It’s been a little while since the last post in my ongoing retrospective that focuses heavily on my favorite games of roughly the past decade and the previous generation up until present day. Although I’m only covering a small chunk of video gaming history, there have been plenty more excellent releases in this time besides the ones that I’m listing- ones that I’ve predominately mastered or otherwise completed and completely enjoyed. This particular post will be emphasizing the years 2011 and 2012 and as always you can feel free to comment and let me know what you think of my favorites.
2011: Dead Space 2, Killzone 3, Crysis 2, The Witcher 2, Shadows of the Damned, Bastion, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dead Island, Gears of War 3, Dark Souls, Batman Arkham City, Skyrim.
The first Dead Space game was an exercise in mastering horror and all of the genre defining cliches that often accompany it. The second title was a master stroke in adding even more action to the mixture without sacrificing much in the way of tension or outright terror. Although the third game has since let many people down on the horror side of things, the first sequel showcased the ability to ratchet up the stakes as well as the action-fueled setpiece moments. It has so much going for it and added a lot of memorable content to Isaac’s terribly great story.
Killzone 3 was the final game in the series for a long time and in many ways is still the capstone to an excellent trilogy of games despite Shadow Fall also continuing the narrative even if it avoids many of the old characters’ outright appearances. It amped up the gameplay in nearly every conceivable way and looked downright gorgeous whether it be in singelplayer or competitive game modes. It was a versatile game for many reasons and just went to show that Guerrilla Games has their heads screwed on right when it comes to gameplay first.
Crysis 2 is a brilliant and beautiful game. I have been a big fan of the series and have enjoyed the fact that each game seemingly got better and improved in at least a few ways even if the second is ultimately my favorite even over the infinite customization options offered by the third. The story in Crysis 2 was interesting and fittingly tense when it had to be as well as adrenaline pumping when the action exploded for real. It was probably the most graphically impressive game of this list and for this time period and still has beautiful visuals and smooth gameplay even today. It’s just a shame not too many people hopped on board with the fantastic multiplayer elements.
The Witcher series has long shown gamers how to successfully pull off this sequel business. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings expanded every single element of the first game and it did so with ease and a narrative that should drag even the most reluctant fan into dark fantasy worlds and writing. Although Wild Hunt has since stunned even more players into awe inspired silence, Assassins of Kings set the tone and the pace for the bigger things that were to come and still stands out as one of the best games of all time as well as possibly the best game of 2011- especially as far as PC titles are concerned.
To this day I’m still not entirely sure what to make of Shadows of the Damned’s darkly vibrant, gory romp of a horror adventure. And that’s entirely a good thing I think at this point. It’s deeply disturbing at times and equally interesting at other times. There are definite elements of horror and thrilling scares and grotesque creatures but within the same exhilarating experience is also crude humor and absurd encounters as well. It’s gritty when it needs to be and gutsy when it can afford to be and the amount of risk in the creative process and development just goes to show that a little thought can go a long way.
Bastion really set the tone for so many arcade games to come in terms of the independent developer scene on major consoles in the previous and current generation. Not only was it an overture for the eventual release of Transistor, but it was an intriguing and enjoyable experience in its own right- deftly melding a fantastic world and interestingly developed characters. Bastion doesn’t just share a name with one of Overwatch’s most intriguing characters, it shares the sense of quality and the intrigue and mystery of many of those characters’ backstories as well. And that’s always a compliment.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution hasn’t entirely aged well for whatever reason as far as the odd controls go, but the narrative show definitely gone on and hasn’t just continued in terms of Mankind Divided. I’m saddened to hear that Square has put the franchise on pause for the time being but it does remind me that there were greener pastures in the past as well and Human Revolution rekindled a desire I had already had for the series and its intrigue. Sure, the plot can be dense and confusing at times but you can hardly beat the set-up of a dystopian future ruled by corrupt corporations and occupied by cybernetics and titans of engineering- it’s all so Blade Runnery that I cannot help but adore it.
Dead Island is somewhat of a guilty pleasure at least compared to some of these titles but it’s no less enjoyable for that factor. There’s a paltry story at best but the gameplay is where it really shines and where the sequel could’ve had so much more promise if only it had done the right things better and paid attention to quality over quantity. The mere set-up of a quest driven zombie adventure on a massive island that has so many hidden details and secrets is enough to spark interest for most people. Couple that with some interesting enemies and a thorough weapon and dismemberment system like something out of Dead Space and you’ve got a fairly solid game.
