not have been achieved without the fidelity of this new tech.

It doesn't make my list on the technology alone though, as L.A. Noire lived up to its name telling a pitch perfect set of noir stories. The case format was particularly effective, offering serialised portions of gameplay. We've seen this before in games like Alan Wake or Alone in the Dark but to me, L.A. Noire is the first game to truly nail the format. As I mention in my review, the game feels like your favourite DVD boxset, with self contained stories, but also having overarching plots and themes. Whilst not perfect, the game struck a cord with me and leaving the Rockstar/Bondi disputes behind, I hope to see a sequel or similar offering from Rockstar or, at the very least, a game that imitates this successful case-by-case format.
Review (Xbox 360) - 9/10

Close contenders

There were many franchises that had sequels coming out this year and almost all of them were fantastic. I can't name them all but here are a few highlights that almost made the cut to my top three:

  • Deus Ex: Human Evolution
    Of all the games on my close contenders list, this is the one I'm most conflicted about whether it should have been in my top three. A first person sci-fi game that, like Skyrim, allowed you to chose how you wanted to play, whether that was stealth or combat. Unlike Skyrim's vast world though, Human Evolution had a much tighter story with an interesting plot that took you to fascinating locations in a 2027 dsytopia. Given all this, the ending was not as impactful as it could have been, but don't let that put you off from playing what is a great game.
    Review - 9/10
  • Rayman Origins
    Rayman creator, Michel Ancel, went back to the beginning of the series and looked at what made the original games so much fun. The result was this charming 2D platformer. Powered by the newly created UbiArt engine, it allows artists to take the spotlight, making the developer tools much more catered to them. The results are astounding; Rayman Origins is simply breathtaking from start to finish. It also allows players to play co-operatively, but as writer Andy can attest, we'd only advise that if you can actually trust your friends!
    Review - 10/10
  • LittleBigPlanet 2
    A perfect follow up for a game that didn't really need a sequel. Media Molecule added a whole bunch of new features and toys for creative minds to come up with as well as adding a much more engaging story that really showed what the new engine could do. What's more, all the levels that players had made for the first game were instantly playable in the new engine. Now that's what I call support!
  • Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
    A surprise entry coming in very late in the year. This is a fantastically designed platformer for the 3D handheld and one of the few games that actually seems built to use the 3D effect rather than as a gimmicky side note. Yes, you can still turn it off and play the game in 2D, but that’s not the point. The menus, world screens and the levels themselves look stunning in 3D, from Mario himself down to the font used for the scores. The only problem with it, like so many games currently on the 3DS, is how short it is.
    Review - 9/10
  • Assassin's Creed: Revelations
    Assassin's Creed is a another polished entry in the series, but unfortunately it doesn't quite add enough new mechanics, unlike its innovative predecessor Brotherhood. The missions, tombs and locations are well designed but you can't help shake the feeling that it's simply rehashing a lot of old content. That said, the game feels like a fitting ending for both Ezio and Altair and is one that hardcore fans should definitely play. On top of that, Ubisoft continued to evolve the multiplayer offering, with a compelling, exciting experience, well worth the price of entry alone. We can't wait to see what new concepts Assassin's Creed 3 will bring to both the single and multiplayer worlds.

The Kid succeeds

The Kid succeeds

Indie Choice: Bastion (PC/360)

I would to nominate Minecraft for a second year running - technically it finally released on 18th November when it moved out of beta and became version 1.0, and it has still given me many hours of constructive block building fun. I thought, however, that I should give the splotlight to another indie title that I've enjoyed this year. That spotlight goes to Bastion, from indie developer Supergiant Games and as their first title, boy is it a good one. I neglected to write a review when it came out but I will do a mini-review now.

Bastion offers players a compelling and thoroughly engaging isometric RPG. The premise is that the world has suffered a 'calamity' and the survivors are jut trying to rebuild and fight off any creatures that are still roaming the wastelands. You play as "the kid" and like almost all the main characters you do not speak, instead the game is narrated by another survivor, Rucks. He doesn't just narrate the story though, as the game incorporates a new 'dynamic narration' system, which features hundreds of little pieces of dialogue that chronicles the players actions or styles of play, such commenting when you decide to smash every object in sight or if you run past the monsters instead of fighting them. Whilst out in the field, you only get to carry two weapons, but there are numerous items to pick up, each with their own training zones and upgrades. All this is wrapped in a gorgeous watercolour art style and a beautiful soundtrack.

I encourage everyone to try out this game, a trial version is available, and you can even play it inside the Google Chrome browser, so there's no reason for you not to get it. It is a fantastic and absorbing game and I hunger for more games like this in the future. I am therefore very pleased to name it my Indie Choice for 2011.

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