The Kamis 2011 – Best Games of the Year

And with the crap now out of the way and settled, it’s time for positivity. Let me take you on a wonderful journey into the sublime, the beautiful, the talented, the brilliant.

These are my top 10 best games of 2011. I wish I could include games like Catherine, but they’re not out here yet. So they’ll probably make my list next year.

10. Dead Island (PS3, PC, 360)

Dead Island has confused a lot of people, but the actual game hits #10 because… well. It’s fun! Dead Island isn’t the high-brow concept of its teaser trailer earlier in the year, but it is packed with raw and believable emotion amidst the chaos of a zombie apocalypse. Survivors freaking out. Looters patrolling their grounds. Being forced to the rooftops, or down off the beaten path, to avoid nasty surprises. All the while filled with missions, a great crafting system and a balanced and surprisingly well-rounded cast of ethnic misfits. A game so fun, that its cheesy title track “Who Do You Voodoo?!” has been downloaded as much as the game itself. Bravo.

9. Cave Story + (PC)

Pixel, the working name of the guy behind the original freeware version of this in 2004, made a fantastic tribute to the old Metroidvania trappings and art styles of the NES era. And now it’s had a few licks of paint for those who don’t like low-res sprites and it’s just as good. Pixel deserves to make money from this game, it’s not the longest game out there but it is such a good game that heck, I’d be tempted to throw the 3DS version on next years list. Games like this are worth playing over and over again – and Pixel should be proud that his humble little project is now finding new fans with just a minor lick of paint. It’s a testament to how great the original was.

8. Minecraft

I know, I know, I shouldn’t like it. I should hate it and all it does, but the truth is, I really don’t. I like it because its the sort of time-sucking vortex of strangeness that just works, it is what it is and it has made its indie creators very, very rich in the process. It’s about building and surviving, and the rest is up to you – the freedom and sheer balls of such an open-ended ideology where you can do everything from making a 100-foot tall golden phallus to the perfect recreation of Sunnydale High, it’s giving you the basic tools and then saying – go and play. And it just WORKS. Sorry haters, you’re gonna have to hate a little more. Minecraft is truly a game worthy of a top 10 place.

7. Bulletstorm (PC, PS3, 360)

Proof if any were needed that Gears of War is the millstone holding back Epic Games and the Unreal Engine, Bulletstorm on the surface is a crass and vulgar exercise of over-the-top style, but scratch away briefly and suddenly a world of combos, charm, humour, wit and brilliant gameplay spring out at you and never let go. It’s mad in a very literal sense – totally insane, but that is as much the point, it’s style AND substance, and when you have the two together, you have a marriage made in heaven. Just keep the volume down, is all.

6. Deus Ex Human Revolution (PC, PS3, 360)

DXHR is the kind of game which is what you make of it. You are Adam Jensen, who after a nasty little episode is now more machine than man, and what you do next and how you develop and use your new-found abilities is open-ended, in a vibrant and believable world. Aside one or two clangers with racial stereotyping, this is what Invisible War should have been – a thrilling, at time chilling, look into a dystopian future that is in both senses real and completely surreal. And it’s lovely in almost every regard.

5. Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

Oh my lordy a JRPG and Wii exclusive on a top 10 list! How ever will the world cope?! Look, I love JRPGs, and by token XBC is here. It’s a lovely, charming and whimsical angle on the JRPG formula, both traditional and unconventional in its approach, with depth and content that is surprising and delightful. It’s also a very pretty game – extremely pretty considering it is a Wii game. I can’t tell you how good this game is because, well, it’s a JRPG and some don’t like them. But my list, so here it is. A proper JRPG. Watch Square-Enix try and buy it out…

4. Batman: Arkham City (PC, 360, PS3)

And to counter the bitter anger of two bad licensed titles on my worst games list, here ladies and gentlemen is how do it PROPERLY. Askham Asylum was genius, Arkham City is the icing on top of the cake. Played in a deliberately low-key sort of way, it’s as relevant to newcomers as old hands; it’s the sort of game that transcends the notion of loving or hating Batman – the game is brilliant, no doubt about it, a template for action games in the future – and what a template to build from!

The top three may not be of any real surprise though.

3. Portal 2 (PC)

Portal 2 is not the minimalist-designed brilliance of the first game, it’s more grand, more epic and as such has gained a few pounds. But, it is in the personality of Portal 2 that things come alive – with memorable quotes and only one reference to “cake” in the whole thing (that joke was so done to death), it’s a tour-de-force of utterly charming, whimsical puzzling fun. And with some gorgeous setpieces, and an ending that is in equal parts amusing and moving, Portal 2 is Valve still at its best. Although the whole Half Life 3 trolling is just uncalled for guys. Really.

2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim isn’t perfect, but its the kind of massive landscape that just eats your time like candy at Christmas, with so much to do and explore and so many fan-mods and even rumoured expansions of Cyrodil, Tamriel and Morrowind in the works, Skyrim is huge. Like, REALLY huge. And will get bigger and bigger as the years roll on, until there comes a point no-one will be able to finish it and no-one will care about that either way, because it will simply be a vibrant, buzzing, brilliant world of fun and surprises. Although the arrow to the knee jokes are now wearing terribly thin people, let’s stop that now.

And so, no surprises here, game of the year 2011 is…

1. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

I’ll be the first to say I complained about Twilight Princess. I love Zelda, but Twilight Princess to me was a game that took no chances, no risks, no gambles. It was a reheat of Ocarina of Time, a game that tried to be edgy but didn’t quite have the dark undertones needed to make that really work. And if you want Ocarina of Time, hell, it’s now on the 3DS and super-pretty to boot.

No, Skyward Sword is what Twilight Princess should have been – taking a creative gamble and making a world that isn’t quite as grand in terms of views and scale, but warm and rich and touching. The tale told is different; one of friendship and destiny, of two people who can’t escape each other or their intertwined fates. It’s mechanically different; the motion-sensitive swordplay takes a bit of getting used to but its a genius and noticably sharp addition after some practice that I found myself quickly flicking the Wii Remote in the correct directions each time.

It’s not got that sense of urgency, but it’s all the better for that really. This time, the pace feels gentler, calmer, more interesting. Yes, I would have preferred this in HD on the Wii U next year. Yes, I don’t like motion controls at all. But on this one thing, I admit, it makes for a very interesting game.

It’s Zelda. More importantly, and cause for jubilation, it’s a Zelda trying to escape the trap of Ocarina of Time – a game that set the pace so well that it has since trapped the whole franchise in this vicious loop of repetition. Skyward Sword isn’t that – and that probably irks some, and hurts others, but the series needs to move on and evolve, and this is an evolution.

Admittedly, it’s still not a REVOLUTION, but y’know… sometimes that’s not necessary.

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