For the longest time it seemed like Gears 3 was it for the series and MY GOD what a fitting conclusion- like Epic’s version of Halo 3 to compare it to another potential trilogy ender. Dom, dear old Dom- RIP buddy cooperative action and memorable moments across the initial trilogy galore. If you haven’t played the Gears series you should really hop on the band wagon and buy Gears 4 so that you can get the access codes for 1-3 and Judgment- I promise you won’t be disappointed because ironically the story is oftentimes the bigger draw than the gameplay itself. Somehow Gears ended up being the most one of the more narrative focused shooters out there.
Dark Souls started the epic and terrible surge of brutally difficult games that we’ve since played- from games created by From Software to games that reek of generic Souls cloning. Without Demon’s Souls we wouldn’t have Dark Souls and without King’s Field we wouldn’t have any Souls-games, however Dark Souls marked the explosion of popularity for the series and its masochistic fans. I continue to play the first game to this day and it retains its originality and enjoyability and difficulty even now.
The Batman Arkham series is one of the best series of all time and easily the greatest superhero series outside of fighting games that feature multiple heroes across muliple stories. Although it has since has some less than stellar additions, the core trilogy of Asylum, City, and Knight are pretty spectacular (forget Origins because it was okay but bleh). Arkham City stands as the narrative highlight and offers the best quests in the series to date. Every boss encounter was original and well done. Every line of dialogue was enthusiastically delivered and believable. And boy oh boy the story was mind shattering at times.
It’s hard to believe it’s been over five years since The Elder Scrolls V hit gamers everywhere with its brilliant addition to the Tamriel universe. Skyrim is still a staple in many gaming libraries and constantly a topic of discussion as well. There has been talk of the potential for a sixth game after all, but honestly I still find myself content to traverse the realms of Skyrim over and over as Bethesda continues to tweak their MMO adaption of the series as well. I would never turn down more Elder Scrolls but I want to see the next game hit us as hard as Skyrim did.
2012: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Mass Effect 3, Journey, Xenoblade Chronicles, Fez, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Sniper Elite V2, Spec Ops: The Line, Darksiders II, Borderlands 2, Dishonored, Far Cry 3.
Forgetting the fact that Amalur was essentially a one-hit wonder that subsequently bankrupted its studio despite decent sales and critical acclaim in terms of reception, it is a spectacularly underrated game as well. It has the sense of a high fantasy role-playing game and yet for every niche cliche it establishes roots in it also branches out into uncharted territory with interesting ideas that haven’t really been done since or seen before. Not only is it an enjoyable experience and competent RPG, Kingdoms of Amalur is just a genuinely good game.
It wouldn’t be fitting to not talk about the capstone to Commander Shepard’s spacefaring experiences here, ending issues or otherwise. In the wake of Mass Effect Andromeda’s release and the issues that have come with it, let us not forget the amazing trilogy Bioware gifted players around the world with and the amount of player feedback that went into the flawed masterpiece that is Mass Effect 3- both before and after its release. When a developer loves their work enough to tweak the experience after release and offer players a more thoughtful ending, that’s when you know that something special has been made (well and screwed up a bit as well).
Journey is truly a work of art and if you need to hear more arguments about the matter I invite you to happily google video games as an art form for more data and research to support that thought. As an experience it cannot be matched, not even by today’s standards or by other equally intriguing and compelling indie games. As far as the game itself goes it both looks and feels artistic and the artistic integrity of it should never be under scrutiny either. It’s like great titles such as Limbo and Little Nightmares where it’s an enjoyable game but also a thoroughly worthwhile and thought provoking experience.
Xenoblade Chronicles has had sequel content and additions made to it but nothing has quite lived up to the amazing quality and expansiveness of the first title. I was shocked when such an epic game released after virtually hearing little to nothing about it in terms of coverage here in the west. The fact that such an epic game could be made and not much have been said about it just seemed to be contradictory in so many ways and an egregious breach of gaming’s moral code in others. If you have a Wii and haven’t played the game then you’re missing out on quite possibly the best title outside of Twilight Princess.
Don’t even get me started on Fez 2 rumors or Phil Fish’s antics, but Fez is an indie darling even in a year dominated by Journey and a two year period shared with both Journey and Bastion. It’s a callback to the old school exploration and platforming titles and truly an authentic and enjoyable one at that. Coupled with the fact that it melds new school and old school ideas, it is also thoroughly impressive that the title was all pretty much created by the talent and drive of a single Fish himself. Love the man or hate him, his art speaks for itself.
There hasn’t really been one single defining moment in the gaming community that has sprung up around Telltale’s episodic installments quite like Episode 5 of TWD Season One and Clementine’s experience with Lee culminating in her choice to put him down or let him turn into the zombies they’ve been narrowly escaping until that point. If I just ruined an entire series for you then I apologize but you’ve had five years to see what everyone was crying about for yourself. Similarly if someone ruined the Red Wedding for you then you had like a decade to see what all of your geek friends were sobbing over after reading A Storm of Swords so hey. The episodic format is a bit stale now but you can’t beat the series that made it as thrilling as it has been at times.
Sniper Elite V2 is a how a remake and reboot should be done as it is summarily a bit of both and a bit of neither. Sniper Elite was first made somewhere in the 2004-2005 period and was a competent and interesting shooter at the time. Sniper Elite V2 has since changed many aspects and turned the series into a franchise for Rebellion Games that has spawned three main series titles and a trilogy of Nazi Zombie content as well. All of which has been invigorating and interesting, but none of which would have been possible without the reception of V2 and its dynamic slow motion kill cams. It’s like a sniper’s version of Mortal Kombat and it is gory and gratifying.
Spec Ops: The Line deserves all of the talk it gets for how it handles trauma and so many other aspects not often discussed in video games, much less so in shooters. It is a brilliant game and also a thoughtful evolution of an otherwise defunct series. Honestly, as a one-off kind of experience that may never be replicated it’s an amazing experience and one that I think many different types of gamers would enjoy. If it ever does get the sequel it would most definitely deserve then I can only hope it lives up to the legacy and the shock value established in this particular title. Maybe a jungle adventure like something out of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now…
Just like the forces of evil could not fully contain either War or Death, the release of Darksiders III cannot be contained or prevented by the death of a publisher or subsequent acquisition of developers. As thrilled as I am for another installation of the series (so much so that I blogged about it prior to any news of a new release) I also constantly revel in my enjoyment of the previous iteration of the series that leapt from the linear path of the first to the open world and embellished lore of the second. For all that I adored in the first game (a lot of things actually) I came to love and appreciate fully in the second- with its Diablo meets God of War meets Zelda structure.
You already know how big a fan I, like many people, am of Borderlands and the second game in the series by this point. Not only have I established my own series of blogs in regard to the replay of the second title but I’ve also delivered many comments and bits of discussion on the lore as well. Borderlands 2 is something that you don’t always see with a gaming generation- it is an icon and a high water mark of excellence that can’t often be replicated, whether within the same series or even within a genre. And yet I still have high hopes that Gearbox can strike gold yet again with their highly anticipated third main installment and make me feel the same way the blood and guts and loot filled adventure has in the past.
Dishonored 2 is every bit as original and as stellar a the first game but for whatever reason the game’s sales have not been reflective of that and it hurts my heart to say so. The first game is fittingly a fresh adventure into something that Bethsoft has some experience in personally but has otherwise left largely to games like Thief and Assassin’s Creed before. Dishonored features dynamic choices that actually matter and colorful characters within a colorful world that you can both interact with and affect in numerous ways. Although the sequel has expanded upon much, the lore and sheer ability to do virtually anything imaginable in the first game are what make it one of the most intriguing experiences of all time.
Far Cry 3 is an island in the series and probably because it offered the freshest start as well as the most original and unique gameplay elements in a series that was otherwise headed downhill after the flawed African safari of Far Cry 2. Although I enjoy the series as a whole and can recognize the great elements each iteration has implemented, FC3 is easily the most quality driven experience and outside of the unique setting for Primal it is the best and brightest excursion to date as well. Far Cry 4 piggybacks too much of the gameplay elements and sheer shock value in terms of colorful characters to get much love from me despite that experience still being a grand one.